Phanteks Shift Air 2 Review – A Monolith For Your Desk
Phanteks Evolves the Shift Air
In the quest for minimalism, there's nowhere to go but up.
Phanteks has a unique take on making PC enclosures, as many of their designs go beyond a typical boxy case by having a certain visual flair, quality materials and finishes.
Creating a statement case around the ITX board form factor can take many directions, Phanteks literally chooses “up” with their Evolv Shift series. Oh, and I can say at least one thing up front here: there are going to be a lot of portrait orientation photographs below.
- Evolv Shift 2 & Evolv Shift 2 Air
- Dimensions: 170 x 490 x 274 mm / 6.7 x 19.3 x 10.8 inches (Width x Height x Depth)
- Net Weight: 6.8 kg / 14.99 lbs
- Materials: Steel chassis, anodized aluminum front & rear panels, mesh fabric or tempered glass side panels (as applicable)
- Motherboard Support: mini-ITX
- PSU Support: SFX, SFX-L
- Side Window: Tempered Glass (if applicable)
- Front and External IO:
- Power Button
- 2x USB 3.0
- D-RGB Color Button
- D-RGB Mode Button
- Internal Connectors:
- Power, USB 3.0
- D-RGB expansion / extension cables
- D-RGB motherboard connector
- GPU Clearance: 335mm / 13.2 in
- GPU Width: Up to 150mm / 5.9 in
- CPU Cooler Height: 85mm / 3.3 in
- Riser Cable: PCIe 3.0×16
- PCI Slots: 2 (2.9 slot clearance, 59mm thickness)
- Internal Storage:
- 1x 3.5″
- 4 x 2.5″ (2x included via one dual SSD bracket)
- Total Fan Mounts: 3 x 120mm / 3 x 140mm
- 1 140mm PWM included, D-RGB on TG model
- Rear Radiator: 120mm
- Max Radiator: Thickness up to 45mm with SFX PSU, 30mm with SFX-L PSU
- Dust filters: Top (fixed), Bottom (Removable)
MSRP: $99.99 – $109.99
“In the Phanteks Evolv Series, the Evolv Shift 2 and the Evolv Shift 2 Air provide a unique form-factor and ultra-small footprint. This expands the Evolv Series with a compact and flexible chassis that brings the premium style and material quality known from the Evolv Series.”
The new Evolv Shift 2 and Shift 2 Air builds on the vertical ITX style in a highly space efficient way as they both feature a similar ultra small desktop footprint and compact chassis. Would it seem odd to say the Shift 2 is both a stand-out enclosure with its elegant vertical stature and yet subtle at the same time dressed in anodized aluminum and dark fabric?
Our sample case is the Evolv Shift 2 Air in Anthracite Grey. Hmm, It reminds me of something I’ve seen in the news recently… Phanteks: “Get a mysterious monolith for your desk!”
Materials and Finish
Handling this particular version shows off quality materials and excellent fitment, even though everything comes apart. The sides and frame create a sturdy but small chassis. The front and rear are solid with running vents along the edges. Those are anodized aluminum panels while the side frames are reinforced plastic and not very flexible. I have seen similar backing to this on a couple of recent cases now, and I do like the subtle patterning under the fabric material.
Helpful Build Guide
The included manual is a well done glossy piece with color photos and easy to understand diagrams. It contains useful building tips, general direction on what components to tackle first, wire routing suggestions and call-outs for design features and options. Total approval from me here, and I think many other builders would appreciate it as well. IMO, new builders – or builders without SFF ITX experience – could find working through this assembly a bit challenging.
In general, there are “inverted” motherboard designs, and then there’s the Phanteks Shift 2 way. Rear I/O is now top I/O! Motherboard ports are all located at the top behind a spring loaded and hinged door. Push down on the front edge of the top, and it pops open (or closed actually). Hey, it’s a satisfying mechanism to actuate at the very least. (Click pop. Click snap.) Ok, there is a bit more traditional front I/O in the form of 2 cleverly hidden USB 3 ports on the lower front of the chassis, which come with a pair of dust plugs already in them.
Breaking it Down
All four sides are removable and held on with captive thumbscrews (yeah!) and only from the top. For mechanical panel retention design with the Shift 2 Air, you align the plastic pins, push and slide it down to lock, and then use the big easy-to-grab thumbscrews at the top to fully retain it. I like this assembly mechanic. I know it works well because it does not make me cringe when thinking about removing a panel to show off the internals to someone. Like, can you believe this all fits in here, and its all facing upwards?
After building in the case, I am personally very happy to have the breathable “Air” fabric side panels as I like the idea of hot components and fans having an easy access to fresh air and radiative exhaust.
Other Internal Features
The Evolv Shift 2 Air will take a GPU up to 2.9 “slots” wide and 335mm in length, very reasonable for an ITX build. I’ll install a big GPU later to test out how difficult that actually is. To attach that GPU, Phanteks includes a PCIe 3.0×16 riser cable. The instructions have you take that cable through what I might consider a tortuous path, but it works. A testament to its quality and flexibility, really. No… actually it was somewhat difficult to make one of the tight radius bends, come to think of it.
With all the panels removed the entire case has easy accessibility via the sides – when the case is empty. Cable routing options are many and varied, and you’ll have to be creative about routing under, internally, externally (outside the chassis frame, but beneath the solid front / rear panels) or a combination of all of them.
There is cabling for addressing RGB components via the included controller, which is powered by a SATA connection. Lights can be controlled with a pair of top buttons for mode and color, or connected back to the motherboard D-RGB 3 pin sync connector. Usually you get one or the other (case controlled or MB), but this is nice to see as an option. The included cabling will also allow you to daisy-chain additional D-RGB components off the end as another thoughtful option.
See that silver retaining screw in one of the photos below? That’s some fun for later, but probably only if you do something out of order.
There is room to mount a single 3.5” drive (no I didn’t try it), or two 2.5” drives within the included dual SSD bracket. There is room for two such dual drive brackets, for a total of 4 possible locations to mount 2.5” drives. Beware the tight clearances and cabling though; that will come up later.
Cooling and Airflow
The Shift 2 comes with 1 x SK PWM 140mm fan, 0.25A with 84.5 CFM flow at 36 dB(A). The Tempered Glass variant of the case comes with the D-RGB version. As previously mentioned, there is room for a 120mm AIO in the lower chamber, and the diagram shows off other possible fan locations and air flow paths. Mentally add the fabric side panels for the “Air” variant.
The fabric side panels do act as filters of course, but there are 2 more. The lower segment has a removable filter which slides out, or you can just pop off the entire plastic lower support section and have at it. And there’s the two USB 3.0 ports mentioned earlier.
The top panel also has a non-removable filter within. I would expect that typically air would be moving from within the case outward, so this one might take longer to dust up.
Phanteks includes a nice hardware case with bins, with the manual providing the lookup key as to which hardware belongs to which component. It’s the little things really. It’s definitely appreciated and an easy step above having 5 or 6 unlabeled plastic baggies. Other bits includes a magnetically attached shield of sorts (which we use later), zip ties and some isolation dampers.
After building in this case, my advice would be to plan which components you expect to use carefully, and install them in the order recommended by the included guide. Expect that you will have to remove and refit the same component a few times to get everything routed properly. (I’m not too proud.)
Basically the Shift Air 2 is like many ITX cases in that you should plan your build with a higher attention to detail for cable routing and component selection. When they are finally placed in the chassis, a few mm can matter quite a bit. Leaving certain pieces slightly loose allowed for sneaking cabling under them, not because of the wiring clearance needed, but because of the end connector on the front of that wire.
So, we just received this be quiet! SFX-L 600w PSU and I thought it would be perfect to use here, as Phanteks does make allowance for the use of the SFX-L. Dramatic musical sting time – because, no. As you can see by the photos below, my preferred orientation with the PSU drawing in fresh air though the side fabric would not work because of the case PSU passthrough cable ‘L’ bend. That attachment would have routed the wire straight through the wall of the case into the outside. Two things: 1. Phanteks does mention making sure the PSU fan is pointed inwards when using the non “Air” Shift 2 with the TG panels (so I know they believe it works) and 2. the bend in the wiring shows that Phanteks did not expect the location or orientation of the be quiet! 600w SFX-L power inlet. So now you know too.
I ended up having to also move the SSD mounting bracket away from the stock location, as it was easier to cable by moving it upwards, and it avoided the revised power supply plug cable path.
For SSD mounting, there is essentially almost every option available for cabling them, they’re all viable. Upside down, backwards, etc. Think through your options based on what wires you have, how you’re routing them through the interior and/or exterior, because there are are many passthroughs and routing options in the Shift 2.
Specific to the Shift 2
Another issue that is specific to the Shift 2 was the potential routing of the AIO liquid lines as being a bit cramped. This will vary by AIO manufacturer I expect. Phanteks does make an allowance to pass them between the upper and lower sections via an angled notch in the mid plate, but with an SFX-L PSU, that’s a very crowded space. There is enough room to give one tube some relief along the outside edge of the PSU, which allows the side panel to still close up. Again, this will be dependent on the line size, flexibility and length from the manufacturer of your AIO.
Hey, building in a small form factor case around an ITX board is both challenging and fun! I found the rest of the assembly to be typical for the SFF or ITX experience – not quite enough room, and trying to be clever with cable routing.
Oh, and that silver “thumb” screw I mentioned earlier? That is designed to hold the lower section of the graphics card frame into the case, and it is somewhat difficult to get at because it’s just beneath the ITX board right where all the cables connect. Get a magnetic screwdriver and a friend to hold the GPU into the system while you try and catch the threads from the MB side.
Hey Man, Nice Case
Since building this system, it has gathered quite a number of compliments on it’s appearance, and I have to agree. It’s sharp, distinctive and on top of that, a good performer!
Testing the build
For my components I wanted a challenge to cool, but still having good performance with no pulled clocks. I also wanted something that a high end enthusiast might have so I picked up the Gigabyte Z390 I Aorus Pro WiFi, and equipped it with a delidded Intel 8600K OC’d to 4.9 on all cores at 1.235v vcore and top level LLC for the board with a few other minor tweaks. Just XMP on the 3200 ram. The GPU is the ASUS Strix 2080ti factory OC, with a modest +50Mhz core, +500Mhz memory and 120% raised power limit. All of it run on the 80+ Gold rated 600w be quiet! SFX-L – quite the trooper as the GPU alone was pulling around 300 indicated watts at 99% usage.
|PC Perspective Test Platform|
|Motherboard||Gigabyte Z390 I Aorus Pro WiFi|
|Processor||Intel 8600K all core OC 4.9ghz|
|Memory||Crucial Ballistix Sport (2 x 16GB) DDR4-3200 CL16|
|GPU||ASUS Rog Strix 2080ti OC|
|Storage||Intel 660p 1tb NVME (boot)|
|Storage||Micron 5100 Pro 1tb SSDt|
|Power Supply||Be quiet! 600w SFX-L|
|CPU Cooler||Deepcool Gamer Storm Captain 120EX|
|Operating System||Windows 10 64-bit Version 1909|
Keeps Its Cool
This is the closest I have seen to almost having no case at all, as removing the panels did not make a sizable difference in noise or cooling. In fact, with the panels all off, the temps did go down a few C, but in some cases so did the noise because a fan RPM “step” at temperature threshold was crossed!
In my view, this is a statement case, like a nice piece of jewelry, but rather functional at the same time. Fit and finish are very good and pushing a hot system shows that temps can be well under control. If I was in the market for a new ITX case, I could easily choose this one. Personally I would build custom wiring to flush it out and hide the runs. I might add additional lighting – because the fabric mesh shows it off so nicely. I would also fix the right angle PSU connection to work with the be quiet! PSU properly. I have no trouble being an electrical modder, but YMMV. If you were to choose this case, then you have to make friends with the top mounted I/O but that’s pretty much it for any usage short-comings. At about $100, it’s a good value and worthy of an EC from me.
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How Product Was Obtained
The product is on loan from Phanteks for the purpose of this review.
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Nice industrial design but where’s the plant?
I realized it later that I missed setting up the plant picture. I will attempt to make up for it later. I think I need a cactus.