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Antec SOLO II Mid-Tower Chassis Review

Date: December 9, 2011
Author(s): Ryan Perry

Antec is known for making a variety of quality cases to suit different needs, with its Sonata family aiming to deliver clean styling, functionality and silence all in one. The SOLO II becomes the latest entry to that family, and in some ways, it’s very different than other silent cases on the market. It’s time to find out if that’s a good thing.



Introduction

Silence is the name of the game for today’s case review and Antec’s refresh of the original SOLO, appropriately named SOLO II. In the past, I’ve had the chance to check out a couple of “silent” cases, one of which impressed while the other fell short of expectations. So, I’m going into this review hoping for the best but fearing the worst. That’s probably not how the folks at Antec want to see this review start out.

Antec is no stranger to the world of quiet computing as it has built an entire product line around different variations of the SOLO and Sonata cases over the years. Each has aimed to keep system noise to a minimum and trap it within the case itself. It’s not a new idea, but the approach with the SOLO II is certainly different than most, as you’ll soon see.

The original SOLO had some really fun features, many of which return for round two, so even though our previous testing of cases in this market segment has been a mixed bag, it’s hard not to at least hope for a winner. Let’s get started.

The front of the SOLO II takes its styling cues from the original, but with a few updates. Made of anodized aluminum, the panel features two 5.25″ bays at the top, the blue hard drive activity LED at around the midway point on the left and the I/O area across from it that takes up most of the remaining space on along the right edge.

Antec Solo II Mid-Tower Chassis

The front panel I/O area is made up of the power button at the top, which has a translucent ring that glows blue when the system is powered on. Below are the reset button, 3.5mm headset and microphone jacks, two USB 3.0 ports (connected internally) and two USB 2.0 ports.

Antec Solo II Mid-Tower Chassis

On either side are vents that run down the length of the front panel to help with ventilation. Other than that there isn’t much to look at since both of the side panels are solid. This time around Antec has chosen to change the way the SOLO II dampens system noise by doing away with the outer plastic coating that the original sported, but more on that shortly.

Antec Solo II Mid-Tower Chassis

The right panel is held on with standard screws while the left uses captive, spring-loaded thumbscrews that remain attached even after they have been loosened and the panel removed.

Antec Solo II Mid-Tower Chassis

Also on the left side as we head towards the back of the case is a metal loop that matches up with one on the back panel to allow for an optional lock to be used so all of the components stay safe and sound. Both panels along with the top have a flawless piano finish that is very pretty to look at, but difficult to photograph.

Antec Solo II Mid-Tower Chassis

Starting at the top of the back panel is the power supply opening, below and to the left is the motherboard I/O opening and a 120mm True-Quiet exhaust fan with the two speed external control switch to the right. Making up the rest of the rear panel are the 7 PCI slot covers and an extra vented area to the right.

Antec Solo II Mid-Tower Chassis

The top panel is mostly solid with the exception of a vented area towards the back that allows the power supply to be mounted with the fan up in order to draw cool air in. This vent is removable but the case needs to be opened to do so.

Antec Solo II Mid-Tower Chassis

Things on the bottom of the case are sparse with the exception of a very soft silicone foot in each corner that absorbs vibrations created by the components to ensure they aren’t transferred to the surface that the case is sitting on resulting in additional system noise.

Antec Solo II Mid-Tower Chassis

The minimalistic exterior hides much of what made the SOLO an inventive case back in 2007, so read on for a look at the inner workings.

Interior

So, those side panels are pretty boring, right? Wrong. It’s a little hard to see, but Antec has laid down a 1mm thick polycarbonate layer on the inside of each to help absorb internal noise instead of wrapping them in plastic as the previous model had done.

Antec Solo II Mid-Tower Chassis

In order to remove the front panel, the left one needs to be removed first. Then it’s a simple matter of pulling out on the tabs that run down the front of the frame to release the panel and allow it to swing open. It can then be pulled up and away cleanly leaving all connections on the frame.

Antec Solo II Mid-Tower Chassis

With the panel out of the way we get to have a look at the removable plastic fan filters that pop off by pulling out on the tabs. These filters will help guard against dust that may be pulled into the system if any optional 120mm fans are installed.

Antec Solo II Mid-Tower Chassis

Loosening another captive thumbscrew above the top filter allows the filter and door to swing down in order to access the three elevated hard drive bays, each with a tray that slides out the front.

Antec Solo II Mid-Tower Chassis

In most cases the 3.5″ drive cage is found at the lower front portion of the case, but in the SOLO II they have been elevated to about the midway point. This allows the now open space to become home to a 2.5″ drive that mounts vertically onto the motherboard tray. There are four raised mounting points that would make an ideal place to mount a solid-state drive given that there are no moving parts to transfer vibration to the case.

Antec Solo II Mid-Tower Chassis

The elevated drive bays in the SOLO II are anything but ordinary and offer different options for mounting hard drives. 3.5″ and 2.5″ drives can be secured onto soft, silicone mounts through the bottom of the trays with the included hardware. For extra sound dampening, users can suspend 3.5″ drives in flexible bands to eliminate the transfer of vibrations to the frame all together.

Above the drive cage are the 5.25″ drive bays. Devices can be installed in this location by using the included rails that are neatly stashed…

Antec Solo II Mid-Tower Chassis

…on the bottom of the case. With the exception of drive rails there’s nothing else to look at here unless you want to have a peek at the front panel connections.

Antec Solo II Mid-Tower Chassis

The main section of the motherboard tray has a couple of features. Supporting mini-ITX, micro-ATX and ATX form factors, the first is a cable management area that runs along the lower right edge of the motherboard where front panel and data connections can be run. There is also a very large cut out around the CPU area to help with installation and removal of aftermarket coolers.

Antec Solo II Mid-Tower Chassis

On the back panel are the PCI slot covers secured in place using standard screws and a better view of the exhaust fan mounted on silicone pegs to, you guessed it, absorb vibration. As mentioned before, this fan also has a two speed external controller for those who really want to tone things down.

Antec Solo II Mid-Tower Chassis

Towards the top of the case is a cross brace that provides extra rigidity while supporting the weight of the power supply. At the very top is another polycarbonate layer and the tabs of the mesh cover that need to be straightened in order to remove the vent for the power supply.

Antec Solo II Mid-Tower Chassis

A shot of the interior from the opposite side shows off the cable management hooks on the drive cage to help keep wires tucked up tight. This will likely be very handy considering there is only a little over 1/4″ of clearance between the side panel, meaning all but the thinnest cables are likely to cause clearance issues.

Antec Solo II Mid-Tower Chassis

Included with the SOLO II are the usual motherboard standoffs and screws to secure the power supply and 5.25″, 3.5″ and 2.5″ devices. There are also a few zip ties as well as a brief overview of the case, a warranty notice and a contest letter enticing users to register their product. There is no manual included with the SOLO II but it can be downloaded from Antec’s website.

Antec Solo II Mid-Tower Chassis

Some of these features really have me itching to throw some gear inside of the SOLO II. When completed we’ll look at how well it stacks up against other “silent” cases as well as more enthusiast-oriented offerings.

Installation & Testing

I can’t remember the last time I built a system where the power supply was mounted at the top, but I have to admit that I still like routing cables in this configuration. The cross brace was removed first once two screws from the back panel and side of the 5.25″ drive bays were out of the way. The power supply secured in place perfectly with the fan facing up to draw air in through the vent, but it can also be oriented with the fan facing down.

Antec Solo II Mid-Tower Chassis

There were no problems to report with the motherboard and cooler either, although space was tight. The online manual goes into detail about how to install one of Antec’s all-in-one liquid coolers, so I knew that our Corsair H60 would fit easily. Removing the stock exhaust fan also required the controller to be removed from the back panel by pushing out on two small clips on either side.

Antec Solo II Mid-Tower Chassis

Installing hard drives was also easy. The silicon mounts need to be moved to the alternate holes in the drive tray to accommodate 2.5″ drives but our 3.5″ test drive installed securely through the bottom with the help of a screw driver.

Antec Solo II Mid-Tower Chassis

The suspension system was also tested with a drive tray removed. It made me a bit uneasy to have a drive floating in a case but there were no problems and the drive stayed in place surprisingly well when the system was rocked side to side and front to back – although I wouldn’t subject to much more.

Sadly, our 2.5″ solid state drive used for mock-up purposes was not available in order to test the drive trays and area on the motherboard tray, but both should go off without a hitch using the included hardware.

Antec Solo II Mid-Tower Chassis

Even though the SOLO II is on the small side, users with large GPUs are in luck thanks to the elevated drive cages providing a whopping 15″ of room from front to back, which is more than enough for even a NVIDA GTX 590 or AMD 6990. Some of this space will be lost if an intake fan is installed in the bottom front area but not to the point that it should interfere with either card.

Antec Solo II Mid-Tower Chassis

Using the drive rails that are secured to the floor of the case our (dusty) mock up optical drive slid into the 5.25″ bay without a hitch but required each rail to be secured with four of the included screws.

Antec Solo II Mid-Tower Chassis

Finally, here’s a look at the finished product:

Antec Solo II Mid-Tower Chassis

On the other side I made heavy use of the cable management hooks. One of them did pop out when too much strain was put on it, but choosing a different hook that allowed for a little extra slack remedied this.

There were no problems routing cables from the power supply or the front panel although running the audio cable through the hole in the motherboard tray cut it close as it just reached the header at the bottom rear of our test motherboard.

Antec Solo II Mid-Tower Chassis

Testing

All of our testing is performed in a near steady 20°C ambient environment with readings taken before and after with a standard room thermometer. AIDA64 Extreme Engineer is used for monitoring and recording all system temperatures throughout the testing process.

Windows is allowed to sit idle for 10 minutes after startup to ensure all services are loaded before recording the idle CPU and GPU temperatures. CPU load temperatures are generated by performing a 20 minute run of OCCT LINPACK using 90% of the available memory, while GPU load temperatures are generated by OCCT’s built in test, also for 20 minutes.

Stock CPU settings were obtained by setting the AI Tweaker option with the BIOS to Auto and the maximum stable overclock frequency of 4.0GHz was obtained after extensive testing to ensure stability. The final clocks for the GPU are 760MHz on the core and 1000MHz QDR (4000MHz relative) for the memory with the voltage increased to 1.087V using MSI’s Afterburner overclocking utility. As with the CPU overclock, testing was done prior to ensure full stability.

AIDA64 Extreme Edition MSI Afterburner

OCCT 3.1.0

The components used for testing are:

Component
Techgage Test System
Processor
Intel Core i5-661 – Dual-Core (3.33GHz)
Motherboard
ASUS P7H55D-M EVO mATX – H55-based
Memory
Corsair Dominator 2x2GB DDR3-1600 7-8-7-20-2T
Graphics
EVGA GeForce GTX 470
Audio
On-Board Audio
Storage
Western Digital 2TB Green
Power Supply
Antec TP-750 Blue
Chassis
Antec SOLO II
Cooler Master HAF 932 Advanced
Cooler Master Silencio 550
Corsair Carbide 400R
Corsair Obsidian 650D
Corsair SE White 600T
NZXT H2
NZXT Tempest 410 Elite
Silverstone Raven RV03
Thermaltake Chaser MK-1
Thermaltake Level 10 GT
CPU Cooling
Corsair H60 (Exhaust Configuration)
Et cetera
Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit

Antec Solo II Mid-Tower Chassis

Antec Solo II Mid-Tower Chassis

With only a single 120mm exhaust fan, or in our case the fan from a Corsair H60, it’s not surprising that the temperatures recorded with the SOLO II are higher than most other cases in our database. When compared to the competition in the quiet computing market however, the picture is quite rosy.

It beat out the Cooler Master Silencio 550 in all regards by at least 2 degrees and also kept our GTX 470 from crashing during overclocked load testing. The NZXT H2 wasn’t much further ahead with the SOLO II only trailing by 2 degrees during overclocked load testing of the CPU and a single degree between the GPU under the same test. This may not seem like much, but remember that the H2 comes with two 120mm intake fans on the front whereas the SOLO II doesn’t.

How could a case with less intake come so close to one that clearly has a more robust stock cooling setup? The sound dampening material. Antec has chosen to go with a plastic layer instead of the typical foam that many manufacturers use when building a silent case. This allows more heat to be transferred to the metal of the case and radiated outside instead of creating pockets of heated air.

Foam holds in more heat but also more sound. Even though the SOLO II was not noisy by any stretch of the imagination and allowed for overall system noise to be kept quite low, it did not much the sound dampening abilities of the Silencio or H2.

From build quality to installation to the test results, the SOLO II performed very well when compared to other cases in its intended market, but there are a few things to take into consideration before opening your wallet.

Final Thoughts

After spending some time with the Antec SOLO II, I’m going to say that we have a winner in loser’s clothing. This may cause a few people to pass it by if they see it on a store shelf, but hear me out.

On one hand, users will get a super-solid case with virtually no flexing in any of the panels or frame, loads of features and a case designed to be as quiet as possible while providing capable cooling in the stock configuration all wrapped up in an understated package. The SOLO II may seem boring to some, but it would be right at home in an office or used as a home theater PC.

If looks are your thing, the SOLO II has you covered if you tend to shy away from flashy lights and colors. Looks are subjective, but one thing that isn’t is the finish. Good luck finding a blemish in the paint on this case. It’s truly perfect and one of the best I have ever seen.

For those who need a case that will hold higher-end enthusiast components, there’s room for that as well thanks to the elevated hard drive bays. Having room for only three 3.5″ drives may not be enough for some, so expansion is somewhat limited.

Antec Solo II Mid-Tower Chassis

The only downside that I can see aside from the fact that installing an ATX motherboard is a lesson in patience (just for kicks I tested that out later) is the fact that the SOLO is currently available for ~$130, which is quite pricey when you consider that the NZXT H2 can be had for just under $100 and offers more room, a more robust cooling and less noise along with tool-less drive and expansion card installation.

Due to the price tag it would have been nice to see at least one front fan included. Adding in a single fan after, depending on the model, could push the price tag up to $150, which is a good chunk of change for any case.

Unfortunately, there was no time to run an additional round of testing to capture some unofficial temperatures with at least one fan added to the front of the case, but I feel confident in saying that the SOLO II would come close to, if not best the NZXT H2 in terms of cooling power.

Pricing aside, the SOLO II is a solid contender in the silent case market and one that I would consider myself if I were in need of one. It looks great, all components should install flawlessly, it provides a wide range of features to keep system noise to the lowest possible levels and would look great sitting beside an entertainment system as a home theater PC or in an office disguised as a workstation but hiding a hefty gaming system.

Antec Solo II Mid-Tower Chassis
Antec Solo II Mid-Tower Chassis

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