Optical Drive Installation
There are four bays for optical drives. In order to get one in there, you need to remove the enclosure's front shroud (a quick and easy process, fortunately). The mechanism pictured below simplifies removal of the plastic covers without breaking anything once you're ready to populate the external bays.
A tool-free installation process is certainly appreciated. But this bears repeating once more: be careful as slide hardware in and out of the Phantom 820. An accidental slip can easily scar the chassis' finish.
Installation Brackets for Hard Drives and SSDs
Tool-less installation is great if the drive bracket you're using is strong enough. Unfortunately, the Phantom 820's plastic bracket is a little flimsy. It doesn't attach very securely to the drive bay, and it needs to be held onto when you're connecting SATA cables to prevent the bracket from sliding back. On the bright side, it accommodates either 3.5” or 2.5” drives.
3.5” Hard Drive Installation
Installing a conventional hard disk in the bracket looks easy, thanks to those pins in the image below (there are four of them). They're metal, for a secure fit, we presume, attached to rubber grommets that insulate against vibration.
The spacing isn't quite right, though. You have to push hard on the pins to force them into drive's screw holes.
Even after mounting your hard drive into the bracket, getting it loaded up may prove challenging. We had to use quite a bit of force to clear the sides of the cage.
The extra effort isn't what bothers us most. More worrisome is that there's contact between the metal pins holding the hard drive in place and the cage, negating any positive effect those rubber grommets might have had. If you're an enthusiast using multiple mechanical disks, this can lead to them resonating together, which we'll let you hear in our videos.
Now, according to NZXT, shortly after shipping out its review units, it changed the material used in the drive trays. Although they look the same (and consequently recess SSDs too far back for our taste), the company claims issues with flexing and the hard drive pins should be addressed. We don't have the updated trays in our office to test, but if NZXT was truly able to solve the issues we encountered during our review, much of our original concern would, in fact, be lessened.
2.5” Hard Drive or SSD Installation
This is another part of our original review that justifies an update. In our German launch-day evaluation, we pointed out that the M3x5 screws NZXT included were too short to even reach an SSD. By manually widening the holes, we were able to get a drive secured, but we had to make clear how unacceptable this was for a $250 case.
Before this piece went live, however, NZXT let us know it's now including M3x7 screw, which should properly reach an SSD positioned over the drive tray. As soon as the first 3000 retail Phantom 820s clear the channel, enthusiasts will start seeing the longer screws in their kits.
Attach your SATA and power cables before sliding the bracket back into the case, though. If you don't, the SSD will sit really far back, making it difficult to reach. If you can get your hand back there, even light pressure will push the arrangement further into the cage (the same thing that happened with our 3.5" drive). The drive cage is closed from the back, so it's not possible to hold the tray in place from the other side, either.
Although we've been really complementary of the Phantom 820 thus far, storage installation is somewhat of a mess. We've pointed out a lot of other positive attributes, but it's just not acceptable for a $250 case to lack a sturdy system for securing 2.5" and 3.5" drives. It'd even be a problem in a $50 enclosure. Hopefully, the updates NZXT claims to have made solve those problems and give the Phantom 820's mounting system a more solid feel.
Retrofitting A Hot-Swap Solution
It’s hard to believe that a high-end case like NZXT's Phantom 820 doesn’t give us the option to attach a hot-swappable drive that we might connect briefly for a backup or big file dump. That's why we added an FP57-B from SilverStone, occupying a spare 5.25" bay to facilitate an externally-accessible 3.5" disk.