NZXT Manta mini-ITX case review: real cases have curves

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As a rule, mini-ITX cases are as small as possible; they’re designed for LAN-friendly gaming PCs or low-profile media machines. The NZXT Manta is different, with a curvy design that trades portability for added features and extra space. It turns out that when portability and dimensions fall to the bottom of your list of priorities, you can accomplish something pretty incredible.


Pros

  • Real cases have curves
  • Excellent CPU/GPU clearance
  • Plenty of cable space
  • Logically and soundly constructed
  • Quiet and cool
Cons

  • Big and heavy for mini-ITX
  • Curves ain’t for everyone

score9-200Summary and score

Weird and wonderful, the NZXT Manta is a breath of fresh air in the mini-ITX space. Sure, it isn’t as portable as its peers, but the Manta uses its oversized dimensions to great effect, providing plenty of room for components, cables and cooling.

If you aren’t bothered by the limitations of the mini-ITX platform and you don’t mind a bigger, curvier PC, then the Manta is a sound choice.

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Features

  • New manufacturing technology offers unparalleled build quality
  • Elegant, curved steel paneling and window
  • Double the cable management space
  • Dual 280mm liquid cooling support
  • Kraken X61-ready with push/pull capabilities
  • Integrated PSU shroud for a beautifully clean build
  • Fully filtered, easy-to-remove intake
 

Specifications

  • Motherboard support: mini-ITX
  • Dimensions: 245 x 426 x 450mm
  • Weight: 7.2 kilograms
  • CPU clearance: 160mm
  • GPU clearance: 363mm
  • PSU length: 363mm
  • Drive bays: 2x 2.5″, 3x 3.5″
  • Top ports: 2x 3.5mm, 2x USB 3.0
  • Expansion slots: 2
  • Cooling system
    • Front: 2x 140/120mm (included)
    • Top: 2x 140/120mm
    • Rear: 1x 120mm (included)
  • Radiator Support
    • Front: up to 280mm
    • Top: up to 280mm
    • Rear: 120mm
  • Power supply support: ATX
 

Design

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Historically, computer towers have been literal black boxes, rectangular prisms with straight sides and few (if any) curves. The Manta is immediately different, with a flowing shape that looks like someone accidentally over-inflated their (inexplicably square) balloon.

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While most manufacturers add curves with plastic add-ons to a straight rectangular design, the Manta is different. It uses curved steel, courtesy of an advanced manufacturing technique, which feels every bit as solid and inflexible as the traditional boxy designs.

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Another thing you’ll notice about the Manta is its size. It resembles a traditional mid tower in scale, yet it holds only a tiny mini-ITX motherboard. That means there’s a lot of space left over in every dimension, for placing components and stowing cables.

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The fainly lozenge-shaped sides slip horizontally off after the thumbscrews are loosened (but not fully detached). Once off, you get a better view of how the case is constructed, with tall, wide feet at the base and grilles along the top of the case to ensure adequate airflow.

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The front of the case pops off when tugged from its bottom corner, revealing a series of dust filters and dual 120mm fans. There’s no space for an optical drive in the front (or anywhere), which suits me down to the ground.

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The top of the case can be similarly excised, leaving the dual USB 3.0 ports, dual 3.5mm ports and power button behind. There’s space here to install a pair of 140mm fans, plus a 280mm radiator.

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The back of the case also has a fan mounted, this time a smaller 120mm unit. There is only space for a single dual-slot PCI-e card, thanks to the mini-ITX format.

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The bottom of the internal cavity is hidden from view by a metal screen, and accessible from the non-windowed side of the case. Here, you’ll find room for a full-size ATX power supply, and there’s loads of space left over for stowing cables and other bits and bobs.

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Standoffs are included inside for the motherboard to be placed on, with a cutout to attach a CPU cooler on the far side. There are also plenty of additional apertures to allow various cables to be connected to the motherboard without lingering in sight of the window.

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Two SSD drives can be mounted vertically next to the motherboard on the windowed side and there’s space for a vertically mounted 3.5mm hard drive on the back.

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The unit’s lights and fans are also powered here, ensuring only a single Molex connector is used for all the built-in elements.

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Further slots for 2.5mm and 3.5mm drives can be found horizontally at the base of the case.

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The Manta seems to be a sensible and well-designed case, but let’s see how it actually performs by actually assembling a system.

 

Test Rig

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We’ll be constructing a new test rig to occupy the case, which will be used for our future component tests. Here are the components used in the new XSR test rig:

  • Intel Core i5-6600K processor
  • NZXT Kraken X61 liquid cooling
  • MSI GTX 970 graphics card
  • Asus Z170I mini-ITX motherboard
  • Crucial 16GB DDR4 2400MHz RAM
  • Samsung 128GB Evo 850 Plus M.2 SSD
  • Western Digital Green 3TB HDD
  • Enermax 600W PSU

Thanks to NZXT for providing the Manta case and Kakren X61 cooling system for our test rig. Thanks to Zoostorm and Crucial for providing the RAM. Thanks to Samsung for providing the Evo 850 SSD. Without these kind contributions, the new test rig would not be possible.

 

 

Installation

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We begun by fully opening the case, removing each of the sides to allow full access. The motherboard was the first to go in, requiring significant finnagling to coax the I/O shield into place and therefore allow the motherboard to sit in the correct position. There’s only a few millimetres of space to the right of the motherboard’s position, so this took a bit of elbow grease.

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Once held into position, the motherboard could be screwed in using the pre-installed standoffs. We installed the front panel connectors next, as these are fiddly to do and only get harder when there are lots of other components around. There are plenty of cutouts to use, so routing wasn’t an issue here.

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We put in the power supply after the motherboard was wired, with the full-size ATX PSU we were using fitting with tons of room to spare in the bottom of the case. We’re using a non-modular power supply, so having a place to stash unused cables was also appreciated.

RAM doesn’t take up much space, so we may as well put it in now.

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Next up was the CPU and CPU cooler. We’re using NZXT’s own Kraken X61, which includes a 280mm radiator for significant cooling potential. Following the helpful NZXT Manta build on YouTube, we began by attaching the cooler to the processor.

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Next, we screwed the radiator in below the top of the case, with the included 140mm fans at the top, sitting within the curved top section. There’s even a tiny hole to drop each fan’s power cable down to the PSU, which is super helpful. It’s easy to see that the Manta was designed with the X61 in mind.

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Next we installed our storage — and for those of you that still remember the components list, you’ll recall we’re using an M.2 SSD. Unfortunately the M.2 slot is on the back of the motherboard, which isn’t accessible… so we had to partially remove the motherboard, install the M.2 SSD, and then replace the motherboard and all its cables. So lesson learned: install any M.2 SSDs before the motherboard is put in place.

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The other storage was considerably easier, with a few secondary SSDs slotting easily inside the vertical 2.5mm bays, and the single mechanical hard drive fitting on the (also vertical) rear mount. Cable routing was once again straightforward.

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With the HDD in place, it doesn’t look like you’d be able to put the side back on — particularly with all the data and power cables now in place back there. But the Manta is particularly well-endowed when it comes to cable space, so we won’t worry yet.

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Now we have just have to install the graphics card. The expansion slot cover isn’t toolless, but it was still easy enough to remove and felt secure once put in place.

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With every wired up, we should in theory be ready to turn on the PC. We connected up our external peripherals, held our breath and hit the big power button on the top.

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Silence, and then… power! Fans whirred and liquid cooling liquid glugged. We were off; the build was working. Huzzah!

 

Impressions

Building the new XSR test rig, officially christened MANTAMACHINE, was a lot of fun.

Apart from the initial installation of the motherboard, there was always an abundance of space to work with, making it easy to guide components into place without running into trouble. Cable routing was also made easy by the thoughtful inclusion of cutouts throughout the case; I was particularly impressed by the hole for the top fans in the roof of the case.

Speaking of fans, NZXT did well to include a good number right out of the box. These could have been bigger in some places, but I felt the airflow was more than sufficient for my purposes.

The vertical storage mounts made a lot of sense, given the excess of space on each side. It’s nice to show off your PC’s solid state drives through the window, while keeping the relatively ugly 3.5-inch drive hidden around the back.

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The Manta is certainly a bit of a beast for a mini-ITX case. It’s heavy and as big as many mid-towers, so quickly moving it from room to room or taking it to a LAN party isn’t as easy as it would be with almost any other mini-ITX case. The inclusion of a handle or wheels or something would have been nice, but given the curved design it might be too much of a stretch to include.

The case’s bulging look is also one that divided popular opinion. Some people think it looks awesome, some people think it’s goofy. I’m more in the former camp, but I can understand both sides. The curved window also produces reflections like you wouldn’t believe, as you can see in my attempts to photograph the Manta below.

 

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The Kraken X61 was a really nice addition to this case, and it’s clear that the two were designed to work well together. The radiator fits perfectly in the roof of the case, and so far has provided some pretty insane cooling for the i5-660K processor that we’re using. We’ll look at the CPU cooler in more detail in a later review, but for now we’re perfectly happy with its performance.

Speaking of performance — how loud is it? How cool is it? Generally, the case is quite cool, running at around 35°C during light workloads, and reaching around 50°C gaming at 4K.

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Noise is noticeable but hardly loud; generally I don’t notice any noise unless I’m specifically listening out for it. Your mileage may vary, depending on the ambient volume of your surroundings (and your audio setup, but I’d rate the Manta as one of the quieter cases I’ve ever used.

 

Wrap-up

NZXT have crafted a weird but awesome mini-ITX case in the Manta. I wouldn’t recommend it for every mini-ITX build, but if you like the look of this curved case and want lots of room to build your ultimate mini-ITX PC, this is a fantastic choice. It’s my pleasure to award the Manta a 9 / 10 score and our Editor’s Choice award.

Support XSR: Buy for - from Amazon.com

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About William Judd

Editor-in-Chief for XSReviews. Find me @Expert_Will or on G+.

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