Phanteks Evolv Shift XT Case Review – Top Mini ITX Case

Its not raining, but pouring at the moment as far as mini-ITX cases go, with the Phanteks Evolv Shift XT joining NZXT’s new H1 in this issue, and more to come next issue. This is Phanteks’ fifth mini- ITX case, but rather than being a tweak of the aging vertical tower Shift design, the new Shift XT is Phanteks’ first traditional sandwich style case. With the GPU and motherboard sitting back to back, and connected using a PCI-E 4 riser cable, it’s shorter than the Shift and NZXT’s H1, but takes up more desk space thanks to its horizontal orientation.

Phanteks Evolv Shift XT Case Review

At $160, it’s certainly pricey given that it lacks any bundled extra hardware, although Phanteks did tell us it will be including its new Revolt SFX PSUs and an all-in-one (AIO) liquid cooler at some point in the future. For now, the barebones option will need an SFX or SFX-L PSU, and either a low-profile CPU cooler shorter than 72mm, or a 240mm AIO liquid cooler. The former is lower than the limit of other mini-ITX cases that use a more traditional layout – even the smallest tower coolers, such as ARCTIC’S Freezer 7X, will be far too tall for it, but you can still fit some decent coolers in here, such as Noctua’s NH-L12S.

Slots

The Shift XT can also house triple-slot graphics cards up to 324mm long. This isn’t your average shoebox-size sandwich-style case, then, but it also has one unique feature. The roof section can expand, turning a reasonably compact 13-litre case that’s just 21cm tall into a 17.4-litre case that’s 27cm tall and can house a 240mm radiator in the roof. Clearly, it won’t be as refined as cases that stick to either air-cooled or AIO liquid cooler-focused arrangements, but in its Compact mode, the Evolv Shift XT is very compact indeed.

There are three height settings for the roof panel, with the lowest lacking clearance for roof fans entirely. The medium ‘Airflow Boost’ setting allows for two 120mm or 140mm fans to be placed here, while the tallest ‘Water-Cooling’ mode sees 60mm of clearance in the roof, which is enough for standard fans and a 240mm radiator up to 35mm thick. There are no fans included as standard, though, making the cheaper and fan-equipped Cooler Master NR200P look like better value, but then the NR200P isn’t draped in aluminium.

To avoid gaping holes appearing in the edges of the case when you raise the top section, the front and sides simply slide over inner portions of the case. The sides comprise mesh panels, while a large RGB display panel sits at the front. In Compact mode, only a sliver of the display is visible, with it enlarging as the upper panel is raised, revealing more of the display. At the rear, though, inserts are included to plug the gap that appears as the roof is raised.

Fan Space

With just a single 240mm radiator mount, it’s perhaps unlikely you’ll want to fully water-cool your PC in the Shift XT, but a CPU or GPU-only loop could work, especially if you use a short graphics card that would leave space in front of it for a combined pump and reservoir. However, an AIO liquid cooler would make much more sense. Storage options are also extremely limited, with no space for 3.5in hard disks and only one 2.5in SSD mount.

The front panel is fairly basic too, with one USB 3 and one USB Type-C port, along with controls for the front RGB lighting. Cable-routing options are limited as well, but there are just enough places to stow them behind the PSU, or under the case, to avoid even a high-end PC looking like it lost a fight with a bowl of spaghetti.

Meanwhile, installing your hardware is made extremely easy, as the case fully dismantles down to its inner shell, with the top roof fan mount hinging open. Dust filters are present on the side in the form of removable mesh panels, but these don’t quite cover the side vents in the expanded modes. To deal with this, Phanteks has included adhesive filters, which can also be used in the roof to prevent dust from falling into the case if you won’t be using fans to exhaust air through it.

The case comes in black and silver options, with our sample being the latter, and it looks fantastic in a slightly retro, industrial kind of way. The vents and bends do a good job of breaking up what would otherwise be a rather bland exterior.

Performance

With large vents in the side panels aiding our low-profile CPU cooler and traditional graphics card, it wasn’t a surprise to see decent thermals from the Shift XT, even in Compact mode with no case fans. Here, it closely matched the excellent Lian Li Q58, dipping below it by a couple of degrees once both cases had a single fan installed on the CPU delta T.

Cooling performance was closer with the GPU, though, and only the Cooler Master NR200P offered noticeably better cooling, with a GPU delta T of 38°C compared to 47°C for the Phanteks case in its Compact mode and 44°C when it was expanded into its (medium) Airflow Boost mode.

Conclusion

It’s a shame the Shift XT’s water-cooling support is very limited, and that you need to fully expand the case in order to fit a radiator in it at all, but the flexibility the Phanteks Evolv Shift XT offers is unparalleled. Its ability to switch between a good-looking, compact fanless cube into to a larger, liquid cooling-focused version of itself without suffering too many compromises is inspiring, although purists could point out that it’s larger and slightly more limited than necessary in both modes, especially in its smallest configuration.

The Evolv Shift XT really does look fantastic as well. It’s maybe a tad bulky and very limited in storage options, but if you’re happy to live with flash-based storage, you like its flexible roof section and you’re happy to pay the lofty price tag, it’s a unique and versatile mini-ITX case that can definitely handle high-end hardware.

No fans in the box and a high price, but the Shift XT has some killer aesthetics and unique features.

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Chris Szewczyk

Chris' gaming experiences go back to the mid-nineties when he conned his parents into buying an 'educational PC' that was conveniently overpowered to play Doom and Tie Fighter. He developed a love of extreme overclocking that destroyed his savings despite the cheaper hardware on offer via his job at a PC store. To afford more LN2 he began moonlighting as a reviewer for VR-Zone before jumping the fence to work for MSI Australia. Since then, he's gone back to journalism, enthusiastically reviewing the latest and greatest components for PC & Tech Authority, PC Powerplay and currently Australian Personal Computer magazine and PC Gamer. Chris still puts far too many hours into Borderlands 3, always striving to become a more efficient killer.

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