NZXT Manta Mini-ITX Case Review & Benchmark

By Published January 26, 2016 at 10:00 am
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Additional Info

  • Component: Peripheral
  • Awards: Quality Build
  • Original MSRP: 140
  • Manufacturer: NZXT

NZXT Manta Thermals over Time Benchmark – Optimal Fan Configuration

These first charts show thermals over time, including a pre-buffer idle period of two minutes and the following burn-in. The first set of charts looks specifically at various NZXT Manta configurations. After these, we'll move to comparative analysis against the Thermaltake Core V1, Rosewill Legacy W1, and iBUYPOWER Revolt2.

Let's reproduce that test matrix from page 1. The below matrix shows our various test configurations executed:

 

  Front Top BACK Top FRONT Rear Total Fan #
Stock - +1 Rear Rad 2x 120 intake 1x 120 exhaust 1x 120 W/RAD
Push
4
Stock - Rear Replace 2x 120 intake 1x 120 W/RAD
Push
3
Stock - +1 Top Rad 2x 120 intake 1x 120 W/RAD
Push
1x 120 exhaust 4
Stock - Rear Replace
Raised Front Fans
2x 120 intake 1x 120 W/RAD
Push
3
Front Radiator 1x 120 intake
1x 120 W/RAD (front-top)
Push
1x 120 exhaust 1x 120 exhaust 4
Add 2x 140mm
Front Radiator
1x 120 intake
1x 120 W/RAD (front-top)
Push
1x 140mm exhaust 1x 140mm exhaust 1x 120 exhaust 5
Add 1x 140mm
Front Radiator
1x 120 intake
1x 120 W/RAD (front-top)
Push
1x 140mm exhaust 1x 120 exhaust 4
Add 2x 140mm
Rear Radiator
2x 120 intake 1x 140mm intake 1x 140mm intake 1x 120 W/RAD
Push
5

For these charts, [E] denotes exhaust, [I] denotes intake, and #F (e.g. 4F, 5F) denotes total fan count.

And now, a pair of charts:

manta-tot-cpu-configs

manta-tot-gpu-configs

The above charts show thermals over time – a bit harder to read than the equilibrium charts, but useful. It's apparent that the “green” configuration (add two 140mm top fans as exhaust) is the worst possible configuration for GPU cooling. This makes sense, too, since those fans are effectively siphoning cool air away from the internal components faster than it can cool them. This same “green” configuration works reasonably for the CPU because of the front-mounted radiator, a configuration that dominates CPU performance charts for the NZXT Manta. This configuration pushes a bit more warm air into the case, but proper fan configuration will ensure the heated intake doesn't negatively impact the GPU. This configuration is not “proper,” as the triple-exhaust setup ensures all the air gets pulled ever upward and out – not ideal for a blower-style GPU fan.

The lighter blue configuration isn't ideal, either, and it's for the same reason: An exhaust fan positioned in the top-rear is pulling air away from other components. In this configuration, we also had the radiator rear-mounted, and so a top-rear exhaust fan is siphoning cool air away from the CLC before it ever reaches the radiator. In this way, the top-rear fan is parasitic in nature and detrimental to overall cooling performance. If configuring the system with a rear radiator, we can definitively state that a top-rear exhaust fan is a configuration that is best avoided.

An ideal configuration involves a front-mounted radiator for optimal CPU cooling, but it needs to be mounted in a way that doesn't negatively influence GPU thermals. We recommend installing the front radiator in the front-top location, then leaving the rear 120mm exhaust fan where it was pre-installed. This ensures a clear path-to-exit for the warmed CPU air, but doesn't siphon the bottom intake fan's air from the GPU.

Let's move on to some more legible charts.

NZXT Manta Thermals at Equilibrium – Optimal Fan Configuration

manta-temp-eq-cpu-configs

manta-temp-eq-gpu-configs

The above charts represent thermals at equilibrium, or once temperatures have ceased their rising pattern and hit a stable number. We've got idle and load metrics available, though the various configurations are generally inconsequential to idle performance (but not always).

This data set is the same as what the thermals-over-time metrics used, just visualized in a different way.

For CPU temperatures, again, the triple-exhaust configuration produces the lowest readings at 34C, though idle is noticeably higher at 15.2C. It does not necessarily follow that the coolest load configuration will produce the coolest idle configuration – this is something we've seen in a few other cases, too. Correlating the triple-exhaust setup to the GPU chart, it becomes apparent that this is, in fact, one of the worst configurations possible. Pushing the GPU into the 71.4C delta T over ambient range means that, factoring-in an assumed ambient of about 20C, we've now got a GPU that is thermally throttling at 90C (absolute temperature). That's one's no good, then.

Conversely, the GPU is coolest with the 3-fan stock setup on the contingency that the radiator is not front-mounted. The 63.2C delta T value is achievable because of two factors: (1) The front intake is unobstructed and does not pass through a radiator; (2) the exhaust is a single-fan setup and not overpowering the blower fan's ability to cool itself. This setup, though, is the worst for the CPU by several degrees.

Strictly looking at the charts, the best mix of CPU & GPU thermals would appear to be produced by the dual 140mm top intake. We've seen this in cases before. The only reason the effect isn't more exaggerated is because of the Manta's solid top panel, which aids in reducing noise emissions, but does trade-off some intake potential (exhaust is less of a concern – it's easier to get rid of air). Unfortunately, this five-fan setup isn't the best value and pulls only slightly ahead of the next configuration's thermal readings.

The best setup is to run +1x120mm top-rear fan and a front radiator. This keeps the GPU temperatures at a superb (for the reference cooler) 63.3C, and only raises the CPU to 37.08C. Not bad at all for either, when considering the case's focus on silence and discretion. Since most radiators include a fan, it's likely that CLC users will be running four fans anyway.

NZXT Manta Thermals at Equilibrium – NZXT Manta vs. Core V1, Others

Time for some cross-brand comparisons.

manta-temp-eq-cpu-comparison

manta-temp-eq-gpu-comparison

Thermaltake's Core V1 is the best with both CPU and GPU thermals, producing 38.21C CPU temperatures against the Manta's 42.3C. The Legacy is only slightly warmer than the V1, but sits at significantly higher idle temperatures with a 5.10C read-out. The differences between these three cases are mostly inconsequential in the real-world. It's not until we get to the Revolt 2 that more measurable differences emerge, but that's something which we'll discuss in the Revolt2 review.

The GPU temperatures for the V1 are at 62.68C load and run pretty warm idle, with an 8.44C reading. The idle read-out is warmer than the others because thermaltake relies upon the GPU to pull its own air, as it's slightly to the side of the intake fan. The Manta sits at 63.25C load, which really isn't bad for a small case with a focus on silence.

NZXT Manta Thermals over Time Benchmark vs. Core V1, Others

manta-tot-cpu-comparison

manta-tot-gpu-comparison

Conclusion: Best-in-Class Build Quality, but Odd Market Segment

nzxt-manta-9

NZXT's Manta is peculiarly positioned within the mini-ITX market. It's not as small as a shoebox case, not as large as the company's own dominating mid-tower, and yet it's not suited for anything other than an ITX build. For users seeking absolute discretion for home-theater gaming PCs, the Manta may be too large and “present.” For users seeking a literal desktop PC, the S340 and Fractal Define cases often fit the bill and can be fitted with more drives, ATX form factor boards, and are ~$70 cheaper. That leaves, then, an odd niche of system builders who exist in the space between. Minimalists who want clean, aesthetically-focused room layouts seem the target audience.

$140 is a steep buy. Other mini-ITX boxes have run more expensive – the aforementioned SG08 used to be nearly $200 (with SFX PSU, a requirement) – and the price isn't unfair, it's just entering “enthusiast” territory. That further narrows the market. The thick steel and custom tooling are the primary contributors to the cost. Owners will lay claim to a uniquely shaped PC enclosure that is a love-or-hate item. We won't comment too much on the shape – that's up to you – but speaking to paint quality, it's clear that NZXT has taken past complaints to heart. The Manta has a resilient, beautiful paint job in the red-on-black SKU that we reviewed.

build-quality-manta

Overlooking HUE+ compatibility seems a bit silly. Thankfully, this is somewhat worked around by using zip ties to mount the controller elsewhere (or by mounting in the bottom of the case), but that doesn't make such an oversight excusable. NZXT should also know better about thumbscrews at this point, an issue that, although petty, is increasingly frustrating with time.

These are issues that are either small or can be worked-around. The Manta on the whole is an exceptionally easy case to build in, offers reasonable thermal performance, and offers top-class build quality. Build quality is worth the most attention: NZXT's thick, steel paneling and sturdy mounting points makes for a stout and strong enclosure; the front and top panels can be removed without instant destruction of mounting clips, unlike some competing products, and that makes radiator installation easier. 280mm radiator support is fairly unique to the ITX market and further attempts to define the Manta in its own class of “Full-Size ITX” cases.

How big that market segment is, I'm unsure. Between “Shoebox” and “Mid-Tower” is an odd place to live. The build quality is there, the thermals are acceptable, and the look is unique enough that it'll be the deciding factor for most would-be buyers. Now it's just a matter of seeing if the market takes the case.

The NZXT Manta mITX case will ship on February 9, 2016.

Editorial & Test Lead: Steve “Lelldorianx” Burke
Test Technician: Patrick “Mocalcium” Stone
Test Technician: Mike “Budekai” Gaglione
B-Roll & Film: Keegan “HornetSting” Gallick


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Last modified on January 26, 2016 at 10:00 am

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Steve Burke

Steve started GamersNexus back when it was just a cool name, and now it's grown into an expansive website with an overwhelming amount of features. He recalls his first difficult decision with GN's direction: "I didn't know whether or not I wanted 'Gamers' to have a possessive apostrophe -- I mean, grammatically it should, but I didn't like it in the name. It was ugly. I also had people who were typing apostrophes into the address bar - sigh. It made sense to just leave it as 'Gamers.'"

First world problems, Steve. First world problems.

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