In a world of gratuitously flashy enthusiast PC cases, Antec sets itself apart by focusing on elegant design and a superb user experience. Their new SOLO case embodies these two ideals, offering a blend of style and substance as well as some thoughtful features aimed at convenience and low noise. Is this perfection in a computer case? Read on to find outâ€¦
Building a System
Once again, itâ€™s another of my PC-enthusiast friends who has volunteered their rig for my mad-scientist tinkering. Zachâ€™s former case, a Thermaltake Tsunami Dream, was on its last legs. Its thin aluminum skin was dented and scratched, and it had certainly seen better days. It just wasnâ€™t built to last. Internally, its design is extremely similar to the Antec SLK3700 used as the reference in my last case review. The Tsunami Dream had some issues accommodating the extended-length ATi Radeon X1800 video card; weâ€™ll see if thatâ€™s a major factor in the SOLO.
CPU: AMD Athlon 64 X2 4400+ CPU
Motherboard: ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe Motherboard
Memory: 2 x 512MB PC2700
Video: ATI Radeon X1800XT 512MB Video Card
Sound: Onboard HD Audio
Storage: Two 7200RPM Hard Drives: 1 WD, 1 Seagate
PSU: Antec SmartPower 2.0 Power Supply
Etcetera: Windows XP Professional w/ SP2, DVD-RW Drive
Cooling: Stock AMD CPU cooler
The first thing youâ€™ll want to do when building a system in the SOLO case is install the power supply. If your CPU heatsink is especially tall, you wonâ€™t be able to extract the power supply; there isnâ€™t enough room to simply slide the PSU out the side of the case. The task of installing the power supply is straightforward enough. However, once the motherboard is installed, it will need to be removed if access to the PSU is desired in the future. The hardware pack is zip-tied inside one of the 5.25â€ bays; youâ€™ll need these screws later. Also, all the installation was done with the case laying on its side on a towel â€“ I didnâ€™t want to risk scratching the Soloâ€™s finish carelessly.
The SOLO comes with four of its motherboard standoffs pre-installed; the rest youâ€™ll have to install yourself based on the form factor of the motherboard youâ€™re using. There isnâ€™t enough room to simply drop the motherboard straight in â€“ it had to be inserted at an angle. Installation of the expansion cards went quickly, without fighting against a screwless card-retention mechanism. That had been my biggest complaint with Zachâ€™s Tsunami Dream case â€“ double-slot cards like the ATI wouldnâ€™t go easily into and out of the retention mechanism.
Here, however, dealing with the big Radeon card was much easier. The Radeon card on this particular motherboard probably wouldnâ€™t interfere with the second hard drive sled, but the hard drives were installed in the third and fourth sleds anyway, for the cleanest and most accessible installation. A longer card, like a GeForce 8800, would likely block the second hard drive space, with an SLI rig also blocking the third hard drive space, limiting the total number of hard drives to two.
Installing hard drives in this case is a breeze â€“ simply slide out the mounting sled, use the special provided screws (with a large lag section for use with the grommets), and slide the sled back into place. I didnâ€™t try mounting a 3.5â€ hard drive in the shock cords â€“ they are known to allow the drive to move back and forth within them, making them unsuitable for situations where the case must be moved frequently. Both hard drives were mounted to the sleds instead, which is where youâ€™ll want to put your own drives if you plan on moving your computer around (say, to a LAN party).
These shock cords are improved over the rubber material used in the first-generation P150 case, which was known to snap unexpectedly and spend the drive tumbling onto the drive sled below. The second-generation P150 case features the same improved shock cords as the SOLO. This method of drive mounting would be most useful for those who focus on a thoroughly noiseless PC; for whom even the seek noise of a hard drive is too much.
After installing everything, it was a simple matter of tucking the front panel cables out of the way, wrapping them around the cable-management hooks behind the 3.5â€ bays. The resulting installation is significantly cleaner than in the previous case, with far less extraneous cabling. The modular cables of Zachâ€™s Antec SmartPower 2.0 500W power supply arenâ€™t exactly conducive to a neat wiring job, but itâ€™s quite livable, since most of the cable clutter is confined to the top of the case.
With the system installation complete, letâ€™s take a look at the difference in cooling between the Antec SOLO case and the Tsunami dream, as well as the successfulness of the SOLOâ€™s low-noise features.