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Wrap Up: Form Over Function?
Xigmatek's Nebula looks great. From its removable aluminum doors to its orange activity light, it's clear that the company focused on aesthetics. Hell, we're even warming up to its plastic silver base and its glossy black top cover isn't so bad until it's covered in fingerprints and dust. However, few people buy a case on aesthetics alone and however attractive the Nebula may be, it's too impractical for most.
Perhaps most disappointing is that Xigmatek wasted 13%+ of the Nebula's internal space, which makes you wonder why it's so big for a Mini-ITX case in the first place. You're limited to GPUs no longer than 200mm (175mm for dual-slot cards) while heatsinks can't stand taller than 80mm – hardly great news for the Nebula when there are cheaper, smaller and more capable Mini-ITX cases already available.
Along with having plenty of unused space, the Nebula limits dual-slot cards to 175mm because of a plastic piece that contributes to its aesthetics, though we managed to remove this for an extra 70mm of legroom (245mm total). This feels more like an oversight than a conscious decision to favor form over function. There are plenty of ways to make a uniquely attractive case without such a limitation.
Furthermore, the Nebula's cable management is virtually non-existent and we had to fight every inch of the way to make things fit. Again, this is only more bothersome when you know how much space is wasted elsewhere, though some of the case's limitations won't be a problem if you're going to use an AMD APU such as the A8-7600 instead of a discrete GPU for a basic home theater-oriented build.
It would still be nice to fill the unoccupied space. For instance, we could have had the option to install more 3.5" drives for storing movies and other media content in an HTPC. As is, the Nebula could hold twice as many 3.5" drives with the spare room below the existing drive cage. We feel similarly about some of the externals, too. For instance, why hide the I/O panel around the corner so it's hard to reach?
The more we look at the Nebula the more we question Xigmatek's design choices. The Nebula is a good case, but it's disappointing to see it fall short in areas that could have made it a must-have product. If you like the way it looks and don't care about its shortcomings, mostly those concerned about wasted space and GPU/CPU cooler restrictions, it should still be a good buy if it sells for $100 or less.
Pros: The Nebula offers an attractive design that sets it apart from other Mini-ITX enclosures.
Cons: Wasted potential/space limits the Nebula's use for higher-end builds. Price should be a concern if it sells for more than $100.