Deriving a computer case from a Ferrari 458 seems like a bit of a stretch – but everyone's got to have an origin story, and that's where NZXT started with its Manta case. A previous tour of NZXT's offices showed us that case designers do, in fact, plaster photos of cars upon the office walls and leverage the visual prompts in concepting phases. The Manta makes its statement with curved, stamped paneling made of all steel, creating somewhat of a 'bubbled' look to the enclosure.
The mini-ITX case is NZXT's first venture into sub-ATX form factors since the Vulcan, but keeps to a familiar “tower” form factor that we're calling “Full-Size ITX.” It's not the shoebox form factor that ITX system builders may be used to and feels like a slightly distant cousin to the S340 ($70). In this NZXT Manta ($140) review, we run in-depth cooling benchmarks for a gaming system, analyze build quality, and determine overall value vs. other market contenders.
NZXT Manta Video Review
NZXT Manta Case Specs
|Motherboard Support||Full-Size ITX|
|Front I/O||2x USB3.0
Front: 2x 120mm
Rear: 1x 120mm
Top: 2x 140/120mm
Front: Replace w/ 2x140mm
|Radiator Support||Top: Up to 280mm
Front: Up to 280mm
Rear: Up to 120mm
|Bays & Expansion||2x 3.5”
2x Expansion slots
|Clearances||CPU Cooler: 160mm
|Dimensions||245mm x 426mm x 450mm (WHD)
9.65” x 16.77” x 17.72”
7.2kg / 15.87lbs.
|Materials & Colors||Steel-plated shell
Black, White, Red/Black
NZXT Manta Layout Walkthrough
The Manta's curves are its most noticeable feature. We've looked at the case on-and-off through its two-year development life-cycle, most recently at CES, and the exterior has slowly grown on us. NZXT Case Designer Shin Feng has worked to create a fusion of “old NZXT” and “new NZXT” design aesthetics, merging the old, all-plastic look and the new, all-steel look. In this regard, NZXT sees the Manta as somewhat of a microcosm for the company's case design history.
But, as our regulars know, subjective matters aren't where we focus – the photos and video will tell that story. We're more interested in the build quality and cooling performance.
The case is almost entirely made of steel, with a few plastic inlays supporting the hardened shell – and it is very much like a turtle shell: Sturdy, surprisingly heavy for the form factor, and inflexible. To our knowledge, this is the first time that curved, stamped, steel paneling has been used in a DIY PC case. Not that being first to curve a panel is particularly impressive; it's just uncommon and a bit of a risk. That willingness to take risks is what drove NZXT to remove optical drives from its H440, though, and that's one of the best-selling enthusiast cases in recent years.
Looking inside the outward-bowed window, we see an interior that resembles a shrunken version of the S340. It's got the PSU shroud, cable management bar, and cleared front for airflow and minimalism. The SSD sleds have been moved off of the PSU shroud and immediately east of the cable management bar, a move that damages the case's ease-of-installation as much as it benefits it. We'll talk about that in the next section.
Cable management cut-outs exist in all the usual places. The only location of note is the cut-out in the PSU shroud, which allows straight-shot PCI-e wiring to the GPU. Two EPS 12V CPU power cut-outs are present, helping further in direct-path wiring. As with the S340, a cable management bar is used for concealment and routing of 24-pin, SATA, and other system headers.
Stock cooling includes 2x 120mm front intake fans – which breathe through bubbled-out meshing on the sides of the front panel (and the underside) – and 1x 120mm rear exhaust fan. Options for 2x 140mm/120mm top fans are present. Radiator support is available for up to 2x 280mm radiators (top/front) and 1x 120mm rear radiator.
A CPU cooler height clearance of 160mm, achievable with thanks to the bowed-out side panel, means most air coolers will fit. T40 units from multiple manufacturers often fall within this height, as do SilverStone's new air coolers.
NZXT Manta Ease-of-Installation & Build Quality
Because the Manta takes the existing mid-tower form factor and shrinks it, installation is identical to what you'd experience with any other shroud-equipped case. The PSU mounts in a separate compartment, as is the new trend in cases, at which point the cables are routed along a concealing cable management bar. The panels are exceedingly easy to remove and, unlike some other cases we've worked with lately, don't send plastic shards flying immediately upon unclipping the paneling.
GPU configurations are naturally limited to single-GPU setups, since mini-ITX cases don't even offer multiple PCIe slots, anyway. The card is pressed right up against the PSU shroud, a fact that will benefit some cooler designs more than others (large push fans would work well).
Unfortunately, NZXT's brand new HUE+ RGB LED controller doesn't fit the window-facing 2.5” SSD sleds, relegating the box to a hackneyed install or 3.5” basement-dwelling. Definitely an oversight.
We tested using our new mITX test bench, detailed in the table below. We’ve moved from a one-bench-fits-all setup (which uses a Haswell config in an mATX board) to multiple benches, one for mATX and small towers, one for ATX / mid-towers, and one for mini-ITX cases. This bench is for the mini-ITX enclosures.
Conducting thermal tests requires careful measurement of temperatures in the surrounding environment. We control for ambient – which is set to a constant 21C – and then produce charts using a Delta T(emperature) over Ambient value. A laser is used to log the host table's temperature. Thermistors are used to measure true ambient at the intake location. Delta T over Ambient subtracts ambient room temperature from the measured output, producing a delta report of thermals. AIDA64 is used for logging thermals of silicon components, including the GPU diode, CPU package, and PCH.
All case fans are manually configured to their maximum throughput using BIOS. If a fan controller is present, we opt-in and test on multiple settings. This forces testing of case fan performance in addition to the case's air channeling and air-stream design. This also ensures minimal variance when testing, as automatically controlled fan speeds can reduce reliability of benchmarking. The CPU fan is set to use a custom fan curve that was devised in-house after a series of testing; setting the CPU fan to its maximum speed can limit the disparity shown from case-to-case as the CPU cooler is extremely efficient, and will create a ceiling for thermal performance if bottlenecked.
|CPU||Intel Core i7-6700K||$400|
|Memory||16GB ADATA XPG DDR4-2400||$100|
|Motherboard||MSI Z170I Gaming Pro AC||$170|
|Video Card||NVIDIA GTX 980 Ti Ref||$650|
|PSU||750W Gold Thermaltake||$100|
Additional thermal testing was conducted for the NZXT Manta case – something we're continuing going forward (the 400C is next) – for determining the best possible fan configuration. The following matrix was engineered for positional testing of radiators and case fans in the Manta.
|Front||Top BACK||Top FRONT||Rear||Total Fan #|
|Stock - +1 Rear Rad||2x 120 intake||1x 120 exhaust||0||1x 120 W/RAD
|Stock - Rear Replace||2x 120 intake||0||0||1x 120 W/RAD
|Stock - +1 Top Rad||2x 120 intake||1x 120 W/RAD
|0||1x 120 exhaust||4|
|Stock - Rear Replace
Raised Front Fans
|2x 120 intake||0||0||1x 120 W/RAD
|Front Radiator||1x 120 intake
1x 120 W/RAD (front-top)
|1x 120 exhaust||0||1x 120 exhaust||4|
|Add 2x 140mm
|1x 120 intake
1x 120 W/RAD (front-top)
|1x 140mm exhaust||1x 140mm exhaust||1x 120 exhaust||5|
|Add 1x 140mm
|1x 120 intake
1x 120 W/RAD (front-top)
|0||1x 140mm exhaust||1x 120 exhaust||4|
|Add 2x 140mm
|2x 120 intake||1x 140mm intake||1x 140mm intake||1x 120 W/RAD
Our objective was to figure out the optimal number and orientation of case fans in the Manta. We tested radiator location (rear-mount vs. front-mount), intake vs. exhaust configurations in the top fan slots, and even tested height adjustment for the front fans. We'll discuss that more later. Another objective of testing was to determine the ideal CPU radiator mounting position when considering GPU thermals. A radiator as front intake will obviously push heat into the case, for which we perform comparative analysis of CPU thermal reduction against GPU thermal increase. Finally, we aim to locate the best possible location to add one extra fan; in other words, if you were to purchase one fan for the case, we figure out where it'd best fit.
The video card is configured to run at 55% fan speed at all times. Stock clocks are used. We employ an NVIDIA GTX 980 Ti reference for the case test bench.
Prior to load testing, we collect idle temperature results for ten minutes to determine the unloaded cooling performance of a case's fans and air channels. Thermal benchmarking is conducted for twenty minutes, a period we've determined sufficient for achieving equilibrium. The over-time data is aggregated and will occasionally be compiled into charts, if interesting or relevant. The equilibrium performance is averaged to create the below charts.
Load testing is conducted using Prime95 LFFTs and Kombustor “Titan Lake” stress testing simultaneously. Testing is completely automated using in-house scripting, and executes with perfect accuracy on every run.
2x 120mm front intake
1x 120mm rear exhaust
(See above table)
|Thermaltake Core V1||Stock
1x200m front intake
|Rosewill Legacy W1||Stock
1x 140mm Front Intake
1x 140mm Rear Exhaust
1x 120mm Bottom Intake
Note: No Objective dBA Analysis At This Time
We’ve said this a few times, but it’s worth repeating: We do not presently test for noise emissions / decibel levels on products. It’s something we’re passively exploring, but dBA testing is not trivial, requires a stable environment with a known noise floor, and requires expensive equipment and training. We may be able to sort out the math and the methodology, but there’s still that environment limitation.
Our approach to methodology is underscored by one point: If we can’t do it consistently and confidently, we don’t do it at all. For noise, we aren’t yet confident in a reliable methodology given our setup, so we don’t test noise. Subjectively, we can state that the NZXT Manta enclosure is noticeably quieter than some of its more mesh-laden competitors, resultant of a reliance upon thick steel paneling and limited mesh placement.
Continue to the next (and final) page for thermal benchmark charts and optimal fan configuration analysis.