BitFenix Merc Alpha Chassis Review

BitFenix have taken the market by storm over the previous 18 months and after a somewhat rocky launch period, we have seen their quality control and construction materials consistently improve. Today we look at their Merc Alpha Chassis, which is set to offer high value for money with strong cooling capabilities.

The BitFenix Merc Chassis is available in two flavours, the Merc Alpha and the Merc Beta, one with enhanced cooling potential and the other with a more streamlined appearance. The design of the BitFenix Merc is fairly simple, and is clearly aimed at the everyday gamer, who has a fairly low budget while still wanting a case that performs in all areas.
The Merc Alpha is crammed with features that you would expect from a more expensive case. They have fitted a very useful 4 x USB 2.0 ports, as well as HD Audio ports.

Specifications:

Materials Steel, Plastic
Color (Int/Ext) Black/Black
Dimensions (H x W x D) 439 x 190 x 490 mm (ATX Mid Tower)
Motherboard Sizes Mini-ITX, mATX, ATX
5.25″ Drive Bays x 3
3.5″ Drive Bays x 7 (1 x external)
2.5″ Drive Bays x 1
Cooling Front 2 x 120mm (optional)
Cooling Rear 1 x 120mm (included) or 1 x 92/80mm (optional)
Cooling Side Panel 2 x 120mm (optional)
Cooling Top 2 x 120mm (optional)
Cooling Bottom 1 x 120mm (optional)
PCI Slots x 7
I/O 4 x USB2.0, Audio
Power Supply PS2 ATX (bottom, multi direction)

The BitFenix Merc Alpha is supplied in a fairly sturdy box, with the back showing the differences between the Alpha and Beta versions.

After taking the product out of the box we were not surprised to find it was packaged with 2 Styrofoam blocks and the case itself wrapped in a plastic cover.

The BitFenix Merc Alpha Chassis looks very much like several other BitFenix cases on the market as well as several by other manufacturers. There is an obvious lack of the white BitFenix logo on the front of the case with our review sample. They do however include several logo stickers.

The only real difference between the Alpha and Beta versions is that the Alpha has the extra panel cooling, and as such you can mount an extra two 120mm fans, giving you potentially 8 cooling fans.

While one side of the case has two 120mm fans, the other side has nothing, not even an indentation to aid removal, due to the pivot design of the sides. The back of the case has another 120mm fan, as well as several holes for water cooling, switches and various other extras. The back of the case also has a neat PCI lock which only requires one screw to be undone to remove all of the PCI slot covers or PCI expansion cards.

BitFenix also include a quick installation guide, lots of thumbscrews and also a PSU mount bracket. They have also included extra long screws for you to use when installing fans at the front of the case.

Taking the side off reveals yet another space for a fan, which is on the bottom of the case, the other mesh section being for the power supply intake. The fan on the bottom really could help improve airflow into the system as it will produce a channel of air going up through the case and straight out the top while passing over the most crucial components.

Looking closer at the front we can see there are 3 x 5.25″ bays and 7 x 3.5″ bays as well as a bottom mounted 2.5″ bay. We can also see that there are several large cut outs for cable routing.

At the back of the case we have a 120mm fan and 7 PCI slots. Removing the other panel we can see that the 3.5″ bays are not quite so elegant in appearance from this side, but there are plenty of cut outs and space for keeping the cables tidy.

Firstly, we install the power supply, in this case the Antec True Power 650. As you can see, to place a fan on the base of the chassis would require some very efficient cable tidying especially with regards to the supply cables.

The next stage is to install the motherboard and CPU cooler and then the hard drives and optical drive. There is plenty of space around the motherboard for cable routing even though the cables we were using weren’t perfect for the job.

The space behind the motherboard tray was limiting and so we had to be careful in regards to how many cables we routed here, especially the thicker power supply cables. Due to all the cut-outs this was not too hard and the overall system build was fairly painfree.
Today’s test system, while not cutting edge, is still pretty up-to-date and will certainly give us a good idea of how well this case works in terms of thermal and acoustic performance. An enthusiast who owns an Intel Core i7 3960X Extreme Edition processor and GTX590 will certainly spend more for a higher grade chassis.
Processor: AMD Phenom X4 965 Black Edition @ 4.0 GHz.
Motherboard: ASUS M4A785TD- M Evo
Cooler: Antec Kuhler 920
Memory: 4GB Kingston HyperX DDR3 1800MHz
Graphics Cards: AMD Radeon 6450 HD
Power Supply: Antec TruePower 650W
Boot Drive: OCZ Vertex II 60GB SSD (OS only)
OS: Windows 7 Home Edition 64bit
Digital Sound Level Noise Decibel Meter Style 2
Before testing the case, we will take a look at the chassis design and Airflow.

Of course, you can also mount two more 120mm fans on the side of the case giving you even better airflow into the case. We tested today with the default fan configuration, out of the box.

This cooling performance is decent for a single fan configuration but adding a few more fans would certainly improve the thermal efficiency. We therefore decided to run the tests again with an extra fan in the front of the case.
We used a Phanteks PH-F140TS which is a large 140mm fan which fitted nicely at the front increasing our airflow significantly without increasing the noise.

As we can see the graphics card and motherboard temperatures were both greatly improved with the addition of a 140mm fan at the front. This is also ideal for keeping the hard drives cool.
In summary, while the out of the box cooling of the BitFenix Merc Alpha can be improved, for the target audience it is adequate. There is plenty of potential in the chassis to create a very powerful cooling configuration as we still had five fan slots free.

We take the issue of noise very seriously at KitGuru, and while I don’t have access to the industry’s best equipment I have done everything possible to ensure this test is as accurate as possible.
Today to test this chassis we have set our Digital Sound Level Noise Decibel Meter Style 2 one meter away from the case.  The room rates as 23dB (A) before powering on the system.
We then turned our system over to the onboard graphics card, and temporarily turned the Antec 920 fans off. This leaves us with only the 1 included case fan and some noise from the 12cm PSU fan.
As this can be a little confusing for people, here are various dBa ratings in with real world situations to help describe the various levels.
KitGuru noise guide
10dBA - Normal Breathing/Rustling Leaves
20-25dBA – Whisper
30dBA – High Quality Computer fan
40dBA – A Bubbling Brook, or a Refrigerator
50dBA - Normal Conversation
60dBA - Laughter
70dBA - Vacuum Cleaner or Hairdryer
80dBA - City Traffic or a Garbage Disposal
90dBA - Motorcycle or Lawnmower
100dBA - MP3 player at maximum output
110dBA - Orchestra
120dBA - Front row rock concert/Jet Engine
130dBA - Threshold of Pain
140dBA - Military Jet takeoff/Gunshot (close range)
160dBA - Instant Perforation of eardrum

BitFenix are using a quality fan, which translates to very low noise levels as recorded with our equipment.
The BitFenix Merc Alpha ships with a single, high quality fan and can be customised with the addition of many more fans to create a very high airflow case. BitFenix have once again designed a chassis that fits their mantra of “creating hardware and peripherals that grant the user the utmost control, strength, and performance”. This case can cater to your specific demands, whether you want a really quiet office style system, or the latest high airflow gaming system.
There are many excellent design points, and we have to praise the high engineering standards and build quality. The sides of the case also use a clever but elegant hinge concept … you simply slot the side in and then close it up.
The front of the case looks sleek and understated with a small mesh section at the bottom to enhance airflow. We also like the PCI locking system which works well and is painfree to use.
Negatively there are several things we don’t like. For instance, there is very limited space above the motherboard, and as such the Antec 920 only just fits. This also means it is very hard to make good use of the top two fan slots, especially when using a large cooler. In fact, when using something similar to the Antec 920 you cannot use the top fan slot, at the rear.
The fact the Merc Alpha doesn’t have USB 3.0 support is not a huge downside, especially for a design at this price. That said, it is a feature we are seeing included on nearly every new chassis in 2012, and as such it would’ve been wise for Bitfenix to offer support, out of the box.
Bitfenix haven’t tried to use a locking mechanism for hard drives, but instead have provided us with lots of thumbscrews, and while this is not the best solution, it is guaranteed to work every time. They have also allowed plenty of space for cable routing, with many cut outs to the side of the motherboard. We did find that there is limited space behind the motherboard tray for cables and we had to route power supply cables very carefully as they were just too thick to reside behind the tray.

Overall we are very impressed with this case, its acoustic performance is very good and it has a lot of cooling potential, even if in an ‘out of the box’ state it offers modest air flow. When you factor in the amazing price of £32.99 in the UK it is hard to knock a case that offers so much for such a low price.
Pros:
  • Can accommodate up to 8 x 120mm fans.
  • Very sturdy and well built chassis.
  • Lots of cut-outs for cable tidying.
  • Sides of case fit easily and elegantly.
Cons:
  • Only 1 x 120mm fan included.
  • No USB 3.0 support.
  • Limited space for all-in-one cooling units or large fans.
බලු කුක්කා නම් කියන්නේ: For the low asking price, it is hard to fault.
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