There aren't a lot of mini-ITX chassis that are actually, y'know, mini. But, while the Phanteks Evolv Shift XT might have a big ol' name, it's one of the smallest gaming chassis around that will take a full-size graphics card.
Though sometimes it's not. The smart thing about this wee case is that it can evolv(e), depending on how much cooling you desire. With three different size profiles, the Evolv Shift XT allows you to have a super-compact system, something with a little more cooling, or a system that can pack in a 240mm AIO CPU cooler without compromising overly on scale.
I'll be honest, I was hoping for some sort of mechanised method of shifting size profiles, like some whirring, sliding action where the chassis grows in front of my eyes. But that's not how it works, and yes, would really be pointlessly complex if it did. All you actually need do to change the size is move two standoffs between three different points on the roof of the case, and screw in or remove the relevant backplates to prop it up.
It's delightfully simple, which is something the Phanteks chassis has as a hallmark of use. Access to the inside of the case is entirely tool-free, and to break it down completely you only need to remove a single thumbscrew.
That makes diving in and altering things really simple… but only once your machine is actually built. While the actual build process remains simple, it's definitely not fun. This is a regular issue with mini-ITX machines; the cramped confines of the case inevitably makes for an awkward building experience most times.
That's what makes something like the NZXT H1 V2 such a breath of fresh air when it comes to the actually putting your rig together.
It must be said, however, that once you have your system up and running, you will quickly forget those initial teething problems. Well, so long as you haven't sliced a finger or scraped the skin off a knuckle on a particularly egregious motherboard heatsink, that is.
And that's actually where things feel the most tight with the Evolv Shift XT; around the motherboard. It's so tightly positioned to the edge of the chassis' frame that trying to get all the necessary cables plumbed in requires some serious digital gymnastics. Especially if your mini-ITX board also has those egregious heatsinks.
Your pick of power supply will affect your build and how pleasing it is in the final reckoning, too. I have a 750W SFX-L PSU which I've been using for mini-ITX builds, and while it does fit comfortably into the Shift XT, it does restrict your build. Phanteks does recommend you go for an SFX option instead.
Most noticeably using an SFX-L PSU stops you being able to drop in an AIO cooler, even with the case on its largest setting, as there isn't enough space for both the liquid tubing and the power cables to coexist.
What I will say, however, is that there is still a huge amount of space for a graphics card to live. The entire left-hand side of the case is devoted to your GPU, and with twin fans installed with the chassis on its middle size setting, you also get a healthy amount of airflow, too.
Though, not every graphics card. We did try the new Radeon RX 6950XT and that did not go so well. I mean, with the PCIe 4.0 riser cable unscrewed we could get it running… but the lid didn't quite fit.
I'll admit I had a bit of a negative experience building into the Phanteks, and that initially coloured my feelings about the case. But the more time I've spent with it, the more I've tweaked, and poked, and prodded it, the more I like it.
I really appreciate just how small it can go at its most diminutive, and still pack in a full GPU. You could fit a low profile CPU air cooler into the case and not have to expand it. But if you're going for anything above mid-range GPUs or processors then you will benefit from having the extra cooling installing a pair of 240mm fans in the roof will deliver.
And, with a straight SFX PSU inside it, having a 240mm AIO CPU cooler installed will keep a powerful processor in line, while still offering some extra ambient cooling for your GPU and motherboard.
In a world where mini-ITX gaming chassis aren't that mini, the Phanteks Evolv Shift XT can deliver a pint-sized gaming PC that can perform. But it's also a tiny chassis that can literally grow with your PC, and that's a definite bonus. Just try and remain calm during the build process and know that the fallibility of human memory will erase the inevitable pain.