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Antec P182 Advanced Super Midtower Case: P180 v.2

May 24, 2007 by Mike Chin

Product
Antec P182SE

Advanced
Super Mid Tower Case
Manufacturer
Antec
Inc.
Market Price
~US$230; ~$160 for black finish

Two years have passed since Antec introduced the P180 case. At the time, it was an unusual, innovative case designed to provide both effective cooling and good noise reduction for high performance enthusiasts. The P180 was very well received by the DIY marketplace, and despite teething problems that led to some minor revisions, it has become a highly successful product and a familiar sight in the high performance computer arena. According to Antec, the P180 is their most popular computer case in Japan, which is surprising as it is a market that traditionally shuns large cases.

The P182 is a major evolutionary update of the P180. While core design features such as the separated thermal zones and composite outer panels remain unchanged, the revised case has many new features that speak of Antec's responsiveness to customer demand. The P182 Special Edition examined here is said to be a limited version available only through a selected number of dealers. Those dealers number nearly 30 throughout the world, however, and many of them are large online stores or chains such as NCIX and Newegg, and Fry's and CompUSA, so availability can hardly be said to be exclusive. However, Antec informs me that the number of SE versions available to North America is under 2000 units, and there's no word on whether a second SE run will be made once this stock is depleted, so it may be a case of first come, first served.

Those who have read SPCR's previous reviews of the P180 know that I have had a hand in the design of the P180. This is not true of the P182, which was produced without any direct input on my part. SPCR's P180 articles include:

The above reviews are well worth reading or at least skimming, as they form the backdrop for this article. Here's a quick overview of the P182 design for those who don't want the in-depth coverage in the earlier pieces:

These design concepts are central to the P182:

  • Separate chambers for better thermal management with less airflow.
  • Ensure direct, low-impedance airflow paths.
  • Use damping and mechanical decoupling whenever possible to minimize vibration
    transfer.
  • Keep any noise at the back of the case as much as possible.
  • The front bezel must be transparent for airflow yet prevent direct escape
    paths for noise.
  • Use Antec's unique multi-layer plastic/metal composite material for the main
    outer panels to eliminate panel vibration.
  • Allow the front upper chamber HDD cage and optional fan to become a cooling intake zone for hot graphics cards.

Core Thermal Design

The positioning of the power supply and the 4-bay hard drive cage in the
separate bottom compartment is a key aspect of the P182's design. There is
a fan mounting spot — and a supplied 120mm 3-speed fan — but
the fan really only needs to be used with a fanless power supply or with more than two hard drives. In normal
use, virtually any fan-cooled PSU should draw enough air from the front vent
of the bottom chamber to keep up to two the hard drives cool. A good PSU should also have no
trouble keeping itself cool without ramping up in speed.

From a thermal point of view, this arrangement is highly efficient in that
the airflow of the PSU fan is used not only to cool itself but also the hard
drives. At the same time, the heat of the PSU and hard drives are not adding
to the heat of the CPU and video cards, which are the primary heat producers
in today's PCs.

A top quality PSU will convert >80% of the AC power it draws into DC power.
The remaining which is what makes them get hot. If you have an 80% efficiency power supply
and your system needs 300W DC during maximum peaks, then the PSU draws 375W
AC, 75W of which converted to heat in the PSU. Hard drives rarely consume
more than about 10W average in actual operation. If we assume two hard drives,
the total heat in the PSU / HDD chamber or tunnel will not go above 95W. This
is a relatively small amount of heat to be evacuated through this free-flowing air tunnel.

Following this example, in a conventional ATX case where the power supply
is positioned at the top, the 75W of heat from the PSU would be within inches
of the hot CPU, which could easily be producing 80W of heat. The CPU and
PSU would affect each other; both would run hotter, and any thermally controlled
fans (in the PSU, on the CPU heatsink) would tend to ramp up faster. The 20W
from the HDDs would also be added to the overall heat in the case, adding
to the thermal load. With the P182's separate PSU / HDD chamber, the thermal
load on all the components is divided and thus more easily tackled.

BIG BOXES

The arrival of the P182SE coincided with that of the P190, a larger version of the P182 which will also be reviewed soon. The two cases are shown below for comparison.



The P180 box is big but still smaller than the P190 box.
Lots of black ink there.

What makes the P182 Special Edition special? It has a stainless steel exterior with mirror finish instead of the standard gun metal black. It also has a black interior finish, as opposed to the standard metal. Other than that, it's identical to the standard P182. Mirror is certainly the right word to describe the finish of the front and side panels of the P182SE.



The P182SE has a stainless steel mirror finish on the sides and front panel.

P182SE FEATURES & SPECS

Feature Highlights of the Antec P182SE (from the product web page)
Feature & Brief Our Comment
High quality stainless steel exterior with mirror finish May look nice; depends on surroundings. Keep a cleaning cloth handy. It shows up every fingerprint and smudge.
Dual chambers: The power supply (not included) is located in the lower chamber to isolate heat from the system and lower system noise Core feature of original P180 design. The airflow of the PSU fan is also enough to keep a couple of drives in the low chamber cool.
Special three-layer side panel and front door (stainless steel, plastic, aluminum) dampens system generated noise, making this one of the quietest cases available Again, core feature of original P180. They help with acoustics, but you still need to choose quiet components.
0.8mm cold rolled steel for durability through the majority of chassis, 1.0mm cold rolled steel around the 4x HDD area It's definitely a sturdy and heavy case.
Flexible snake light (installed), lights your way while working inside the case Nice new feature.

 

Specifications of the Antec P182SE
Case Dimensions
21.3"(H) x 8.1"(W) x 19.9"(D)

52cm(H) x 21cm(W) x 51cm(D)
Drive Bays
11 total --

- Front Accessible: 4 x 5.25", 1 x 3.5"

- Internal: 6 x 3.5"
Expansion Slots
7
Cooling System
- 1 rear (standard) 120mm TriCool Fan
w/ 3-speed switch control

- 1 top (standard) 120mm TriCool Fan

- External 3-speed fan control on rear panel for 2 fans in the upper chamber

- 1 front (optional) 120mm fan in upper chamber

- 1 lower chamber (standard) 120mm TriCool Fan
Main Board Size
Up to standard ATX: 12" (W) x 9.6" (L)
Weight (net/gross)
31/36 lbs

14.1/16.3 Kg
Motherboards
Standard ATX
Special Features
- Internal mounts with rubber grommets

- Upper and lower chamber structure

- Three-layer side panel

- Front 2 USB + 1 FireWire + Audio in/out Ports

- Double hinge door designed to open up to 270º

- Rubber grommeted ports on rear for liquid-cooling tubes to mount external liquid-cooling hardware


- Cable organizer behind motherboard tray minimizes cable clutter


- Flexible snake light (only in Special Edition)
Package Contents
1 Tower Case

1 set of screws and motherboard standoffs

1 Installation manual

A close comparison of the P182 and P180 specifications shows that they are exactly the same size. The P182 also has these additional features:

  • External 3-speed fan control on rear panel for 2 fans in the upper chamber. The speed of the fans can be adjusted without opening up the case.
  • Flexible snake light to illuminate your way while working inside the case. (Only in the SE model.)
  • The ineffective VGA card cooling duct and fan of the first generation P180 is no longer included.
  • There are rubber grommeted ports on the rear panel for liquid-cooling tubes to mount external liquid-cooling hardware, such as radiators. This is in recognition of the popularity of the P180 among über-gamers who want to use watercooling.
  • Cable organizer behind motherboard tray minimizes cable clutter. This last item seems like a small, but it describes a number of changes that collectively improve cable management from a challenge in the P180 to a fairly routine procedure in the P182.

One difference not identified in the specs is the presence of new cable routing holes in the motherboard tray itself. It's part and parcel of the improved cable organization system. You'll see this in later photos.

EXTERIOR

The sides and the front door are triple-layer composites of steel on the outside, plastic in the middle, and aluminum on the inside. It's the same idea as in the P180 and P182, except that in those cases, aluminum layers are used on both inner and outer layers. The advantages of this composite material are:

  • Greatly reduced tonal resonance.
  • Less prone to vibrate in sympathy with moving parts inside the case.
  • Better ability to block noise than ordinary steel or aluminum panels.

There was the issue of the warping front door in the original P180, which many users complained about. The original P180 front door was a 2-ply panel, aluminum on the outside and plastic on the inside. Big temperature changes sometimes caused the door to warp due to different expansion/contraction rates in the two materials. When the temperaure stabilized, the door could sometimes be bent back straight and straighten by itself. It was never a problem encountered with SPCR's samples. At some point in 2006 or late 2005, Antec replaced the door with a 3-ply aluminum-plastic-aluminum version with differently placed magnets. That pretty much stopped the warping complaints. The P182SE has a 3-ply door; warping should not be an issue.

The P180 side panels also had plastic tabs that some people broken accidentally, then complained bitterly about, but this was not as widespread a problem. The P182 side panels have the same plastic tabs. It does seem possible to break them by trying to force the panels closed incorrectly or through very rough handling, but requires seriously ham-handed effort.

As in the P180, the front door of the P182 is double-hinged for a 270 degree arc of rotation, which allows it to be flush against the left side of the case rather than open at some odd position where it can get in the way. Two magnets on the door hold it closed. Behind the front door, nothing has really changed from the P180. Two large grills direct air into the upper and lower chambers of the case. Each door opens easily with a press on the top right for easy cleaning of the dust filter fitted behind it.



No change from P180 behind the door... except magnet positions on door?

When the door is closed, a large vent at the bottom and the generous grill openings along the bezel sides allow airflow. The feet on the bottom of the case are made of a soft silicone rubber designed to absorb vibration and reduce noise.



Photo above shows the bottom front vent, side slots around front bezel,
and soft silicone rubber feet.

The top panel sports a 120mm fan near the back, as in the P180. This is complemented by another 120mm fan near the top of the back panel. As before, a very open mesh grill cover is used to keep airflow impedance to a minimum.



The back panel.

The fans themselves no longer have a dangling lead with a 3-position speed switch. Instead, the switches for these fans are integrated at the top of the back panel, visible in the photo above.

Also visible in the photo above are the two rubber grommet holes for use with water pipes and the vented PCI slot covers. At the bottom, a 120mm fan power supply was installed with the fan facing downward; the PSU can also be mounted with the fan facing upward.

Note: The case is supplied without a power supply.

INSIDE

Two black thumbscrews hold the main side panel in place, while the other less often accessed panel is secured with three screws. The interior is little changed from the P180.



Photo above shows lower PSU + 4 HDDs chamber with fan in between, the sliding cable-door between the top and bottom chambers, the 2-HDD cage in the top chamber, and cables from the front panel. Note: The white object in the lower HDD cage is a box of accessories.



Photo above shows upper chamber with 120mm fans on top and back panel, new gooseneck work light and part of the 4-bay optical drive cage and 2-bay HDD cage.



The photo above shows both upper and low hard drive cages removed. They feature very sturdy steel construction. Note silicone rubber grommets to minimize HDD vibration conduction to the case. The nifty side parts box on the upper 2-bay HDD cage has been retained from the P180. Also note optional fan mount behind upper chamber intake vent. The fan in the middle of the lower chamber was removed when this photo was taken.



A small box holds accessories, including a bag of screws and other small hardware, reusable cable ties, drive rails for optical and floppy drives,
a grill for the top panel fan, clips for attaching an optional fan for the front upper chamber, and a soft cloth for wiping down the mirror finish. A fairly detailed multilingual manual (not pictured) is also provided.

THE OTHER SIDE

This is where the cable management features have been implemented. Perhaps you can spot them in the photo below. If not, the second photo details them along with a PSU.

The above changes may seem minor, but there's no question that they will ease cable management tremendously. The difficulty of neatly routing cables was a major complaint from P180 users. Power cables have to go from the bottom location up to the motherboard, and also over to the lower HDD cage. Data cables also need to go from the HDDs in the bottom front chamber to the motherboard, with the lower fan in the middle (if it is used). All of these routes were difficult to navigate without cable clutter, which can be a significant impediment to airflow — particularly important when airflow is kept low to minimize noise.

Adequate cable length may be an issue with some power supplies. Remember that the PSU is located on the "wrong" side of the motherboard; it is normally above the CPU socket area in a conventional ATX tower case. If the main ATX connector is on the top edge of the motherboard, then that cable has to run quite a long way, and probably needs to be some 16"~18" long, assuming the starting point at the PSU is on the far side of the case. Most of the higher-end, higher rated power supplies that are likely to be used with this case will have the long cables that are needed. OEM power supplies with short cables definitely will not work well here.

Installation procedures were thoroughly covered in the review Antec P180 Review, Part 2: The Whole Nine Yards, and they have changed little, so they will not be repeated here. There are also extensive tips on assembly on page 12 of that review.

A powerful gaming system was installed in the P182SE, consisting of the following components, mostly chosen for quiet suitability and convenience (ie, they were nearby and ready to be used):

The CPU fan was plugged into the Gigabyte motherboard, whose fan controller in the BIOS was set for automatic thermal fan control. Both of the hard drives were mounted in the lower chamber.

The photos below show the finished system. The hardware assembly was completed in about 90 minutes, and there were no tricky or difficult phases.



The above photo may suggest some wiring clutter, but it's an illusion. The cable are mostly flush with the motherboard, and they do not stand in the airflow path at all.



This photo shows the upper chamber with the HDD cage in place. You can see how the wire routing holes were put to good use. All the wiring for the fans, the internal light, and the AUX12V (2x12V) feed to the motherboard were run through the top left hole.



The HDDs with wiring, just before installation of drive cage.



These cables would have made a big mess if run on the other side. Putting the side cover back on required a bit of finesse due to the thickness of some of the bunched cables and connectors, but it was not difficult.

There's no reason to believe that the thermal cooling or acoustics in the P182 (or P182SE) would be any different from that in the P180. It's basically the same case with added features, the main ones designed to improve ease of wire management. A truly exhaustive set of thermal and acoustic testing with several different systems and multiple configurations was done in Antec P180 Review, Part 2: The Whole Nine Yards, so there really is no need to repeat all of that work. Still, for the record, a quick set of measurements were taken under various conditions.

P182SE System Snapshot
Prime95 CPU stress test
Idle
Load
CPU
34°C /
51°C
VGA
60°C
60°C
HDDs
43/42°C
43/42°C
Sound Pressure Level ([email protected])
27
28
AC Power
115W
165W
ATI Tool VGA stress test
Idle
Load
CPU
34°C
44°C
VGA
59°C
82°C
HDDs
43/42°C
43/42°C
Sound Pressure Level ([email protected])
27
28 / 36
AC Power
115W
241W
The ambient conditions were 23°C and 19 dBA. No special effort was made to lower the noise of the system. The two upper fans were set to LOW speed, and the lower chamber fan was removed. The extra vents on the back around the PSU were blocked with electrical tape. The HDDs were cooled only by the PSU fan. The front door of the case was left closed; opening it will tend to improve the cooling by a few degrees at 1~2 dBA increase in noise.

Several things worthy of note:

1) The CPU cooling was exemplary. With both top and back stock fans at LOW, the thermal fan controller in the motherboard rarely even turned the CPU fan on. As detailed in the P180 review, there are many options with those 120mm fans, but it's difficult to conceive of any system that would require either of these fans to be on any speed but low. The two of them on low together are quieter than just one on medium. In this particular system, the top fan could easily be removed and replaced with just a piece of black foam with hardly any change in cooling performance. This would drop the measured noise down about 2 [email protected], but the subjective result would be more significant. Assuming the case / system is placed on the floor (which is logical given the size of the case), then the top panel 120mm fan has the most direct sound path to the user's ears.

2) The lower chamber fan was not necessary for HDD cooling. The slow 120mm fan in the Nexus PSU created enough airflow (with the extra vents around the PSU on the back panel blocked off) via the front vent of the low chamber to keep the hard drives quite cool. Some users want to see <40°C, but in the vast majority of systems from the likes of Dell, HP, etc., the HDDs usually run close to 50°C. Most manufacturers rate desktop HDD operation to be safe up to 60°C. Using the low chamber fan makes wire management in the lower HDD area trickier, as it get's pretty tight if you have many hard drives down there. A modular PSU like the Nexus used in this system is a wise choice.

3) No increase in PSU fan speed (or noise) was noted any time during testing. This is a testament to how well the compartmentalized cooling works, and to good low-noise fan control design in the new Nexus NX-8060.

4) The temperature of the ATI X1950XTX (one of the hottest on the market today) was never an issue; visible artifacts on the screen generally don't appear till the temperature reaches close to 100°C in most GPUs. However, the noise of the graphics card fan periodically ramping up and down is the reason for the 28 / 36 [email protected] recorded during the ATI Tool test. That SPL was not constant; it stepped up and down between the two numbers about every 2 minutes. The ATI card's fan seemed to be triggered to higher speed at ~82°C GPU temperature.

Would adding the optional front fan in the upper chamber keep the GPU below the ~82°C fan speed increase trigger point? This question seemed worth exploring.

The fan removed from the lower chamber was installed with clips on the back end of the upper HDD cage. ATI Tool stress test was run with the fan set at low, medium and high speed.



The front fan in upper chamber just before being slid into place. Note the gooseneck LED light, which is always on when powered off a motherboard USB header as long as the PSU is plugged into AC and switched on (ie, in standby). It is a bit dim to be that useful.

Unfortunately, the answer is that the front fan did not change the thermal behavior of the ATI X1950XTX video card. The card's cooling system actually takes in air on the inside end and exhausts it through a vent in the rear. One would expect that lowering the temperature of the intake air would help improve GPU cooling, but that did not happen. There's no question that with the intake case fan at medium and high settings, the temperature of the air directly at the video card's intake area was lower; the drop in CPU temperature can only be attributed to this added incoming airflow. Perhaps the video card's fan spins too slowly at idle for the reduced intake air temperature to make any difference. However, the front fan would certainly be useful if the stock HSF of the ATI card was replaced with a big passive heatsink like the Aerocase Condor.

ATI Tool test #2A: Front fan @ low
Idle
Load
CPU
34°C
44°C
VGA
60°C
82°C
Sound Pressure Level ([email protected])
28
28 / 36
ATI Tool test #2B: Front fan @ medium
Idle
Load
CPU
32°C
42°C
VGA
59°C
82°C
Sound Pressure Level ([email protected])
33
33 / 36
ATI Tool test #2C: Front fan @ high
Idle
Load
CPU
30°C
40°C
VGA
58°C
82°C
Sound Pressure Level ([email protected])
40
40

Interestingly, the front fan added virtually no audible noise at the low setting. The other fans in the system (five altogether, including the ones in the PSU and on the video card and CPU coolers) and the two hard drives basically masked whatever noise the extra fan added at this speed.

CONCLUSIONS

The Antec P182 is a genuine improvement on the P180. The core features of the P180 are retained, the wire management is vastly improved, and no new glitches are apparent. That it's also more water-cooling friendly obviously broadens the appeal of the case, and the internal gooseneck light is probably an attractive feature for most potential buyers. The easily smudged mirror finish of the SE model is not exactly my cup of tea, but surely, that's a matter of taste; if you find yourself in agreement, then the standard version is widely available and cheaper as well.

In our last review of the P180 case, Devon Cooke wrote,

The P180 is not a beginner's case. In the right hands, it has the potential to outdo almost any other case on the market in terms of noise and thermals, but some knowledge of thermodynamics and acoustics is necessary to get the most out of it. A beginner may be luckier with the P180 than another case because the choice of hard drive and power supply are less crucial, but the cable installation will take a fair bit of time.

The P182 is much closer to being a case for everyman because it's so much easier to manage the wiring. The changes were small, but the effect is dramatic. They show intelligent evolution and attention to user feedback.

The P182 is not better in cooling or silencing capability than the last production version of its immediate predecessor, the P180b. However, this is saying a lot. Straight out of the box, without modifications, the P182 has greater potential for a very quiet system to be assembled even by a novice DIY computer builder. The average user will find that in combination with reasonably chosen components, the P182 provides a quality and level of noise that
is unachievable in any other case without modification. Its only real competition may be Antec's own P150 or Solo.

*



Our thanks to...

Antec
Inc.
for the P182SE case sample

Corsair Memory for the XMS2-8500 DDR2 memory

Intel for the C2D 6700 Processor sample


Anitec Computer Technology for the Gigabyte GA965P-S3 motherboard

ATI for the X1950 XTX graphics card

Seasonic for the S12 and Super Silencer PSU samples

Western Digital for the Raptor 150 hard drive sample

Hitachi for the 7K500 HDD sample

EndPCNoise for the Nexus NX-8060 power supply s

Apack ZeroTherm for the BTF90 CPU cooler

**

SPCR Articles of Related Interest

Antec P150 / Solo mid-tower case

Antec P180: The Whole Nine Yards

Lian Li PC-101: Aluminum *Can* be Quiet!

Cases: Basics and Recommendations

DIY P180 Mod: Move bottom chamber fan to front

* * *

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