Antec Aria SFF Case (w/PSU)

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ANALYSIS

The results of testing on all three systems is compiled in the single table below.

The noise was measured from 1 meter distance in the test lab, which had an ambient of 16~18 dBA, far enough below the source noise level to keep from tainting the results. Noise (front, sides, top) refers to the noise as measured 1 meter from the front, the top or the sides of the case. They all read within 1 decibel of each other for all the testing; hence these were combined. The ambient temperature in the test lab was 21°C.

AGGREGATE TEST RESULTS
Low Power System
Idle
Folding
CPUBurn
CPU Temp (°C)
31°C
46°C
53°C
HDD Temp (°C)
37°C
37°C
38°C
Noise (front, sides, top) dBA/1m
25
30
32
Noise from back - dBA/1m
28
33
35
AC Power
69W
77W
90W
Higher Power System
Idle
Folding
CPUBurn
CPU Temp (°C)
48°C
55°C
63°C
HDD Temp (°C)
37°C
38°C
39°C
Noise (front, sides, top) dBA/1m
28
34
35
Noise from back - dBA/1m
31
36
37
AC Power
95W
106W
133W
Gaming System
Idle
Folding
CPUBurn
CPU Temp (°C)
53°C
60°C
65°C
HDD Temp (°C)
38°C
39°C
40°C
Noise (front, sides, top) dBA/1m
33
35
37
Noise from back - dBA/1m
35
38
39
AC Power
127W
140W
165W

CAVEAT: Please keep in mind that much of this analysis is based on just these three systems; you can assemble hundreds of other component combinations that could give you different results. The analysis is meant to give a general idea of what you can expect, with an emphasis on low noise.

General comments:

  • HDD seek noise is much more damped than in typical systems, typically adding no more than 2-3 dBA over idle. The Samsung drive has very muted seek noise, but when it is bolted into most cases, the typical increase during seek is about double those numbers. Especially in an aluminum case. Interestingly, placing a sheet of 1" thick closed cell foam between the Aria and the heavy countertop reduced the seek noise significantly.
  • The case panels never exhibited the annoying buzzy or hummy noise of typical aluminum cases ° at any power level.
  • The side HDD bays are suitable for elastic cord suspension for those who want minimal noise.
  • The CPU fan was not loud enough at 7V or less (the setting used throughout the testing) to add significantly to the overall noise signature.
  • The 7V Cyclone fan was not loud enough to add significantly to the overall noise signature.
  • The baseline noise level of the system was set by the idle noise of the hard drive and the minimum speed of the PSU fan.
  • The Samsung HDD in this setup appears to have a minimum temperature of 36~37°C and a maximum of ~40°C, and the temps don't change much with system configuration. This suggests that the location of the drive gives the same level of decent cooling airflow that is the main determining factor in its temperature.
  • At higher power loads in all three system configurations, the PSU fan dominated the overall noise.
  • The PSU fan is equipped with a RPM output but it did not work on this board for unknown reasons.
  • The Power Factor of the PSU measured ~0.87, lower than most other APFC models tested, which usually reach above 0.95.

Low Power System - The temperatures of the CPU and the hard drive were both very modest, indicating very good cooling for both, especially the CPU. It is evident that the maximum power draw of 90W AC, which indicates the total heat in the system, is well within the ideal thermal zone of the Aria.

In normal usage, the PSU fan rarely spun up beyond the min, and when it did, it did so gradually in a non-intrusive way. It can be characterized as a quiet system, although at maximum CPU load, it's at the upper borderline for SPCR.

Higher Power System - Again, the temperatures of the CPU and the hard drive were modest, and within safe limits, despite the big jump in total power draw in the system that resulted with the CPU upgrade. The PSU fan works harder to cool things, however, as indicated by the much higher decibel readings, especially with the system under load.

In normal use, the system would now be considered borderline quiet. Under load, it is better described as a noise-reduced system, as it jumps considerably over the 30 dBA/1m mark

Gaming System - The fan on the GF Ti4800 was enough to drive me slightly batty, as it pushed the already higher noise 2-3 dBA higher than reported in the above table, with a whiny higher frequency tone. After a while, I simply pulled the plug on the annoying fan and relied on the very nearby Cyclone fan to cool the card. It seemed to be enough; no video misbehavior was noted in any of the testing or in general usage.

Antec did say that users who want a more powerful gaming type system would have to give up some noise; they were telling it straight. Note the big jump in the AC power draw, especially at full load. In this gaming configuration, the system is no longer a quiet one. In general usage, it is noise-reduced, but by no means quiet. At full load, the noise is well into standard issue PC territory, far too noisy for SPCR. But it is probably be perfectly acceptable to the average gamer, perhaps even on the quiet side.

Cooling remains OK, though 65°C may make some people a bit nervous. In truth, it is below the 70-72°C thermal throttling point for the P4. A more efficient heatsink or slightly more airflow from the fan would drop the temp down.


Stylish Aria with blue LED bling.

FINAL THOUGHTS AND CONCLUSIONS

The Antec Aria is an interesting entry into the SFF sector dominated by barebones systems. Antec's marketing people say they're interested in addressing the market for people who want a general use PC that's quiet, stylish and small ° but also want broad motherboard options. Somehow, I think there is an internal contradiction in that statement. People who want style and general use and low noise usually don't want to bother with motherboard details. That's far too technical for them. Chances are they don't even build barebones systems, let alone a system from the ground up. So in all honesty I am not sure that their intended market actually exists.

But Antec's marketing has proven to be extremely effective, and they will probably prove me wrong. The Aria gives you a shape and size similar to a SFF PC, plus multiple motherboard options and many more PCI slots in a case that can be run very quietly with the right component choices. If those features meet your needs, the Aria is the only game in town right now.

For those who want to choose their own motherboard, options in performance-oriented Micro-ATX boards are limited. Some new P4 M-ATX models from AOpen and a few Athlon 64 M-ATX boards from others may breathe new life into the M-ATX form factor. I, for one, truly hope so. With the degree of integration in current boards these days, few users need five or six PCI slots. M-ATX boards should be fitted with the same range of BIOS and features options as any full-ATX board, instead of being crippled and limited as they so often are. The industry is moving towards smaller PCs; well, give the enthusiasts M-ATX boards they (we) can be happy with!

From a silent PC perspective, the Aria is a definite success as lower power system. The unique plastic / aluminum sandwich panels definitely do a good job of eliminating case resonance noise, and of containing the noise of components within. Cooling is surprisingly good, despite my reservations about intake venting. It would be pretty easy for a modder to make an extremely quiet low power system ° quiet notebook drive, undervolted CPU, etc. ° probably limited only by the PSU fan noise. Even the PSU fan could be tackled with a voltage reduction mod.

As the lab testing shows, the Aria's ability to cope with higher power components quietly is not that good, at least by SPCR standards. Cooling by itself is not the issue, because the Aria has plenty of headroom for cooling even hotter components. Remember that the CPU fan was always set to a very low speed and the Cyclone fan never moved out of its 7V setting. The source of the noise may not even be the 120mm PSU fan itself, but the turbulence it causes at higher speed as the air squeezes and accelerates through the pinch of its limited intake vents.

And while I did whine about having to deal with all that wiring in tight spaces, in the end, the Aria proved reasonably easy to work with. It just took some time getting used to working without the clever cable management that makes the best barebones SFF such strong contenders these days. I love the easily removable panels, they really do set the Aria apart.

I think the Aria was a tough challenge for Antec to develop: They've never built a toaster style SFF case before, they were not working with a motherboard maker who could make a custom board to go with the case, and there are no clear standards for SFF cases as there are for ATX.

In some ways, the Aria does for the SFF toaster size case format what the Sonata did for the mid-tower ATX case format. If the Sonata's success is any indication of the Aria's future, then Antec's work with this new case will be handsomely rewarded.

PROS

* Nice style and unique look
* Excellent noise damping panels that are easily removed or secured
* Reasonably easy to work with
* Any M-ATX or smaller board can be used
* Good case ventilation
* Quiet with lower power components
* 3- HDD capability in small case
* "Stealth" covers for optical drive
* High current PSU
* Front panel ports & memory slots

CONS

* PSU gets too loud with higher power components
* Ventilation could still be improved
* Small details not as well thought out as in other Antec or SFF barebones cases
* Lack of cable management

Great thanks to Antec Inc for Aria sample and for their continued support of SPCR.

* * *

Discuss this this article in the SPCR Forums.



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