Antec P180 Review, Part 2: The Whole Nine Yards

Cases|Damping
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CASE COMPARISON: VS. ANTEC SLK3000B

All of the above testing showed that the best low-noise, good cooling configuration for the test system was still Configuration 4. This "best possible" configuration was compared against a similar "best possible" system built in one of the best conventional cases we know of, the Antec SLK3000B. Short of an SLI-based system, our test components run hotter than almost any other desktop PC setup.

You may recall that Ralf Hutter gave the SLK3000B a favorable review when it first appeared. For the uninitiated, a couple of photos for reference:


The SLK3000B side panel is equipped with a CPU vent as well as a VGA vent.


Clean steel mid-tower ATX layout with a TriCool 120x25 fan on back panel and free-breathing 120mm front vent.

The Comparison System

The system installed in the SLK3000B was the same system used in the P180. Although this meant side-by-side comparisons were impossible, it was the best way of ensuring that thermal data between the two systems would be comparable. Variations in temperature and noise can only be attributed to differences between the two cases. Small differences may be attributed to statistical variance, but large differences should reflect the advantage of one system over the other.

The number and kind of fans in each system were always kept identical to each other. In both cases, an Antec TriCool fan set to Low was used to exhaust system heat, and the VGA card was always undervolted to 8.25V.

Various configurations of power supplies, hard drives, and CPU fans were tested, but comparisons were done with the two systems configured as closely as possible. The most serious variation is the position of the power supply fan, but but this difference is inherent and will be apparent no matter what system is installed.

For those who forget what was in the P180 system, here are the components used for the test:

System Components

Here is the interior of the SLK3000B with all those components installed.


The wiring was actually much less restrictive to airflow than this photo might suggest.

Comparison One

ROUND 1: Antec P180 vs. Antec SLK3000B
Load
System
Heatsink Fan
CPU
GPU
AC Power
SPL
Idle
P180
Fanless
28°C
67°C
111W
24 dBA/1m
SLK3000B
Fanless
28°C
61°C
111W
25 dBA/1m
2 x CPUBurn
P180
Fanless
65°C
67°C
236W
25 dBA/1m
SLK3000B
Fanless
66°C
63°C
236W
25 dBA/1m
P180
Nexus @ 12V
55°C
67°C
237W
27 dBA/1m
SLK3000B
Nexus @ 12V
56°C
63°C
237W
27 dBA/1m
CPUBurn + Prime95 + 3DMark05
P180
Fanless
68°C
97°C**
291W
26 dBA/1m
SLK3000B
Fanless
67°C
94°C**
291W
26 dBA/1m
P180
Nexus @ 12V
56°C
96°C**
292W
28 dBA/1m
SLK3000B
Nexus @ 12V
57°C
94°C**
292W
28 dBA/1m
** VGA temperatures under 3DMark05 correspond to the peak level seen between separate 3DMark05 benchmarks, and were not easily repeatable. Temperatures are reported as estimates, and cannot be directly compared.

CPU Cooling

The two cases were similar in the level of CPU cooling they were able to achieve. The CPU temperature did not vary by more than a degree between the two systems. These differences are most likely statistically meaningless, so for practical purposes the airflow around the CPU can be considered identical.

Both cases benefited from an extra intake vent for the CPU: The top 120mm vent on the P180 and the side vent on the SLK3000B. The latter also had the benefit of the fan in the S12 PSU, but it remained spinning very slowly throughout the stress testing and probably did not help much.

VGA Cooling

Regardless of how the VGA duct was configured, the P180 could not quite match the VGA temperatures of the same card in the SLK3000B, which were typically 5~6°C lower at idle. It's possible that airflow in the VGA area of the P180 was lower because the rear fan could draw fresh air in through the top vent eliminating the VGA card from the airflow path in the case. This result seems a clear indication that the open vent in the side panel of the SLK3000B is slightly better than the VGA duct in the P180 in helping to cool the VGA card.

P180 intake vent on left seems a more restrictive than the SLK3000B intake on right: Could this explain the somewhat higher VGA temps in the P180?

Note: The load temperatures for the GPU are not that reliable because the temperature could not be monitored simultaneously with our GPU "stress" software, 3DMark05. The temperature listed in the above table corresponds to the highest temperature seen on the driver window as the desktop flashed briefly between different benchmarks. Needless to say, this technique does not lend itself to repeatable, reliable data, but it is the best that could be done given that there was no way of logging the temperatures during the benchmark.

Noise

With the same number of noise sources in the two case, roughly the same SPL was measured. Turning the Nexus fan on the heatsink on or off made a 2 dBA/1m difference in either case. A 1 dBA increase in the highest load testing suggests that the S12 PSU fan was ramping up a bit, but it was difficult to identify.

The measurements did not reflect what I heard, however. The P180 tended to sound softer and smoother. Without the Nexus fan on the HS, the overall perceived noise was quite low. By comparison, SLK3000B always sounded sharper and metallic. Even when the measured SPL was the same, the P180 had a smoother, more subdued sonic signature.

The subjective difference probably stems from the superior materials used in the construction of the P180, resulting in a much lower level of noise from vibration and resonance. The composite side panels may also have been better at blocking the noise, as the lack of sharp, high frequency noise in the P180 was quite striking.

The P180 seemed to react less than the SLK3000B to the vibration contributed by the fans and the single hard drive. Seek noise in particular was very muted in the P180 and easy to ignore. In contrast, the occasional thrumming noise in the SLK3000B left no doubt about exactly when the Raptor hard drive was being accessed.

There is no doubt in my mind that the P180 is much more pleasant to hear. The audio recordings below should demonstrate this: Please pay attention to the quality of the sound, not just the volume. These recordings are roughly the same volume, but, in my opinion, the recording of the P180 is much less intrusive. (Editor's Note: The fidelity of your audio playback system will impinge on your ability to resolve the differences.)

MP3: P180 "Hot Potato" Configuration 4: 25 dBA/1m

MP3: SLK3000B Configuration: 25 dBA/1m


The recording microphone was positioned ~15" off the floor and 3" from the front panel.
This was the positioning for all the P180 and SLK3000B case recordings. The cases were on a carpeted concrete floor.



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