Antec's new flagship in the name of modular design and better cooling has led to the creation of the new LanBoy Air computer chassis. It's made to accommodate even the largest graphics cards, and some of the largest tower style heatsinks available, and completely surrounded by mesh panels to provide maximum airflow. The case itself has the space for up to fifteen 120mm fans, which seem to be the standard fan size across nearly ever case made today for ATX based computers.
While the manual states that the the case can fit up to 15 fans, I'm struggling to find where they would all go realistically. I Currently have 3 fans installed, one exhaust, and the two front intake fans, simply because removing them is a hard task (the fan controller is glued into place). With the two front fans, I see no need in having any fans mounted along the hard drives, accounting for 6 of the total fan count for the case. Additionally, the main side panel has room for 4 total fans, however if you're using larger heatsinks, such as the Arctic Cooling Accelero S1, or even the Thermalright HR-03, the side fans might not even fit, the same going with the CPU heatsink, it may conflict with the positioning of side fans. I would think anyone who goes for this case would already have a large tower heatsink in mind, so while the case is accommodating all types of builds and parts, it's not quite as wide as the Antec 1200 is inside, to allow for both a large CPU cooler and a side fan at the same time.
The LanBoy Air supports power supply positioning both at the top of the case and the bottom of the case, which for me was quite misleading in some respects. Having the power supply at the top vs the bottom is just an endless debate over preference. While the power supply at the bottom is more isolated from the main heat source, being the CPU, it can draw a lot more dust from its dedicated vents. For the sake of argument (or preventing it) I left the power supply on the bottom of the case. For test purposes, the power supply is the Antec True Power 750. Due to how my current hardware is set up, I have none of the extra modular cables in use, all of the attached power cables were able to power my build with no problem (I have one extra PCI-e plug and the 8 pin CPU plug which I don't need). That brings me to the next point about the LanBoy Air.
Cable Management is tough love with this case. Since the side panel is split into two sections, one for the hard drives, and one for behind the motherboard tray, the center pillar of the case cannot have anything wrapped around it. Normally I would use this area to secure cables down in a neat line, but with the side panels screwing down on this area, nothing can obstruct that, as I'm not about to modify the case, just to fit some cables. For the most part however, cable management works out well. While making this case neat enough to hide all the cables will never be possible, as it's largely mesh, there are plenty of included tie straps to organize cables and keep them out of the way of airflow. I can only say that the hard drive power cables are very stiff, which I feel interferes with how the drives are suspended, but since they are very quiet, it's a situation that I'll live with, and tackle later down the road.
As I just mentioned, airflow is not really blocked by the cables running around the case mostly because there are plenty of places to tie down cables, both provided by the case and improvised, if you take a close enough look at things. Airflow, however, is a disorganized mess, to be perfectly honest about the case. While many users prefer a "traditional" front to back airflow, or a back to front airflow with some cases (most commonly BTX), this case is just mesh. For a case that relies on large heatsinks and is considered a passively cooled computer it would make plentiful use of the natural airflow in a room, get the job done very easily, and even look pretty good while doing it. In a case where airflow comes from the fans, this case poses quite a few problems.
1) Airflow can come and go on it's own in many situations. Air itself, similar to water, travels along that "path of least resistance" which seem to be those side mesh panels. Rather than air moving from the front of the case to the back, air simply gets pulled from where it comes easiest and blown in a direction, hoping to cool everything it needs to before getting pulled by the exhaust fan, or simply rising out of the top. I'll have to see how temps are affected by this compared to my previous case, which relied on negative air pressure, dust filters, and ran remarkably cool for the budget.
2) There are no dust filters. This isn't always a problem, but with a rabbit and a guinea pig that get "free range" of the lower half of the house during their playtime usually, this means that furry critters are letting their fur fly all over around my computer. With the Cooler Master Elite I previously used, the front had filters, and I blocked off the side vents, to provide easier front to back airflow. Very little dust entered the system, and every other month it got taken out for a good cleaning with an electric air compressor (because canned air just isn't worth it when there's an electric version). We'll have to see over the next few weeks how much dust and fur enters the system, and if it's really tolerable.
3) The front fans have a pretty tight mesh over them. I partly expect this to fill with dust fairly quickly in a situation where the computer is set aside and not really touched. I would like to see these grills look more like the rear fan grills, to reduce the back pressure of the fan, which does create a fair bit of turbulence noise when turned up to a higher speed. Also, using the newer fans with the smaller central hub would give the case better looks, as the newer fans do look very impressive.
Moving onto some of the other components about the case, there is the new Air Mount system for the hard drives. This is a really effective way of separating the drives from the chassis, reducing vibrations and noise, however, it does seem to have the same downfall of previous methods of suspending the drives from Antec.
In earlier cases, such as the Solo, it had a pair of rubber bands that would squeeze around the drives holding them in place, but I'm sure that while transporting, the suspension would give the risk of the drive sliding too far in a direction, with a pretty hard impact. While many manufacturers include on their labels that hard drives can withstand shocks in excess of 250g's, or some other ridiculous number like that, no shock to a hard drive is really good.
At first, I was a little confused with putting in the Air Mounts, however all the necessary screws were located in the supply box, at the bottom of the front panel. This supply box is very handy, being a place to store screws that may be necessary for the case in the future however this could be a little larger. I found that I was packing the screws in somewhat tightly, as many of my screws were unused, simply because I had just taken apart one build, and used the same screws to reinstall all the parts. Considering the space around the supply box, it could easily be a little bit longer to accommodate just a little bit more.
While I was putting the Air Mounts on my 3 hard drives, I noticed that they have lots of play in terms of how far they can move around. Once I had the drives inside the case, I noticed that these drives can all slide back and forth on the Air Mount, which makes me nervous about if the case were put on it's side, it opens up the risk of the drives all hitting the rear case panel, and that could knock a connector out, possibly even break the PCB on the hard drive. While this is all a worst case scenario, the Air Mounts should really suspend the drive in one place, with no give in movement. I put the drives in those air mounts to isolate them, not give them room to slide around. I want them just as secure as they would be screwed into a case.
The Air Mounts for the hard drives were really a half-step when it comes down to ending vibrations. After running the case for several hours under various stress tests to see how well hardware gets cooled and how well vibrations are dampened, I thought about the fans, and how the fans are just as bad when it comes to creating vibrations as anything else. After drudging up some rubber fan mounts I've had lying around, I decided to put them in for the exhaust fan, and now that the case is up and running, to my surprise, the only real noise I'm hearing is the faint sound of a hard drive that's on. Not a hum, not a turbulent sound, not the sound of a fan, but just a couple hard drives, spinning away. This should really be a stock option for these cases, front, side and back, to be honest, because it's going to help with noise. I find it a little hard to say that it's really okay without, considering I try to run my computers as quiet as possible, but after now dealing with this case, I see what I've been pestering other users about. It's not necessarily about spending the money for the parts, I grab all of my rubber fan mounts out of thrown away Dell computers, but it's about isolating everything as much as you can. Even the 120mm fan on my Scythe Ninja is isolated with rubber corner pieces, which makes a small, but noticeable enough difference in noise character. The only thing left would be to do the same to the front fans, only after swapping them out for the smaller central hub design.
The removable motherboard tray did make my migration very simple. Yes, many cases sport this, but I was able to remove my motherboard from the Cooler Master Elite 330 (with some trouble, but not much) while leaving my Scythe Ninja installed. Being able to take the motherboard tray out of the LanBoy Air meant that I could leave the Ninja installed, and just screw it down on the new tray. The back of the motherboard tray also has very convenient cutouts and raised areas for cable organization, which I was very easily able to make use of, although I did only use a couple out of all that were available.
Having the case under my desk and running is quite an experience. At the moment, I really only have a few problems with the case.
First is the fact that I can't flip the motherboard tray over for a BTX setup. This would be the piÃ¨ce de rÃ©sistance simply for cooling purposes. The graphics card would be located on top, nearest a pair of 120mm fans for cooling, the CPU would be in the path of air from an intake fan, for cooling purposes, and it would allow for the best use of the layout of the case OOTB. To make this case BTX compatible, only one change would have to happen as well, which could even lower production costs. The same pillars that hold up the motherboard tray would have to be the same that are on the outside of the case on the opposite side, because it would leave upper and lower support for the power supply, while allowing modders to choose ATX and BTX motherboard mounting options.
Second, is that if I want to do any work inside the case, I have to remove 6 thumbscrews to get access to the motherboard, and yet another to get access to the hard drives. If I want to add a hard drive, depending on how everything is sorted out, I may have to remove up to 14 thumbscrews. I think the side panels could easily share similar design to the front panel, which uses a single thumbscrew, and swings out like a door. This change would lower the number of thumbscrews the case uses and includes in packaging.
I would also like to see more accessible fan controls, so I don't have to crawl under my desk or someone else have to climb over it to get to the back to adjust a rear fan. This also links back to lowering the number of thumb screws to remove to get inside, because of the side panel fans, or even the top fans. I wouldn't want to have to remove 6 thumbscrews just to change the fan speeds, and when it all breaks down, if the fan speed is adjustable, but I can't easily adjust it, there's something wrong with the design. I would like to see different fan speed controls, mostly ones that are removable from the front, because it makes it hard for me to change the fans if the controls are glued in, and hard wired to the fan itself.
The Air Mounts do an excellent job of keeping the drives very quiet, as the noise from my Western Digital Raptor is like night and day compared to having it solid mounted on a case, but I still think that the Air Mounts should not have so much room to play around.
Finally, there is simply too much plastic. I can understand the use of plastic to keep the weight down, especially in similar cases, or larger ones, such as the P182 and P183 cases, which are very popular, and also very heavy for a case alone, however the LanBoy Air could make much better use of Aluminum panels in certain areas, such as the top and side panels. Knowing that I keep my cases under my desk, to minimize the amount of weight on top, I sometimes kick the edge while I find my legroom. I worry that one accidental kick that's hard enough to fracture the plastic side panels, or dropping anything on top of the case would break that. I think that while the handles are a great feature, they too should be made of something that isn't prone to shattering if it gets hit too hard by anything. Over time, the plastic will become more and more brittle, and break more easily, however that should really be avoided, as getting this case is a large investment that should not be skimped out on.
Some real world testing does reveal however, that all this mesh is not all a good thing. With the two front fans unplugged, relying only on a similar airflow setup as my Cooler Master Elite 330, the CPU and GPU temps remained similar, if not identical. The CPU had a ~34C idle, and the GPU also had a ~35C idle, which is just about on par with my previous case. Unfortunately however, the hard drives, which previously relied on negative air pressure for their airflow, receive no such pleasure in this case. Without the front fans plugged in and moving air, the hard drives have little to no natural airflow. My Western Digital Raptor (150gb model for those curious) used to idle at 37C in the Elite 330, as it was near a main air intake of the case. Sitting in the Air Mount setup with no direct cooling, temperatures quickly reached 44C, which is far too warm for my liking, requiring me to plug in the front fans. I'm still curious about the potential of vertically mounting the hard drives, but for now, I'll have to make sure airflow is kept on the drives, as they have almost no breeze without help in this case, which only goes to back up the lack of airflow focus. Since the air is not forced to travel between two areas, it will move along the path of least resistance, which causes all the components in a LanBoy Air to almost require active cooling. A low wattage computer could easily be built in this case, and use larger heatsinks, as the case has many more vents and places for hot air to rise and escape, but the top of the case is designed in such a way that would cause a problem, as the holes seem to be raised in a sense. This would allow for pockets of heat to build up, and since plastic is not a very good conductor of heat, these pockets would not dissipate easily on their own.
Can this case really hold a silent computer? It depends on how hellbent the user is on getting that silence. After tearing the case apart, and doing the 7v trick on every single case fan, the WD Raptor is the only audible component. Every fan in the computer is running at 7v, only exception being the PSU fan, which is running on a PWM circuit of its own. Running a steady idle shows the CPU and GPU to be sitting at a steady 35C each. The hard drives, now with a constant low breeze (considering the fan controller of the front fans, they aren't even running at 7v, maybe closer to 5v) are running at 35C, with not much fluctuation. The only downfall I can think of at this point is that the LEDs on the fans are all noticeabley dimmer. For me, considering this room is full of computers, and also one of the household pets, This doesn't bother me at all. Having an option with no LEDs would be nice, if the computer needed to be on all night, it wouldn't keep the critters up all night.
In all, the case offers huge possibilities, with 15 different locations for fans to be mounted, great mesh side panels to allow maximum airflow, and a sheer size to allow for even the biggest components. The LanBoy Air combines the answer to many complaints users sometimes have, such as drive suspension, a smaller power light (although it's still not any dimmer), and to fit in with the changing interfaces, USB 3.0 support. The eighth expansion slot makes a great difference for triple SLI users, allowing for dual slot cards to be used even in the lowest PCI-Express slot of a motherboard. In my experience however, I find the USB 3.0 solution to be annoying, although it is the only way to make it happen that I know of. The USB cable that gets routed through the case and out the back panel is something I find to be an annoyance, as it needs to get all the way to the back panel, by traveling out from an expansion slot. While I do not use this cable, I also find it somewhat annoying that I don't have a way to remove it while it's not in use. The center cable holder in the top of the case helps with bundling unused cables above the optical drive, but also almost forces users into the second 5.25" slot for the optical drive, as the first bay is seemingly completely blocked by bundled cables, and longer devices would conflict with the cable tie that's pre-installed.
Major advancements have been made to get computer cases to the level that this one has reached, but there are plenty of advancements left to make. In short:
-New Antec two speed fans with smaller central hub
-Air Mount for hard drives
-Optional top or bottom power supply mounting
-Support for massive graphics cards, and numerous dual slot cooled cards
-Support for many different fan configurations
-Easy motherboard installation procedure
-Case Mounted supply box
-Convenient tray area on top of case, intentional or otherwise (when handles are down)
-No dust filters, and too many holes for dust to enter the system
-Little airflow direction (airflow has little focus on most hardware, if any)
-Air Mounts have too much play (move back and forth far too much for my liking)
-Not all fans are interchangeable (permanently installed fan controllers)
-Too much plastic used, too many parts can break too easily if hit hard enough (Lan Party issue mostly)
-Too many thumb screws to get into the case
-Would like to see BTX support
-Rubber fan mounts would be a nice touch
Pictures (56K WARNING):
Those are the main features. If you would like more photos, just ask, I just don't want to post a million pictures that you could get with newegg, google, or antec.
Comments/Questions/Ideas are MORE THAN WELCOME.