Antec P180 Review, Part 1: A Silent System

Cases|Damping
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A SILENT P180 SYSTEM

All of the damping/construction touches, plus the good ventilation and isolated PSU + HDD compartment would seem to indicate that the P180 would be a great case to use for building a silent PC so time to quit ogling the thing and build a system in it. I used the P180 to house an extremely quiet system based around a low power Intel Pentium M processor; a low power, passively cooled video card and a quiet 2.5" notebook drive. A system like this should require very little active cooling and be able to run nearly fanless in a free-breathing case like the P180.

System / Test Platform

Intel Pentium M 755 - 2.0GHz Dothan core - CPU was run at 1.100V for this test
AOpen i855GMEm-LFS motherboard
Zalman 7000AlCu heatsink modded with Nexus 92mm fan @ 5V
Sapphire ATI Radeon 9250 passively cooled video card (AGP)
Mushkin PC3200 Level II - 2 x 512MB DDRAM @ 2-2-2-5, 333MHz
Samsung MP0402H 2.5" 5400rpm, 8MB cache notebook hard drive
Plextor PX-716A DVD±R/RW CD-R/RW internal E-IDE (ATAPI) drive
Seasonic SS300 PSU, with fan swap to Panaflo M1ABX
Arctic Silver Ceramique Thermal Compound
CPUBurn processor stress software
Motherboard Monitor 5.3.7.0 software to track CPU temperature and fan speed
Seasonic Power Angel power monitor used to measure system power usage

Ambient temperature was measured at 71°F (21°C) over the entire series of tests. No tests were run unless the ambient temperature was at that reference level.

  • All temperatures are in degrees Celsius.
  • Diode: Reading from Pentium M 755 CPU diode via Motherboard Monitor. The CPU temperature monitoring was calibrated using the standard SPCR CPU Diode Calibration method.
  • Temp Rise refers to the difference between ambient temperature and the diode reading.

SYSTEM BUILD

My goal was to build the quietest possible system, based around the Pentium M CPU. The hardware I used for this build is listed above, and is all extremely quiet. I opted for an actively cooled PSU as there was going to be no other fan in the PSU/HDD tunnel.

All internal drive cages, fans and ductwork were removed prior to starting this build. The cooling requirements of this hardware kit are very low so I opted to remove all three of the supplied Antec Tri-cool fans, and replace them with one 120mm Nexus Real Quiet fan positioned on the rear wall as an exhaust fan. I also sealed all the other vent holes on the top and rear of the case using aluminum HVAC tape. This was both to control airflow and to reduce any noise escaping the case.


Top fan hole and rear openings for unused VGA duct sealed with HVAC tape
.

PSU Installation

I decided to remove the fan in the PSU tunnel as the 2.5" HDD was going to be mounted up in the top section of the case (mostly for cable routing reasons) so nothing in the PSU tunnel would need any active cooling, other than the PSU itself, which would be cooled with it's own built-in fan. To control the airflow through the PSU tunnel I sealed off the vent holes on the rear case wall with HVAC tape. This would limit the airflow in the lower section to what the PSU could pull in through the front of the case.

Some questions have arisen over PSU cable length in a case with this non-standard ATX design. Because of this, I first mounted the PSU into the case using the supplied mounting bracket. This bracket is designed to clamp the PSU down onto the case, and is fully lined with thin silicon rubber dampening strips on every side that contacts the PSU. The cage+PSU are then screwed down onto the case. This system gives a very secure, yet fully damped connection of the PSU to the case. This PSU mounting system is one of those great little touches found only on the P180, and I think it's an excellent idea.

With the PSU in place I mocked up the 20-pin ATX and 12V AUX connectors to see how well they'd reach to near the top of the where the case where the motherboard's headers are on the AOpen board I was using for this build. Both cables reached with plenty of room to spare. So much room in fact, that I opted to run the 12V AUX wiring underneath the board and the 20-pin ATX connector out behind the drive cages. This allowed my case wiring to be as tidy as possible.

Next I mounted the motherboard and optical drive. Cooling for the 25W Pentium M CPU was provided by a Zalman 7000AlCu heatsink modded by swapping the stock fan with a virtually silent 92mm Nexus fan running at 5V. This combination provides massive amounts of cooling for the little CPU yet it is virtually silent from 2-3' away, and completely inaudible when it's mounted inside the P180.

Mounting a Notebook Drive

I chose to use a 2.5" notebook drive for this build to keep the system as quiet as possible and I opted to mount it in the upper section of the case in order to keep the cabling as neat as possible. The very low heat output of this notebook drive made me confident that it would not add any appreciable load to the cooling requirements of the upper half of the case.

I wanted to utilize the nifty silicon rubber grommets in the drive bays to mount this drive, but I knew I'd have to use a 2.5" to 3.5" adapter in order to actually bolt the small drive onto the 3.5" drive hole pattern in the drive tray. Unfortunately, none of the adapters that I could find had hole patterns that matched the pattern on the Antec tray. I ended up mounting the drive two different ways during my testing. First I used my normal method of laying the drive onto two .5' x .5" x 3" Sorbothane strips, then placing the entire assembly onto the drive tray itself. This has always given me great results in the past, and still did with this setup. In this configuration the drive was 100% inaudible from anywhere outside the case. Even though the Sorbothane is extremely sticky and holds the drive in place quite well, some people would still like to have their HDD mounted a bit more securely so I tried real hard to utilize the Antec trays and grommets, but without doing some light modding I would not have been able to actually bolt the drive into place. I chose to bolt the drive directly onto a 3.5" adapter and use GE Silicone to glue the steel adapter tray right onto the grommets. This seems to be quite secure, and post-install noise testing showed this method to be just as quiet as my normal Sorbothane method.

Being the Luddite that I am, I mounted a floppy drive in the lower bay, but bowing to the pressures of the 21st century I chose to use an 7-in-1 drive that included not only the floppy drive, but 6 various other slots for different types of removable media storage cards. Connectivity to the floppy is provided by a standard 34-pin floppy ribbon cable and to the rest of the ports by an internal USB 2.0 cable.


All drives mounted in upper section of case
.
Note damping strip on the side of the floppy drive cage:
It's meant to help keep bottom and top chambers sealed and to prevent the side panel from possibly vibrating against this edge.



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