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BitFenix Ghost: Quiet ATX Chassis

The BitFenix Ghost has many of the qualities for a good quiet case and bonus features in the form of a reversible door hinge and a hotswap hard drive dock. However, a few vital design flaws prove to be stumbling blocks.

November 26, 2012 by Lawrence Lee

Product
BitFenix Ghost
ATX Tower Case
Manufacturer
Street Price
US$100

BitFenix is a young case manufacturer from Taiwan following the footsteps of
such companies as NZXT and Fractal Design by making a name for themselves in
quick time. They’ve established a reputation for offering good value and for
designs that are fairly simple, apparently concentrating more on features, construction,
and usability. BitFenix may be that unusual phenomenon of a new company focusing
on old school fundamentals rather flash.


The box.


The Ghost.

The Ghost is BitFenix’s version of a quiet tower that most closely resembles
Corsair’s
Obsidian 550D
, although like most designs out there, it borrows from
many sources. It’s about the same size as the 550D, standing almost 21 inches
tall, quite large for a case of its class. Its dust filters detach with a simple
push like the 550D’s various panels, and the front door can be similarly adjusted
to open from either side. However, being a US$100 case, the Ghost really
can’t in the same league. The build quality isn’t nearly as good, with plastic
covering the top and front of the case. The Ghost is available only in black,
treated with something BitFenix calls “NanoChrome” which supposedly
helps hide the aesthetic difference of metal and plastic. The two materials
do look more alike on the Ghost than other models, but it’s still easy to tell
them apart.


Accessories.

We were surprised to find that all the drive trays and cable management grommets
were not pre-installed but included with the rest of the goodies in the accessory
bag. There were also anti-vibration pads for the power supply, a plastic cover
for the SATA connector located in the dock at the top of the case, an install
guide, and a small bag of screws.

Specifications: BitFenix Ghost
(from the
product web page
)
Materials Steel, Plastic
Color (Int/Ext) Black/Black
Dimensions (WxHxD) 210 x 522 x 510 mm
Motherboard Sizes Mini-ITX, mATX, ATX
5.25″ Drive Bays x 3
3.5″ Drive Bays x 4
2.5″ Drive Bays x 3
Hot Swap Bay x 1 (SATA III 6Gbit/s)
Cooling – Front 140mm x 1 or 120mm x 2 (120mm x 1 included)
Cooling – Rear 120mm x 1 (included)
Cooling – Top 230mm x 1 or 200mm x 1 or 140mm x 2 or 120mm x 2 (optional)
Cooling – Bottom 140mm x 1 or 120mm x 1 (optional)
PCI Slots x 7
I/O USB 3.0 x 2, USB 2.0 x 2, HD audio, SATA III hot swap bay
Power Supply PS2 ATX (bottom, multi direction)
Extras Serenitek™ silencing material, NanoChrome™ surface treatment, S4™ hot swap and storage, Spectre™ cooling, dedicated locations for Alchemy™ LED Strips, anti-vibration HDD trays, 240mm radiator ready, removable dust filters (front, top, bottom), tool-free drive locking

EXTERIOR

Like most towers in its price range, the BitFenix Ghost has a steel frame,
with plastic covering the front and top. The surface has a smooth, matte finish
that doesn’t attract fingerprint smudges as much as most other cases we’ve handled.
It measures 21.0 x 52.2 x 51.0 cm or 8.3 x 20.6 x 20.1 inches (W x H x D) for
a total case volume of 55.9 L, which is quite substantial compared to most silence
oriented models.


The top of the case is home to a huge vent with a fine fan filter,
a hard drive dock compartment and I/O ports, switches, and LEDs. The
power and hard drive activity lights are white with a slightly bluish
tint, but not annoying bright. The power and reset buttons feel very
solid and sit almost flush. For connectivity, there is a mic and line-out
jack, and four USB ports (two USB 3.0).


The dust filter pops off easily by depressing the rear corners. The SATA docking bay is just a simple compartment with a pair of anti-vibration strips; simply insert a drive and push it into the exposed SATA connector; a cover is provided to protect the connector so you can use it as a multipurpose storage nook.


The door can open from either side thanks to a reversible hinge
assembly and is lined with a thick layer of acoustic foam. There are
three 5.25 inch and one 3.5 inch eternal drive bays. One 140 mm or two
120 mm fans can be mounted in the lower half.


The front filter comes off by pressing on the left side corners and swinging out to the right, allowing access to the intake fan placements. A single 120 mm fan is pre-installed with standard fan bolts in the upper position. Mesh running along the sides of the door act as intake vents.


The side panels are secured with thumbscrews at the rear, pulling out with the help of handholds at the center. The area beside the expansion slots is ventilated with a large honeycomb pattern as is the rear 120 mm exhaust fan. The fan grill is pushed outward at the center so the fan isn’t flush against the surface.


Rubber feet are covered by a plastic skirt. An arch in the middle
is an unusual flourish for an otherwise boxy chassis.


Another large dust filter is attached on the underside, though this
one uses six small magnets. Our only quibble with the exterior is there’s
no comfortable way to pick up the case as the plastic rim on the bottom
is very thin, digging into your hands except at the center of the arches
on the sides. It’s awkward to hold it there as well because the case
is quite tall.
(Fine if you’re 6’2″ or taller.)

INTERIOR

The interior of the Ghost is reasonably sturdy for a US$100 case. The one exception is the upper 2.5 inch drive cage which sacrifices stability for the ability to accommodate 3.5 inch drives as well. The side panels aren’t terribly thick at 0.8 mm and even with a thick layer of foam it does exhibit some flex.


The panels are lined with 3 mm thick layers of very stiff foam with a dimpled pattered along the surface.


The case has a relatively pedestrian layout for an ATX tower. Interesting
features include the 2.5 inch drive cage at the center/front, a comically
large cutout to facilitate third party CPU heatsink installation, and
tool-less, reusable expansion slot covers. The big cutout in the motherboard
tray can mean reduced rigidity and greater tendency to bend under load.
Ensure good support for a big CPU cooler and/and huge aftermarket VGA
coolers, especially to keep the video cards from sagging down.


The drive cages are placed right in front of the intake fan positions so cooling isn’t an issue. There are four 3.5 inch drive bays in the bottom compartment and three 2.5 inch bays in the upper chamber.


The side of the upper drive cage is attached using only two screws at the top while the bottom has a pair of tabs that simply slide into available slots. It can be ditched entirely to make room for a long graphics card or moved an inch over to support 3.5 inch drives, though BitFenix only provides enough 3.5 inch trays to fill up the bottom cage. The nature of this design makes the cage structurally unstable and prone to hard drive vibration.


Like many cases, the stability of the fan mounts on the top panel
is suspect. The thin metal frames are quite flimsy in comparison to
the rest of the case.


The bottom panel is heavily ventilated. Behind the power supply
mount is an additional 120/140 mm fan placement.


We have mixed feelings about cable management inside the Ghost. There is an adequate 1.9 cm of clearance behind the motherboard tray after accounting for the 3 mm thick foam on the side panel but there are no tie-down points at the center or rear side of the tray. The large holes near the drive cages are fairly sizable and the edges are rolled so the included grommets are really only needed for cleaning up its appearance.

ASSEMBLY

Assembling a system in the Ghost is straightforward. Our usual ATX case test
system was used: An Asus 790GX motherboard with Phenom II X4 955 CPU, a ZEROtherm
FZ120 heatsink with a Nexus 120 mm fan, a WD Caviar hard drive and a Cooler
Master 700W modular power supply (see full system details on the next page).


The plastic hard drive trays are flexible, wrapping around drives with grommetted bolts to secure them in place.


If your motherboard lacks an internal USB 3.0 connector, an alternative 2.0 header is available.


By our measurements, the maximum CPU heatsink height is 16.8 cm. Graphics cards up to 32.1 cm in length can be accommodated if the upper drive cage is in the stock 2.5 inch configuration (29.6 cm with the 3.5 inch configuration pictured above).


Cable management wasn’t an issue for us but our test system isn’t particularly cable heavy.


Cables overlapping the main 24-pin ATX connector makes it difficult to close the side panel. We had to lay the case on its side to get it on without difficulty.


The docking bay is a convenient feature that we don’t see often enough but BitFenix’s simple implementation leaves a lot to be desired. There is no release mechanism so you have manually pull the drive back to disconnect it. We found this difficult and when the drive finally came free the back slammed into the side of the compartment.

TESTING

System Configuration:

Measurement and Analysis Tools

System temperatures and noise levels were recorded with SpeedFan and GPU-Z
at idle and on load using CPUBurn (K7 setting) and FurMark, an OpenGL
benchmarking and stability testing utility.

Baseline Noise

The Ghost is equipped with a two low speed 3-pin 120 mm fans, one at the rear and one at the front. The cables were a surprisingly long 60 cm which is very thoughtful as sometimes they aren’t able to reach the fan headers on some motherboards. Extra slack also gives users the opportunity to tie/tape them down to minimize cable clutter.

Stock Fan Noise Level
Fan
SPL @1m
12V
Rear
12~13 dBA
Front
14 dBA
Combined
16 dBA
Measuring mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle left/front
of case.

The front fan is marginally louder than the rear fan but they’re both extremely
quiet, measuring only 16 dBA@1m at full speed inside our test system. They are
actually too slow in our opinion; higher speed fans with some kind of control
option would make the case more versatile. The character of the noise produced
was excellent, very smooth and inconspicuous. If there were any tonal elements,
they were not audible.

Test Results: Radeon HD 3300 IGP

System Measurements
System State
Idle
CPU + GPU Load
CPU Temp
28°C
45°C
SB Temp
31°C
34°C
HD Temp
34°C
35°C
System Power (AC)
47W
153W
SPL@1m
21~22 dBA
21~22 dBA
CPU and system fans set to 100% speed.
Ambient temperature: 22°C.

Our IGP test system measured a modest 21~22 dBA@1m with all the fans at full speed, whether it was idle or put on load. On load, the CPU temperature rose by 17°C while the Southbridge barely heated up at all.

As our chosen CPU and PSU fan have good acoustics, the overall sound quality
of the machine didn’t change much with the system turned on. The hard drive
did produce a noticeable hum and while it passed some vibration on to the rest
of the case, the level was barely noticeable both physically and audibly.

IGP Configuration Comparison (Load)
Case
NZXT H2
Fractal Define R2
CM Silencio 550
BitFenix Ghost
System Fans
rear, fronts @low
rear & front @12V
rear, front @12V
rear, front @12V
CPU Temp
51°C
51°C
51°C
45°C
SB Temp
38°C
38°C
41°C
34°C
HD Temp
37°C
34°C
31°C
35°C
SPL@1m
19 dBA
19~20 dBA
19~20 dBA
21~22 dBA
CPU fan set to 100% speed.
Ambient temperature: 22°C.

With our IGP test configuration, the Ghost produced significantly lower temperatures
than cases in the same class and price range but lost on the noise front by
2~3 dB. You could easily call it a wash between all four cases; it’s hard to
distinguish case performance without higher power draw.

Test Results: Radeon HD 4870

System Measurements (HD 4870)
System State
Idle
CPU + GPU Load
CPU Temp
31°C
48°C
SB Temp
43°C
55°C
HD Temp
34°C
34°C
GPU Temp
75°C
87°C
GPU Fan
880 RPM
2020 RPM
System Power (AC)
116W
317W
SPL@1m
22 dBA
29~30 dBA
CPU and system fans set to 100% speed.
Ambient temperature: 22°C.

Adding a HD 4870 (150W TDP) to our test system heated up the Southbridge substantially,
but the video card fan spun at only 880 RPM, so the system’s idle noise level
was barely affected. Load heated up the system significantly, forcing the GPU
fan to increase to just a shade over 2000 RPM, drowning out every other component
inside and driving up the noise level to 29~30 dBA@1m..

Typically we find a case fan speed sweet spot on our IGP system and use that as a starting point for our discrete graphics configuration. We then continue playing with fan speeds to try to cool the machine down to the point where the video card fan doesn’t have to work as hard but this wasn’t possible with the Ghost as its fans were already very quiet at full speed. With higher speed fans we could have undoubtedly produced a better performance:noise ratio.

The noise generated by the HD 4870 stock cooler has a soft hissing character
than is more gentle on the ears than most of the top-down fans found on modern
graphics cards. In the BitFenix case, the quality of noise wasn’t much changed,
and the level was still substantial.

HD 4870 Configuration Comparison (Load)
Case
Fractal Define R2
CM Silencio 550
NZXT H2
BitFenix Ghost
System Fans
rear, front, side @12V
rear, front @12V
rear, fronts @med
rear, front @12V
CPU Temp
48°C
57°C
53°C
48°C
SB Temp
45°C
56°C
52°C
55°C
HD Temp
34°C
31°C
33°C
34°C
GPU Temp
84°C
88°C
87°C
87°C
GPU Fan
Speed
1710 RPM
2330 RPM
2110 RPM
2020 RPM
SPL@1m
26~27 dBA
27~28 dBA
27~28 dBA
29~30 dBA
CPU fan set to 100% speed
All temperature results adjusted to 22°C ambient.

Again, the Ghost was louder but noticeably cooler than the competition, except
for the Define R2 which beat it in almost every category. What’s interesting
is the main noise contributor, the GPU fan, was spinning lower on the Ghost
than the Cooler Master Silencio 550 and NZXT H2 despite it having a higher overall
noise level.

As the Ghost’s stock fans are very quiet and all the other components are the
same, it would appear the Ghost is an inherently louder case. Either the sound
dampening isn’t as good or the case the exposed fan positions on the top panel
allow too much noise to escape — the top panels of the other cases in our
comparison are solid or blocked off. This would also explain why the Ghost enjoys
a sizable advantage in CPU temperature: The extra airflow enabled by the top
vent.

AUDIO RECORDINGS

These recordings were made with a high resolution, lab quality, digital recording
system inside SPCR’s own 11 dBA ambient anechoic chamber, then converted to
LAME 128kbps encoded MP3s. We’ve listened long and hard to ensure there is no
audible degradation from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent
a quick snapshot of what we heard during the review.

Each recording starts with ambient noise, then 10 second segments of product
at various states. For the most realistic results,
set the volume so that the starting ambient level is just barely audible, then
don’t change the volume setting again while comparing all the sound files.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The BitFenix Ghost has many of the hallmarks of a good quiet case: Reasonably
sturdy construction, thick dampening foam, and indirect intake vents on the
front door. Ironically, its very quiet fans are a bit of a detriment: They don’t
spin fast enough or there simply aren’t enough of them. The fans are great for
users who want a quiet out-of-the-box experience with a minimalist system. Add
a decent discrete graphics card and the limited airflow provided by the case
fans forces the GPU fan, which typically sounds considerably worse, to spin
faster to make up the difference. The two fan placements on the top panel are
wide open, allowing more noise to escape than usual (though it does help with
CPU cooling).

The 2.5/3.5 inch hard drive cage is another major point of contention. The
adjustable design is flimsy and unsuitable for housing any hard drive if vibration
is a concern. Furthermore, the 3.5 inch configuration doesn’t actually increase
the number of 3.5 inch drives you can use, as only four compatible trays are
included (the other three are for 2.5 inch drives only). It makes more sense
to use a fully removable 3.5 inch cage and universal trays for drives of both
sizes. We also found it difficult to disengage drives from the SATA docking
bay at the top of the case; we would have liked to see a release mechanism or
at least some padding at the back of the compartment as drives easily bang into
the side during removal.

Marketed as a quiet tower and priced at US$100, the Ghost goes head-to-head
with the well-known Fractal Design Define
R2
/R3/R4
and NZXT
H2
. While its performance can be considered comparable to the H2, the
H2 has better fan mounts, a fan controller and more hard drive support. The
Define R2/R3 delivers noticeably better noise and cooling levels (if its side
fan option is utilized) and while it lacks a hotswap bay, it has more hard drive
bays, a fan controller, and a cleaner, classier aesthetic. As a relative newcomer,
the Ghost needs to eclipse one or both of these cases in some meaningful way
but fails to do so.

Our thanks to BitFenix for the Ghost case sample.

* * *

Articles of Related Interest
Corsair Obsidian 550D Quiet Mid-Tower Case
Silverstone Fortress FT02 Revisited
SilverStone Raven RV03
Cooler Master Silencio 450: Silence on a Budget?
Cooler Master Cosmos II: Ultra Tower Case
Raidmax Viper: A Modern Budget Tower

* * *

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