Antec Mini P180: A micro-ATX P182

Cases|Damping
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MP3 SOUND RECORDINGS

These recordings were made with a high resolution, studio quality, digital recording system, then converted to LAME 128kbps encoded MP3s. We've listened long and hard to ensure there is no audible degradation from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent a quick snapshot of what we heard during the review. Recordings are usually made from a distance of one meter. If the noise level is really low and difficult to hear, sometimes, another from one foot (30 cm) away is also made. More details about how we make these recordings can be found in our short article: Audio Recording Methods Revised.

The one meter recordings are intended to give you an idea of how the subject of this review sound in actual use — one meter is a reasonable typical distance between a computer or computer component and your ear. The recording contains stretches of ambient noise that you can use to judge the relative loudness of the subject. Be aware that very quiet subjects may not be audible — if we couldn't hear it from one meter, chances are we couldn't record it either!

The one foot recordings are designed to bring out the fine details of the noise. Use this recording with caution! Although more detailed, it may not represent how the subject sounds in actual use. It is best to listen to this recording after you have listened to the one meter recording.

Each recording starts with 6~10 seconds of room ambiance, followed by 10 seconds of the product's noise. For the most realistic results, set the volume so that the starting ambient level is just barely audible. (Note: All the noises sound much worse in the recordings than live if you set the playback volume too high.)

Antec Mini P180 Test System

  • Antec Mini P180 with 200mm fan on low, 23 dBA@1m: One meter recording,
  • Antec Mini P180 with 200mm and 120mm fans both on low, 24 dBA@1m: One meter
  • Antec Mini P180 with 200mm on medium, 28 dBA@1m: One meter
  • Antec Mini P180 with 200mm on high, 35 dBA@1m: One meter


CONCLUSIONS

What we've learned about the Antec Mini P180...

1) It has very good cooling performance, better than the P182, given that its vent area is about double, and its stock fans probably capable of twice the airflow. Remember that the test system's Intel Pentium D950 CPU — rated at 130W TDP, which is as hot as the hottest of today's quad-cores — was fitted with a underperforming, fanless Ninja heatsink... and in the Mini P180, it still provided excellent cooling.

2) It has the capacity to fit a lot of gear reasonably comfortably. Five HDDs and three optical drives is pretty good for a micro-ATX case. Plus, it can handle the biggest VGA cards around with the dual-HDD bay removed.

3) It has a huge number of fan options to optimize your particular setup. You can play a balancing game with many elements. Suffice it to say that the ideal fan configuration is best tweaked for each system (and user) individually. That you have so many options and fundamentally sound cooling is the key point. It's great for DYI enthusiasts who want to tweak and play around with different configurations. This was one of the design goals for the original P180, and it appears to be the same for the Mini P180.

4) It is pretty quiet given the high airflow generated by the stock fans at the minimum speed settings.

The big fan dominates airflow and it sets the acoustic limits of the Mini P180. At its low setting, it's probably acceptably quiet for a lot of people. The chattering quality of the fan makes it a bit less than optimal by SPCR standards; we prefer a cleaner, smoother sounding fan. Still 23 dBA@1m is a very low level of noise by most standards. As long as that big fan is running, with some experimentation and tweaking, you should be able to keep just about any combination of components in there cool and stable. The noise will be lower than with the same components in any other micro-ATX case.

In fact, the 200mm fan is the defining element of this case. It's not a fan that's easily swapped out; what choices are there in 200mm DC fans? Hardly any. It's what makes the airflow and cooling in the case exceptional. Yes, all the P182-esque features are nice, but they exist in the P182, which is already very popular and able to take both ATX and micro-ATX boards. There's also the well-cooled, dual thermal chamber, micro-ATX Antec NSK3480 case, which is much smaller, and can be made very quiet (even though this may require both PSU and case fan swaps). Take the big fan out of the Mini P180, and you have an oversized micro-ATX case without any central, unique feature.

Is the fan good enough?

To answer this question, you have to go back to an issue I brought up at the very start of the review: Who is this case for?

Antec has already suggested that it's probably not for extreme silencers. The big fan may not really be quiet enough for them. They want to get to 20 dBA@1m and below. That's easier to achieve in one of the more conventional, good quality micro-ATX cases if you're dealing with a mid or low power system. The main reason is that they use standard size fans (80, 92 and 120mm diameter) for which there are many quiet options. The best silent PC is one with components that don't make much noise to begin with. Extreme silencers are more likely to mod a NSK3480 if they want a mATX board / case. If they're willing to consider a case of this size, there's the proven Antec Solo, which even has the added benefit of elastic cord suspension for the HDDs.

DIY system builders are not likely to use this case for business / office systems. It's too expensive, too complex and too big. They're more likely to opt for something like the aforementioned NSK3480.

The Million Dollar Question, then is: "Do DIY extreme gamers and performance enthusiasts buy and use micro-ATX boards?" I don't know the answer, but the Mini P180 is indeed a micro-ATX case made expressly for the extreme gamer. If they don't use micro-ATX boards now, the Mini P180 may have the potential to tempt enough of them to start a new trend.

 

PROS

* Great P180/182 features in smaller package
* Excellent airflow
* Very good cooling
* Good damping against noise and vibration
* Can accommodate huge video card and lots of gear
CONS

* Big fan sound quality not the best, hard to replace
* Awkward bottom position for optical drives; short top optical bay.
* Too heavy for LAN parties?
* Pricey

Our thanks to Antec for Mini P180 sample.

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POSTSCRIPT: MORE ON THE BIG FAN FOR THE BENEFIT OF SILENCERS - March 8, 2008

One reader emailed, "If the 200mm fan is the defining feature of this case, why wasn't undervolting tested? Surely it could maintain good cooling even with the fan undervolted down to 7V (perhaps on medium)?"

A forum member commented, "I would have loved to have read the measurements and subjective conclusions on the top 200mm hooked up to a viable resistor and set to its lowest start-up voltage. Though I realise this can vary from fan to fan. Don't suppose there's any chance of this. Please?"

I bow to popular demand. This Saturday morning at 6AM, it was very quiet in the neightborhood, the SPL in the lab reading at around 17 dBA. The 200mm fan from the Mini P180 was perched atop a carpeted lab bench, and further measurements were made. This time, RPM was also measured, using an optical tachometer.

PS1: Here's the data on the nominal speed settings at 12V plus the lowest speed at which the fan would reliably start spinning.

PS1: Antec Mini P180 200mm Fan Measurements
Switch
Voltage
RPM
SPL
dBA@1m
high
12V
830
34
med
12V
630
25~26
low
12V
430
20
high
8V
230
18

As you can see from the data, the fan does run slower than the minimum setting. With 8V, it's only spinning at 230 RPM, but still moving a breath of air. I don't think it's enough airflow to cool the test system, but a thermally moderate one could probably be cooled adequately. The acoustic improvement was quite audible because the noise fell just about to ambient. My ear now had to be within about 1.5' to hear the fan at all; the chattering remained, albeit at a very subdued level. Remember, this is with the fan outside the case. Inside the case, at the low setting, the fan measured 23 dBA@1m. The additional 3 dBA is likely the effect of cavity air resonance in the case, which will also apply at 230 RPM.

PS2: Secondly, here are the different combinations of fan speed switch setting and feed voltage to achieve the same lower RPM points.

PS2: Antec Mini P180 200mm Fan Measurements
Switch
Voltage
RPM
SPL
dBA@1m
high
10.2V
630
25~26
med
12.0V
high
9.0V
430
20
med
10.8V
high
8.0V
230
18
med
9.8V
low
11.0V

I was seeking mainly the control range between the 430RPM of low and the 230RPM minimum start speed. Examine the PS2 data table and you'll see that this control range is just one volt:

  • If the fan is set to medium, then lowering the voltage to 10.8V gives the same speed as low. Another volt lower, and we're at 230RPM.
  • If the fan is set to low, then just one volt drop to 11V brings us to 230RPM.

Does this data change my analysis of the fan and the Mini P180? Not really. The fan can run significantly quieter, but the reduced airflow is probably inadequate for the kind of hot components that the case (and Antec) invites, so the default minimum noise level is around 23 dBA@1m. That's very quiet, especially when the system is placed on the floor under the desk.


Articles of Related Interest
Antec NSK-3480: 80-Plus Case
QMicra from PC Design Lab: SFF Super-sized
Lian-Li PC-101: Aluminum *Can* Be Quiet
Antec P182 Advanced Super Midtower Case: P180 v.2
mCubed's HFX mini: Fanless HTPC "heatsink case"
Antec P150 mid-tower case
Cases: Basics and Recommendations

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