Antec P180 Review, Part 2: The Whole Nine Yards

Cases|Damping
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CONCLUSIONS

The Antec P180 is designed for quiet computing, and based on this criterion alone, it delivers handsomely. The separate PSU/HDD chamber works very well, and ensures that most power supplies will not ramp up except with exceptionally powerful systems under very high loads. This feature is unique, and allows a much wider variety of power supplies to be used for a quiet system. Any power supply that is quiet at idle but ramps up too quickly under load can probably remain very quiet in the P180.

Antec's silicone grommets are soft enough to reduce HDD vibration greatly, and the composite panel construction ensures that any remaining vibration is unlikely to cause resonance. These features make hard drive suspension unnecessary in the P180, making it much easier to build a quiet system and increasing the range of hard drives that can be used. As you should have heard in one of the sound recordings above, even the loud seeks of the WD Raptor stayed well-muted in the P180.

Last but not least, the dual fan configuration at the rear of the case provides CPU cooling at least as good as any conventional case for any system that locates the CPU socket near the top rear corner of the board — most of them. There probably aren't many cases capable of cooling a 3.8 GHz Prescott processor passively, even with a heatsink as capable as the Scythe Ninja. The bulk of the testing in the P180 was done with just one of the provided 120mm TriCool fans on Low, with very good results. One can imagine the level of cooling that is available if both fans are brought into play at mid or high speed, although this configuration would not be quiet.

The VGA duct does not provide very good cooling to the VGA card. Even without the duct this area of the case doesn't seem to "breathe" as well as the SLK3000B. The VGA duct does not match the rest of the case: The complexity of its installation is at odds with the smooth sliding drive cages, and its tendency to resonate disrupts the copious attention paid to noise-reduction everywhere else. I cannot think of any configuration where I would not remove the duct entirely. Anyone planning to build a quiet gaming rig should find — or mod — a VGA card that is quiet in its own right. Any VGA card would probably be best served by using a Zalman fan bracket with a quiet 80mm or 120mm fan instead of the duct.

The other drawbacks of the P180 are easier to handle. The difficult cable management that results from the unusual position of the power supply is well compensated by the benefits of isolating the power supply from the rest of the system and is a requirement of the design rather than an engineering oversight. Likewise, the complexity of the installation is due to the dual-chamber layout of the case.

The P180 is not a beginner's case. In the right hands, it has the potential to outdo almost any other case on the market in terms of noise and thermals, but some knowledge of thermodynamics and acoustics is necessary to get the most out of it. A beginner may be luckier with the P180 than another case because the choice of hard drive and power supply are less crucial, but the cable installation will take a fair bit of time.

To conclude: The P180 has more potential for silencing than any other case I have ever encountered. Although some benefits, such as the damped panels, can be appreciated by anybody, the true power of this case will be felt most by the experienced user who knows how to take advantage of its many unique features. About the only thing you might add to a quiet build in this case is a bit of acoustic damping foam to cut the last bit of sonic reflections inside the case. No doubt the hardcore silencers will still find ways to modify and improve this case, but the average user will find that this case provides a quality of noise that is unachievable in any other case without modification.

PRO
  • Lower chamber keeps PSU very cool and choice of PSU is less crucial for low noise
  • Excellent airflow around CPU
  • HDD mounting system eliminates need for drive suspension
  • Composite side panels block noise and do not resonate
  • Stock fans are fairly quiet on Low
  • Huge number of configuration options
CON
  • Complex installation
  • PSU location makes cable management tricky
  • VGA duct noisy and ineffective
  • Hard mounted exhaust fans
  • Large
  • No cover for top vent

Many Thanks to:

Antec Inc. for the P180, Phantom PSU and SLK3000B case samples
AMD for the Athlon 64 3500+ sample
AOpen for the Aeolus 6600GT & 6800GT video cards and i915Ga-PLF motherboard samples
Corsair Memory for the matched 2 x 512mb TWINX1024-4000PRO DDRAM
DFI for the DFI LanParty UT nF4-D motherboard sample
Intel for the 660 Processor sample
Maxtor for the Diamondmax 10 300G samples
Scythe for the Scythe Ninja CPU heatsink
Seasonic for the S12 and Super Silencer PSU samples
Western Digital for the Raptor hard drive sample
EndPCNoise for the Nexus 120 fans

* * *

You can support SPCR and get a cool black version of the P180 with a laser-cut aluminum SPCR badge exclusively from EndPCNoise in the US and from FrontierPC in Canada. European resellers will also be appointed in the near future.

TIPS & HINTS FOR ASSEMBLY
by Devon Cooke and Mike Chin
DO study the case and the components you intend to install, and plan out your assembly. Expect to spend more time for assembly.
DON'T jump into assembly without preparation, even if you consider yourself an experienced PC builder.
DO plan on experimenting with fan speeds, locations, etc., in order the get the best from your system, whether your goal is low noise, overclocking performance or a balance of the two. The case offers a lot of flexibility; you might as well make use of it.
DO block off the extra vent holes around the PSU on the back panel if using a fan-cooled PSU and just one or two HDDs in the lower drive cage. Unless your ambient temps are really high, the airflow from the PSU will be enough to keep the HDDs cool.
DO use the supplied 120x38 fan on low in the lower chamber if using a fanless PSU, but for lowest noise, try one of the 120x25 fans from the upper chamber (if not being used) or a quieter 120mm fan.
DO consider a 120mm fan in the lower chamber if three or more drives are installed there, especially with a slow-fan quiet PSU; in such a case, experiment with blocking the extra vent holes around the PSU on the back panel or leaving them open.
DO remember that the plastic fan bracket in the lower chamber does not have to be used. There are screw holes for a 120mm fan.
DO experiment with the top 120mm vent and fan. A book is the simplest way to block it off if so desired (with protective cage removed.)
DO try routing all the cables before installing anything but the motherboard and PSU. This includes drive cables to the lower chamber. Whether the CPU heatsink should be mounted before or after routing cables depends on the complexity of the heatsink mounting.
DO use SATA cables / hard drives for best airflow.
DO use the floppy bay (if unused) or the space on the other side of the upper HDD cage to store / hide cables.
DO use the space around the PSU to tuck away unused cables.
DO plug the power cables to HDDs before installing the cages (and probably the data cables as well).
DON'T use the filter on the top intake vent. This may help improve cooling a wee bit without much dust as it is considerably off the floor.
DON'T use a VGA card whose heatsinks are mostly covered up with the VGA duct.
DO check the SPCR forums to learn from other users' experiences.

Discuss this article in the SPCR Forums.



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