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Antec Sonata Elite ATX Mid-Tower Case

Antec Sonata Elite ATX Tower Case

July 20, 2009 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Antec Sonata Elite

ATX Mid-Tower Case
Manufacturer
Market Price

The Antec Sonata
was perhaps the first PC case designed and marketed with silence in mind to
gain mainstream success, dating back some seven years, not long after the launch of SPCR. With a specially designed power supply and a soft mounting
system for hard drives, it was a cut above the competition. Over the years,
some minor internal and aesthetic adjustments have been made but the Sonata identity has survived. Whether you were looking at the exterior
or the interior, you can tell it is a Sonata, whether it be the first, second
or third iteration. The changes made in the latest incarnation, the Sonata Elite,
are revolutionary by comparison.


The box — is there anything more elegant than a computer case floating
on water?

On the outside, the Elite keeps Sonata's elegant appearance but looks can be deceiving. The Sonata's fundamental design has been
revamped when it comes to ventilation and drive mounting, with obvious improvements
to cable management and noise reduction.


The Sonata Elite.



Accessories.


Antec Sonata Elite: Features & Specifications
(from the product
web page
)

THE EXTERIOR



The front panel features HD audio, USB and eSATA ports. The power
and reset buttons are hidden behind the plastic door. The door, unlike
previous models actually requires some force to pull open, perhaps to
prevent/slow it from becoming too loose over time. There are only three
external bays, all 5.25" in size, though a 3.5" device can
be installed with the included adapter
.




A 120 mm TriCool fan is installed by default in the rear exhaust fan
placement — its three-speed switch is located at the rear of the
case. To the right of the expansion slots is a small vent designed as
an exhaust for the included side blower fan, though it can also act
as a source of intake if the optional fan is not utilized.



Like older members of the Sonata family, the Sonata Elite has a sleek
glossy black finish, though the enamor fades with time as incidental
contact will inevitably leave it riddled with smudges and fingerprints.
The right side panel features the case's main intake ventilation:
two large openings behind the hard drive compartment protected by a
grill.




While this may undoubtedly keep hard drives running fairly cool,
the filter's holes are a little too large — it will have difficulty
keeping out average-sized dust particles.



The case is equipped with the same silicone rubber feet featured in other Antec cases. As you may have
noticed, there is no ventilation under the front panel either. The only
intakes are on the right side panel and at the rear.

THE INTERIOR



The side panels are secured with thumbscrews and simply swivel off
the rest of the chassis. Both panels as well as the case's ceiling are
lined with a polycarbonate material to dampen noise.






Inside, the biggest difference between the Sonata III and Sonata Elite
is the redesigned hard drive cage with huge ventilation holes. There
is also no fan placement in front of the cage nor are there any built-in
3.5" external bays. The slimmer hard drive compartment gives the
case a little extra room making it a little easier to work inside. Also,
few holes have been added to aid cable management — something that
is non-existant on previous Sonatas.






The interior side of the hard drive compartment is almost completely
solid, forcing the air coming in from the side vent to take a hard right
turn past the hard drives to reach the rest of the components. In doing so, the intake air cools the drives. The gap
between the drive cage and side panel form a 4.6 x 28 cm channel, which roughly matches the side intake vents. Drives are placed vertically with their sides attached to rails with rubber
grommets rather than horizontally on trays. The rails are secured with
thumbscrews so there's no satisfying "click" when the drives
are properly mounted. Optical drive installation is facilitated with
the usual snap-in drive rails which are hidden from view behind the
bay covers.




Editor's Note:
If all this seems oddly familiar to some readers, it's because the design has been used before, in the Antec Fusion/NSK2400. Flip the Sonata Elite on its side, and you can see that this aspect of its design is a larger implementation of the directed intake air through HDD bay scheme used in the Fusion/NSK2400.






The power supply support beam is a major annoyance carried over from
the Sonata III and Solo design. Installing a power supply requires it
to physically pass over the motherboard tray. The motherboard has be
mounted after the power supply, and must be removed to take the power
supply out. Antec could have easily gotten around this by allowing mounting
from the rear.






A few shallow hooks have been added behind the motherboard tray
for tying up cables. Antec provides about a dozen cable-ties with the
Elite.

TESTING

System Configuration:

Measurement and Analysis Tools

System temperatures and noise levels were recorded with SpeedFan and GPU-Z
(if possible) at idle and on load using 4 instances of CPUBurn K7 to stress
the CPU and FurMark with the Xtreme Burn option (if possible) to stress the
GPU.

Baseline Noise

Noise measurements were made of the case with the two supplied fans at standard
switch settings in various configurations. The air cavity resonances inside
a case amplify fan noise, as do any vibrations transferred from the fans into
the case, so these measurements can be regarded as the baseline SPL levels for
the Sonata Elite with the stock fans.

Antec Sonata Elite Baseline SPL

Measuring mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle left/front of case.
rear exhaust
side blower
SPL
Low
N/A
19 dBA
Med
N/A
29 dBA
High
N/A
35 dBA
Off
Low
18 dBA
Off
Med
25~26 dBA
Off
High
33~34 dBA
Low
Low
21~22 dBA
Med
Med
29 dBA
High
High
37 dBA

The side blower turns out to be quieter overall than the TriCool fan pre-mounted
in the rear exhaust placement. The perceived noise is low and smooth when either
(or both) fans are set to Low, though the side fan develops a slight tick on
Low. Neither fan would be deemed acceptable in a quiet PC if set to Medium or
High.

Test Results - Configuration #1 (IGP only)



Case with test system installed (integrated graphics).


System Measurements (IGP)
State
Idle
Load
Idle
Load
Fan Speed

(Rear / Side)
Low / N/A
Low / Low
Noise Level
20 dBA
22 dBA
CPU Temp
31°C
58°C
32°C
58°C
SB Temp
35°C
40°C
34°C
35°C
HD Temp
34°C
33°C
33°C
34°C
CPU fan speed set to 70% (9V).

Ambient temperature: 25°C.

Our IGP-only test configuration added only a small amount of noise, about 1dB
to the case's baseline measurements. With only the rear fan set to Low, the
system measured 20 [email protected] In this configuration, putting the system on load
resulted in a 27°C increase in CPU temperature, and a 5°C increase in
Southbridge temperature. The addition of the side fan on the Low setting added
2 dB of noise while improving the Southbridge temperature by 5°C on load.
No other temperatures were affected by the side fan.

Comparisons

IGP Configuration Comparison (Load)
State
Antec P183
Sileo 500
Sonata Elite
Fan Speed

(Rear / Front or Side)
Low / Off
100% / 100%
Low / N/A
Low / Low
Noise Level
19~20 dBA
20 dBA
20 dBA
22 dBA
CPU Temp
50°C
54°C
55°C
55°C
SB Temp
38°C
37°C
37°C
32°C
HD Temp
37°C
33°C
30°C
31°C
CPU fan set to 70% speed (9V).

Ambient temperature: 22°C.

(temperatures adjusted to match ambient).

Compared to past cases tested with the same test configuration and similar
noise levels, the Sonata Elite comes closest to the Coolermaster
Sileo 500
in thermal performance, though the Elite's side vent kept
the hard drive a slightly cooler. The Southbridge temperature in particular
was surprising considering the Elite's unusual ventilation design — it
was no worse than the intake-limited Sileo 500 or the Antec
P183
which gets ample fresh air from its heavily ventilated front panel.

Test Results - Configuration #2 (HD 4870)



Case with test system installed (HD 4870). There is about 3 cm of clearance
between the graphics card and drive cage.


System Measurements (HD 4870)
State
Idle
Load
Idle
Load
Rear / Side

Fan Speed
Low / N/A
Low / Low
Low / Med
Noise
21 dBA
25~26 dBA
22 dBA
26 dBA
28~29 dBA
CPU Temp
35°C
58°C
35°C
59°C
59°C
SB Temp
56°C
56°C
50°C
55°C
54°C
HD Temp
35°C
35°C
33°C
34°C
33°C
GPU Temp
79°C
91°C
80°C
90°C
90°C
GPU Fan

Speed
1050 RPM
1980 RPM
1050 RPM
1930 RPM
1940 RPM
CPU fan speed set to 100%.

Ambient temperature: 25°C.

The addition of a HD 4870 made a significant impact, increasing
the idle CPU temperature slightly (even though we ran the CPU at full speed
rather than 70% because it did not add any perceivable noise) and sending the
Southbridge temperature skyrocketing by 15-20°C. The graphics card effectively
cuts off most of the airflow around the southbridge, and the GPU itself is fairly
hot, so this was not surprising. Fortunately, the HD 4870's cooler is one of
the better stock units and it only added a small amount of noise to the test
system — about 1 dB when idle and 4 dB on load.

The advantage of having the side fan seemed to vanish once the
system was stressed. When the graphics card was idle, the addition of the side
fan on Low cooled the Southbridge by an extra 6°C. When placed under stress,
the heat coming off the GPU had a greater effect, and the side fan's influence
all but vanished. Setting the side fan to Medium did not result in any meaningful
improvement. It is likely the fan's placement perpendicular to the GPU is the
reason for its lack of effectiveness with this system configuration.

Comparisons

HD 4870 Configuration Comparison (Load)
State
Sileo 500
Sonata Elite
Fan Speed

(Rear / Front

or Side)
100% / 100%
Low / NA
Low / Low
Noise Level
25 dBA
25~26 dBA
26 dBA
CPU Temp
56°C
55°C
56°C
SB Temp
53°C
53°C
52°C
HD Temp
34°C
32°C
31°C
GPU Temp
87°C
88°C
87°C
CPU fan set to 100% speed.

Ambient temperature: 22°C.

(Temperatures adjusted to match ambient).

In the HD 4870 configuration, the Elite again performed very similarly to the
Sileo 500 recording similar CPU, Southbridge and GPU temperatures, with only
a minor improvement in hard drive temperature. The Elite also measured slightly
louder in our anechoic chamber, though the difference is close to our margin of measurement
error.

AUDIO RECORDINGS

These recordings were made with a high resolution, lab quality, digital recording
system inside SPCR's own 11 dBA ambient anechoic chamber, 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.

Each recording starts with ambient noise, then 10 second segments of product
at various states. For the most realistic results,
set the volume so that the starting ambient level is just barely audible, then
don't change the volume setting again while comparing all the sound files.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Sonata Elite retains the stylish appearance and solid construction of the
Sonata III. However, many of the things Antec changed hasn't necessary made
the Elite better. Moving the vents to the right side of the case might actually
have made ventilation worse, making it harder for airflow to reach the components on the motherboard. The fact that Antec includes a side fan option seems to suggest they know airflow
might be a problem for the Elite. The side fan doesn't work as
well as Antec would like — when paired with a hot running graphics card,
it is all but powerless to help, although a more open heatsink/fan design on the video card would probably have benefitted more.

The intake dust filter has fairly wide holes, limiting its effectiveness. Also, by having hard drives mount sideways the Sonata Elite gives up
a lot of vertical space, so much so that only three external drive bays are
provided. Finally, a support beam prevents the power supply from being removed
once the motherboard has been mounted — this might be our biggest complaint
because it could be fixed so easily.

The two large vents do help hard drive cooling slightly, but then again hard
drive cooling is not an issue for most cases. The only real improvements the
Elite can tout over its predecessor are the addition of panel vibration-dampening mats
on the ceiling and side panels, and the extra hooks and holes provided to aid
cable management. It is also the first Sonata to ship without a power supply,
which can be a good or bad thing depending on your needs.

The Sonata Elite manages to perform similarly in both acoustics and thermals
to Coolermaster Sileo 500. Like the
Sileo, it can perform the function of housing a silent PC rather well, even
with the stock case fan, though it isn't suitable for a multiple GPU configuration.
The case currently retails for about $100USD, a good $20-$30 more than the Sileo
— not unreasonable considering Antec's higher build quality. The venerable
Antec Solo is a good
alternative — it is slightly more cramped, but has better airflow and the unique HDD suspension mounting.

Antec Sonata Elite
PROS



* Stylish appearance

* Good damping against noise and vibration

* Low, smooth baseline noise

* Very sturdy construction/design
CONS



* Ventilation could be better

* Only 3 external drive bays

* Side filter holes too large

* Power supply inaccessible after motherboard installation

* Fairly ineffective side blower fan

Our thanks to Antec
Inc.
for the Sonata Elite sample.

* * *

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Silverstone Raven EATX Tower Case

* * *

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