Micro-ATX Case Final Thoughts
Overall, I enjoyed my time with Phanteks’ Enthoo-EVOLV. If I could use one word to describe the experience, it would be “premium.” There was just a sense of hefty, premiumness from every angle. I don’t even care that premiumness isn’t a word, it’s the first thing that stands out about the EVOLV. Phanteks really raises the bar for what a user can expect from a premium chassis, even in a form factor as non-traditional as Micro-ATX.
I’m not sure the EVOLV is as much of an evolution as the name would suggest – although the rear-facing 5.25″ bay is a delightfully unique solution (far better than ridding the chassis entirely of a space for an optical drive/bay device). This isn’t by any means a “bad thing.” Phanteks placed a lot of premium touches on this enclosure, but overall it subscribes to a pretty tried-and-true internal layout. What it doesn’t subscribe to is cutting corners. The Enthoo-EVOLV has to be the most premium-feeling, well built chassis I’ve worked with, easily in the same league as SilverStone (I would say Lian Li as well, but I don’t have any personal experience with their products).
What is unique about the EVOLV (other than the glossy, extremely thick aluminum panels) is the attention paid to custom water-cooling loops. The accessory box includes a pump bracket! If that isn’t enough, the vertical drive bracket contains multiple holes for reservoirs and pumps, and the mid-floor plate can be removed for longer radiators (or to install a pump in place of the tool-less HDD cage). It’s clear this chassis isn’t intended for a simple air-cooled build (although it certainly doesn’t struggle with those either). The only thing the EVOLV seems to be missing is a fifth PCI slot. With a different motherboard this wouldn’t be an issue, but this choice may limit some builders.
Phanteks Enthoo-EVOLV Conclusion
I’ll try and summarize my experience with Phanteks’ Enthoo-EVOLV in terms of Performance, Appearance, Construction, Functionality and Value categories, but as always I feel like I should add a disclaimer. You must understand that my own preferences and uses for cases differ from most; while I try to view each case as objectively as I can, I probably can’t avoid my own bias from affecting my conclusion in some manner. I implore you to think in depth of your OWN uses and preferences, and use my reviews as a guide or simply as another perspective.
I was satisfied with the performance of the Enthoo-EVOLV. The front Phanteks SP 200mm fan is a welcome feature, and the rear 140mm SP series fan completes an above-standard stock cooling arrangement. While it’s unfortunate I couldn’t test a CrossFireX arrangement with my motherboard due to the four PCI slot limit of the EVOLV, I didn’t run into any temperature issues (either CPU or GPU, water or air) with the configurations that I did try. I’m willing to bet CrossFire or SLI’d GPUs would still run a little warm in this chassis – even with the emphasis on water cooling, I’m surprised to see a fifth PCI slot didn’t make the cut. At least the flexibility in fan and radiator mounting options are adequate for most mATX builds and should allow a user to customize the performance of the EVOLV to meet their needs.
I like the way the EVOLV looks. It’s appearance is interesting enough to draw attention, but conservative enough to not appear gaudy or over the top. The appearance from every angle is attractive, and the EVOLV practically emanates a premium aura. The glossy finish on our Glacier White sample is beautiful, and although fingerprints could become an issue the high-shine finish wipes off very easily (the white does a great job of hiding them regardless). I’d love to see white in a matte finish as well, but that’s better served by the Satin Black version I suppose.
The next category is pretty easy – I simply couldn’t find any fault with the EVOLV’s construction. It was top-notch all around, and among the best I’ve ever tested. The 3mm-thick aluminum panels all over the exterior are definitely not the “soda can” variety, and are covered in a high-gloss (and high quality) white paint that actually protects the finish as well as changing the color. I actually thought the side panels were steel the first time I worked with them due to their thickness and rigidity, but I’m glad they’re aluminum – the EVOLV is heavy enough for a mATX tower. The rubber grommets don’t fall out like some other cases I’ve used, the threads on the PCI slot thumbscrews are nicely done, and even the cable wraps are the high-end versions, not the fuzzy-hooks-that-catch-on-everything types.
I think the EVOLV has an above-average amount of functionality for a micro-ATX chassis, with its various fan/radiator combinations and water-cooling accommodations. I’m a little disappointed to find that a fifth PCI slot didn’t make it into the EVOLV, allowing for some spacing between CrossFire and SLI graphics cards. That’s about the only misstep though, as the snap-on (and hinged!) panels that allow easy access to the entire chassis are but one of the many functional touches added throughout. I would like to have seen some tool-less SSD trays too, but it seems only Corsair has jumped on that wagon so far.
All of these premium touches must come at a premium price, right? With an MSRP of $144.99 (Amazon | Newegg) for the Glacier White version (the Satin Black edition is $10 less at $134.99), the EVOLV is actually priced pretty fairly when the aluminum construction and numerous premium touches are taken into account. Keep in mind, the value crowd really isn’t the target for a chassis like this – some of the cooling configurations I demonstrated were over $200 total, and they were just AIO coolers! Custom water cooling loops don’t have to be much more expensive, but $300 just on cooling probably isn’t a stretch – so why not give your system a nice home while you’re at it?
The value equation may not make sense to everyone, as there are micro-ATX cases that have just as much room for radiators and cost a little less. At $139.99, the EVOLV has to fight its way past the BitFenix Prodigy M and Fractal Design Node 804, both of which have five PCI slots (if you can’t tell, that’s a tough one for me to get over!). With five PCI slots, I think the EVOLV would be a shoe-in for a Gold Tachometer award – as it is, this is definitely a quality chassis well worth a look. While the EVOLV’s price is certainly worth it for what you receive, I’m not sure I could make a recommendation for all users; for those water-cooling enthusiasts that prefer a little luxury and extra quality though, the Phanteks Enthoo-EVOLV is an excellent chassis.
+ Premium feel throughout
+ Water-cooling reputation well-deserved
+ Quality is top-notch
+ PSU cover / midplate helps in hiding cables
+ Hinged side panels will change your entire building experience…
– Still pretty heavy for a mATX tower, even with aluminum panels
– Only four PCI slots
– Only one Drop-N-Lock SSD tray included