When I think of a Mercenary, I get the mental image of a no frills guy, backed with experiences we can only imagine and will sell his skill set to anyone who has enough cash to foot the bill. Typically, if you are in the market to make a hit on someone, or have your enemy rubbed out, your pockets are pretty deep already, so the fact that the Mercenary tends to shop himself out to the highest bidder is just the cost of "business" to them. I know I am not sitting on a lot of cash and if I don't like someone, I either get over it, or I try to take my revenge digitally in some sort of video game. What you are about to see is a mix of both being able to do its job and being a chassis, it can support you on your next killing spree in Battlefield or Call of Duty; whichever your flavor of run and gun assassination is!
As far as being "no frills" and full of experiences, that holds true to the chassis as well. Don't let the no frills label I use scare you. Even in human form, you need to check waistbands and boots to be sure that you don't run into any surprises. The chassis we are about to look at also appears to be simple to give you that feeling of comfort as it sits on the table and stalks the competition, but behind its back, or under the door panels, there is plenty in store to aid you in an epic kill/death ratio, collecting dog tags, or in the quest for a golden gun!
BitFenix has in fact developed their own Mercenary to do our bidding. In fact, they even made two versions. What we are about to see today is the BitFenix Merc Alpha. Along with its partner chassis, the Merc Beta, there is only the top chassis ventilation that separates the two, so it will take a discerning eye to tell them apart, much like telling Bender apart from Flexo. One major thing I do notice missing, is that I do believe this is my first BitFenix chassis to arrive without the SofTouch coating on it. Keep in mind, this Merc is in the business for the sheer joy of being part of the kill; BitFenix isn't collecting heads or emptying wallets for anyone to add the Merc Alpha or Beta to the list of components that give you your digital edge in headshots.
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
As I mentioned, the Merc Alpha and Beta only vary in the top panel. The Merc Alpha is what you are about to see with the included ventilation, but the rest of this description will cover both chassis versions. The front is comprised of black plastic with rounded edges and profile. At the top the bezel contains the I/O panel and as you move down the face, you find a group of three 5.25" drive covers and a single 3.5" bay cover. The rest of the front is an expanse of plastic to the bottom where a mesh panel the shape of a paper hat is placed for ventilation. The rest of the frame ad panels are constructed of steel and get pained black both inside and out.
Inside there is room for the three 5.25" drives and up to eight hard drives. This hard drive assembly will also be where the floppy drive goes if you should choose to use one, and there is a spot of the floor at the base of this rack to install a 2.5" drive. The rest of the internal area is taken up with the motherboard and PSU and up to seven optional fans. The chassis does ship with a single 120mm fan in the rear of the Merc case. Optionally you can install a pair of 120mm fans in the front of the chassis, a pair of 120mm fans in the top of the Alpha only, a pair of 120mm fans in the doors mesh area and there is room for one more 120mm fan in the floor in front of the power supply.
As I have been saying throughout this review, and it's a trend that as of late I have seen a lot of submissions deal with this, BitFenix's take is like a few others in that they want to deliver you a case with good bones. By this, the idea is to give the buyer a chassis that not only you can just plug and play as it ships, but it will offer you plenty of options for customizing it, allowing the Merc series to grow as you do. With this same concept the idea is to deliver all this with an exceptionally low asking price and BitFenix definitely delivers in this aspect.
As I look at Google shopping to locate these cases, I found that with the Merc Alpha, there are only four places to get one currently. As for the pricing, it looks like a game of The Price is Right, as all four are bidding at close to $40 without going over it. Essentially all four locations are within $2 of each other, so let your fingers do the searching and see who has the best shipped deal to your door. I would have liked to post a link from Newegg.com, but they have yet to stock any BitFenix chassis' and I really think it is about time they do!
Back to the mission at hand as we strip this Mercenary of its outer protection and see what sort of tricks the Merc Alpha delivers under the tough name and understated exterior.
As with many economically friendly chassis', the brown box and black printing is used with the Merc as well. BitFenix places a large logo to the left with the Merc name with a knife in the C near the bottom and a checkbox for either the Alpha or Beta edition. In the bands of black striping at the bottom BitFenix adds the web address so you know where to go for additional information.
The side of the packaging offers a straight on look at the front bezel of the Merc series. At the bottom you find a specifications chart for the Alpha and Beta cases. What changes in those listings is the support for two 120mm in the top and the mesh is removed from the top panel of the Beta.
On the back, you can see both the Alpha and the Beta side by side to see the different top panels. At the lower left it shows that it can accept longer video cards, and on the right it covers the CPU access hole and the black interior.
This side again starts with a logo, but this time the Merc name with the knife has appeared again above another set of check boxes. At the bottom is the stocking sticker with the full model number and bar codes.
Thick Styrofoam caps support and protect the chassis against the major bumps and bruises the case takes in transit. Under that there is a thin layer of plastic to keep abrasions from eating away at the paint finish, and in my delivery, the chassis arrived damage free.
The BitFenix Merc Alpha Mid Tower Case
The front of the Merc series is the same no matter which you get. The front is made of textured plastic that is taller in the middle than it is at the right and left for a curved finished profile. At the top are three removable covers for the optical drives with a single cover for a 3.5" drive to poke through, too. At the bottom is the odd shaped venting with mesh inserted to allow any way for the front of the chassis to breathe.
The I/O panel offers four USB 2.0 connections next to the pair of activity LEDs and the 3.5mm audio jacks. That leaves the larger power button and the smaller reset button at the right to finish it off.
Only in the Merc Alpha do you get a top like this. It has two areas with round holed mesh that will accept a 120mm fan in each location.
The left side also offers ventilation for the expansion cards and CPU cooler while it also offers a little view into the chassis. At BitFenix.com, it is listed that two fans can be placed here, but there aren't any specific mounting holes. While it says 120mm fans, you can devise a way to stick almost any fan here.
The back of the case offers the rear I/O next the exhaust fan with a pair of water cooling holes just below the fan. There are seven expansion slots, but only two of the covers can be replaced once removed from the chassis, and covered with a sort of anti-theft system.
The right side panel is held to the chassis with hex head screws where the left uses thumbscrews, and this side is flat and offers nothing of interest really. The doors do open out to the side which is handy, and offers an easy way to close the panel over the wiring that will go in here.
Looking under the Merc you see large rubber feet on all four corners and areas for both the PSU and an optional 120mm fan to get fresh air through. Between the front feet are four holes for mounting a drive to the floor of the chassis.
Inside the BitFenix Merc Alpha Mid Tower Case
With both side panels removed, we can now see where the paperwork and hardware are stashed. In the bag tied to the hard drive rack, the manual is shipped with a bag of hardware together so nothing gets lost or gets loose during shipping. The wiring is tied up as well to keep those from doing the same.
The three 5.25" bays offer plenty of mounting holes, but I am afraid there aren't any tool-less clips to help you out. Instead BitFenix uses all thumbscrews for these and the hard drive rack.
All seven of the bays for the 3.5" drives are labeled so you know exactly where to put the screws. The top two bays here can be used for a floppy drive, but of course only the top one lines up with the removable cover in the bezel.
For an ATX motherboard installation you don't use risers but rather bumped up bits of the motherboard tray with tapped holes in them. The center riser is actually a pin and holds the motherboard in place while you add screws to all the other holes.
Inside the rear of the chassis you get the only included fan in the Merc cases, this 120mm fan with a 3-pin connector on it. Keep in mind you will either need a Molex adapter or be sure your board has a free header.
Just like in the Outlaw, the Merc has no room behind the motherboard tray either. These cases use a system of holes and the offsets of the drive bays to be used for wire routing or extra cable storage.
The amount of holes, size of them and small holes drilled in the tray differ from the Outlaw, but as you can see, they give plenty of options for places to route through and the depth of area next the hard drive rack will accept a lot of wiring before things get out of hand.
Removing the front bezel takes a fair bit of effort as the pins that lock the plastic to the steel are tight and don't want to let go without a manly pull of the plastic. The wiring of the I/O is connected to the bezel and runs through the wide rounded holes at the very top of the steel frame. In front of the hard drive bays, this case will accept a pair of 120mm fans there.
All four of these wires are two foot long and will reach from the top of the case to the bottom and then back up to the motherboard with a bit of slack still in the wiring. Both USB 2.0 connections, the HD Audio connection and the small motherboard connections are all covered in black to keep things clean once the build is finished.
Accessories and Documentation
The hardware all comes together in a little baggie. At the top there is a pair of brass risers if you are using a shorter motherboard and eight black motherboard screws. The group of thumbscrews on the left is a mix of M3 and 6/32" thumbscrews for everything from the optical drives, to the hard drives, and even the PSU mounting. In the middle is the case logo and BitFenix ship it off the case so you can place it anywhere you like.
The silver screws to the right of that are to allow fans to be installed in the front of the chassis. Due to them having to pass through the fan, you need a set of long ones. At the bottom is a set of six hex head screws to be used for the expansion cards, and a metal bracket for securing the corner of the PSU.
The documentation consists of this fold out user guide. Inside you will find a full list of parts that are supposed to be shipped with the Merc Alpha. After that, there are six to eight steps with drawings and text to help guide you through the installation and connectivity in this chassis. While not one of the best written manuals I have seen, it got me through all my questions and made the build easier, and that is the whole point of it.
The Build and Finished Product
With the build now completed we take a look at the finished results. In the front the drive sits inset fo the bezel as the curve goes from side to side. From other angles it is noticeably there, but from straight on, the drive installation doesn't detract from the original design.
Everything went into the Merc Alpha as you would expect it too. I had the Os on a 2.5" drive, but didn't want to put it on the floor. Using a couple of the extra holes I was able to securely screw the one side of it into the 3.5" rack. As far as everything else, for a mid tower with no room behind the tray, the wiring is clean and there is still room for more.
There is a cover over all of the screws for the expansion cards. This cover locks into the chassis with tabs, but it also gets screwed into one of the holes the cards use while another screw comes from the inside to be sure no one can tamper with your setup.
As far as the rest of the rear of the Merc, there is little to report. The rear I/O area is a bit snug as it took me a bit to force the cover into the hole. As always, though, I came out the winner in that one. Removing the slot covers takes a twist of the steel and the will eventually break free allowing for the cards to be installed.
I wasn't too particular with the wiring since the door panel hinges on the front of the chassis as they close. Tying all of the front I/O wiring together, running the SATA cables over them and the fat 24-pin cable are no issue for room here.
I figured I would take this image as I powered up the system for those of you who were wondering what sort of view is available through the side panel mesh.
Stepping back to take it all in once again, the Merc Alpha is understated even under power. There is a bright glow of blue for the HDD activity and power LEDs, but facing up will keep them from accidentally blinding you.
The Merc Alpha did everything I asked it to, and while I could continue with parodies on it against a hired killer, let me just say this. The Merc series cases are those good bones that will carry you from a beginner and on up to an avid overclocker. As the case is shipped it is pretty basic; you don't get grommets for the wiring, USB 3.0 is also nixed, and tool-less clips were done away with in favor of easy to use thumbscrews. The outside of the chassis offers a slick looking chassis that isn't going to stand out against the rooms decor while still offering plenty of room and optional cooling placements. As I built the PC in the Merc Alpha and powered it up, the only thing I saw missing was the glow of LED to accent the front intake as well as a pair of them in the roof of this chassis. Once that is done you complete the look of what this chassis could be in all its optional glory.
With seven expansion slots, multi card systems are very easy to place inside here. There may be some issues if you plan to add hard drives to all the bays as there is a battle for room between them and the end of your graphics cards in this layout. The motherboard went in easy, especially with the pin style riser in the middle of the board. It allows you to not have to keep pressure on the board to align the risers, giving you both hands to get the other screws into the board. The large open holes for the wiring through the tray and next to the hard drives allowed me to hide longer wires, tie a few up and have room for wires left had I not been using a modular power supply. To top it all off, even if you do get a little out of hand with wire bundles, the way the doors hinge from the front allow the side panels to compress the wiring as the panel shuts versus having to slide it past it and binding the door.
The limited availability is going to hurt the overall score, but that isn't directed to BitFenix; I'm sure they would love to be on as many shelves as possible. As I type this out my money would likely be going to Xoxide.com as they are the most well known of the four locations I was able to locate the Merc Alpha via Google. It's sad to think that no matter where you shop, shipping is going to cost half of what the case requires for ownership. With a sub-$40 price tag everywhere I looked, it will be nearer to $60-65 once you add the shipping. Comparing to the similarly priced NZXT offerings, we lost USB 3.0 connectivity and a fan, but the appearance of the Merc Alpha and or Beta both appeal to me more! I think having a chassis I like to look at over a fan and a single USB 3.0 port is well worth the trade off.
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