Antec Aria SFF Case (w/PSU)

Cases|Damping
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ASSEMBLY AND TESTING

System Options

Setting up a system in the Aria is considerably more work than with most barebones SFF systems. The main difference is that in the barebones systems, the motherboard and its cabling to switches and ports are preinstalled. Here, this is all part of the setup. This is part of the price for the freedom to choose to choose the motherboard of your choice in a SFF case.

Antec's brief about this case suggests that its ideal system is one of low to medium thermal characteristics in order to take full advantage of its built in low noise features. Every PC case seems to have a certain maximum thermal limit beyond which quiet cooling becomes increasingly difficult. This thermal limit is related to ventilation, acoustic properties, and size ° total internal volume. Being a small case, the Aria's thermal limit is naturally lower than the mid-tower cases PC Silencers generally employ.

Let's look at mainstream processors from Intel and AMD: The coolest P4 Intel currently makes is a 2.8, rated at 69 watts. The coolest AMD XPin current production is a 2500+ (Barton core), rated at around 68W. They are hardly cool processors, but they are what's available for a mid-power system now. There are lower power CPUs, including Intel P3, VIA C3, and older slower P4s and XPs still in the retail channels.

So given the processors in my lab, and the intended application range of this case, I opted to build three different systems:

  • Low power: P4-1.8A with built-in VGA,
  • Higher power: P4-2.8 (533) with the built-in VGA
  • Gaming: P4-2.8 (533) with nVidia 4800-128MB VGA.

Assembly

You begin by removing the outer panels, an operation that takes seconds. It would have been nice to install the motherboard without removing the PSU, but that proved very difficult, despite Antec's assurances. I tried, but found the space too tight and difficult to work in, especially with all the cables going every which way. It was better to play it safe than to have an accident and end up with a dead motherboard. I am glad I did: Installation of just a tight input/output panel for the motherboard proved to be a sweaty affair, even with the PSU removed.

Four screws around the 120mm fan on the back panel, and two screws on the top cross-brace were undone. The PSU then was pushed down off the cross-brace and out. But it cannot be removed altogether without unplugging the three leads that connect to the AC input plug on the back panel. I chose not to unplug the leads and left the PSU perched on top as shown below.

The PSU itself has intake ventilation holes on four sides; the other two sides look much like the two visible above. The top vent holes are actually jammed right up against the cover and thus draw very little air in. You can see the total intake vent area is not that big, especially considering the area of the 120mm fan (~110 cm. square). The stepped profile is probably deliberate, it provides clearance for the CPU heatsink.

The PSU label indicates a hefty max current of 18A for the 12V line, and maximum combined power of 280W for the three lines. It's pretty good for a small PSU. The unit has Active PFC and auto-adjust input voltage for 100~240VAC, which makes it quite modern and up to date. (For more info on PFC, please read the green box on p.3 of the Recommended PSUs article.)

The bottom of the case looks like it's actually two layers of aluminum bonded together. The motherboard can be secured with just a single screw in one corner; a kind of hook clips on the other mounting holes. See the pic below. Those hooking clips can be replaced with the normal screw mounts, which are supplied. I chose not to, as the motherboard felt quite secure with those hooks and the one screw.

Clearance for large aftermarket heatsinks will be a bit of an issue. The first heatsink tried was an Arctic Cooling Super Silent 4 Pro TC. It was too tall to fit under the PSU.

A Zalman 6500AlCu-B was tried, and as you can see below, its 65mm height just clears the overhang of the PSU.

This means reliance on the airflow of the 120mm PSU fan, which has an intake directly above the heatsink, or adding a fan on the optional bracket for the PSU. The bracket is supplied with the Aria. The bracket and fan were mounted, as seen in the photo below. It's similar to the bracket Zalman uses for the 6500 and other similarly shaped heatsinks.

The tedious task of identifying and inserting all the various connectors for front panel functions and ports came next. Even with the panels completely off, the small space and the masses of cables from the PSU and from the front panel makes this a rather fussy task. The custom wiring management (and much prewiring) of the recently reviewed barebones systems was sorely missed.

The case came without any drive data cables. Barebones SFF systems come with these in custom lengths, often routed in place, and accordianed to reduce airflow impedance. Normally, I run HDD and optical drives on separate channels to ensure best data transfer for the HDD, but given the lack of short cables in my lab, I opted to use a single standard length cable for both.

The center 3.5" drive bay is meant for the main HDD, and rubber grommeted screws are supplied for that bay to reduce HDD vibrations from causing panel resonance noise. I preferred the airflow potential of the side mounts and used the left one, farthest from the CPU, theorizing that the keeping the airflow less blocked on the CPU side was important for cooling. When the Samsung HDD was installed, I found that its top firmly pressed on the outside rim of the drive cage; hopefully this would not be a source of vibration noise.

The Cyclone Blower is a slim blower style fan that replaces a slot cover. Antec says that it is meant to be an integral part of the the Aria's overall case cooling. Note that it is wired so that it will get 7 volts when plugged into a standard 4-pin PSU output connector. Antec says that this Cyclone Blower sample was part of the prototype. The version in the final retail package of the Aria will be standard 12V fans that run at the same low speed as the prototype at 7V.

Here is the Cyclone Blower mounted, in the photo below.

One trick I discovered in working with the system is that the drive cage can be flipped over and placed on the top back of the case without unplugging any cables. This proved to be a very useful technique for getting to components after the system was assembled.



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