Lately I've been wondering, how much further can they (companies) improve system cooling, and case design?
From when I first started buying and building computers, intakes and exhausts had fairly restrictive grills, partly to deal with EMI standards. I'm assuming they may have been more restrictive than absolutely necessary. And of course, to take off both panels of a case to screw on card drives or various other 5.25" drives. Filters where non-existent; if you got dust, you got dus, and where just stuck with it. It was also fairly standard to just have 80mm fan mounts. Bezels had fairly small openings, restricting noise from leaking out (though by accident), but significantly inhibiting airflow. Screw mounting was common, this was before SPCR and so no one even knew about rubber isolators.
A few years later, I got my first Antec case, ~ 1998. Again, fairly restrictive grills, fairly restrictive bezel. While you still had to take off both side-panels to attach 5.25 drives, it introduced a new, innovative feature: a drive cage. You took it out, screwed in a drive to each side, and slid it back in. It was a slight pain to take the bezel on and off everytime you wanted to take a drive in and out, but it was more efficient than having to unscrew things from each side. Regardless, when plugging or unplugging hardware, you still had to open the case (of course). Unlike some older cases I had worked on, the side panels were easy to take on and off, held on by a single screw each, accessible after taking off the bezel.
I later got an inwin case a few years later, and it had no design improvements over the Antec case. At some point, doors were added onto case designs, but I don't know the time frame for that. Anyway, there were appreciated because they blocked a (little) of CD-ROM noise
Eventually, after visiting SPCR for awhile, I heard mixed praise over 80mm vs. 120mm. Some said 80mm was quieter, some said 120mm was more efficient at cooling. Some said multiple 80mms were quieter than 1 120mm, and vice versa. I bough and Antec 3700AMB. Like previous cases I had, it had restrictive grills. But, it had a built in filter, though you had to take off the bezel, requiring removing each side-panel to take it off. It had a more conveniet drive cage, held in place with a spring lever and a single thimbscrew, a vast improvment over their old drive mounting. It even came with rubber grommets. While somewhat hard, they made some difference in vibration and seek noise vs. the old method of direct mounting to the steel of the case. 5.25 bay drives replaced direct mounting to the case with plastic rails, allowing more convenience in replacing drives. The Sonata originated the concept of using grommets for hard drives, as well as using soft mounts for fans, to decrease vibrations. They also used a form of rubber/silicon feet to decrease vibration transmitted to any hard surfaces the case may rest on.
Newer cases, such as the above, began to offer dual 80mms for intake and exhaust, or perhaps a single 120mm for each. Grills were made to provide better airflow, though at the cost of falling beneath previously established EMI standards.
Evercase, at one point, introduced the concept of having side vents for the case intake, allowing good cooling and minimizing noise from the front of the case.
Now, we have cases such as the P180 and P150. While the execution is different, both are based on sound dampening panels as part of their construction. Both use a superior form of soft grommets, doing a better job at suppressing hard drive vibration that previous attempts. The P150 goes back to the inferior method of removing hard drive as in my first Antec case, but makes up for it with an easier to open bezel. It also offers the new, innovative built in suspension system, completely elminating vibrations transmitted to the case from the hard drive. The P150 also is one of the few cases that offers a form of built in cable management. Though somewhat crude, it does help with loose, non PATA cables. The P180 separates the PSU from the rest of the case to keep the overall system cool, though there are issues inherent with this design where PSUs have cables too short to reach the motherboard. Both come with quieter fans than almost any prior cases from any company, as well as superior rubber feet. The two cases use both hard drive cages, and in some instances a removable tray for each hard drive. In others, they have the drive directly mounted to the cage with silicon grommets. They both offer side vents similar to the Evercase. Evercase is a small company, yet between the grommets and the side vents, they have offered some of the most unique and copied design concept for quiet computing.
After all this, the questions remains; where do we go from here?
It is very easy to assume that case designs have hit a plateau, and that they can never be improven on. Of course, that might have been said by people at the time of my first Antec, which only had the "advanced" feature of a difficult to access hard drive cage.
There will always be new things that I, or you, might not think of, that someone else might. There are also design concepts, no matter how basic, that will not be found in every future case design by any manufacturer. The concept of side-vents might be ignored, for reasons people outside a company's design company might not know. Or, rubber feet won't be put on for reasons of cost to the company, so they might earn more profit. Or they may be made out of aluminum, lacking any sound panel dampending, to make a case lightweight and relatively easy to transport, such as someone who reguarly attends LAN events.
With the exception of having their fans softmounted, it is somewhat difficult to see where the Sonata II falls into Antec's current marketing scheme. The P150 has a quieter PSU, in theory, provided you get a working one. It has a better had drive system, a quieter air intake at the front bezel. The P180 has similar advantages. The P150 and the P180 have panel dampening, which the Sonata II lacks. The concepts of quiet case design have strayed outside of their "silent specific" model; making the specific naming of a "quiet" case only as part of a marketing technique, though the designs, possibly even superior ones, are no longer restricted to one offering by a company such as Antec.
There are some features that will keep a case from being seen as "perfect" in the eyes of one person. There were cries by SPCRians when the P180 and P150 came out, disappointments over a lack of specific mounts for notebook drives. A feature that most case-makers would never include. It would drive up costs for such a small feature few would use, requiring more parts, more careful design for a case, to take into the effect of such a design on the whole, and possibly more painstaking labor in the creation of such case.
With my limited imagination, there are only a few things I can think of offhand which might be the "latest and greatest" design concepts:
1. Modular case. I wish the P180 had come with a cover for the top blowhole. It occured to me, why not make a modular case design? Several places with caps for fans. Each one can be swapped out with a 120mm, or a "cap" that holds 80mm, or 92mm fans. Take of the whole cap, and you have a 120mm mount. Replace it with a different cap with a smaller hole for 92mm, etc. For doors with cases, the door would cover the power and reset buttons. However, you would be able to remove a small portion if you wish to uncover those buttons. The case would be similar to a "doorless" case, so the side vents would be independent of whether there's a door on or not. Allowing you to use a door for additional sound dampening, or not using it at all. In either case, it would look aesthetically pleasing, for those who don't like the looks of most cases under the door (ex: P180).
2. Stronger hinges for doors. So far, I have yet to see hinges as good as the ones on the Gigabyte Aurora. Some cases have been mentioned as having flimsy hinges. These are high grade steel; able to handle the heaviest of doors safely
3. A better cable management system. Both the P150 and the Aurora have forms of cable management, though both seem to be a somewhat clumsy implementation. Perhaps a form of steel "trench" to run wires would work, with modular pieces of plastic with periodic holes for the wires to be routed out on top. It would provide the easiest method of cable management for those who don't want to have to jump through hoops for clean cable managent.
4. Integrated power cables. There are complaints about systems where for clean routing, or even for reaching portions of the case (P180) that there is too much, or too little, in the length of PSU cables. Modular PSUs are here, though there is a possible alternative solution. Plug a single (or maybe several) power connectors into an integrated plug in the case, next to the PSU placement. Cables would be pre-attached/routed throughout the case, powered through the connection next to the PSU. The cords could also be "retractable", much like a tape-measurer, only having the minimum you need pulled out, with no extra slack.
5. 5.25" bay softmounting. While the CD-drives aren't continually accessed like the hard drives, there are times when they are intensively used, such as when writing a large amount of data (4-8 gigs, single vs. dual layer), copying it (again, up to 8gb), or even using it too watch movies as an HTPC. There are silicon stips you can buy to apply on the side of the rail, but they are basically useless. It would be worth considering a grommet-mount-sled for these drives, similar to ones used in the P150/P180. Even if it can't deal with "whooshing" noise, every little bit helps, especially with extreme vibrations from these type of drives.
At the end of all of the evolutionary steps above, what do I really consider should be "mandatory" in a case? Things which are useful, yet don't get into the way if not used, nor significantly increase weight for those who need to move their computer a lot?
1. Silicon Feet
2. Grommet mounting for hard drives
3. side vents on the bezel for air intake
4. low restriction grills
5. Rails/drive sleds which allow you to pull a drive out quickly and easily, instead of having to open the other side of the case to remove a component.
6. A small box built in to hold extra screws and sundries
7. Optional soft suspension (P150)
8. Small attempt at cable management, such as the P150 or Aurora edit or the type in the Chenbro Gaming Bomb II.
9. Included softmounts for fans
10. Quiet fans
11. Quick disconnect - have a disconectable cable to plug in all of the headers from the bezel so you don't have to redo every one of the headers one at a time.
Things that would REALISTICALLY be nice to have in current cases, or in future designs
1. Built in panel dampening
2. High quality hinges
3. Improved cable management system
4. Softmount/grommet style rails for 5.25 devices
5. Modularity in case; at least for blowholes, if not for different fan sizes throughout the computer. Part of door removable to uncover power buttons, for people who complain about those sort of things.
There is always more things that will be discovered, engineered, experimented with, and be a success or failure with the public. Antec is the most innovation geared company, albeit they need to go back to more Q&A testing for some features of their recent products (P180 door, NEO PSU compatibilites, cord used in drive suspension in P150). While I do appreciate Antec in what they've done, the more companies that are willing to experiment the better, though too many are content with copying others designs, or staying with the tried and true from 5 years ago.
Asus P4C800 Del., P4 3.0 Northwood w/Scythe SCNJ-1000 Ninja (fanless), Antec P180 black SPCR edition w/Acoustipack V.2 Deluxe; BBA X800 XT PE w/Zalman ZM80C-HP and 92mm Nexus; Samsung P80 120gb Smart Drive 2002 on foam; Raptor 74gb (turned off); Antec Phantom 350w; 2x120mm Nexus @ 670rpm, diNovo keyboard, Thanko Silent Mouse http://forums.silentpcreview.com/viewtopic.php?t=24308
Last edited by Shadowknight on Tue Mar 07, 2006 10:34 am, edited 3 times in total.