Product Qualification: Antec Solo IIWritten on September 9, 2011 by Matt Bach
The Solo II is Antec's latest addition to their Sonata family of chassis and is designed primarily for quiet operation of low to mid range systems. The look of this chassis is very typical of an Antec product, being somewhat minimalistic and understated. You will not find anything bright and flashy on this chassis, which we feel helps it to come across as a down-to-earth and practical case. While the looks of a chassis are largely personal preference, we have always been a fan of this style.
Antec has long been a very strong competitor in the quiet chassis market with their Performance One family of cases - which include the P183, P193 and Mini P180. In the Solo II, Antec has integrated some of the features found on those chassis as well as added a few new ones to further reduce system noise. These features include thick side panels, a dual mounting system for hard drives (silicone grommets or a suspension mount system), and quiet stock fan(s). The fan included with the Solo II is an Antec TrueQuiet 120mm fan, which we have qualified in a previous article and found to be very good, quiet fan.
In this chassis Antec has included two USB 3.0 ports, keeping it up to date with the latest connectivity standards. The MSRP value of $129 is a bit high for a mid-tower case though, so it may be slightly outside many consumer's target budget. Full chassis specifications are below:
The sides, bottom and top of the Solo II are painted black with a high gloss finish. If kept clean it looks very nice, but beware of fingerprints as this type of finish will show them clearly. The front of the chassis is a bit different, being more of a matte finish rather than glossy. This also shows fingerprints, but they appear as more of light smudges. It is very difficult to completely clean the fingerprints off the front bezel, and the fact that we were never able to get the front 100% clean is evident in the first picture above.
The front of the case has two 5.25" bays, power/reset switches, power/HDD LED's, and the front ports. The number of 5.25" bays may seem small to some, but for the type of system this chassis is targeted for it is likely that two bays will be all that are necessary. Our main issue with the front of the chassis is the size of the reset button. With the reset button so close to the front ports and power button, we would really like to see the it be much smaller so that it is less likely to be pressed accidentally. Reaching down to hit the power button to bring your system out of standby only to accidentally hit reset instead is something that is always frustrating.
At the top of the chassis, the only thing present is the mesh grill for the PSU fan. In order to use this grill, however, you will need to mount the PSU fan side up. For most power supplies this will mean that the PSU cables will be on the side furthest away from the motherboard tray - making cable management a bit more difficult. The bottom of the chassis is also nearly completely bare, sporting only the thick silicone chassis feet.
The rear of the chassis is largely unremarkable, being fairly standard for a chassis of this size. The two things to note are the low/high switch for the rear chassis fan and the lack of liquid cooling grommets. It is unlikely that many users would attempt liquid cooling in this case, so the lack of grommets is largely not an issue. Since they have become something of a standard over the last few years (for better or worse), however, we felt the need to point out their absence.
The left side panel is secured with a pair of thumbscrews which are actually secured to the panel itself - a nice touch to help keep you from misplacing the screws. The right panel, however, is secured with just a pair of standard screws. With the panels removed, the first thing you notice is the all-black interior. Even though the chassis does not have a window, we still really appreciate that added touch.
To remove the front bezel, there are three tabs that need to be depressed along the front of the chassis. The front bezel is hinged so it swings open once the tabs are pressed. The hinges are not a single piece, allowing you to lift up on the bezel and completely remove it from the main chassis. While the bezel itself feels fairly solid, the "hinges" are only mounted on a pair of plastic pegs. This is a weak link and a potential for damage if the bezel is handled too roughly.
This bezel removal is of a decent design, but we would have liked to see a bit of a change to the retention tabs to allow for the front bezel to be opened/removed without having to take off the side panel. Even something small such as rounding the edges of the tabs would have been enough to accommodate this.
With the bezel removed, we gain access to the front ports/switches (if you ever need to replace a damaged port), 5.25" bays, removable front fan filters, front fan mounts, and the hard drive mounts.
5.25" devices are mounted on rails and slide into the bays with no problem. This type of mounting is pretty standard on Antec chassis and rarely present any problems.
The filters are easily removed by simply pushing in on the tab and pulling the filter out. The two filters are interchangeable so you do not have to worry about which one goes where. With the filters removed, you gain access to the fan screw holes for the optional front fans.
In order to get to the hard drive mounting, you need to remove the thumbscrew located below the 5.25" bays and lower the plate which is hinged on the bottom. From here, the three normal hard drive trays can be removed and the drive(s) installed. It's worth noting that while all three trays include optional mounting for 2.5" drives, Antec only includes enough screws for a single drive of that size.
The two suspension mounts are clearly visible once the drive trays are removed. We have no problems with the drive trays (except for the amount of work it takes to get to them) but we are not convinced of the suspension mounts. We have no doubt that they will help reduce hard drive vibration, but they are very insecure. Anytime the chassis is moved, you have to be very careful that it stays level, or the drive may slip out of the suspension and fall directly onto your motherboard or PCI cards.
Moving into the main interior of the chassis, we find that the motherboard tray is non-removable and includes mounting for ATX, micro-ATX and mini-ITX motherboards. The lower front of the chassis is left open except for a single 2.5" drive mount on the back panel. This mount does not include any kind of vibration dampening, so it is clearly intended solely for SSD drives (for which vibration is not an issue). This empty space allows to the use of very long video cards, which while normally not recommended in a chassis this size should work fairly well if an additional fan is mounted in the front/bottom fan mount.
Looking at the rear of the motherboard tray we see the large cutout to allow for access to the CPU heatsink. The big thing to note is what is missing: cable management! There is only a single tab to hold cables near the bottom-left. There are plastic hooks on the back of the hard drive cage, but they are flimsy and come off too easily to be effective at holding large bundles of cables. Also, the side panel is at most half an inch away from the motherboard tray meaning that only the thinnest of cables will be able to be routed behind the motherboard tray. All the other cables will need to be stored and routed either into an empty drive bay or behind the hard drive cage.
Overall, this chassis should do decently well to keep a system both quiet and cool. While it only comes stock with a rear 120mm fan, the included mounts for two front 120mm fans are placed to allow for plenty of additional cooling to either the hard drives or to the expansion cards (or both).
The problems with this chassis become apparent once you start to actually build in it. The hard drive mounting in particular requires almost complete disassembly of the case just to access it. Also, the lack of adequate cable management and the closeness of the motherboard tray to the side panel means that no matter how much effort you put into routing your PSU cables, you are likely never going to get the cables as neat and tidy as you would really like.
From the standpoint of Puget Systems, this chassis simply does not give enough additional value over the Antec Mini P180 to justify replacing it with the Antec Solo II. If hard drive noise is a huge issue the suspension mount may be worthwhile - but there is absolutely no way we would be able to use that type of mounting in a system that would be shipped across the country (or even just to the building next door).
- Thick side panels to reduce noise
- All-black interior
- Internal USB 3.0 ports
- High-quality stock fan
- Good placement for optional front fans
- Externally accessible low/high switch for rear fan
- Expensive ($129 MSRP)
- No acoustic dampening on front bezel
- Front bezel hinges somewhat fragile
- Hard drive mounting difficult to access
- Lack of cable management
- Suspension hard drive mount feels insecure
- Large reset switch located near power switch and front ports