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Antec Mini P180: A micro-ATX P182

March 7, 2008 by Mike Chin

Product
Antec Mini P180

Advanced Super Mini Tower Case
Manufacturer
Antec
Market Price
US$120~160

Antec's P180 franchise, which began right here at SPCR three years ago, shows no sign of abating. The original design underwent some modifications during the first couple of years. Last year, it was relaunched as the P182, with substantially improved cable management. P182 model variants include the standard aluminum, black, and a mirror finish steel. A large Extended ATX version also made its appearance last year, the P190. It's a couple inches deeper, with multiple large fans including a 200mm fan on the side panel, and room for two power supplies that can be ganged together for truly power-hungry systems. Now, they've released the Mini P180, which shrinks the P180-182 to the micro-ATX form factor.

The P180 and P182 were both aimed at the interests of the silent and power computing enthusiast who wants to tinker to his heart's content. Because the original design predated the dual graphics card gaming era ushered in by nVidia's SLI, the needs of the extreme gaming enthusiast were less well met than the needs of the silent PC enthusiast. In the Mini P180, Antec's reps suggested to me that the balance has shifted a bit, that extreme gaming needs have a slightly higher priority than ultra low noise. This caution may simply be to soften us up for the noise of the 200mm fan that's mounted at the back of the top panel.

Antec's promotional blurb states:

Good things come in small packages

The reliability, performance, and versatility of the Antec Performance One series is now available in a stylishly small enclosure, perfect for gamers on the move. The Mini P180 boasts a heat-reducing dual chamber design with room for your microATX motherboard, power supply, and up to 5 hard drives. Sound-deadening multi-layer side panels and silicone grommets ensure quiet computing, while 120 mm and 200 mm fans provide optimal cooling. Top it off with a sleek interior black finish and front USB, audio, and eSATA ports, and you won’t believe the quality we’ve fit into this petite portable case.

The idea of a high quality case that can only take up to micro-ATX boards yet is geared to extreme gamers seems.... a bit odd. As far as I am aware, there are no micro-ATX boards which feature dual PCIe 16X slots for dual graphics card setups. Still, there are single CPUs and single graphics cards that can draw well over 100W each, so the idea of a smaller chassis that can handle a really hot system with cool aplomb may have appeal.

SPCR readers have been anticipating the Mini P180 since the middle of last year when early samples first saw the light of day, at Computex in Taipei. I visited Antec's suite to report on this product and many others. A forum discussion thread about the case begain in July 2007, and it now stretches over 70 posts. The Mini P180 is finally beginning to show up in stores now. A sample from the first production run was airfreighted to our lab last week for the benefit of eager SPCR readers. We begin our review with a photo.



The Mini P180 bears a strong resemblance to its predecessors.

Our sample is finished in sort of a charcoal black, and it's reflective enough to be very difficult to photograph. The apparent smears in the panels above are reflections of things in the lab. It's not exactly small, either. In fact, it's the size of a standard mid-tower ATX case, which is probably disappointing for anyone hoping for a small mATX case like the Antec NSK3480 or the Silverstone TJ08. There are reasons for its size, some of which will become apparent when you examine the specifications.

The physical reality of the case conflicts with Antec's own description, "petite portable case": It's only petite in comparison with large cases such as the P180/182 or P190, and it's very difficult to consider it portable. Small <14" screen laptops that weigh <4lbs are portable. Mobile phones and iPods are portable. Mid-tower size cases weighing 20 lbs are not portable.

A clarification before moving on: I played the role of lead thermal/acoustic design consultant on the P180, and had some minor input on the P182, but I had no role in the development P190 or the Mini P180.

FEATURES & SPECS

Antec Mini P180 Summary (from the
product page
)
SPEC / FEATURE
Our Comment
Unique upper and lower chamber structure: the power supply resides in a separate chamber to isolate heat from the system and lower system noise.
First introduced in the P180; Antec's NSK3480 mini-tower and NSK2480 / Fusion horizontal desktops are the only other mATX cases with such a design.
Innovative three-layer side panel (aluminum, plastic, aluminum) dampens system generated noise, making this one of the quietest cases.
Again, introduced in the P180; unique to selected Antec cases.
Configurable to accomodate graphics cards with full length PCBs
Important for the extreme gamer, actually better than many ATX mid-tower cases in this regard.
No power supply included:

to optimize the performance of your Mini P180, your choice of power supply is crucial.
PSU choice is a good thing, and no bundled PSU is the mark of a high end computer case.
Cooling System:

• 1 rear 120x25mm TriCool Fan

• 1 top 200x25mm TriCool fan

• 2 front (optional) 120mm Fans

• Exterior speed control switches
A lot of airflow potential for a mATX case, especially with the huge 200mm fan.
8 Drive Bays

• External 3 x 5.25”; 1 x 3.5”

• Internal 5 x 3.5” for HDD
Quite a few for this size case.
4 Expansion Slots
The norm for mATX.
Front-mounted ports for easy multimedia connections

- 2 x USB 2.0

- 1 x eSATA

- Audio In / Out (AC’ 97 and HDA)
The eSATA port is a nice touch.
Double hinge door

designed to open up to 270º
Same as in P180~190 series.
0.8mm cold rolled steel for durability through the majority of chassis
It suggests sturdy construction.
Compatibility
Accommodates
MicroATX motherboards (9.6" x 9.6")
Dimensions

• 17.1"(H) x 8.3"(W) x 17.2"(D)

• 43.5cm(H) x 21.2cm(W) x 43.6cm(D)
The ATX mid-tower Antec P150/Solo is only bigger in depth by a little over an inch: 18.5"
Weight

• Net: 20.9 lbs / 9.5 kg

• Gross: 24.4 lbs / 11.1 kg
Antec Solo is lighter at 20.3 lbs.

In summary, there are several central features:

  • Two separate thermal chambers, with the bottom mounted PSU having direct access to outside air in order minimize the heat through it and thus keep its fan from speeding up.
  • The main chamber has two exhaust fans, a 120mm fan on the back panel and a 200mm fan on the top, directly over the motherboard area. The latter obviously dominates as its airflow will easily be three times that of the 120mm fan.
  • It's the combination of the large top mounted fan, the extra internal partition, and the need for some space for the PSU fan to breathe that adds ~4" height over micro-ATX cases such as Antec's own NSK3480 (reviewed) or the SilverStone TJ-08 (discussed).
  • The 3-ply composite side panels and door resist vibration well, and also block noise better than the typical steel or aluminum panel.



EXTERNAL TOUR

You've seen the front and left side in the photo on the preceding page. Here's a pictorial walk around the case from the outside. (Note: I mentioned earlier that the exterior was difficult to photograph. So was the interior, which is all black. Not only is there little to focus on, the black soaks up light, making long exposures or flash necessary. To show detail in photos at low web-friendly resolutions, a lot of digital darkroom work had to be used, particularly to bring up the shadows lost in the black. Some pics look a bit unnatural as a result; under the conditions, this seemed a reasonable compromise.)



With the front door open, you can see the there are two large 120mm intake vents, the same as in the larger P182. Note odd placement of optical drive bays, one on top and two on the bottom. The latter are in the lower PSU chamber. The slots all around the front perimeter (between front door and surface of front panel behind it) is taken straight from the P180~190 design. It allows for excellent air intake even when the door is closed; closing the door keeps the noise down.



Here's a shot with the vent covers swung open, dust filters visible underneath. Nicely done, as in the P182. Note the eSATA port directly below the power button. Both power and reset buttons lie behind the main door; it must be opened to turn the system on or off. The vent covers have the same somewhat restrictive slat design as in the P180~190 series. See the forum discussion about this.



The back panel sports vented PCI slot covers and another rectangular vent next to them. Note the 3-position fan speed switches (to the left of the fan in the photo) and the large amount of space beyond the left edge of the I/O panel.



Here's the back end of the top panel, which is actually a 2-ply construction. Almost 3, really. The visible panel is plastic; the hex-hole pattern grill is visible next, and below that is the steel chassis panel. The 200mm fan is visible underneath.



Finally, a quick visual comparison between the Mini P180 and the very first development P180 sample (with unmatched front panel) now relegated to be a video card test platform on the SPCR test bench. The Mini P180 is shorter, and not as deep, but about the same width.

INTERNAL DESIGN

Here's a set of photos showing the interior.



Both side panels were removed, along with both drive cages. The similarity to P180/82 is unmistakeable. The top and bottom chambers are separated by a middle panel, which has a sliding plastic door for cables to run up from the PSU. The main differences are height, front-to-back depth, and distribution of drive bays. And the top 200mm fan, of course. Note the access holes to the underside of the motherboard tray, next to the big fan, and adjacent to the top drive bays. These holes are for routing cables neatly.



This is the other side, the underside of the motherboard tray. This time, both of the HDD bays are in place. There are many hooks on which cable ties can be anchored. Antec has learned well from the experience with the P180 and 182; this is an excellent set of wire management tools for the DIY builder.



Back to the other side, with HDD cages partially inserted. As in the other P180~P190 models, the cages are satisfingly sturdy, with very smooth plastic tracks that glide smoothly. The top cage accommodates up to three 3.5" hard drives vertically on their sides. The lower cage uses trays to accommodate two drives. All drive mounts feature large soft silicone rubber grommets for vibration reduction, which have been proven to work well in other Antec cases.



Here is a shot of the 9-bladed 200mm fan, which sports a 3-speed switch accessible from the back panel. The 120x25mm back panel fan is one of the TriCools with built in 3-speed switch that Antec has been using for some years.



The PSU chamber has a filtered bottom vent between the optical drive cage in front and the PSU in back. This is the intake vent for the PSU... which seems a bit less than ideal, since the silicone rubber feet on the bottom provides a gap of only about a centimeter. We'll see whether the vent is unrestricted enough to ensure good cooling for the PSU. The silicone rubber pads upon which the PSU sits are a nice touch.

SUMMING UP THE TOUR: Despite the obvious family resemblance to the P180/P182, the Mini P180 is substantially different from a functional point of view. In essence, the main chamber of the Mini P180 has about double the vent area, both in and out, for much expanded airflow, despite having a smaller internal volume. All the HDDs now go in the upper chamber. The optical drive bays in the lower chamber are afforded only peripheral airflow from the PSU fan drawing air in through the bottom vent in the middle; there is no place for a fan in the lower chamber. Not that optical drives need much in the way of ventilation, but this is a difference compared to the P180/P182. The big 200mm fan will surely dominate airflow patterns in the case; like Rome, all roads lead to it.

PRELIMINARY ACOUSTIC TESTING

First, the fans were left in the case, powered up with a fanless DC power supply, and measured for sound pressure level (SPL) in various settings and combinations from a distance of one meter with our standard B & K 2203 sound level meter (SLM). The SLM was positioned 35cm above and one meter from the top front edge of the case. This was the same setup used for acoustic measurements and recordings after a test system was installed in the case.



Not an ideal acoustic test setup, but it had to do.

The ambient level in the lab was 19 dBA. The results are shown in the table below.

Antec Mini P180 Fan SPL ([email protected])
Speed Setting
low
mid
high
200mm fan
23
28
35
120mm fan
22
33
41
Both Fans Together
24
37
44

The 200mm fan is clearly quieter than the 120mm fan at any setting other than low. The actual sound character of the larger fan is more pleasant, as it consists mostly of wind noise (whooosh) and a bit of low level clacking or chatter at the low speed. Most of its noise is low in frequency, which makes it less audible, in general. (Note: It sounds much worse in the recording than live, especially if you set the playback volume too high.) The 120mm fan sounds reasonably pleasant at the low setting but at the mid and high speeds, it is much louder, with unpleasant high frequency overtones.

Other fan speed combinations were tried. Here are the results, ordered from quietest to loudest:

Antec Mini P180 Fan Noise ([email protected])
200mm
120mm
SPL
off
low
22
low
off
23
low
low
24
med
off
28
med
low
29
low
med
34
high
off
35
high
med
36
med
med
37
med
high
42
high
high
44

Despite the closeness of the SPL readings, the 23 [email protected] of the 200mm fan alone on low is subjectively more pleasant than the 22dBA of the 120mm fan or the 24 dBA of both fans on low. Personally, I would not be willing to run either fan on medium, with or without the other fan on; it's just too much higher than the ambient acoustics of my environment.

For the record, the big fan was removed and examined closely. Its basic design is sound, with struts probably no bigger than they have to be, and positioned correctly to be more or less perpendicular to the trailing edges of the blades to minimize tonal and turbulence effects. From the overall acoustic signature, I'd guess that it has ball bearings; a sleeve bearing might be too short lived in this large a fan. Holding and listening to it at the low speed setting, I have to say it's pretty dang quiet, especially for the amount of air it moves. We have no way of measuring the airflow as our fan test rig is set up for maximum 120mm diameter fans. Its SPL measures around 20~21 [email protected] without load in free air



It measures 22.5 x 20 x 3 cm. The hub (motor, really) measures 6.5cm across.

INSTALLING A SYSTEM

SPCR's case review procedure is not just to take photos and describe the case, but also to install a system and assess its performance in the case. Cooling and acoustics are the key aspect we test for, and the results can be useful whether you're a minimal-noise seeker or a gamer with insatiable cooling needs.

Usually we try to push the thermal envelope, using components considered too hot by most silencers. The approach is simple: If we can make it quiet with all this hot gear, it should do better with cooler gear... or higher airflow, if you're a performance enthusiast. Of course, these days, lots of enthusiasts want both quiet and bleeding edge performance.

System Components

For this micro-ATX case, we decided to use a system that's pretty hot, and quite well known to regular SPCR visitors. It's our heatsink testing platform.



The heatsink testbed was installed into the for this review.

  • Intel
    Pentium D 950
    Presler core. Rated TDP is 130W. Under CPUBurn x2 load, we measured 78W DC draw through the AUX12V socket, which includes
    efficiency losses in the VRMs.
  • ASUS
    P5LD2-VM
    motherboard. A basic microATX board with integrated graphics
    and plenty of room around the CPU socket.
  • Western Digital Caviar SE16 (WD5000KS) 500GB 7200RPM HDD. It replace the notebook drive that's been used for heatsink testing, because a desktop 7200rpm drive is typical for most users.
  • 1
    GB stick of Corsair XMS2
    DDR2 memory. Two gigs would be nicer, but makes no difference for our testing.
  • Enermax Modu82+ 625W power supply, the review of which was posted a few days ago. It replaced a FSP Zen 300W
    fanless power supply normally used for the HS test platform. The Modu82+ had not powered a real system yet, so this seemed a perfect opportunity.
  • Arctic Silver
    Lumière
    : Special fast-curing thermal interface material, designed
    specifically for test labs.
  • Scythe Ninja Plus Rev. B heatsink, mounted with thermalright spring-loaded bolt-through kit. This is a sample that was recently tested in the context of the Ninja Copper review. It didn't fare nearly as well as expected, but the thing was already installed on the motherboard, and it would still tell us what we want to know about the thermal performance of the case.
  • ATI X1950XTX graphics card with Artic Cooling Accelero S1 passive heatsink. The heatsink is probably the most effective GPU cooler available today, and the ATI, while a bit "old" (at just ~18 months!), is still one of the hottest graphics cards. X-bit Labs measured 125W max on an X1950XTX, compared to 131.5W on an 8800GTX.

No fans were mounted on either the CPU or GPU heatsinks. The point was to find out whether the airflow created by the fans in the Mini P180 would be enough to cool everything without additional fans. Towards the end of the testing, a 120mm Scythe Slipstream 800RPM fan was added. More on that later.

System Assembly

Overall assembly went smoothly. With good planning, it should be possible for an experienced builder to put a system together in this case in about an hour, perhaps less. All the exposed metal edges are rolled in order to reduce the risk of cuts and scrapes during assembly. What follows is a photojournal of various points in assembly.



Near the start, after installation of PSU. Any 120mm fan PSU must be mounted upside down to ensure space for airflow; there's one inch of space between the fan and the partition wall above it. Note Ninja-installed motherboard on left.



Screws and misc parts including drive rails on the left box, and a handy flip storage box for screws on the far side of the lower HDD cage (like in the P180~P190).



After the motherboard was installed, getting the AUX12V plug into the connector on the motherboard (where the red arrow points) proved to be nearly impossible with the Ninja in place. Removing the big fan made it possible.



The HDD was mounted in the top bay. Note that the grommets fit thicker on one side than the other; the HDD should rest on the thicker portion.



The shortest optical drive on hand, just under 7" long, did not fit in the top slot.

Here's why:





The big fan limits the top bay to devices not longer than about 6.75".

An optical drive was unnecessary for testing anyway.

EDIT - March 10/08



In response to feedback from some readers, a double-check was made of the optical drive depth needed to use the top bay. I found this LG, which fits. It measures 170mm, just under 6.75". There are others of the same size from other brands; in other words, an optical drive this size is not that difficult to find. The back end of the drive touches the big fan, but the cable connections clear the fan.



All done except the ATI X1950XTX VGA card. (Note ATI card with Arctic Cooling Accelero S1 already mounted visible on the right, awaiting installation.) Some tests were run with the integrated video at this point, to establish some baselines. With the lower HDD bay left off, even with a fan mounted at the front intake vent, the graphics card can be ~14" long. This is enough space to accommodate any VGA card we know of. Even the biggest ones don't exceed ~11" length.



Here's the maze of cables hidden on the other side. It required some effort to close the cover on this side; you have to make sure the cables aren't overlapping too much.



After the
ATI card was installed, tests were run with just the two stock case fans. Later, a Scythe Slipstream 120x25mm 800 RPM fan was added as an intake as shown here, and further testing was done. Note: Either front vent can accommodate a 120mm fan, but not with the HDD bay in place. Also, since the sliding door between upper and lower chambers was not used to route any cables, there was a bit of air gap. It was closed up with black electrical tape.

THERMAL ANALYSIS

Test Tools

Software Tools

  • SpeedFan
    4.31
    , used to monitor the on-chip thermal sensor. This sensor is not
    calibrated, so results are not universally applicable.
  • CPUBurn
    P6
    , used to stress the CPU heavily, generating more heat that most
    realistic loads. Two instances are used to ensure that both cores are stressed.
  • ATITool utility to stress and monitor the graphics card.
  • 3DMark06 game simulation benchmark. (Mostly not used as the power load was not constant or high enough.)
  • Throttlewatch
    2.01
    , used to monitor the throttling feature of the CPU to determine
    when overheating occurs.

TEST RESULTS

Ambient conditions were 21°C and 19 dBA. ATITool's "scan for artifacts" load was applied during load testing. The total AC power draw is about 5W lower than running it in default mode, but the stress on the GPU is higher, which means it gets hotter. GPU heat is more difficult for most systems to handle compared to CPU heat. Heatsinks for the latter are still in a higher state of development than for GPUs.

Configuration #1: With integrated graphics, standard fans -

This stress load was bound to be easily handled by just the big fan alone, set to low. The 120mm fan was left unplugged. In this "negative pressure" configuration (meaning air is forced to be sucked into the case via free vents as opposed to blown out), the only exhaust is through the 200mm fan, and all other holes in the top chamber become intake vents. The 120mm fan, for example, becomes an intake, as do all the other vents on the back panel.

Configuration #1: IGP, 200mm fan @ low
LOAD
AC
CPU
HDD
SPL
idle
65W
28°C
38°C
CPUBurn x2
131W
48°C
38°C
ATITool + CPUBurn x2
133W
48°C
38°C

Never mind that this Scythe Ninja Plus Rev. B CPU heatsink sample didn't fare that well on the test bench. Here in the flow of the 200mm fan, it's just coasting. Note that the hard drive temperature remained constant at a very low temperature regardless of CPU load. This is expected as the "HDD" is upwind of the CPU, and the airflow across it is constant. The Enermax Modu82+ power supply fan did not budge beyond minimum speed. It was utterly inaudible, swamped by the noise of the big fan.

The overall noise signature was set by the big fan, first, then the WD hard drive in front. When the front door was open, the increased noise of the drive whirring could be heard from a meter away, although the overall SPL increased by only one or two decibels. The acoustic contribution of the Modu82+ was inaudible... and stayed inaudible throughout the testing.

Configuration #2: With ATI X1950XTX, stock fans -

Many combinations of fans and settings were tried. When both stock fans are turned on, it is still a "negative pressure" configuration. Air is blown out only through the fans; all other holes in the upper chamber are intakes.

Configuration #2: With ATI X1950XTX, stock fans
LOAD
20cm Fan
12cm Fan
AC
GPU
CPU
HDD
Idle
low
off
97W
42°C
31°C
39°C
23
CPUBurn x2
low
off
161W
42°C
50°C
39°C
23
low
low
162W
42°C
48°C
37°C
24
ATITool + CPUBurn x2
low
off
250W
86°C
58°C
39°C
23
low
low
251W
82°C
55°C
37°C
24

The jump in power caused by the ATI X1900XTX is dramatic, even at idle, where 32W more heat has to be dealt with in the system. Under CPU + GPU loads, power demand virtually doubled compared to Config #1. Our testing of the Enermax Modu82+ 625W PSU showed its efficiency to be 85.9% with 235W AC input, and 86.4% with 287W AC. Assuming 86% efficiency, the DC power demand with the ATI card is 216W, compared to ~110W with the integrated graphics (calculated based on the efficiency of the Modu82+ 625, about 82% at 133W AC input).

CPU temperature increased substantially at all settings. It remained well under 60°C at load, however, and never came even close to throttling, which we know (from previous experience with this CPU/board) doesn't occur until >70°C. The temperature of mid-80s°C is not that high for this GPU. We do not see any misbehavior with 99% of applications on this VGA card till the GPU temperature is well into the 90s and beyond.

Keeping the back 120mm fan on helps with cooling, as evinced by the small drops in all the monitored temperatures. At load, the heat of the air flowing out the 120mm fan can be easily felt. Whether the gain is worthwhile is a judgement call. Personally, I'd swap out the stock fan with a quieter one if I felt the need for its additional cooling.

Configuration #3: ATI X1950XTX, 200m fan, and 120mm intake fan -

Since running just the top 200mm fan gave temperature results that were safe but perhaps a bit high for some users' comfort, an intake fan was tried in the vent closest to the VGA card (in the lower HDD bay). The expected result was a significant reduction in GPU temperature, and perhaps a small drop in CPU temperature as well.

A Scythe Slipstream 120mm fan rated at 800 RPM was used. Initially, it was run at full speed (12V), but it was judged to be too audible. A damping resistor was used to pull the speed of the Scythe fan down just a bit, to 680 RPM, where its noise contribution dropped to below that of the WD hard drive just above it.

Config #3: ATI X1950XTX, 200mm fan + 120mm Scythe intake fan
LOAD
20cm Fan
12cm Fan
AC
GPU
CPU
HDD
ATITool + CPUBurn x2
low
off
250W
86°C
58°C
39°C
23
low
680rpm
251W
78°C
55°C
39°C
23.5

The greatest improvement was seen in the GPU temperature. The CPU ran a bit cooler as well. Overall SPL was hardly affected, and subjectively, there was no audible penalty for running the Scythe Slipstream 120mm fan at this speed. It sounded the same with the Scythe fan on or off.

Configuration #4: With the Big Fan on Med -

Some readers will undoubtedly want to know how much cooling improves with the Big Fan on medium. Let's not keep you in the dark. The first line in the table is Config #3.

Config #3: ATI X1950XTX, 200mm fan + 120mm Scythe intake fan
LOAD
20cm Fan
12cm Fan
AC
GPU
CPU
HDD
ATITool + CPUBurn x2
low
680rpm
251W
78°C
55°C
39°C
23.5
med
680rpm
251W
78°C
52°C
35°C
28
med
880rpm
251W
75°C
52°C
35°C
30
low
880rpm
251W
78°C
54°C
38°C
27
med
880/low*
252W
73°C
51°C
35°C
31

Turning the big fan to medium led to a 3°C drop on the CPU and a 4°C drop on the HDD, but the GPU temperature did not change.

So, the front fan was turned up to full speed. That effected a 3°C drop in the GPU temperature, and no other change. Slowing the big fan down to low while keeping the front fan at full speed pushed the GPU temp back up to where we began, and the CPU and HDD both up by 2~3°C.

Finally the last test has an asterisk in the "12cm Fan" column — it's trying to indicate that the stock back panel fan was also turned on. The difference in noise between this setting and the middle one (big fan on med, front Scythe fan on full) is very minor, hard to hear. There is a measurable improvement in cooling.

When set to medium speed, the big fan's air turbulence noise (whooosh) dominates, along with a bit of rattling from it at close distance. It's not an unpleasant sound, but considerably higher than the lab's ambient acoustics, higher than most home offices' ambient level. Some folks won't mind it; there are no obvious tonal nasties.

The front fan works against some degree of impedance when the door is closed. This may be one reason that the overall noise seems to increase higher than expected when the Scythe fan in front is running at its full 880 RPM speed (according to SpeedFan and the motherboard monitoring).

MISC NOTES

1. HDD location - You may recall from a previous photo that the WD drive was mounted in the top HDD bay, in the slot closest to the left (main) side panel. I wondered whether putting it in the middle, allowing air to flow more easily around both of the drive's sides would help keep it cooler. The change was made, and with just the big fan on low, the temperature did drop in idle, from 39°C down to 37°C.

2. Dust buildup will occur despite the filters. Because the fans are set up in a "negative pressure" configuration, air is pulled in from all holes in the case other than the exhaust fans. While the front vents are filtered, there are many holes on the back panel that are not. This means you still need to pay some attention to cleaning out the system once in a while, depending on environment and positioning.

3. The effects of the main front door, the slatted intake vent covers, and dust filters were all explored while the system was under full CPU/GPU load (ATITool + CPUBurn x2), in Configuration #3 above. The results are summarized below.

Thermal Impact of Doors and Covers
Main Door
Vent Covers
Filters
GPU
CPU
HDD
closed
closed
on
78°C
55°C
39°C
open
closed
on
74°C
53°C
37°C
open
open
on
72°C
52°C
37°C
open
open
off
71°C
51°C
36°C
closed
open
on
75°C
53°C
37°C

Opening the main front door had the biggest temperature effect, especially on the video card. This option also had the biggest impact on noise; it rose just a little over one [email protected], maybe two, but the subjective increase in HDD noise was significant. This is important if the system is placed on the desk.

The inner vent covers had a smaller effect, and the filters made hardly any difference at all. All of these effects will vary with the amount of air you're trying to push through the intake vents; i.e., with the number of fans used, and the speed they're set to.

The best compromise of acoustics, cooling and cosmetic appeal is probably removing the vent covers, while keeping the front door closed. This is the last combination detailed above. There are some significant improvements in cooling, without any acoustic penalty, and the filters do help block dust. Because the internal steel chassis is painted black, the appearance is not severely degraded when the door is open; it's still monolithic black.



It looks OK to me with the vent covers removed.

5. The power supply seemed to get plenty of airflow through the bottom facing vent to keep itself cool under the test loads. Its fan never sped up. This may not hold true for all PSUs; the Enermax Modu82+ is exceptional in its acoustics. Do not place this PC directly on a carpeted floor. On a carpet, it must be raised up a bit to make sure there's clearance enough so the bottom facing vent doesn't get blocked. Also, if the case is placed on the floor, check and clean that bottom filter often.

6. An alternative design idea: Since the lower chamber intake vent is on the bottom, why not just extend the vent to directly under the PSU, position it "right side up" and allow it to draw air directly from the outside? Then the partition wall could be eliminated without any effect on overall cooling, a couple of inches of could have been shaved off the height, and the overall price could have been reduced substantially as well.

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 [email protected]: href="/files/sounds/cases/p180mini-23dba-bigfanlow.mp3">One meter recording,
  • Antec Mini P180 with 200mm and 120mm fans both on low, 24 [email protected]: href="/files/sounds/cases/p180mini-24dba-2fanslow.mp3">One meter
  • Antec Mini P180 with 200mm on medium, 28 [email protected]: href="/files/sounds/cases/p180mini-28dba-bigfanmid.mp3" target="_blank">One meter
  • Antec Mini P180 with 200mm on high, 35 [email protected]: href="/files/sounds/cases/p180mini-35dba-bigfanhi.mp3" target="_blank">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 [email protected] 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 [email protected] 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.

* * *


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
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 [email protected] 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
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 [email protected] 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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