By – John Williamson

The global economic recession has hit consumers hard and significantly limited their budget for custom computer builds. Major manufacturers including Corsair, Bitfenix and Silverstone have worked tirelessly to produce budget PC cases which hit an attractive price point without making too many compromises. Achieving a low asking price whilst maintaining adequate build quality and not scrimping on features is a herculean task. If you cut too many corners, then the chassis will feel poorly constructed and give the entire company a less than stellar reputation. However, using higher grade materials increases the cost and could alienate customers with a strict budget. There is a lot of growing competition in this field and Corsair has set the benchmark with its Spec-01 Mid-Tower case around £38 which features a side panel window and attractive design. Bitfenix has launched their competitor entitled the NEOS case which retails at an astoundingly cheap £30 for the non-windowed version and £34 for the windowed model.

Despite being an incredibly cheap chassis, Bitfenix doesn’t cutback on the packaging materials and utilizes thick, durable cardboard to protect the case during transit. I was surprised by this and expected the box to be Bitfenix’s primary source of cost cutting. Also, the case is protected by a plastic sheet and the sides are cushioned by 2 solid polystyrene brackets which are well made and offer a substantial level of resistance. The box’s front section has a large Bitfenix logo alongside the NEOS emblem and creates the impression you are purchasing a more expensive product. The rear portion outlines its key features in a clear and concise manner. Overall, I was thoroughly impressed with the packaging and commend Bitfenix as lower quality cardboard often results in damage and a greater number of returns from customers.

The NEOS cases come a wide array of colour options on the front fascia including black, blue, red, silver, gold and even purple! The majority of these cases can be purchased in either a white or black finish apart from the gold front which is black only and the purple finish which is only available with a white chassis. This level of customization would be phenomenal for a premium case, nevermind one of the cheapest money can buy. Bitfenix has perfected the individual colour choices as they are all stunning and poses a problem when deciding which one to choose. The contrast between a mesh coloured front and standard black/white exterior is visually stunning and quite eye catching. A lot of cheaper cases on the market are extremely plain with a black finish as they are primarily used for standard office PCs. This is a gaming chassis and it looks the part.

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● Materials – Steel, Plastic
● Colour (Int/Ext) – Black/Black, White/White
● Dimensions (WxHxD) – 185x429x470
● Motherboard Sizes – Mini-ITX, mATX, ATX
● 5.25” Drive Bays – 2
● 3.5” Drive Bays – 3
● Cooling Front – 2x120mm (optional)
● Cooling Rear – 1x120mm (included)
● PCI Slots – 7
● I/O – 1xUSB 3.0, 1xUSB 2.0, HD Audio
● Power Supply – PS2 ATX (bottom, multi direction)
● Extras/Features – Front Dust Filter, PSU Dust Filter, Tool-Free Drive Locking

Now let’s move onto the case itself. The front section features a honeycomb mesh design with plastic outer rim and Bitfenix logo. There are 2 5.25” slots for an optical drive or perhaps a fan controller and these are installed via the toolless mechanism. To install a drive, all you have to do is remove the front panel cover, undo the plastic lock, insert the device and twist the lock until tightened. Similar systems are fairly standard on most cases but it is excellent to see screwless installs as it reduces the overall build time. Even though the mounts are constructed from very cheap plastic, they do a good job of keeping the drive in place.

There are mounting options in the front for 2 120mm fans which are not included with the case. The magic of selecting a front fascia means you can colour coordinate your rig and add some LED fans to the front. Amazingly, there is a removable dust filter which is easy to clean and an inclusion I wouldn’t expect in a £30 case. Dust build up can be a complete nightmare and quickly accumulates in a fan’s structure and its fins causing higher temperatures and impaired airflow. Since there are no fan mounts on the roof, it is fairly impressive that the main source of cooling will be protected by a large filter.

As previously mentioned, you cannot fit any fans in the roof so dual radiator CLC Water Cooling units such as the H100i are not compatible. However, there is support for single radiator solutions if you replace the stock 120mm rear fan. The IO is positioned at the top and contains a power button, reset button, mic/headphone jacks, 1xUSB 2.0 and 1xUSB 3.0 port. Oddly enough, the buttons have a semi-tactile feel and audible click. I expected them to be very cheap and mushy but this wasn’t the case. Also, the IO cables are an excellent length allowing for easy cable management and the wires themselves have a strong black coating.

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The bottom implements a removable PSU dust filter which slides out via a plastic tab. This is particularly useful if you place your computer on a carpet which can suffocate the PSU and restrict the air intake. The sheet between the floor and PSU adds some breathing room and practically eliminates dust build up. Once again this is a superb feature for the price but there was some evidence of poor workmanship on this specific filter. The plastic had various scratches and the mesh was fraying at certain points. This is more of a cosmetic complaint though and will not impact on the removal of dust.  As predicted, the feet are made entirely of plastic and don’t have a rubber/textured finish to reduce vibrations. This is not a major issue though and not something I would have expected to see for £30.

Now we move onto the rear section which has a PSU cutout, 120mm fan mount and 7 PCI brackets. The power supply mount is sturdy and requires 4 screws to attach it to your new system. Upon installation, I inserted and removed a few power supplies to see if the screws would be threaded without twisting and compromising the case screw inserts. I’m pleased to say that the hole placements and included screws are perfect and shouldn’t buckle under pressure or repeat installations. The basic principle applies for the 120mm fan mount, as I tested a few fans out and didn’t experience any threading problems.

The PCI slots though are poorly constructed and quite difficult to pop out as they bend and flex. Once removed they cannot be reattached again so you must be completely sure when removing each slot. When using my unit, I noticed the gaps where the slots were previously had rough and even sharp edges on the metal. You could easily cut your finger on one of these so this is not the level of craftsmanship I expect from Bitfenix.

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There is a distinct lack of room for cable management at the back but thankfully this doesn’t impact on the overall tidiness of a system build. This comes from the narrow (54mm) side panel tray which doesn’t provide a lot of space to feed the PSU cables behind. This is especially the case with non-modular power supplies. Even though the space is limited, it shouldn’t pose too much of a challenge if you take your time and use cable ties. It might seem a bit fiddly to some, but it impressive how Bitfenix have managed to implement decent cable management in such a small area. Furthermore, there are 5 routing holes meaning it is easier to make a cleaner build.

Another issue is the CPU 8 pin EPS connector hole which awkwardly positioned too far to the left. This is a bizarre choice and against the standard of placing a hole directly above the connector. While this might seem like a very small issue, it just makes the cable run longer and not as cosmetically appealing.  This may have been a bad sample but I encountered an issue with one of the side panels. The extreme right corner had a sharp edge and could cause some damage if you pressed hard against it with your finger. Also the side panel wouldn’t shut properly and left a small gap at the top which was less than ideal. From what I’ve seen this seems like an anomaly and I must have been the victim of bad luck.

When considering this case, you must understand the size limitations of either dual GPU setups or larger aftermarket CPU heatsinks. Huge triple fan cards like the Sapphire Tri-X 290X will just about fit despite being 320mm (12”). However, using longer cards in Crossfire/SLI will overreach the case’s maximum supported GPU length. I am impressed though that it even supports 12” single cards which many cheap cases fail to do. According to Bitfenix, the maximum CPU cooler height is 160mm and this means you cannot install huge heatsinks like the Noctua NH-D15. While this is slightly disappointing, I am confident that hardly anyone is going to buy a £30 case and £80 CPU Cooler. I would actually theorize that the majority of people will be using the stock heatsink.

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Bitfenix have like many other manufacturers, pre-installed the standard ATX sized motherboard standoffs. This shows they are attentive to the needs of their customers and want to make building a PC as simple as feasibly possible. Soon enough this practise will be an industry standard as the majority of manufacturers are realizing most people use ATX boards.  Inside the case are 3 2.5” and 2 2.25” removable drive bays which feel solid and shouldn’t snap due to the resistant plastic materials used. To install a drive, all you need to do is slide the device into the caddy, then tighten 4 screws. When affixed, the drive is very solid and doesn’t move about whatsoever. In case you were wondering, the HDD cages cannot be removed as they are moulded into the case’s entire structure. This does add some strength and rigidity to the case and makes it stronger than you would expect.

With the default setup, the case is extremely quiet and this is helped by a pretty good stock fan. The airflow might be underwhelming, but this won’t be a cause for concern if you are running your PC without overclocking. I think enthusiasts have a tendency to overestimate people’s comfort levels with overclocking as a large proportion of customers are scared by the entire process. When you add 2 additional 120mm fans, the cooling performance is massively increased and still runs at a respectable audio level. In comparison with other cases though, the NEOS is toasty and increased my system temperatures by 6c over a Corsair Air 540. However, the Air 540 is a cube case optimized for airflow and has class-leading air cooling results. It is unfair to compare these two products as you could 3 NEOS cases and still have money left over for the price of 1 Air 540. Within it’s class, the NEOS performs admirably.

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Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?

The Bitfenix NEOS case is an astonishing product for the money. While there has been cutbacks in terms of materials used, it is a lot less than I had envisioned.  The case has an excellent structural integrity and feels robust.  Cheaper items can often be very plain and disheartening, but the NEOS is beautiful and available in a wide range of colours to suit virtually every taste.  There is a strong competitor on the market from Corsair’s SPEC 01 so I think £30 is about the right price as I believe the Corsair has a slightly better build quality. However, in this economy £10 is a large sum of money to some and for this reason I believe this is the best budget PC case on the market.

Bitfenix NEOS Case Summary:

  • Time Used – 5 Days
  • Software Used – OCCT, CPU-Z, Tomb Raider, Bioshock Infinite
  • System Specs – Intel i7 4770K, 16GB Ram, Sapphire AMD R9 290 Tri-x 4GB OC
  • Acquisition Method – Review Unit
  • Availability – TigerDirect, Newegg, Amazon
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