The Mini ITX form factor seems to booming like gang busters, and it’s no surprise. The appeal of having a small, attractive case, that feels right at home in your living room as part of the media center is easy to see. Add in the ability to house powerful components efficiently, and you have a recipe for success.
Xigmatek has in the past offered stylish Micro ATX/Mini ITX chassis like the Aquila, and has now introduced the Nebula – a full on Mini ITX solution. Xigmatek says “We adopted the name Nebula as the exterior appearance resembles something from out of this world. Improving on design concept and interior hardware placement, Nebula will defiantly put light into your home entertainment system and make your entertainment setup look more classy and luxurious. After numerous trial and errors, we had to reinvent the whole chassis so that the chassis fits perfectly with any home entertainment system. From bottom to the top, Xigmatek Nebula looks sharp from every angle. The top panel is coated with top of the range black grand piano paint, the side panel is firm and coated with scratch resistant Jet black paint. Xigmatek Nebula is defiantly a must have chassis either for home entertainment systems or gaming setups. Xigmatek brings you the future today!”
Join me on the following pages as we find out what the Nebula holds for us.
Packaging and Specifications
Xigmatek has packaged the Nebula in a sturdy cardboard box that is mostly white, with the front displaying a picture of the Nebula posed at a jaunty angle.
On the left side are two lists detailing some of the features and specifications of the Nebula.
Around to the back finds a nice assortment of photos highlighting exterior amenities.
The right side contains yet more details of the chassis in multiple languages.
Xigmatek’s website lists the specifications as:
(L) 260x (H) 330x (W) 260mm
3.5″ Internal x 2 (tool-free retainers) or 2.5” Internal x 2
Standard P/S2(ATX) or EPS
Rear fan: Preinstalled one 1200 RPM 120mm silent Xigmatek XOF black bladed fan
USB 3.0 x 2 and HD Audio in/out jacks
Max Graphic card Length
Max CPU Cooler Height
Included with the Nebula are a fold out assembly guide, 3 zip ties, a bag of assorted screws, and a USB 3.0 to USB 2.0 adapter.
Closer Look Exterior
The front panel presents a clean, sophisticated look accented by Xigmatek’s name in raised brushed aluminum lettering. The front and side panels are covered with a soft touch matte black finish. The top and bottom are separated by a small space from the panels. I like how this makes the Nebula seem to be floating above its base. The top gap is actually closed, while the bottom is open allowing cool air to enter the case. The coolest exterior feature has to be the power/HDD light. I love how they angled out the corner, giving it visual depth.
The right side houses 2 USB 3.0 ports, and the ports for your headphones and microphone.
Around back there is the opening for your power supply – which mounts vertically vs. the more common horizontal orientation. Across from that is the 120mm exhaust fan. Underneath the fan are grommets for water cooling tubing. Next to that are 2 expansion slots that extend to the bottom of the case, with the motherboard I/O cut out to the left.
With the exception of the notch for the power/HDD light, left side is left unadorned. In this picture we get a better look at said light. The triangle angles into the chassis from the top to the bottom and larger than is common – this will be visible in a darkened room. Notice where the seam between the panels is positioned, the front panel’s side edges are curved so as the side panels are overlapped thus helping to seal the corners, and adding to the case’s sophisticated good looks.
Closer Look Interior
The side panels are thick and sturdy and pop off with just the right amount of effort. The spacers that hold the attachment points hold the panel away from the chassis to allow air into the inside.
Taking the sides off opens things right up. Hardware mounting points are easily accessible from all three sides.
The hard drive cage will hold two HDD, or one HDD and one SSD using the included adapter. There it is also possible to mount an additional SSD underneath the cage. One spot that can be a bit tight is in between the exhaust fan and HDD cage as you will see later on.
The front right corner of the top is where the power switch is located. The switch has a radial pattern on its aluminum cap, and feels nicely damped with positive engagement. The rest of the top is high gloss piano black, and is made of plastic.
The bottom base is about an inch high, and made of silver finished plastic with rubber feet.
The included HDD rails use pins to attach to the HDD.
Next up the build!
Build and Installation
Components used in this build:
- Gigabyte F2A88XN-WIFI motherboard
- AMD A10-7850 APU
- Gskill Ripjaws X 8GB DDR3 2133 ram
- HIS R7 240 2GB PCIe video card
- Corsair CX 430M ATX semi modular PSU
- WD Black 1TB HDD
Building inside the Nebula is pretty straight forward. You’ll want to install the motherboard first to make securing it to the standoffs easier, as waiting till the PSU is in will make tightening the screw in the back corner a real chore. I used the stock A10 heat sink and fan which left me not quite 2 inches from the bottom of the PSU. So you won’t be using any tall tower style coolers in here. My standard size ATX PSU was a tight fit passing by the HDD cage and outer post. You will want to orient your PSU so that the intake fan is facing the interior of the case, as there isn’t the clearance for it to breathe properly if faced the other way. That’s ok, since facing it in will help draw cool air into the chassis.
I ran the HDD sata and power leads under the HDD cage and up the back. There is about fingers width of space between the HDD cage and exhaust fan, so this a good place to make use of a right angle sata connection. Also, use the end connection of the power lead as there won’t be anywhere to put the excess back there.
The motherboard tray is completely perforated with holes, which allows for the free flow of air into the chassis. I also found those holes to be a convenient place to tie down cables. The HIS R7 240 is a good fit in here, and leaves 1 1/2 inches from the end of the shroud to the corner of the power light.
With most of the connections on the right side of the motherboard, I was able to keep the area around the A10-7850 open allowing for air to pass cleanly over it.
Even with the PSU consuming a large portion of the right side vertical area, it was fairly easy making connections to the motherboard.
The back is filled out nicely once everything is in. I like that the card slots are mesh, and that there is a decent sized vent above the I/O shield. As mentioned rubber grommets are provided for running hoses to a rear mounted 120MM radiator. Keep in mind with the PSU and the 120mm fan both exhausting air from inside, all air intake is passive, making this an inherently negative pressure enclosure.
Now, what about cable management? Well as with anything, there are tradeoffs to be made. In order for this case to be so open and easy to access, there just isn’t any where to hide cabling. However, as I mentioned before, the motherboard tray can be used as a tie down spot should the opportunity present itself. In addition there are a few tie-down spots on the right side posts. Also the area in front of the PSU is unused for the most part and can be used to gather excess cable length. I would recommend going with a full modular PSU with a shorter cable kit, as that 24 pin looks like a monster snake in there. And the front USB cables could have been a few inches shorter.
Conclusion and Awards
Xigmatek has a terrific little enclosure on its hands with the Nebula. It has a pleasing aesthetic in a unique classy design, I like the feel and look of the matte side panels. Those interlocking panels are complimented by the contrast of the piano black top and silver base. For me, the stand out visual detail is the clever power light. I love the angle and shape of it and it sure draws the eye, breaking up the otherwise monolithic look. As far as looks go, I can see the Nebula fitting quite nicely into many a media room.
The chassis well made, and constructed mostly of heavy gauge metal with rolled edges. The interior is quite open for such a small enclosure, making it easy to build in. And the Nebula can accommodate a standard ATX PSU and full height video cards as long as they don’t exceed 200mm in length. It can hold a fair bit of storage for such a compact enclosure too with support for two HDDs in the cage, and a SSD mounted below the cage.
There are a couple of things that will depend on your personal taste. That cool power light will get noticed in a darkened room, and depending on placement, could be distracting. But it’s not nearly as annoying as those bright blue LED lights some enclosures use. Second, as a negative pressure case it can potentially draw in more dust than a positive pressure case would, especially with no filter on the bottom. Also, the included manual is rudimentary at best and would be of limited use to the novice system builder, and there was no way I could complete the build with only the 3 zip ties they included.
I really like this little guy and feel Xigmatek has a solid contender in the Mini ITX arena. We could imagine a lot of people will be snapping one up for their next HTPC. And for around $99 at Newegg and Amazon, it’s priced competitively. Certainly Xigmatek did a good job in designing such a well-built and attractive Mini ITX enclosure. Special thanks to AMD for providing the graphics card and processor used in this review.