Phanteks EVOLV Shift XT Mini ITX Case Review
Still a Phanboy?
I’ve stated many times in the past my admiration for how Phanteks has advanced the enclosure market by starting trends that are now common among almost every other PC case manufacturer, so I won’t go into that again. But here I am once again, reviewing yet another enclosure from Phanteks. This time it is my long awaited review of their Evolv Shift XT model. This review has sadly taken me much longer than it should have. (But much longer for me to actually publish! -Ed.)
The Shift XT itself was released almost a year ago, and I’ve had this particular case in my possession for almost seven months at the time of writing. While I should take the full blame, I am only willing to accept a slight majority. From the moment I had the Shift XT in my hands, I wanted to include a custom loop into my review, and I really wanted to include the LCD accessory screen specifically for the Shift XT.
Phanteks announced this screen module in May of 2022. So I decided to wait until it was available. It still isn’t out. So, regardless of all else, I’ll take my share of blame here and apologize for waiting to complete this review. Hopefully you’ll find my take on the Shift XT and the included photos to be worth the wait.
- PH-ES121XT_DBK01 (Satin Black)
- PH-ES121XT_DGS01 (Galaxy Silver)
- Form Factor: Small Form Factor
- Motherboard Support: mITX
- Aluminum panels
- Steel chassis
- Tempered glass infinity mirror
- Front I/O:
- USB-C Gen 2, 1x USB 3.0, Power Button, D-RGB Color aand Mode
- Side Window: No (mesh side panels)
- 371 mm x 173 mm x 211 mm (W x H x D)
- 371 mm x 173 mm x 244 mm (W x H x D)
- 371 mm x 173 mm x 272 mm (W x H x D)
$169.99 USD list
“The Phanteks Evolv Shift XT is a truly unique small form-factor chassis that extends to tailor the cooling performance to your need. Even in its ultra-compact mode there is no compromise on performance with support for powerful hardware such as 324mm long triple-slot GPUs and 72mm tall CPU air coolers.”
The Shift XT is a small form factor enclosure limited to ITX motherboards and SFX power supplies. It is fairly unique among Small Form Factor enclosures in that the case is easily expandable should someone which to add two fans for airflow, or even up to a 240 mm radiator.
For those who don’t know, the Shift XT is part of the Phanteks Evolv product line, which means that it shares the design language of their other Evolv cases.
This includes all aluminum outer panels which are laser cut to a design that is very distinctive to the Evolv line. Another thing that this case has in common with most of its Evolv brethren is that the Shift XT is a visually stunning enclosure. The bold lines of the aluminum panels with the rectangular ventilation on the sides and top really make a statement. In front, Phanteks uses their “Infinity Mirror” design with built in RGB leds to continue the bold, unique appearance.
The accessory monitor is supposed to be coming within the next few months, and that will replace the Infinity Mirror panel with an LCD screen. The front I/O is concealed beneath the bottom front aluminum panel which can be slid up to reveal LED controls and USB 3.2 type A, and USB Type C ports.
The Evolv Shift XT is available in either Black or Silver. Both models include a PCIe 4.0 riser cable and attractive case lighting that can be connected to any addressable RGB components that use a standard 3 pin 5v connector. MSRP is $169.99, but occasional sales have seen the Shift XT going for as low as $149.95.
The three configurations:
In its smallest configuration, the Shift XT displaces 13.5 liters. At the medium setting, if you wish to add fans, it grows to 15.6 liters, and with the top panel raised to its highest setting, the Shift XT is a 17.4 liter enclosure.
While these may seem really tiny, in the modern SFF enclosure market the Shift XT is actually considered large by some. Even at the smallest setting the Shift XT is 1.9 liters larger than the Fractal Ridge I recently reviewed, and both the medium and large configurations are bigger than the SSUPD Meshlicious I reviewed in 2021.
With all that said is the Shift XT still worth a look against smaller competition? Read on if you want to learn my opinion in regards to the answer to that question.
In the last few years, I’ve been completely amazed at how the small form factor market has taken off. There are now a huge number of SFF cases from all the major manufacturers, and a number of independent manufacturers as well.
One of the benefits of this popularity is that the manufacturers have been forced to improve their designs to keep up, and this has made the latest batches of SFF enclosures much easier to build in than anyone could have dreamed of as recently as five years ago.
The Evolv Shift XT does nothing to buck this trend as once its outer aluminum panels are removed you are presented with a very small and open inner chassis that was an excellent experience to work in.
I only ran into one area that I felt could be improved, which is the bottom case area beside the top of the motherboard (motherboards are installed in an inverted configuration in the Shift XT). For ease of install I really found that I needed to plug in the 8 pin CPU power, and the fan headers on the motherboard I used before dropping the motherboard into position.
The area of the inner chassis is perforated here, but as the outer aluminum panel covers this area, I feel like it could have been left completely open for ease of access to the top section of the motherboard. All in all, this is a pretty minor complaint, but was really the only one I have. The build experience was exemplary and still far better than many mid and full tower enclosures I’ve used in the past.
One other thing of note for a build with the Evolv Shift XT is GPU width. While a wider than normal card (like the EVGA FTW3 picture) will fit in the Shift XT, you will run into interference with the power connectors unless you utilize something like the 180 degree adaptors (also shown).
If you’re looking to go even bigger, I can verify that an Asus RTX 4090 Tuf series card will not fit in the Shift XT (by the narrowest of margins). After photography I was also able to verify that an RTX 4080/4090 Founders edition will fit, but there will definitely be a conflict with the 12VHPWR plug.
It is possible that the upcoming CableMod 180 degree 12VHPWR adaptor will solve this issue, but it will all depend on how far above the card it extends. There is only a few millimeters of clearance if utilizing fans in the top of the Shift XT.
For performance testing I only used the two smallest configurations of the Shift XT. I think the majority of the SFF community isn’t very interested in an enclosure over around 16 liters. The largest configuration would really only be used for an AIO cooler (or a custom loop if you’re some kind of madman), and I think that an AIO would actually hinder some of the benefits of this chassis, and I’ll get to that after we look at the numbers.
Specification of test system:
- Intel Core i5-12600K CPU
- Gigabyte Aorus Z690i Ultra Lite motherboard
- ID Cooling IS-55 Low Profile CPU cooler
- 16 GB (2x8GB) G.Skill Trident Z DDR4-3333 (@ 3600 MT/s) memory
- PNY GeForce RTX 3080 12GB XLR8 OC (fan speed set to standard curve)
All tests conducted at a controlled ambient temperature of 23.5° C. Motherboard fan curve set to “performance”, case fans Set to 800 RPM.
- CPU temperature testing: Cinebench R23
- GPU Temperature Testing: Unigine Heaven set to ultra detail, extreme tessellation, and 8x anti-aliasing at 1080p for 30 minutes
The mesh side panels of the Shift XT seemed to be a little dense, and more useful for dust filtering than for airflow, so I conducted testing both with them installed as well as removed.
The gaming test was performed for 30 minutes using Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, 1920×1080 resolution, ultra settings with ray traced lighting and reflections on, DLSS set to Quality mode.
In the smallest configuration, with no fans to aid airflow, the temperatures were obviously higher, but still not unreasonably so and I experienced no throttling in any of the three tests with either the CPU or GPU. In this configuration, the removal of the side mesh panels did make a measurable difference for the CPU temps, but only 1.5 degree improvement for the GPU.
With the top panel set to the medium configuration, and the addition of two Phanteks T30 fans set to exhaust at a fixed 800 rpm, the temperatures were what I would call excellent in such a small, air cooled system. During any of the testing, I was able to place my hand above the fans and feel how effectively they were pulling the hot air out of the system. With the mesh side panels removed, the temperature difference was negligible on either the CPU or GPU. Having fans pulling air through the system really helps the Shift XT, and this would be the configuration I’d most recommend to someone interested in this enclosure.
The temperatures in this configuration were why I elected not to test this case with an AIO. In this case, if using an AIO for the CPU, the top radiator is not only going to impede the exhausting of hot air from the GPU, but the hot air from the GPU is going to interact with the fins of the radiator, lowering its efficiency. If one absolutely wanted to populate an AIO radiator in the top, I would actually recommend using a hybrid cooled GPU, as the GPU is going to be the major heat producer in most systems today.
My final opinion of the Phanteks Evolv Shift XT is somewhat conflicted. The enclosure was, for the most part, very easy to build in, and it allowed for very effective cooling. The Shift XT is a really nice enclosure, but I do feel it has one issue that could sway potential buyers away. It’s too big for what most are looking for in an SFF enclosure.
The problem is that it doesn’t need to be as large as it is. The inner chassis is extremely compact, and, while the aluminum panels and Evolv design language are attractive, they add at least an inch in height (at the shortest configuration). The panel design adds another inch front to back, and close to a half inch in width.
While this may not seem like much to people usually building in mid or full towers, it’s a huge factor in the competitive SFF marketplace. Personally, I’d love to see Phanteks use this inner chassis with smaller external panels that don’t sacrifice airflow to make an enclosure as small as possible. Even with its larger than ideal size for the SFF market, the Evolv Shift XT performs extremely well, and I’m happy to give it the PC Perspective Gold award.
I really like the look of these and the design is pretty interesting but always kinda thought the layout / design would make more sense in a tall vertical layout.
If you’re looking for a vertical SFF build, the SSUPD Meshlicious and the new Meshroom are the way to go. The footprint it miniscule and you can fit up to a 280 mm radiator. The cable management in those is a bit more of a challenge than the Shift XT.
I put two 400mm LED light strips around the radiator. And daisy chained it with the case’s RGB connection. Makes it look awesome at night with those extra lights shing through the top vent holes.
Due to the fact that the new EK Quantum radiators are a different thread than the old coolstreams, I couldn’t use the T30 fans on the final build and ended up with EK Vardar rgb fans. You are correct that leds shining up through the top panel ventilation looks fantastic.
Hello i have this case, and im really interested turning it into a watercooled version just like yours. I was hoping to find more insight on your watercooling build based on the article. But alas none. Is it possible to know the exact parts you are using?? And was there any difficulty in making it watercooled so i can cautious building it.
Hi Sam. Thanks for the comments on the build. There are really only two areas of concern when doing a watercooled system in the Shift XT. The first is graphics card size. What I used was a reference design 3080 12GB. If you want to use a pump/res combo like the EK FLT-80 in this build, it’s important to use either a reference or Founders Edition as the actual PCB is very short and narrow and leaves room for the reservoir on that side of the chassis. The EK Classic GPU block I used has a length of 211mm, and a width of just under 125mm. I wouldn’t recommend using any GPU that requires a block much longer than 211mm (certainly no more than 220mm at the absolute limit), and nothing with a height more than 130mm. At the moment this limits you to reference and founders edition 30 series Nvidia GPUs. I don’t know of any Radeon 6000 or 7000 GPUs that have a small enough PCB to meet these restrictions, and as of typing this, the only 40 series waterblock that will fit is the Alphacool Eisblock specifically to fit the INNO3D model (which may be difficult to purchase in many markets, North America included).
If you decide to use something like the Barrow pump/block/reservoir combo unit, instead of a small reservoir pump like the EK unit in my build, you can go with a much longer GPU, but the total height of the block is still going to be a limiting factor.
The second issue with a full watercooled build in the Shift XT is due to the radiator size. You can only use up to a 240mm rad, with a max thickness of 35mm. As there are really no 35mm thick radiators on the market, that means your going to be limited to a 240 with a max thickness of 30mm. Because of this limitation, you will really need to pay attention to the power and heat output of your components. This build is running a 12600k in conjunction with the reference 3080 12GB. Even without any overclocking, that is pushing the limit of what the 240mm has the capacity to cool.
If the system is going to be primarily used for gaming I would get a Ryzen 5800x3d or 7800x3d, and combine that with a reference 3080 (or better yet, 4070 Ti if you can find one). That should give plenty of cooling headroom.
I hope that this was helpful. If you have anymore questions, feel free to ask.
I just bought the bundle from Phanteks, case, power supply, and 240mm AIO. With the fans below the radiator you have to watch for interference with the coolant lines. I chose this case because it would fit in the small area I have available. Very pleased with the results.