Building in the Colossus M
If you read my review of the BitFenix Prodigy M, many of the steps below will look familiar. Stay tuned to the end though, as I encountered a few unique differences between the chassis.
The power supply is mounted up front in the micro-ATX versions of the Colossus/Prodigy/Phenom, and sits on this removable rail. I used a bigger ATX power supply than necessary (180mm modular!) just to see if it would fit (it did), but if you are planning to use multiple high-end graphics cards you may want to consider choosing a 140mm power supply. If anything, it will give you more room to work and more space for cables.
The power supply attaches to the removable bracket and if your PSU uses thumbscrews you’ll be happy to know they’ll still fit when installed (it’ll just be a bit trickier to slide into place). I’d recommend installing the motherboard, CPU/heatsink and RAM first though, as things will get cramped pretty quickly. I used an AIO water cooler when I reviewed the Prodigy M, and the same caveats would apply to the Colossus M. Really, a Corsair H80i / SilverStone TD03 / Thermaltake / any other 120mm radiator seems like the best option if you simply must use an AIO kit, but if you only have one graphics card a 240mm radiator would fit nicely up top as well.
I wanted to try something different in the Colossus M though, and decided to use a 120mm tower-type CPU cooler. This is about the tallest you could fit and still install 3.5″ drives on the vertical drive mounts, but of course you would have more room without 3.5″ hard drives or by just removing the drive mounts entirely. You may also want to use a CPU cooler that allows for different mounting orientations to make the best use of your specific airflow setup (with a giant fan slot in such close proximity, you may want to intake/exhaust from the bottom instead of out the back).
With both of the side panels removed, routing cables is surprisingly simple for such tight confines. There’s enough room to work around larger CPU coolers, but I’d hold off on installing any graphics cards until the very last moment. If your front panel header on the motherboard is located along the bottom edge (top edge, in this case) it’ll be tricky to plug those in with a GPU in the way. On the other mATX cases from BitFenix you could swap the panels and plug those cables in at this point in the build; with the Colossus M you might find yourself waiting until later. They’re long enough to plug in now, but moving the case around might get tricky with a side panel attached by cables.
The Colossus M uses the same vertical drive bracket as the other cases. They install as shown above, and this arrangement actually makes connecting the SATA data and power cables pretty easy even after you install the drive bracket into the case.
Building in the Colossus M, Continued
Most of the components are installed now, so let the cable management commence! There’s still a few items to finish before placing the side panels back on, so let’s get to it.
You can probably see why I mentioned my unnecessarily large power supply earlier. While a card like the Radeon 7850 pictured above will fit without an issue, once you get into GPUs that extend past the motherboard you’ll run into clearance problems with larger power supplies (an XFX Radeon 270X fit, but it was touching the power supply unit. It was just the plastic frame making contact, but anything longer and you’d have to use a different PCI-E slot). A 140mm unit would be just fine, and even 150/160mm modular PSU units should still have enough clearance. Like I said, the 180mm Rosewill Lightning PSU I used just isn’t necessary for an enclosure like this; there are 750W + power supplies in a 140mm size if you’re willing to look. It is nice to know you aren’t really limited though, larger power supplies will fit without a problem – just be aware of the size of your graphics cards. Whatever PSU you choose, there is enough room on either side to stow cables (or tie them to the front mesh) – while the quarters get cramped, cable management isn’t as difficult as you would expect.
Most modern graphics cards will consume much more power than a typical CPU, so I’ve taken to using a top-down approach to cooling in the micro-ATX BitFenix chassis. While it isn’t always the best idea to take warm air straight from a heated graphics card to cool a CPU, you could always flip the rear exhaust fan to an intake and let a giant 230mm fan (like the BitFenix Spectre Pro seen above) exhaust everything out of the bottom. While this would be another article’s worth of testing, it seems to be a pretty optimal configuration for keeping heat and noise down. I’ve tried using that bottom fan mount as an intake, but placing fans directly against mesh usually increases the noise substantially – the recessed mounts above seem better suited for hitting the optimum spot on that noise/performance curve.
Of course, this is assuming the use of open-air coolers like the 7850 above; blower-style GPUs that exhaust air out of the back of the case should perform better in smaller enclosures. For what it’s worth, a Sapphire Radeon 7970 with a Dual-X cooler stayed around 70C under a full compute load with the configuration shown above, so the Colossus M didn’t have any problem dealing with the heat. Still, if you want to try a Crossfire/SLI configuration I’d strongly recommend choosing graphics cards that use rear-exhausting blowers for cooling.
That’s the fun part of building your own system though, you can experiment with different fan configurations and choose a setup that fits your own components. I initially thought it was strange for BitFenix to only include two 120mm fans for the micro-ATX cases, but I would imagine each user will want to choose their own fan configuration (so keeping the price down and the options open might be the best way to ship a stock enclosure). Unless you plan to use the drive mounts on the bottom, I’d recommend picking up a 200mm or 230mm fan to get the best performance out of the Colossus M. Since BitFenix has the largest selection of 200/230mm fans in a variety of colors, you should be able to find something that matches – perhaps that’s the point, the only fan that might make sense here and appeal to the vast majority would be a switching red/green/blue LED fan. Since those don’t exist commercially (that I know of) and everyone has their own favorite color, it’s understandable that BitFenix would allow you to choose your own aftermarket components.
Finally, we arrive at the most frustrating part of the install – depending on where your motherboard places the USB 3.0 header and front panel/audio headers, routing these cables from the side panel might be simple or extremely complex. Waiting to insert the GPU and vertical drive bracket until after you attach these cables is by far the best option, but once you do get them connected to the appropriate headers it is almost impossible to tie them down or out of the way – you’ll just have to carefully place the side panel back on the chassis while peering over the top to make sure the cables don’t get caught in any fans. For a one-time install, the enhanced aesthetics of the Colossus M makes this a non-issue; the tinkerers out there may want to spend some time thinking of ways to deal with this if they plan on constantly removing the side panel.
Now for the best part: glowy lights! Let’s be honest, you’re probably not going to buy a chassis with a giant LED stripe if you’re going to leave the lights off, so this LiteTrack™ interpretation of the original Colossus is one of the main selling points of the Colossus M. You’ll be glad to see BitFenix’s diffused lighting match very closely to their stock images – I had trouble capturing the color accurately (I didn’t want to mess with any shift or saturation, and the LED colors always seemed washed out in a photo compared to how they looked to the eye) but in my opinion this is one of the best uses of diffused LED light I’ve seen on a commercial computer case. The red is a fiery red (not a dark, blood red), the blue is just a step brighter than that pure LED blue (it’s a bright blue, not a deep/purple blue) and the green has just a hint of a “mint,” although it’s more similar to a neon green. There are still a few hot spots, but overall the evenly-lit stripe is a very unique and eye-catching effect. My only complaint with the lighting system is this: you need to turn it on every time you power on your machine, then cycle through the three colors again to display the color that you had before. It would be nice if the controller just stayed on last color selected – while a small detail, hopefully BitFenix will be able to include such an option on future revisions. While I’m wishing, hopefully BitFenix will find a way to add a controller to those LEDs to allow for combining colors – options are good, and pink/purple/cyan/aqua/orange/yellow/white would be wonderful as well!