by Rory Buszka on February 21, 2007 in Mid-Tower
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€¦
One of the SOLOâ€™s major selling points is its complement of features designed to keep noise inside. However, equally important is the impact that these noise-reduction features may have upon system cooling. Before moving the hardware, idle and load temperatures of three heat-producing components were measured and recorded in the systemâ€™s original case, a Thermaltake Tsunami Dream, which is representative of most enthusiast-oriented ATX cases currently available.
ATITool was used to stress the CPU, Northbridge, and GPU, and the same test with default settings was run for each configuration tested. For each temperature measurement, the motherboardâ€™s onboard data acquisition system and internal thermistors were used. Through all testing, Cool nâ€™ Quiet features of the motherboard were enabled, as they will likely be in actual use. The video cardâ€™s fan was thermally controlled by board itself. Temperatures were read through ATITool and ASUS Probe software. Accuracy isnâ€™t key here â€“ itâ€™s consistency and relative change.
In the Antec SOLO, the low speed and high speed operating modes of the Tri-Cool case fan were tested. The â€˜lowâ€™ speed setting yielded silent operation, and cooling performance that Iâ€™d consider adequate for most users. The â€˜highâ€™ speed setting produced a significant amount of noise and airflow, producing cooling that even outperformed the Thermaltake Tsunami Dream, though this amount of cooling isnâ€™t really necessary for most applications. This is the only noise-producing component that is bundled with the case, so weâ€™ll only evaluate the noise of the case fan. The stock cooling should be good enough for preserving livable noise levels with a balance of cooling.
The SOLOâ€™s damping material had some effect on the amount of noise that was able to penetrate the walls of the case, though most of it simply escaped from the rear. The noise was dulled, but still detectable. The primary contributor to the machineâ€™s noise signature was an overenthusiastic fan on the motherboard chipset, with the next worst offender being the Radeon X1800 cardâ€™s cooler. The damping material on the side panels helps reduce the offensiveness of the noise, but itâ€™s no substitute for choosing quiet-running components in the first place. The seek noise from the hard drives mounted to the grommets in the SOLO case were much quieter than they had been in the Tsunami Dream as well.
Those who wish to improve the cooling scheme of the SOLO case have few options, but thereâ€™s little need for any improvement in the first place. That said, if relying on a single 120mm case fan just isnâ€™t good enough for you, install a pair of 92mm fans in the front fan spots. However, adding these fans unnecessarily will only increase the noise produced by the machine with marginal cooling improvement; test your hardware in the SOLO first before deciding that you need additional case fans. If you want to remain noise-conscious, but just need those extra case fans, I recommend Evercoolâ€™s â€œEvergreenâ€ fans, which Iâ€™ve found to be extremely quiet even at full voltage.
In particular, it looks as though the CPU benefits most from running the SOLOâ€™s case fan at high speed. However, the difference in temperature between low speed and high speed was never more than 2 degrees C for any component. One factor that likely handicapped the caseâ€™s cooling was the fact that the motherboard did not come with an I/O shield, and I did not source one in time for this review. Perhaps in a pinch, one could have been made from cardboard, ghetto-style. However, I donâ€™t suspect that it would have had a significant effect â€“ the additional airflow short-circuit created was no worse than that created by the caseâ€™s rear intake vent. The case still cools about as well as the Tsunami Dream, which also did not have an I/O shield installed.
As I remarked before, I entered into this review with a few assumptions about Antec and their products. Even so, the SOLO surpassed my expectations. I have no reservations in saying that this is quite likely the finest case I have ever encountered, and despite my every attempt to retain stern-faced objectivity, I canâ€™t help gushing about the SOLOâ€™s myriad virtues. From looks to cooling to structural integrity, the SOLO is a class act, as well as its white-painted cousin, the P150.
If the P150 was glamorous in its pearly â€œpiano whiteâ€ paint job, the SOLO is absolutely captivating in gloss black, with its aluminum-skinned front panel providing an appealing contrast. This case is really a knockout when it comes to looks, reflecting Antecâ€™s attention to detail in all aspects of the design of this case. Inside, thoughtful features abound, including the cable-management clips on the hidden side of the 3.5â€ bays, and the elastic hard drive suspensions, as well as the silicone grommets on the bay sleds themselves. This case is a joy to work on, and installing hardware is a snap.
In addition, itâ€™s refreshing to see that Antec has demonstrated a proactive attitude toward noise, with the inclusion of a silent-running (on low speed) TriCool case fan, vinyl damping sheets on the side panels, and various methods of isolating the vibration of the hard drives. This doesnâ€™t mean the SOLO sacrifices any cooling ability â€“ its dual 92mm intake fans can move more air than a single 120mm fan operating at the same speed, and the addition of a passive rear vent near the expansion slots provides ample make-up air. Iâ€™d like to see quieting features like these become more commonplace as companies begin to demonstrate a greater commitment to reducing noise.
Nothing is perfect, and the SOLO has a few minor shortcomings. First of all, removing and reinstalling the power supply with the motherboard and CPU heatsink installed is virtually impossible, especially with tall CPU heatsinks like the Scythe Ninja or Arctic Cooling Freezer. Thereâ€™s not exactly a lot of space in this case. A full-ATX motherboard needs to be angled as it is lowered into the case, which may cause difficulty if youâ€™ve already mounted an extremely large or tall CPU heatsink. The front filter is restrictive â€“ I simply discarded it. Also, the painted exterior is easy to scratch or fingerprint. For this reason, use care when handling â€“ this might not be the case you want to tote to every LAN party, if thatâ€™s your thing. Give this case the white-glove treatment.
The Antec SOLO is every bit a high-end case. I can heartily give it my fullest recommendation and a TechGage score of 9. If white is your color, check out the Antec P150 â€“ it shares all the features of the SOLO, but also includes an efficient, nearly-inaudible 430W power supply. Finally, a special thanks to Antec for supplying the review sample. This product was a pleasure to review.
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- Amazing styling
- Excellent Finish
- Beefy Design
- Excellent Cooling
- Solid Construction
- Thoughtful Conveniences
- Noise-Reduction Features
- Not very roomy