Antec P180 Review, Part 1: A Silent System

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THERMAL & ACOUSTIC TESTING

Thermals and noise are what it all comes down to with a case that's being reviewed by SPCR, so let's see how things turned out with the much anticipated P180.

Cooler Than on Open Test Bench

After everything was assembled, I ran Prime95 for 24hrs to make sure things were stable, and then I began my thermal testing. As you can see from the chart, this system ran extremely cool under full load. Oddly enough, the hardware temps with the system installed in the P180 were actually a few degrees cooler than they were with the same system installed on top of my workbench out in the open air on it's test rack. This with the only case cooling provided by a 120mm Nexus Real Silent fan running at a whopping 5-5.5V. I'll chalk this up to the great case airflow, as well as the PSU being mounted in it's own sealed chamber.

P180 System Load Temps, using CPUBurn
@21° Ambient
CPUBurn
Load Temp.
°C rise*
Board Sensor
25°C
4°C
CPU temp @ 1.100V
33°C
12°C
HDD temp
28°C
7°C
* °C rise refers to the rise in temperature over the 21°C ambient .

Temps in Hot Weather

During my time with the P180 I also had the opportunity to do load testing with the ambient temps up to 35°C. This is nearly as hot as it ever gets inside Hutter Labs, and I daresay about as hot as it gets just about anywhere. Even at a toasty 35°C, the system temps stayed very cool, thanks to the low thermal output of the selected hardware and the great cooling capacity of the P180.

P180 System Load Temps, using CPUBurn
@35° Ambient
CPUBurn
Load Temp.
°C rise*
Board Sensor
42°C
7°C
CPU temp @ 1.100V
47°C
12°C
HDD temp
40°C
5°C
* °C rise refers to the rise in temperature over the 35°C ambient.

Cool PSU Operation

I also noticed something interesting with the power supply during the series of thermal tests I ran. The PSU being used for these tests is a Seasonic SS300 that has had it's stock cooling fan replaced with a Panaflo 80M-BX. This fan is wired directly into the standard thermally controlled fan circuit which gives around 4.5V at it's default load. 4.5V isn't quite enough voltage to start up an M1A Panaflo so at low loads, the fan actually does not run. After about 10-15 minutes the fan voltage normally goes up to slightly above 5V and the M1A starts turning at its minimum speed of around 670-700 rpm, and stays there for the duration.

During load testing at 21°C ambient with the PSU mounted in the P180, I noticed that the PSU fan never turned on, no matter how long I let the system run under load. When I was testing at 35°C ambient, I noticed that the fan was just barely getting enough voltage to start. It kept turning on, then slowing down to 300-400 rpm, then shutting off and restarting again after a few minutes. This cycling continued for as long as I let it run. I can only attribute this behavior to the PSU running in the isolated tunnel, and not receiving the additional heat from the other system hardware. This low ambient temperature, plus the low power draw of the Pentium M system meant that the PSU was running almost passively cooled. The calibrated finger temp test showed the PSU to be just barely warm during this load testing. Even in a worst-case scenario of a fully loaded HDD rack, the PSU will still be subjected to much less heat than if it were mounted in a typical ATX case. Add a quiet running 120mm fan back into the mix and everything in the PSU tunnel should run nice and cool.

How Quiet?

Granted, a minimalist Pentium-M system isn't going to tax the thermal capabilities of this case, but I was able to run this system, and keep it very cool even under hot ambient temperatures all with only one case fan, and that was running at an inaudible 5V. The only way I can tell if this system is running is to look at the power LED (a bit too bright for my tastes). This, to me, is a perfect litmus test of a quiet PC.

FINAL THOUGHTS AND CONCLUSIONS

The P180 is certainly the most unique and well-designed full size case I've ever used. It's obvious that a lot of thought went into thermal and acoustic design considerations and the final results seem to show that it's a success in all aspects, although Part Two of this extended P180 review will tell you more about how it fares with a really hot system. It is definitely not a case for beginners, though, as you need to have at least some appreciation for different airflow configurations and how to optimize the setup for best results with your gear. Routing the wiring could be a challenge for some people, especially if the PSU cable lengths and motherboard power connection placements don't cooperate. (I admit it took 4~5 hours for me to take care of the wiring, but this is not atypical for my builds; it is always the most time consuming of all the pre-software tasks.)

I've had to try hard to find things not to like about the P180, with the loose drive bay covers being the main thing. It's physically pretty big, perhaps a bit of overkill for the simple system that I'm running in it. It works so well and looks so darn nice though, that I'll be leaving it together as my everyday system. For me, this is the first case since the SLK3700 that I've liked well enough to say that about.

PROS

* Well-damped exterior panels
* All parts of case fit together tightly
* Excellent thermal design
* Highly configurable
* Roomy and easy to work in
* Included Tri-cool fans are quiet at low speed
* Silver & black color scheme looks really nice to me

CONS

* Loose and rattley 5.25" bay covers
* Door latching is a bit funky
* Needs a blank filler plate for top fan hole
* Power LED a bit too bright

Many thanks to Antec Inc. for the P180 sample.

Link to previous Antec P180: A Visual Tour article.

An SPCR P180

The concept of marketing special products under the SPCR brand has been bounced around since this web site's launch. It always faded in the past due to the problem of finding a product worthy of the SPCR name. In the P180, that problem has finally been solved.

Starting mid-to-late June, a Limited-Edition Black Anodized SPCR/Antec co-branded P180 will be available for purchase from EndPCNoise in the US and from FrontierPC in Canada. A small portion of the proceeds from each SPCR P180 will go towards SPCR's coffers. The Black version P180 will be exclusive to the SPCR brand until after the end of 2005. European resellers will be appointed in the near future.

We are confident that the P180 is a superior case for silencers and power enthusiasts alike.

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Discuss this article in the SPCR Forums.



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