Before we can get to the interior of the chassis, we first have to remove the side panels which are held in place with two thumb screws each. The panels are pretty plain and as we noted earlier are interchangeable. The panels themselves are composed of two layers: one layer of sheet steel on the outside and a layer of plastic to help with acoustic dampening. The panels are not as thick as the P183, but should do a decent job blocking sound. For systems that need to be extra quiet, sound dampening foam can easily be added to these panels.
After removing the side panels, we get our first look at the interior of this chassis. Unlike the P183 or P193, the interior is painted black which we think looks great. Sure, this chassis does not come with a window, but we always like to see a painted interior. The first design change that jumped out at us is that Antec has decided to drop the dual-chamber design from the P183, P193 and mini P180 that physically separated the PSU from the rest of the system.
Speaking of the power supply, the mounting for the power supply is pretty standard and rests on a few pieces of metal and plastic above the PSU intake filter. One thing missing here is the trademark rubber strips for the PSU to rest on that we are used to seeing in Antec's Performance series of chassis. This will likely not greatly affect noise levels, but it seems a bit odd to us to have the rubber strips removed and have the PSU just rest on the bare metal/plastic. Since one of the major marketing points of this chassis is the support for up to four video cards and will need a large PSU to power them, we would also have liked to see some sort of retention mechanism to help secure large, heavy power supplies. Even something as simple as a pair of zip-tie mounts on either of the PSU would be greatly appreciated.
Above the power supply is the mounting for the motherboard. As we noted earlier, this chassis supports XL-ATX motherboards to allow for the installation of four video cards. What is odd is that on every XL-ATX motherboard we could find (which is not many) there was an extra series of mounting holes at the bottom of the motherboard. While this chassis will physically fit an XL-ATX motherboard, there are no standoffs to accommodate these extra mounting points.
Around the motherboard are four separate grommet-lined cabling holes for easy and clean cable routing. On the back side of the motherboard tray, we see the plethora of cable management options. The first thing to note however is not the zip-tie mounts, but rather how much room there is between the motherboard tray and the side panel: almost a full inch of space! Along with the standard zip-tie mount points, there are also several locations that have metal clips which are in the perfect position to hold the front LED and power/reset switch cables.
Overall, this chassis has some of the best cable management we've seen. The only recommendation we would have it to add a few more zip-tie mounts towards the bottom of the motherboard tray near the PSU to help secure any unused PSU cables. Often the hardest cables to manage are all of the unneeded power cables, and one or two zip-tie points at the very bottom would allow them all to be secured at the very bottom, completely out of the way.
We came across our first major problem with this chassis when we tried out the metal clips for the front LED/switches: the power and HDD LED's are simply too short. On any motherboard that does not have the front LED/switch connectors on the far right side of the motherboard, these cables simply cannot be routed behind the motherboard tray and still reach the headers. On most modern motherboards this will not be a problem, but on some boards (many Intel motherboards such as the Intel S1200BTL) these cables will have to be stretched directly across the chassis in order to reach. This is a pretty big problem that hopefully Antec addresses quickly.
Above the motherboard there is a circuit board that the rear and top fans plug into that provides power to all three fans with a single molex cable. This is a nice touch and will certainly be appreciated when it comes time to wire in this chassis.
At the front of the chassis are the mounting for the various sizes of drives. The 5.25" drives use tool-less mounting, which we at Puget Systems tend to avoid since tool-less mounting is normally much less secure than mounting a drive with screws. The tool-less mounting for the 5.25" drives in the P280 however is more secure than any tool-less drive mounting we've seen. The right side is simply a pair of pressure tabs, but the left side features a plastic latch that operates like a see-saw. When a 5.25" drive is inserted, the back side of the plastic clip gets pushed out. Since it is on a pivot, this forces the two metal pins on the front inwards, securing the drive in place. This mounting is pretty good for full-size devices but half-length devices like fan controllers will be a bit unsecure due to the lack of a secure mount on the right side. Since half-length devices don't have as much surface area for these kinds of clips to contact, this raises the possibility that the right side of the device could come loose.
Moving down, we see the two dedicated 2.5" drive mounts. These mounts use pressure tabs on both sides, as well as a single screw on the interior. This mounting is decent and the drives should not ever come loose, but it does allow the drive to pivot around the single screw. With an SSD this should not be an issue, but if a platter drive is used vibration noise will become a problem. This design is also a bit odd as the drive sticks so far out. This makes it line up with the tabs on the 3.5" drive trays, but we would rather see the 2.5" drives mount a bit deeper. As it is, the connectors on the 2.5" drive are a full 4 inches recessed from the back side which makes it difficult to get the SATA power and data cables connected.
Below the 2.5" drive mounts are the 6 trays for 3.5" or 2.5" drives. 3.5" drives mount into the tray with long screws through rubber grommets, while 2.5" drives mount directly to the tray. The trays themselves are held in the drive cage with a pair of plastic tabs. To remove the trays, simply squeeze the tabs together and pull out the tray. This type of tray mounting has always been something we at Puget Systems has tried to avoid since there are only a few small pieces of plastic that are holding the drive in place. The advantage to the tray mounting in the P280 is that since the tabs stick so far out, they are only .25" away from the side panel. This means that even if the plastic tabs do fail, the drive cannot come out far enough to come completely out of the drive cage and cause damage to the rest of the system. Having a hard drive moving back and forth that quarter inch during shipping is by no means good for the drive, but at least the damage would be limited to just the drive itself and not the entire system.
Just inside the 3.5" drive cage is the mounting for the optional interior 120mm fans. In our experience, mounting fans here rather than in the very front of the chassis gets you the best cooling for both the motherboard and video cards. The mounting itself is based around a pair of plastic clips that holds the fan in place along with four pegs the keep the fan from moving up and down. Simply put, we do not like this mounting at all. It will likely be fine for those that are building a computer for themselves, but there is simply no way that a fan would stay in place during shipping. With very little effort, we could easily pull the fan out from its mount without ever touching the plastic tabs.
Antec TwoCool Fans
With this P280, Antec has moved away from their standard Antec TriCool 120mm fans and has instead included Antec TwoCool fans. Like the Antec TriCool, these fans have a switch that allows you to control the fan's speed. Like the name implies, the TriCool has a three-way switch (Low, Medium, and High) while the TwoCool has a two-way switch (Low and High). At first, we believed that the TwoCool was basically the same as the Tricool only lacking a medium setting, but after we first heard the fan spin up we quickly realized that we needed to do some additional testing as this fan was clearly quieter than the Antec TriCool.
To get a good feel for these fans, we will be comparing both airflow and noise against the two fans that are used in our case fan upgrade kits. Antec TriCool 120mm fans are used in our adjustable and LED kits and Scythe Slip Stream 800RPM 120mm fans are used in our quiet case fan package running at either 5 or 7 volts.
To measure the airflow of these fans, we used an anemometer (Extech AN100) with a custom adapter to adapt our 120mm fans to the smaller 80mm diameter of the anemometer sensor. The adapter is 200mm long, giving us a smooth, gradual slope from the 120mm side to the 80mm side. Using this type of adapter means that our CFM readings will be nowhere near the manufacturer's specifications which are taken in an open-air environment, but should do a good job at giving us comparison readings. It will also be more real-world as a fan installed in a chassis is never going to perform at the manufacture rated open-air CFM levels.
For our noise measurements, our dBa meter was placed at a distance of two inches at a 90 degree angle from the fan. This is much closer than dBa readings are normally taken at, but we expect the difference between our fans to be very small so we would rather have slightly exaggerated results. Because of this, our noise measurements will also be in no way comparable to the manufacturer's specifications for noise. Our ambient noise level for all of our testing was a constant 27.5 dBa.
In terms of airflow, the TwoCool on low is roughly equal to the Scythe Slip Stream 800RPM fan running at 7 volts. This means it has slightly more airflow than our quiet case fan kits, yet not as much as the Antec TriCool on low. We at times come across a configuration that is just a little too hot for our quiet fan kits so the Antec TwoCool would work very well in those situations.
With the TwoCool on high, we see higher airflow than the Scythe fan even at 12 volts. The airflow ends up being right between the Antec TriCool running on low and medium.
Looking at the noise levels, it is worthwhile to point out that while 1 dBa may not seem like very much, 1dBa can actually be pretty noticeable in person. For a list of example dBa levels, we recommend checking out a decibel level chart like the one here.
Just like the airflow, the TwoCool on low is identical to the Scythe fan running at 7 volts. On high, we are again right in-between the TriCool running on low and medium.
What this means is that you have a great deal of control over the airflow and noise of your fans when purchasing a system with the P280 from Puget Systems. In most configurations, you will have no problems keeping the TwoCool fans, but if you are very concerned about noise, you can purchase a quiet fan kit that uses the Scythe Slip Stream fans running at 5 volts. Similarly, if you need a bit of extra cooling, you can switch to the Antec TriCool fans and only sacrifice a little bit on noise level but gain a bit more airflow. If a little bit more cooling is necessary past that, you are actually better of staying with the TwoCool fans and turning them up to high.
Assembly in this chassis went smoothly without any major issues. Having all the stock chassis fans already plugged into a single header was very, very nice. It seems like such a small detail, yet it saves quite a bit of effort since the cable management for the fans is essentially already done before you even start cabling.
The deep space behind the motherboard tray was also very welcome as it meant we did not have to be super careful with how many cables we tucked away back there. With the Antec P183 V3 we sometimes run into problems with the side panels bulging out slightly if too many cables are routed behind the motherboard tray. The Antec P280 thankfully does not have this issue in the slightest.
The two biggest issues are shown in the pictures above. First, the front LED/switch cables are way too short. Even on our motherboard with the header on the far right side of the motherboard we had to stretch the cables tighter than we would like. Secondly, the internal fan mounts are simply not secure enough for us. For an end user adding fans they should work wonderfully, but we do not feel confident that they would survive the rigors of shipping.