Our first interaction with NZXT’s Phantom 820 happened during the Computex Taipei 2012 trade show, inside a closed-door suite at the Grand Hyatt Taipei. We spoke with the engineers and designers of the prototype chassis, and they were certain they will be able to produce an ideal combination of three different prototypes that were on offer. The Phantom 820 case was designed to offer some industry firsts, even though we’ve seen quite a lot of innovation in the chassis space over the past decade or so.

How your NZXT Phantom 820 case may look like, and there are plenty of more color combinations on offer
How your NZXT Phantom 820 case may look like, and there are plenty of more color combinations on offer

Almost five months after the meeting in Taipei, we received word that the case hit mass production and that it will arrive in time for 2012 Holiday (shopping) season. The case is at the very peak of price, with $249 required if you want to build a computer around this custom looking case, with the ability to change colors and many more.

At the same time, we were in the final stages of planning for our supercomputer, to be used by the video production studio. We were looking to replace our 15 system array with 20 multi-core processors with around 15.4 billion transistors offering us 12.5 TFLOPS of single precision compute power. Thus, this review will not be one of a typical kind, where couple of years old components end tossed in a case and then get awards without noticing obvious faults. This build uses the best money can buy today, and if NZXT performs well, you’ll be sure to read it here.

The Case
NZXT Phantom 820 case represents the highest-end product the company offers. The price asked for the part is an eye-watering $249, for which you will buy probably one of priciest steel chassis on the market – rivaling even all-aluminum designs from Lian-Li. However, aggressive design and offered customizations do have their fans. The Phantom 820 is available in fashionable white, gunmetal grey and black. As you can see from the pictures, we received the white version.

Top of the case is very neatly designed.
Top of the case is very neatly designed and buttons are quite nice to touch…

The case arrived in a well-protected box, which had a few typical run-ins with the delivery service. Luckily, both the interior and exterior were flawless. Phantom 820 belongs to the Crafted Series, which is obvious from the amount of carvings in otherwise clean design – we particularly liked the top side of the case, which doesn’t serve as a slave to functionality of two 200mm fans, but rather offers nicely designed openings for the second fan.

The top side of the case features dual USB 3.0 and quad USB 2.0 ports (on the left), all of which are covered by a rubber element. The right side has Power On, Reset, Headphone in/Mic and fan controls. The large door hide the controls for LED lighting which we believe to be the highlight of the case. NZXT made sure your case will stand in the crowd by implementing RGB LED lighting, which goes from basic Green, Blue and Red to Yellow, Orange, Purple and white. Regardless of what color combination your components feature, you can find complementary lighting. There are several color modes which range from discrete, all-white to "night at the disco", should you feel like it. However, that level of modification paid the price with cabling – the back side of the case hides a jungle of cables, and your patience will be tested to find the optimal level of cleanliness.

The case has plenty of space and offers a lot of cooling performance
The case has plenty of space and offers a lot of cooling performance… you can put two 200mm fans on top, or enjoy a 360 radiator, should you go with liquid cooling.

Internally, NZXT ships the Phantom 820 with two 200mm fans: one on top and one at the side panel. The top of the case also has an empty slot for another 200mm fan, should you deem it necessary. Furthermore, there’s a 140mm intake fan at the front of the case, a 120mm exhaust fan next to the CPU socket (space supports 120mm and 140mm fans) and there’s room for another 120mm fan at the bottom (not included).

Nine expansion slots support even the largest boards (EVGA SR-2 and SR-X, for example), while openings for liquid cooling occupy otherwise empty space
Nine expansion slots support even the largest boards (EVGA SR-2 and SR-X, for example), while openings for liquid cooling occupy otherwise empty space

From the looks of interior, there’s no doubt that the case fits an XL-ATX sized board like the EVGA’s SR-2 and SR-X, even though the cable management would be a bit "challenging". For regular single-CPU boards, this case offers plenty of space. Eight PCIe brackets and a decent clearance for bottom-mounted power supplies means Quad-GPU support is not an issue. The case supports a maximum of eight GPUs (quad Radeon HD 6990, GeForce GTX 690, Tesla K10?), or even sixteen GPUs, once Nvidia finally releases its dual-slot, Quad-GPU VGX board. Truth to be told, given that the VGX project was sent back to the drawing board – don’t expect VGX with much fanfare for at least three or four quarters ?

Not all is great? but not by much
Getting back on track, NZXT took a lot of pride in new and retooled 2.5"/3.5" drive cages with the new flexible brackets. To us, this is also the weakest spot of the case – the associated screws from the brilliantly designed screwbox were too short to fit any of our Solid State Drives (Kingston HyperX, Samsung 830 Series, OCZ Vertex 4, Seagate Pulsar.2 SLC) or 2.5" hard drives (Seagate Constellation ES.2).

The only real flaw with the case - no way you can mount a 2.5" hard drive without issues...
The only real flaw with the case – no way you can mount a 2.5" hard drive without issues…

Furthermore, the feeling of getting the brackets back into the bays was a bit awkward. We believe this is something NZXT should fix in the next generation. This is also the single complaint we have on the case. We’d also suggest that NZXT enable you to remove both the lower and upper 3.5" drive cage, to enable maximum airflow to the case interior (upper 3.5" case sits just behind of the front 140mm fan).

The Computer: Meet the BrightRender
Having said all of this, we set up on building our supercomputer. From the last page, you could see that our new render rig is set to first supplement and then replace a 15 system cluster that barely exceeds one TFLOPS of compute power (100% CPU).

Rendering videos on that cluster can take with up to six hours per single frame, meaning that rendering a 120 second video can take up to 750 days, which is the reason why you have to call in the cavalry and render it on an external location.

The system we’ll be using in today’s build is consisted out of following components:

  • Intel Core i7-3770, 3.5GHz Core, 3.9 GHz Turbo (provided by Intel)
  • Intel Stock Heatsink (provided by Intel)
  • 32GB Kingston HyperX DDR3-1600 CL9 memory (provided by Kingston)
  • EVGA Z77 FTW Motherboard (provided by EVGA)
  • EVGA GTX 680 2GB SC+ (provided by EVGA)
  • EVGA GTX 680 2GB SC+ (provided by EVGA)
  • EVGA GTX 680 2GB Superclocked (provided by EVGA)
  • EVGA GTX 680 2GB Superclocked (provided by EVGA)
  • EVGA SuperNOVA NEX1500 Classified Power Supply (provided by EVGA)
  • 120GB Kingston HyperX 3K SSD (provided by Kingston)
  • 120GB Kingston HyperX 3K SSD (provided by Kingston)
  • 2TB Seagate Constellation CS (provided by Seagate)
  • 2TB Seagate Constellation CS (provided by Seagate)
  • Corsair K90 Keyboard (provided by Corsair)
  • Corsair M60 Mouse (provided by Corsair)

We want to thank to Dan from Intel, David from Kingston, Jacob and Joe from EVGA, Jon from Seagate and Robert from Corsair for making this build possible.

The system will be configured with one SSD being the system drive, one serving as scratch memory, with 2TB of redundant storage (RAID1). Future upgrades will add two more 2TB Drives and a RAID5 configuration, but for now we’ll rely on our 8TB Seagate Black Armor 440 NAS.

Our main operating system is Windows 7 Service Pack 1 with all updates. Even though Windows 8 arrived with much fanfare, the fact of the matter is that production machines need to run stable and not all of software was certified to work on Windows 8 at the time of the build (this review was finished on Nov 8th, and several applications still did not show compliancy).

We started our build with mounting the solid state drives, and as stated – we encountered a problem with short screws. Luckily, we have a sizeable library of different screws and had no issues in mounting the drives.
We continued the installation process with putting the power supply in. The idea to put stands on the power supply mount is simply great – regardless of what power supply you select, the built in fan will have maximum access to fresh air. Some of case designs we encountered were geared towards 120mm fans, which doesn’t help the PSU airflow if the power supply comes with a 135 or 140mm fan.

Power supply installed, and the anti-vibration stands really stand out - kudos to NZXT for this solution.
Power supply, motherboard installed… we have to state that the anti-vibration stands for PSU really stand out – kudos to NZXT for this solution.

After that, we assembled the motherboard, processor, heatsink and the memory and the said assembly was installed in the case without a hitch. Once the cabling was laid out, we proceeded with installing the graphics cards. Remember – if you’re building a rendering machine, the first graphics card (that you will plug the display into) actually goes to the bottom slot, and then you mount cards on top of each other.

Full configuration. It would be ideal if you could replace the top hard drive cage for complete access to air flow from that 140mm front fan, instead of using additional 120mm fan.
Full configuration. It would be ideal if you could replace the top hard drive cage for complete access to air flow from that 140mm front fan, instead of using an additional 120mm fan.

After two hours of playing with the ideal cabling setup, the system was near-perfect in terms of neatness and we proceeded with turning the system on.

Does it work?
One of primary concerns that we had was whether the heat produced by the graphics cards would cause issues. Luckily, the decision to install the bottom 120mm vent and having a 200mm fan in the side panel proved invaluable, as the graphics cards were producing less heat than in our original no-case testbed setup (which was bound to bend the motherboard, due to excessive weight). We conducted the test of loading the GPUs for 40 minutes of rendering a 1080p scene using Octane Render and V-Ray render. Ultimately, we set on V-Ray render on and measured temperatures, which were higher than you might expect from a GTX 680 card. Bear in mind that the boards were loaded 100%. The GPU temperatures were as such:

  • GPU0 Testbed – 89°C
  • GPU0 in Phantom 820 – 86°C
  • GPU1 Testbed – 90°C
  • GPU1 in Phantom 820 – 88°C
  • GPU2 Testbed – 92°C
  • GPU2 in Phantom 820 – 88°C
  • GPU3 Testbed – 94°C
  • GPU3 in Phantom 820 – 91°C

Even though the GPUs are now stacked one on top of each other, it is more efficient to put them in the case, instead of running them as a testbed configuration.

Conclusion
There’s no doubt about it – NZXT Phantom 820 passed with flying colors. It is easy to read that the company worked on this part for two years, and polished practically every part of the Phantom design. The case is spacious and has plenty of features which surprise with their functionality. For example, we could not figure out what the rubber cap serves for, and it turned out it was a cap for USB connectors on top of the case.

The motherboard chipset operates at 39C after five hours of non-stop rendering.
The motherboard chipset operates at 39C after five hours of non-stop rendering. Testbed had chipset running at 54C.

NZXT did a brilliant job here – typically uninteresting steel/plastics combination turned into a shining example what can smart approach to plastics result with. The high-quality grade plastics raises this part above the competition, while steel frame survived all our meddling with the cables in this maximally configured setup.

Seeing the case glowing through our tests (quite literally), we are awarding the Phantom 820 from NZXT an Editor’s Choice award.

2012 Editor's Choice Award: NZXT Phantom 820 Case