In and Around the BitFenix Merc Alpha

The important thing to remember (and the thing I'm likely to continue beating you about the shoulders with) is that the BitFenix Merc Alpha is just $39, and so expectations should be adjusted accordingly. People expecting four fans, an aluminum fascia, and support for four GTX 580s should obviously be looking elsewhere, but for those of us willing to accept an inexpensive (read: not necessarily "cheap") plastic and steel enclosure that's not too hard on the eyes, there's a lot to like here.

The front fascia, drive bay shields, and I/O at the top of the enclosure (just where I like to see it) are all a black plastic that may have saved BitFenix some dough but certainly doesn't feel particularly cheap, while the rest of the enclosure is made of steel. I found the steel feels a bit thinner than usual, but that's to be expected with a case at this price, and it's not so thin as to really compromise the durability of the Merc Alpha. The case is light, but it's also fairly small for a mid tower.

When you check out the back of the Merc Alpha, you'll see that two ventilated expansion slot covers are included while the rest have to be punched out of the case; this is still two more than you usually get in this price bracket. Note that these slots aren't recessed, which unfortunately does lead to one of my biggest pet peeves: the additional metal bracket often required to cover up the back of the enclosure. This invariably requires extra work and I'm not sure how much was really saved by going this route. It does keep the size of the Merc Alpha down, but only a little bit. You'll see the back also supports orienting the power supply normally or inverting it.

BitFenix uses thumbscrews to affix the left side panel to the chassis, and instead of sliding off, the panel is hinged; lift it vertically to remove it. Unfortunately the right side panel is held in place by standard phillips head screws, so this isn't going to be a tool-less assembly. The lack of thumbscrews here is actually odd bordering on anomalous; you'll see later that BitFenix employs thumbscrews at great lengths with this design.

Internally things are pretty basic; hard drive orientation isn't my favorite (I prefer a rotated drive cage), but BitFenix makes good use of the space opened up on the other side of the enclosure. Everything mounts with thumbscrews included with the Merc Alpha (special thumbscrews are included for optical drives and their smaller screw holes.) You'll notice that there's a single copper stud in the middle of the motherboard tray, and that there are raised areas surrounding it: unless you're installing a Micro-ATX or Mini-ITX board, the Merc Alpha doesn't require the addition of any mounts. Directly behind the motherboard tray there's virtually no space, but there's still cable management. In the Merc Alpha, BitFenix has designated the space behind the drive cages for tucking cables.

Honestly the Merc Alpha is pretty basic as far as modern ATX designs go, but it does feel modern at least and includes some niceties that I seldom see even in much more expensive cases.

Introducing the BitFenix Merc Alpha Assembling the BitFenix Merc Alpha
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  • dac7nco - Thursday, October 6, 2011 - link

    Agreed. By the time I'm done a $150 case is $300.

    Daimon
    Reply
  • mrcaffeinex - Thursday, October 6, 2011 - link

    to the Thermaltake V3 Black Edition that I picked up for my wife's desktop not too long ago. They are in the same price range (the V3 was $29.99 from the Egg a month or so ago, usually $39.99 or $44.99). There are some nice improvements on this one over the V3 though: the motherboard doesn't require standoffs to be installed for normal installations, the PSU can be mounted normally or inverted, and I think I prefer the simplicity of the front panel design on this one a bit more. Reply
  • JonnyDough - Thursday, October 6, 2011 - link

    "At just $39 it would be reasonable not to expect much, but as you'll see this case can hang with enclosures at twice the cost or better."

    We've been trying to tell computer case reviewers this for years...we don't need $200 cases to house our PCs. It isn't worth it when you replace a PC every 3 years. Yesterdays prized system is tomorrow's too slow to use piece of junk.
    Reply
  • Zoomer - Saturday, October 8, 2011 - link

    How about adding in numbers for the antec 300? It'll be useful as a basis for comparison.

    On that note, how about asking Antec when they'll update the 300?
    Reply
  • EthanW - Thursday, October 13, 2011 - link

    I don't understand why everyone likes the Merc. I've messed around with one and the front is very plasticky (it's not the same soft-touch the other cases had), while the guts aren't anything special. Don't get me wrong, I love Bitfenix cases. It's just that the Outlaw puts the Merc to shame for about $10 more. The Outlaw has the proper soft-touch finish, an inverted motherboard and nicer build quality - not to mention how much better the outside looks.

    Guys, if you can talk Bitfenix into it, review an Outlaw, instead. You'll be pleasantly surprised.
    Reply

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