Antec P180 Review, Part 1: A Silent System

Cases|Damping
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June 27, 2005 by Ralf Hutter

Product
Antec P180 Advanced Super Mid Tower Case
Manufacturer
Antec Inc.

MSRP

US$160

June 15, 2006: POSTSCRIPT V1.1 added to Part II to reflect changes made in the case since its original release.

A few weeks ago, SPCR's editor and publisher, Mike Chin, announced his involvement in the development of Antec's P180 case in Antec P180: A Visual Tour. This article provoked a large response from our readers, who have commented on the article and speculated on the case in our forums, but it had one major failing: It wasn't a review, at least not by SPCR standards. Mike wanted to announce his involvement at the time Antec released the case, but we did not have enough lead time to produce a satisfactory review of the case.

This article is Part One of a long delayed review of the P180. It is meant to be read in conjunction with A Visual Tour, which serves as an overview of the features. This article assumes the reader is already familiar with the basic features of the case as discussed in the previous article, and focusses on installation and testing rather than a top-down overview. If the text refers to aspects of the P180 that are not pictured here, please refer back to the Visual Tour article.

One issue that came up in the forum discussion of the preview article is how — and whether — SPCR can produce an objective review, given Mike's involvement in its creation. To address this concern, the testing was done by myself, Ralf Hutter, and by Devon Cooke. Mike kept his involvement in the testing and writing to a minimum, primarily providing assistance regarding design concepts and testing procedures as necessary. He remains the editor of all material that is posted at SPCR, however, including this article.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Two complete systems were installed and studied in the P180: One optimized for low noise and the other for high performance. This approach addresses the ambitious design goal for the P180 stated in the Visual Tour article:

  • To be a great solution for power users who want ultimate cooling with the hottest current desktop PC components, as well as for silencers who seek minimal noise, in an understated, modern, elegant style.

The review itself has been divided into two parts for reading ease.

In Part One, Ralf Hutter (in hot L.A). installed a low-power, low thermal Pentium-M system in his sample P180 and tweaked it (without any real modding) for minimal noise. Without access to a super sensitive sound level meter, RH's acoustic analysis relies on what he heard, but you'll find his conclusions well-supported, logical and perfectly understandable. The article that follows is RH's review, Part One of the complete P180 review.

In Part Two, Devon Cooke (in cool Vancouver) assembled the hottest, most power-hungy system he could from components in the SPCR lab to test the suitability of the P180 for high power, low noise operation. In addition, Devon also conducted tests on the HDD cages and the fans, and spent much time taking measurements and trying as many configurations as possible to ensure that as much hard data is available as possible. This has already taken many weeks of hard work. Devon's comprehensive review will follow soon; final compilation of the data will take a little more time. Understanding his results will give you a better handle on how to make the best of this complex product.

INTRODUCTION

My first impression came as the UPS man handed me the box - this thing is heavy! That initial assessment didn't change as I was removing the case from its protective packaging. Not only is it heavy, it's large as well. I haven't had much experience with a case this large and well built since my Addtronics 6890 / Supermicro SC750 days.


The retail box, out of the shipping box: A big box for a big case.

As has previously been noted, most of the external panels of the P180 are constructed of a dampening sandwich consisting of anodized aluminum sheeting bonded to a (seemingly glass filled) plastic base. All of that is nice for dampening but doesn't add much weight to the case itself. The front and rear walls, and the motherboard tray are the only large steel components of the P180, yet the thing still is a pretty hefty load.

After all the pre-release coverage here, I felt right at home as I opened up the case for the first time. As is my normal procedure, I started removing all the components of the case and noticed how well everything fit together. The slide-out drive cages are built like tanks and slide firmly into their plastic holders. The fans are hard-mounted on plastic retention brackets, but these brackets are better built and fitted than their older SX10x0 ancestors. There is also a felt-like strip of damping that runs across the edge of the panel that separates the top and bottom chambers so that when the side cover is on, there is a good seal between the two sections and to prevent the side panel from possibly vibrating against this edge. It's one of many nice touches.


For the record, here's the P180 photo you've probably all seen already.

SPECIFICATIONS: Antec P180 ( from the Antec web site)

Case Dimensions

21.3" (H) x 19.9" (D) x 8.1" (W)

Drive Bays
- Front Accessible
- Internal

11
4 x 5.25", 1 x 3.5"
6 x 3.5"

Expansion Slots

7

Cooling System

- 1 rear (standard) 120mm TriCool Fan with 3-speed switch control
- 1 top (standard) 120mm TriCool Fan
- 1 lower chamber (standard) 120mm x 38mm (thick) TriCool Fan
- 1 front (optional) 120mm fan
- 1 (optional) 80mm case fan in the Air Duct over the graphics card
Main Board Size
12" (W) x 9.6" (L)

Weight (net/gross)

31/36 lbs
14.1/16.3 Kg
Motherboards
Standard ATX
Special Features
Internal mounts with silicone rubber grommets
Upper and lower chamber structure
Three-layer side panel
Front USB/FireWire Ports
Package Contents
1 Tower Case
1 set of screws and motherboard standoffs
1 Installation manual

GENERAL IMPRESSIONS

The Front Bezel

The front bezel, although made out of plastic like most others, seems more substantial and less "plasticky" than other bezels. Perhaps the dampened door helps, but the plastic itself, like the same plastic that makes up the rest of the case, feels less "brittle" and more "dead" than your typical ABS plastic.

The one flaw in the bezel is the fit, or lack thereof, the 5.25" bay covers. They are extremely loose and fall out even if you look at them sideways. Nothing was broken or bent in my sample, that's just the way they are designed/built. I've noted several other complaints about this same issue as well.

Some folks will disagree with me, but I like doors on the front of cases, not only for their ability to reduce interior noise transmission, but from an aesthetic position as well. The bezel and door of the P180 are designed to keep noise from escaping directly out of the front of the case, yet the series of vents around the sides of the bezel allow for excellent ventilation through the front of the case.

Side Panel Tabs

I've also seen some complaining about the plastic tab latches on the side doors, but to me they seem like they'd take a lot of abuse without breaking, again due to the different type of plastic that Antec has used. I'm sort of "Old Skool" when it comes to plastic vs. steel, but I feel real comfortable with the plastic panels on this case and will give "two thumbs up" to Antec for this design feature. Time will see if I'm all washed up, but I've personally had no issues with it during the time I've spent with this case.

Airflow Design

The top section of the case shows great attention to airflow, from the front and rear 120mm fan openings and the top 120mm blowhole, to the pseudo "Intel Chassis Air Guide" in the form of a removable plastic duct, whose intake is at the rear of the case instead of on the side panel. This should help keep noise down in the event that the use of this duct is required.

The case seems to have been designed to have excellent ventilation and thermal control, something which is mandatory when trying to build the quietest possible system. The PSU and HDDs are mounted in the lower section of the case, which isolates their heat from the rest of the case, as well as provide optimum cooling for them by placing them in an isolated, easy to control environment.

General

My general overall impression was that most everything seemed to fit together without any rattling or flimsiness. Touches like the dampening strips glued to the case drive bays and the PSU mounting bracket are something I've never seen in a factory case, and very rarely see even in cases that have been specially modded for silence. Antec has provided this right out of the box. Those sort of touches, plus the composite panels and the heavy, rigid steel construction all add up to a very strong and well damped case. Actually, I've never seen a more substantial, better damped case, other than one that's had the full Acoustipack treatment.

Cosmetics

My iteration of the P180 came in the standard silver and black color scheme. Until I actually saw this case in person, I tended to agree with the common opinion that the all-black case would look better than the silver version. Some folks have even compared the silver version to a refrigerator. After having worked with the silver version for a while, I can definitely say that I like it's looks very much, and it looks nothing like a refrigerator. The combination of the black and aluminum seems to accentuate the simple yet elegant lines of this case. Now that I have a silver version, I suspect that I'll prefer it over the all black one. I think that an all black P180 will look too monochromatic and blocky, with nothing to set off it's basic square, featureless shape. Aesthetics are highly personal though, so someone else's opinion may well differ from mine, but I just wanted to stick up for the silver and black version. I think it works very well.



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