What's new
  • Please do not post any links until you have 3 posts as they will automatically be rejected to prevent SPAM. Many words are also blocked due to being used in SPAM Messages. Thanks!

NZXT Alpha Mid Tower Case Review

Status
Not open for further replies.

Wankerfx

Well-known member
Joined
Mar 15, 2007
Messages
573
Location
Ottawa, Ontario


NZXT Alpha ATX Mid-Tower Case Review



Part Number: CAS-NZX-ALPH-WIN
Price: $80CAD
Availability: Black / Black with a side window
Warranty: 1 Year
Manufacturer's Product Page: NZXT. Products.



NZXT is a company which builds cases for almost every taste and nearly every budget. They produce several categories of cases, hoping to capture every gamer's unique style; among them they have the rugged Adamas, the sleek Duet and the fully-loaded Zero. Even though NZXT is most known for their cases, they also have a full lineup of highly-regarded power supplies as well. Their motto of "Crafted Gaming Armour" does well in conveying the direction which their case-building has taken them; they want to cater to gamers with unique designs and add features that will answer the needs of this particular market. All of their cases carry a one year warranty which is not particularly long but it is backed up by some very good customer support.

In this review we will be looking at NZXT's brand new Alpha mid-tower case. Not only is this case one of their more simple and compact designs but it is also one of the few enclosures in this price range that is 8800GTX compatible. Speaking of price, here in Canada the Alpha is priced at an extremely competitive $80 which puts it in the same price category as many generic cases. If NZXT can stick to their past build quality and maybe add a few unique features to this case, it could be a real winner. So, let's see how it does, shall we?


 
Last edited by a moderator:

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Specs / Packaging & Accessories

Specifications




Packaging & Accessories


Overall, the box is exactly what you would expect from any well-packaged case; it is made of corrugated cardboard, which is not easily damaged. Luckily, the UPS delivery guy seemed to be having a good day so there was only a bit of cosmetic damage and no boot marks on the box.


The outside of the box holds all of the information you would need if you were picking this case up in a brick and mortar store; there is a text box full of highlights regarding the main features of the Alpha as well as a few pictures. It is great to know that this case is 8800GTX compatible, since as technology progresses it seems like the size of graphics cards increase as well.

Going on to the other features mentioned here, it seems like NZXT is getting on the tool-less installation bandwagon as well as trying to keep noise to a minimum by including low-noise fans. Also, it seems NZXT included a few USB ports and an audio/microphone jack on their case since these specs are the bare minimum for any type of gamer.


The case was 100% snug and secure when it came out of the box. There are two big styrofoam molds; one surrounding each end of the case to prevent cosmetic damage. The case is also wrapped in a tough plastic which is used to prevent scratches to the glossy paint. The Alpha arrived flawless and without any damage which is always a good thing....


The included mounting hardware is very basic and without any additional frills but this is to be expected with a case that costs around $80. On the other hand, the lack of accessories does not mesh very well with the "Gaming Armour" motto carried by NZXT. Zip-ties or velcro tie wraps are a dime a dozen and their inclusion wound have gone a long way to making this package a bit more appealing. They would have really helped with getting all of the cables out of the way...which is a MUST in mid-tower enclosures.​

Nonetheless, all of the necessary bits and pieces are included for installing your hardware.​
 
Last edited:

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Exterior Impressions / Exterior Dimensions

Exterior Impressions


Beautiful, isn't it? Without a doubt the Alpha does away with the gaudy designs of the past NZXT cases and replaces it with understated class and subtle design touches. This particular case has a large side window which is perfect for any of you that want to have a bit of a "bling" factor. Overall, upon first glance, this does not look like an $80 case; it looks MUCH more expensive than that.


NZXT is proud of their creation and rightly so. There are some really great little details like the way they imprinted their name in the front of the case. This is one of the subtle things NZXT has done so well with this product; had they made the logo any bigger, it would have destroyed the elegance of the Alpha. Meanwhile, the power buttons on the case seem to be aluminum with an engraved spiral pattern in them. I count myself a sucker for good power buttons that have a quality feel to them. We have looked at cases in the past with some really low-quality buttons and the Alpha is definitely not one of them.

What really stands out about the design is the Plexiglas outer rim located on the front bezel of the Alpha. This whole addition brings a very unique look to the front of the case but it does not look overly tacky. The case itself is painted a gloss black which makes it look extremely good but at the same time glossy paint jobs carry with them a few problems. First and foremost among the problems is that glossy paint is an absolute magnet for fingerprints and scratches. Have a cloth ready to buff out any fingerprints because they WILL pop up, even if you have no idea where they came from. Unfortunately, scratches are somewhat of an issue with this case because the paint seems to be very thin on the side panels. This means even the smallest blemish will look twice as bad due to the grey metal under the paint showing through. Personally, I think this case needed one more coat in the paintshop.

NZXT covers the basic needs of a gamer and pretty much every other consumer by including an I/O ports for audio, microphone, USB and even an eSATA port. These are great, but the ports are located at the bottom right side of the case which means they can be a pain in the butt to access. This is a bad decision by NZXT since there are those of us who have their cases on the ground. Many consumers are looking for easy access USB connections which is something that the Alpha just doesn't provide. Bending over doesn't take too much work, but the leg of your table might block the port or you may not have enough space next to your case to attach a USB thumb drive.


The side of the case offers a hand grip for removing the panel which is well integrated into the overall design. The back of the case is approximately the same as any other case in the mid-tower category which means everything is where you would expect it to be. We won't dwell to much on this since there are more important things to discuss.

I generally do not like side windows, but the Alpha is an exception; this window gives you a good view into your case and it is made of thick acrylic. A windowed case may not be for everyone but at least NZXT put some thought and consideration into the one on the Alpha. Interestingly enough, even though the side fan is called an option in the specifications, our case came with a 120mm blue LED fan already installed. This fan has a fine mesh over it to prevent dust from going inside your case and it is easily removed if you don't want it. The window is strong and able to sustain some impact, unlike other cases in this price range. If you're going to have a side panel window, this is the one you want.


Exterior Dimensions


The Alpha is quite compact and it is capable of sitting underneath a small desk without a problem even though the case should be resting on a desk to enable easy access to the USB ports. I was particularly happy with the fact an 8800GTX can fit inside a case of this size.
[/CENTER]
 
Last edited:

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Interior Impressions

Interior Impressions

Overall, the interior of the Alpha is surprisingly easy to work in considering it is a mid-tower enclosure. There aren't any sharp edges and there are plenty of features hiding inside of this case to make even the most jaded DIYer completely happy. So, without further delay let's take a closer look at the interior of this new NZXT case.


Once you open the Alpha and take a look-see inside, you will see that the cables for the front port are wrapped in a bag to prevent damage to the connectors. This is a good idea and it is the first time we have seen something like this. Meanwhile, the parts box is located in the hard drive cage along with the instruction manual.

The case offers compatibility with three types of motherboards; ATX, Mini ATX and Micro ATX.


Every now and then we see a case that puts some serious thought into cable routing but they are all usually higher-end and more expensive cases than the Alpha. Yet with this case NZXT has manufactured a cable routing powerhouse with enough holes in the motherboard tray to satisfy anyone's cable-hiding fetish. All of these cut-outs have rounded edges so your power supply cables will not be damaged when they are passed through. Once cables are passed through these holes, they can snake their way behind the motherboard tray and to your components. This ability to hide your cables becomes a real boon in a mid-tower sized case where space is always at a premium.


While the hard drive bay can hold up to five drives it also includes small holes so the power and SATA connectors can moved out of sight. You can also see that there is a mounting area for a 120mm intake fan in front of the hard drive cage. There is no pre-installed fan here but you can see that even if one was installed, it would have some problems moving any air at all. This is due to the limited amount of holes in the side of the cage in order to let cool air pass through. We have seen this far too often.

The rear of the Alpha holds a pre-installed 120mm exhaust fan which works well by silently moving quite a bit of hot air out of the case.


There is a small elbow inside the case to prevent the side and bottom panels from warping under heavier loads. This is a must since I find the majority of the panels on the Alpha to be made out of relatively light-gauge material which tends to bow when the least bit of pressure is applied.

I also liked the little safety features NZXT incorporated in this case. This is the first time I have seen sharp edges covered in a thin rubber sleeving which protects your digits from any harm.


The PCB for the front I/O port is simple, functional and does not get in the way during the assembling/disassembling process. If you don't need to use these ports, the cables are easily unplugged from the PCB in order to clear up some of the cable clutter in your case.
 
Last edited:

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Installation / Cooling Performance

Installation

The process of installing and uninstalling components into the Alpha is no harder than doing so with any other mid-tower case on the market. On the other hand, NZXT has implemented a few features which will make your work alot less tedious in such a confined space. Let's be honest; once you have worked in a full tower case, going back to a mid-tower design is like throwing yourself into a torture chamber. Let's take a look at what NZXT has done to this case to make your life a little easier.


The CD and Floppy drive clips are fairly easy to secure. Just line them up with the holes of the drives with those of the case, push in, and lock them by turning them clockwise. The clips were surprisingly sturdy and the drives did not need any additional support.


When installing drives into some mid-tower cases I have had issues with longer 5.25" drives getting in the way of the power supply cables. With the Alpha, there was more than enough space between even the longer DVD drive and the power supply.


Since I did not encounter any large problems with this build, I will leave you with the final shot of all the components installed. As you can see, my 7900GTX fit without much of a problem but getting an 8800GTX to fit in the Alpha can get really tight. All of the cable routing options contribute to make this one of the cleaner builds I have done and I have to say that the ALpha is a joy to work with.


Cooling Performance

The following cooling comparison is done between the Thermaltake Soprano and the NZXT Alpha with with a controlled
ambient temperature of 20ºC. It should be noted that both cases were kept in their stock form (aside the removal of the side 120mm fan on the Alpha which will be discussed later) for these tests.

Hardware used:

CPU: Pentium D 805
Ram: 2GB G.Skill HK-series DDR2
Motherboard: Asus P5B Deluxe
Power Supply: OCZ GameXstream 700W
GPU: Asus 7900GTX
CPU Cooling: Tuniq Tower 120
OS: Windows XP Home edition

Programs Used for Temperature Monitoring

- Asus PC PROBE II
- Speedfan 4.33
- ATITool 0.26
- nTune

Tools used to load components

- Orthos Beta
- ATITool "Spinning Box"


Results


The temperatures of all the components are relatively the same from one case to the other, except for the system temperature. In this test we had to remove the side fan of the Alpha due to some unforseen problems which we will discuss later. Nonetheless, it is evident by the system temperature what this NZXT case would benefit from a front intake fan installed. To tell you the truth, the heat generated by most of the components really has no where to go without good airflow and the temperatures reflect this.
 
Last edited:

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Areas of Improvement

Areas of Improvement

With nearly every product on the market, there is always room for some improvement. Maybe we are too picky sometimes but since we test every enclosure to its limits in terms of ease of installation and overall design we usually come up with some issues. Unfortunately for the cases we test, this approach usually brings out some downfalls that may not be apparent at first glance.

While we have seen that the NZXT Alpha is a VERY good case, there were a few times when I found it was left wanting
certain things. Some of the things I found were due to manufacturing and quality control slip-ups while others were due to some minor design miscues. Usually, finding faults with a budget case isn't hard at all but my experience with the Alpha was overall very positive considering its price. Let's check out where NZXT could have done better.


Rubber feet are always a good thing when you need stability but they have to be installed properly or your entire case could be off-balance. The NZXT Alpha suffers from exactly this problem and tends to rock back and forth due to unlevel rubber feet. This may be a quality control issue with our sample but one other Alpha we are aware of has this exact same problem. This doesn't affect the overall performance of the case but it does get annoying when your brand new case starts rocking back and forth. Make no mistake about it though; rubber feet are great for vibration dampening and won't scratch your hardwood floors if you tend to move your case around alot. Their inclusion is great but their installation here is more annoying than convenient.


I also encountered a problem when installing my 7900GTX. No, it wasn't the length but rather the mounting holes on the backplate of the card did not line up with the expansion slot holes on the Alpha. The top hole lined up without a problem but the bottom screw wouldn't line up at all. Before you start thinking this is a problem with the back plate of the GPU, I can tell you right now that this 7900GTX has been installed into several other enclosures without this problem popping up. However, in my eyes this isn't a huge problem since a single screw will keep the GPU in place without a problem.


The only major problem i had with this case is the fact that with my Tuniq Tower installed, the side panel would refuse to close properly. This is due to the alignment of the side 120mm fan with the tall Tuniq cooler (which they call "tower" with good reason) since both the cooler and the side fan touched when I tried to close the side door. From what I see, this will be an issue with taller coolers like my Tuniq Tower and the Thermalright Ultra-120 series as well as some others. There are a number of ways to overcome this; you can completely remove the side fan or you could search high and low for a low profile 120mm fan.

One way or another this is the one problem I had with the Alpha that feels like a serious design blunder. Considering the number of people who are moving to larger aftermarket coolers on their 775, AM2 and AM2+ systems, I think the NZXT really needs to modify their side panel design to accommodate these trends. It should be noted that even without the side fan installed, the side panel does not close so it is completely flush with the front of the case.
 
Last edited:

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Conclusion

Conclusion:

The NZXT Alpha proved to be a pleasant surprise for me considering I wasn't expecting much from a case that costs around $80CAD. Personally, I think allot of us feel that $80 will get us a generic case which is bland, featureless and cools your components as well as a paper bag would. Yet with the Alpha, NZXT has shown us that a budget mid-tower enclosure can punch far above its price range by offering sleek design, good cooling options and 8800GTX compatibility. One of my particular favorites about this case is the fact that it is designed to appeal to a much broader market than other "gamer" cases. There are small little touches such as the recessed NZXT logo and the clear acrylic bezel that really make the Alpha stand out. Even the interior provides loads of options for cable routing and more space than i have seen on most mid-tower cases that have passed my way in the last few months. While we are focused on the interior, I have to say that I loved the touches of rubber which were perfectly placed on all of the corners that usually scratch the hell out of my hands. Allot of effort was also put into the design and material used in the acrylic window on the side panel. With most budget cases, you get a very thin sheet of cheap acrylic while with the Alpha you get a window which is made of thick, rigid, high-quality acrylic. These are touches you just don't expect from a case with this kind of price.

Yet, like with most products, there were some issues that kept the Alpha from being a near-perfect enclosure. It is downright depressing that so much work can be put into a product only to find out that it is not compatible with larger CPU coolers. Maybe saying that it is not compatible is too harsh but the second you install the side 120mm fan you can forget about using a Tuniq tower, Thermalright Ultra-120 or any other overly tall CPU cooler. Considering the side fan is a pretty large selling point, I was really hoping that NZXT would get it right and unfortunately they didn't. Another design faux pas is the location of the front (or should we call them "side") I/O ports. They are in an extremely inconvenient position if you have your case placed inside of a desk or on the floor with the ports pointing away from your seating location. There is also the issue of the unbalanced feet which can get really annoying considering your case will sway the second you touch it. This is easily fixed by putting a wedge of paper under one of the feet but we should not have to do that in the first place. Finally, I have a small issue with the cooling performance afforded by the front 120mm fan if you choose to install it; since there are so many obstacles between it and the rest of your case, the chance of any fresh air making it to your components is slim to none.

All in all, i enjoyed my time with the Alpha and I would happily recommend it to consumers looking for a well-priced mid-tower enclosure which offers solid installation options as well as good build quality. There are a few nagging issues but those can be pretty easily overlooked if you are building a basic system and don't need a high-end case. So, the NZXT Alpha gets a 4/5 rating and our Dam Good Value Award.


Pros:

- Excellent value
- Clear evidence of effort put into details
- Strong and well designed side window
- Sleek outer design
- Integrated holes for cable management
- USB drive, eSATA, headphone and microphone outputs


Cons:

- Rubber feet are not balanced
- USB drive, eSATA, headphone and microphone outputs are located at the bottom of the case
- Side fan must be removed in order for the case to be compatible with bigger heatsinks
- Requires more air flow in order to achieve better temperatures
- Door does not close flush with the case




Thanks to NZXT for providing us with this sample

Please fell free to post your questions and comments about this review here: http://www.hardwarecanucks.com/forum/cases/3523-comment-thread-nzxt-alpha-case-review.html
 
Last edited:
Status
Not open for further replies.
Top