MSI proves you can pack a ton of gear into a tiny iTX-sized box with its Nightblade barebones PC.
During the last few years PC components, particularly video cards, have been getting bigger and bigger because of cooling requirements. The most recent high-end cards from Nvidia and AMD are massive, with the cooler making up a big part of the required real estate. Not as big as AMD’s gargantous Radeon 295×2, or Nvidia’s super-dooper sized GTX Titan Z, but one would expect that cards of this size need a fairly large case to accompany them.
So it’s surprising that MSI recommends — and includes a supporting cooler — a Radeon R9 290x for its MSI Nightblade. The R9 290x isn’t a massive Radeon 295×2 sized card, but it’s not a petite GeForce GTX 750 either. But opening up the Nightblade’s case reveals the care and thought MSI has put into it, and why it’s not an ordinary barebones PC: there’s a ton of space inside (16 liters). It’s almost deceptive to see the real estate available inside this barebones PC, as one would not expect the kind of space that’s available from a mere iTX case. This is indicative, however, of the quality and care MSI has placed in building the Nightblade.
A look inside and out
Popping open the side of the Nightblade (which is stylishly etched with MSI’s dragon logo) and aside from the spacious interior — as previously discussed — one finds MSI’s Z87I gaming motherboard which sports the Z87 chipset and support for Intel’s Haswell (users can place in an i3 to i7 Intel chip). The motherboard supports dual slot video cards that are a maximum of 290mm in length. The motherboard also has support for up to 16GB of DDR3 RAM. For onboard audio it has a Realtek ALC 1150 audio board that has 7.1 channels. There’s the usual buffet of I/O ports, and the Nightblade even includes a DisplayPort port for the onboard video card.
For users that are interested, there’s also an optional 3800 RPM Tower Cooler CPU cooler that will tolerate some mild overclocking.
MSI has also included
The Nightblade includes power supplies that can pump out 600W, and a 92mm 3600 RPM rear system fan as well as a 120mm 4000 RPM side fan for users that want to put in a R9 290x.
Going back to the system’s exterior, MSI has done a great job with the case’s design. The slot loaded DVD drive is a nice touch, as is the carrying handle. The Nightblade does feel slightly more heavy than most barebones PCs, but it’s not too heavy to be easily carried.
The space inside
Even though the Nightblade’s plentiful interior space has been addressed before, putting some components inside the PC to do some testing brings me back to how important having ample space inside an iTX-sized computer is. A common complaint amongst enthusiasts is that without tiny hands, it’s tough to manipulate parts or move cabling within an iTX case once the components have been installed. Very few manufacturers provide ample real estate, but MSI is one of them.
Airflow is another things that suffers when space inside a PC’s case is at a premium. While things can get tight when all the components are inside the case, there will be enough room left over so as long as proper care is applied when building the system there shouldn’t be an airflow problem. In addition, without proper care airflow will be a problem as the close confines of the case don’t leave much margin for error. However with proper care and tied down cables airflow won’t be a problem. Do it haphazardly however, and cooling issues will most certainly arise.
Conclusion: Almost the perfect barebones PC
It might seem silly to get too excited about a barebones PC. After all, the name implies that it doesn’t include the important components that people take into account when buying a gaming PC, such as CPU, GPU and RAM, which is why it would be futile to run a benchmark suite on the unit (as experiences would vary wildly based on the hardware).
But the MSI Nightblade is worth getting excited about. MSI has done everything right with this barebones PC. Granted it’s just a barebones PC, but there’s something special about it. The design is stylish, the insides are spacious, and it has an easy-to-carry handle on the bottom.
The Nightblade is available from major etailers for $599.
- Well designed, a ton of space inside.
- Onboard VGA supports Display Port, HDMI and DVI.
- Carrying handle is a nice addition. Other barebones PCs are awkward to carry.
- Fans are very loud (mid-40s db).
- It’s heavier than other barebones PCs.