Antec P180 review
There’s no doubting the power of today’s processors, but the fans that help to keep them cool can certainly make a racket. It doesn’t have to be that way, though, especially if you’re prepared to build your own system. But first you need to find a chassis that fits the bill.
The P180 is slightly larger than most ATX cases but benefits from minimalist looks. The size is due to the unusual internal design – the power supply goes at the bottom of the chassis, with the main section above housing a standard ATX motherboard, two 3.5in internal bays, an external 3.5in bay and four 5.25in bays. Back in the bottom compartment, there are four more 3.5in internal bays. There’s also a duct over the expansion card area, with room to fit an 80mm fan to exhaust straight out of the back.
By tackling every hotspot separately, each component doesn’t interfere too much with any other, so cooling (and therefore noise) is kept to a minimum. Three 120mm diameter fans are preinstalled – far quieter than the 80mm fans in most chassis. One fan is behind the power supply, drawing air around it and any hard disks installed there, with two at the top rear. One of these is in the standard position with the other, unusually, blowing upwards through a grille in the top of the case. Each fan has a speed switch, with low, medium and high settings.
You’ll need access all-round during the build, so the first job is to remove both of the plastic and aluminium side panels along with the cooling duct. The motherboard is the first to go in, and then the rubber-lined PSU cage is removed. Once mounted in the cage, the PSU cables are fed through a conduit to the rest of the components up top. The hard disk caddy slides out easily and the disk themselves fit into clip-in trays, resting on top of rubber grommets to reduce vibration-related noise.
To test the cooling power, we used an Asus A8N SLI Deluxe motherboard, an Athlon 64 X2 4800+, a hot-running, passively-cooled nVidia GeForce 6600GT graphics card and a 36GB Western Digital Raptor. Running just one of the top-sectioned fans at its lowest speed, we couldn’t get the system temperature above 49 degrees – even after running it flat out for an hour. The temperature returned to its idle state of 34 degrees impressively quickly too. Best of all, the system was notably quieter than most of the PCs in our Labs, although the whine from the motherboard fan was still audible from a few feet away.
There are some minus points to the P180 – there’s only provision for two isolated hard disks, and the lock on the front of the case is laughably ineffectual – surprising given the luxurious over-engineering evident elsewhere. We like the rolled edges throughout, though, along with the slick drive caddies and little touches such as a spare screws box attached to the hard disk cage.
You’re left with two options: there’s enough cooling to get away with top-end and/or overclocked components, or you can choose the quiet route. Using a passive motherboard heatsink (such as Zalman’s ZM-NB32J, costing £7 from www.quietpc.com), other passively cooled components and a quiet CPU cooler, the P180 has great potential. As such, for those after both performance and discretion, the Antec P180 is an excellent, albeit slightly expensive, place to start.