Table of Contents
|1. Introduction||4. Internal Features||7. Optimizing Cooling|
|2. External Features||5. System Assembly||8. Cooling Performance|
|3. Front Panel||6. Antec TwoCool Fans||9. Noise Levels|
With their Performance and Sonata series Antec has long been one of the top manufactures of quiet chassis. Given the large emphasis we at Puget Systems place on quiet computing, it's no surprise that we heavily use Antec chassis in our product lines. In fact, just over 48% of our systems in 2011 were built using the Antec P183 V3.
The P280 is the latest addition to Antec's Performance series, but rather than being a replacement to either the P183 or P193 is more of an overhaul of both chassis. The focus on quiet operation is still present, but many of the features used to attain this focus have been completely redesigned.
Since this is a potential replacement for either the Antec P183 V3 or the Antec P193 V3 this article will be much more in depth than our normal qualification articles. We're considering replacing our best-selling chassis, so we want to be sure that we cover all the angles before making a decision. Before taking a close look at the P280, lets first take a look at the specifications for this chassis compared to the Antec P183 V3 and the Antec P193 V3:
|P280||P183 V3||P193 V3|
|Color||Gunmetal front, Black interior/exterior||Gunmetal||Gunmetal|
|Material||Plastic front panel, steel frame||Aluminum and plastic shell, steel frame||Aluminum and plastic shell, steel frame|
|Size||Super Mid Tower||Mid Tower||Advanced Mid Tower|
|Dimension H x W x D (mm)||526 x 231 x 562||520 x 205 x 509||518 x 241 x 599|
|Dimension H x W x D (in)||20.7 x 9.1 x 22.1||20.5 x 8.1 x 20.0||20.4 x 9.4 x 23.6|
|Internal 3.5"||6 (6 2.5" capable)||6 (2 2.5" capable)||6 (2 2.5" capable)|
|Front Panel Connectors|
|USB 3.0||2||1 (pass-through cable)||1 (pass-through cable)|
|Front||Optional 2 x 120mm||Optional 2 x 120mm||Optional 2 x 120mm|
|Interior||Optional 2 x 120mm||Optional 1 x 120mm (in place of 2 3.5" bays)||Optional 1 x 120mm (in place of 2 3.5" bays)|
|Side||N/A||N/A||1 x 200mm|
|Rear||1 x 120mm||1 x 120mm||1 x 120mm|
|Top||2 x 120mm||1 x 120mm||2 x 140mm|
We will be going over many of these specs in other parts of this article, but we want to point out just a few things here. First, the P280 is about an inch wider than either the P183 or P193 (if you discount the side fan on the P193) but only slightly taller. Depth wise, it is right between the P183 and P193. One of the smallest, but one of the most intriguing for us, changes is the fact that the front USB 3.0 ports finally use an internal header instead of having to be routed through to case to plug into an external port. The internal audio plug has also been changed to drop AC'97 support which is long overdue in our opinion.
The P280 has more cooling capacity than the P183 V3 or the P193 V3 which is primarily provided by the two interior fan mounts. These mounts allow for fans to be installed without having to replace a set of internal 3.5" bays like in the P183 V3 and P193 V3. The final two things to note in the P280 are that all the 3.5" bays include mounting for 2.5" drives – rather than just two of the six in the P183/P193 – and the lack of an external 3.5" bay in the P280.
Now that we have a general feel for this chassis, let's take a closer look, starting with the exterior of the chassis:
Starting with the front, this chassis has a large door covering nearly the entire front from top to bottom. While a front door is a staple of the Performance series from Antec, this door has been slightly redesigned in order to accommodate some of the more common complaints about the P183 chassis. Most notably, the front ports (2 x USB 2.0, 2 x USB 3.0 and audio in/out) and power/HDD LED's have been moved to the very top of the front panel since this chassis is most often positioned on the floor next to a desk rather than on top of a desk. The power and reset switches have also been moved from behind the door and relocated onto the very top of the chassis. This means that the only reason to open the front door of the P280 is to gain access to the DVD or other 5.25" device or to clean the front filter.
The bottom of the chassis is fairly standard with just the feet and PSU intake grill. The feet are hard plastic, but have a ring of rubber on the bottom to help reduce vibration. The PSU intake features a removable filter that can be pulled out from the left side of the chassis, and is actually just below the side panels. This allows the filter to be removed for cleaning without having to open the chassis at all.
Both sides of the P280 are identical – the side panels themselves can even be switched from one side to the other. In fact, the only difference between the two sides is the removable fan filter below the side panel on the left side. There are no fan mounts in either panel, which is to be expected from a chassis with a focus on quiet operating. Like the P193 V3, the P280 side panels are just painted a flat black and do not have the same gunmetal finish as the front like the P183 V3.
As mentioned earlier, the power and reset switches have been moved to the top of the chassis. Also on the top are two 120mm fan mounts which are prepopulated with Antec TwoCool fans. The top panel itself is just a single layer of sheet steel with no acoustic dampening material pre-installed. One minor gripe we have here is that the fan screws are silver instead of black.
Finally, the back of the chassis has a few subtle differences compared to the P183 V3 or P193 V3. At the top, there is a mount to hold the speed switches from four Antec TriCool or TwoCool fans, allowing them to be easily accessed from outside the chassis. Only three fan mounts are in range however, so one of those spots will always be vacant. Moving down, you can see the more than normal nine PCI slots available on this chassis. This allows the chassis to support quad-SLI (four video cards total) with the use of XL-ATX motherboards. Next to the PCI slots are two liquid cooling pass-through grommets. Lastly, at the very bottom is the standard mounting hole for the PSU.
This chassis only supports standard power supplies, and not the Antec-branded CP series of power supply (which is slightly taller which allows a 120mm fan to be mounted to the rear of the PSU for cooling). This lack of CP-series mounting is likely due to the fact that if Antec included both the nine PCI slots for XL-ATX motherboards as well as mounting for the CP-series power supplies, this chassis would be even taller than it already is.
What seems strange to us however is that this chassis is not in Antec's Gamer or Dark Fleet series of chassis, which are focused on high-performance computing. It is in fact in the Performance series which places an emphasis on quiet operation (yes, we know how confusing it is to have the Performance series not actually focused on cooling performance, but rather quiet operation). So that begs the question: why drop support for some of the quietest power supplies we've ever used, and add support for quad-SLI which will never be quiet with standard air cooling no matter what you do? Frankly, we would rather see the standard seven PCI slots and support for CP power supplies.
Normally we would not devote an entire section to just the front panel of a chassis, but there are enough changes and good features here that we wanted to be sure it got the attention it deserved.
Upon opening the door, you get a view of a few of the nice features of this chassis. The door itself has a layer of sound dampening material and is double hinged – allowing it to open a full 270° and sit flat against the side panel. The door itself is also easy to remove for replacement or removal by simply pulling it off. Plastic doors such as this can sometimes end up feeling flimsy, but this door feels very solid.
Beyond the three 5.25" bays, the only thing behind the door is a large filter for the front intake. This filter is easily removed for cleaning by pressing down on the two tabs located at the top of the filter. Removing the filter also exposes the two front fan mounts which are intended to be mounted with two screws each. The power cables for these fans can be routed into the chassis via small cutouts to the right side of the mount. The only thing we would have liked to see here is matching cutouts on the left side as well so that the speed switches for Antec TriCool or TwoCool fans could be positioned in an area that is a bit easier to access.
After removing the side panels, we get more into the maintenance side of things. The front panel itself is held in with six tabs (three on either side) and two screws (one of either side). After removing the screws, the tabs can be depressed to allow the entire front to come off. The P183 and P193 used a similar design to remove the front panel, but those chassis used rails to mount the external 5.25" and 3.5" devices which would often get in the way of removing the front panel. This would often result in the need to uninstall the 5.25" devices before the front panel could be completely removed. Since the P280 does not use drive rails, there is no longer any need to uninstall the 5.25" devices before the front panel can be removed.
After removing the front panel, you gain access to the front ports (if you ever need to replace them) which are divided into two separate pieces – one for the audio ports and one for the USB ports. The USB ports are held in place with two screws, while the audio ports are held in place with a single screw. You can also see the power and reset switches which are held in place with plastic clips and a liberal amount of glue. The switches should be easy to replace if needed, although we would be advised removing any 5.25" devices first to make them easier to access.
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.
We've spent a lot of time fine-tuning the airflow in the Antec P183 V3, so in order to give the P280 its due diligence we will be spending a fair amount of time trying out different fan configurations to find out which work the best. More fans do not necessarily mean better cooling, and since we are always very concerned about the noise levels of our systems we want to have just the right number of fans installed in just the right locations.
We could just show the end results of our testing, but in the spirit of transparency (and since we see no reason to not publish information we spent the time and effort to gather) we will show all of our temperature results. If you do not want to see our various fan configuration testing, feel free to skip ahead to the next section where we will compare the cooling of this chassis to the Antec P183 V3.
To test the cooling performance of this chassis, we will be using the following hardware:
|Motherboard:||Asus Rampage III Formula|
|CPU:||Intel Core i7 980X|
|RAM:||3x Kingston HyperX DDR3-1600 4GB|
|GPU:||EVGA GeForce GTX 580 1536MB (single and sli)|
|CPU Cooler:||Gelid Tranquillo Rev2 / Coolit Eco II (configured as an intake)|
|PSU:||Silverstone ST1500 1500W Power Supply|
|Hard Drive:||Western Digital Raptor 150GB|
We will be using both a standard air cooler as well as a closed-loop liquid cooler for our testing to help us see how this chassis handles different cooling situations. Typically, a standard air cooler will have higher CPU temperatures, but the chipset will run a bit cooler. A closed-loop liquid cooler will have better CPU temperatures, but the chipset will run hotter since there is not a fan running near the chipset. One thing to note is that the Coolit Eco II replaces the rear fan so we can either relocate the rear fan to another mounting location, or leave it uninstalled.
To fully load the system, we will run a combination of Prime95 and Furmark until the temperatures stabilized (roughly 10 minutes). This will cause higher temperatures than any normal user is likely to see, but should give us a clear worse-case scenario for cooling. Temperature readings were taken from the hottest core of the CPU (Core 0 on our test CPU), the video card(s), the ICH (southbridge) and the IOH (northbridge). The margin of error for our temperature results is 1°C.
Keep in mind that this was a learning process, so as we discovered what fan configurations worked and which didn't, we adjusted the locations of the fans for future testing accordingly. For that reason, our first configuration (the Gelid Tranquillo Rev2 with a single GPU) has more fan configurations than our later configurations.
Gelid Tranquillo Rev2 – Single GPU
Right away, our first test configuration with the Gelid Tranquillo Rev2 and a single GPU gives us some interesting results. The default fan locations (2 top and one rear) gave us the worse load CPU temperatures by 2°C, but was among the best for our motherboard and GPU temperatures. Adding a single fan to the middle of the chassis improved further on the motherboard and GPU temperatures while also bring the CPU load temperature in line with the other fan setups. Overall, the default fan locations should work just fine for most system configurations, but an additional fan located in the middle mount is recommended for especially hot configurations.
Another interesting point is that adding a fan to the mounts in the very front of the chassis helped our CPU temperatures a bit, but overall made our motherboard and GPU temperatures worse. It's odd to think of a chassis doing better without a front intake fan, but this chassis has been optimized by Antec to operate under negative pressure (more exhaust fans than intake) which these results fully support.
Gelid Tranquillo Rev2 – SLI GPU
With the same CPU cooler and two video cards in SLI, we see an expected overall rise in temperatures. Video cards and CPU's have different thermal thresholds and while we still are not at all close to the manufacture’s thermal limits, we are beginning to approach our comfortable limit of 80°C on the CPU and 90°C on the video cards. You will notice that we did not do any testing without two fans in the top of the chassis. This is due to the fact that our best results from the previous test all had both top fan locations populated.
Once again, we feel that having the two top mounts, the rear mount and one extra fan in the middle mount is the best fan configuration. Interestingly, having two fans in the middle fan mounts, or having one in the front and one in the middle, results in overall higher load temperatures than just a single fan in the middle. The one degree drop in GPU temperature (which technically is within our margin of error) by having the second fan in the middle is frankly not worth the rise in CPU and motherboard temperatures.
Coolit Eco II – Single GPU
With the Coolit Eco II cooler, the airflow in the chassis is much different so we were not sure what to expect. We expected the lower CPU temperatures, but we were surprised to see a drop in video card temperatures. Another thing that we did not expect was how consistent the temperatures are across the different fan configurations. All of the load results were within 2°C of each other, which makes deciding which configuration is the best a bit difficult. The two top configurations are the green (2 top, 1 mid, 1 front) and the red (2 top, 1 mid). The differences between the two are within our margin of error, so we are going to call the red configuration (2 top, 1 mid) the winner since less fans means less noise.
With two video cards in SLI, we see a bit more variance in temperatures, but only on the ICH. All of the other temperature differences are within our margin of error. Since we have a second video card to worry about, we tried a bit different of a configuration this time with one and two fans in the middle fan mount. Both of those configurations were our best performers, but once again the difference between them was within our margin of error. Just like the last test, we give the red (2 top, 1 mid) the winning bid.
Now that we know that the ideal cooling setup for the P280 is to have the two top fans installed, a rear fan (if available) and a single fan installed in the middle of the chassis, we can take a closer look at how the cooling in this chassis compares to the Antec P183 V3. We will be using the exact same hardware, simply transplanted into the Antec P183 V3.
For cooling in the P183 V3, we will be using the same Antec TwoCool fans from the P280. We want to have the same amount of potential airflow, and using the Antec TriCool fans that come with the P183 V3 would give it an unfair advantage in terms of cooling. We will be installing the fans into the locations that we know from experience will give us the best cooling. For the Gelid Tranquillo Rev2, this will mean having fans in both of the front intakes as well as the rear exhaust. For the Coolit Eco II, we will keep both of the front intake fans but move the rear fan to the top mount (still as an exhaust).
We would normally never run this hot of video cards in SLI in the Antec P183 V3 without adding a custom side fan, but since the Antec P280 does not come with a side fan mount we will not be adding a side fan to the Antec P183 V3. Because of this, we expect high temperatures on the video cards when in SLI but we want to see how these two chassis fare against each other without any case modifications. To help give you an idea of how substantial the difference a side panel fan makes, we recommend reading our Side Panel Fans: Are They Worth It? article.
In this round of testing, we will also be taking thermal images in addition to our sensor readings to help us identify any hotspots that do not show up on our temperature logs.
For our first configuration (Gelid Tranquillo Rev2 with a single GTX 580) we see quite an improvement in temperatures with the P280. Surprisingly, the CPU temperatures are identical but the motherboard (ICH and IOH) and GPU temperatures are much better in the P280 with about a 5°C reduction in temperature. The thermal images show almost the exact same data, although it is interesting to see that the bottom half of the motherboard is hotter in the P183. This is due to the fact that the P280 has a fan just to the right of the GPU, while the closest fan in the P183 V3 is all the way at the front of the chassis.
Adding a second video card gives us some results we were not expecting. This time, only the IOH and ICH sensors show substantial difference in cooling between the two chassis. While the GPU temperature readings do not show much difference, the thermal image shows us that the video cards in the P280 are in fact running much cooler. The video cards in the P183 V3 are much hotter across the entire GPU even if the temperature of the core itself is roughly the same as in the P280. This goes to show that while thermal sensors are great most of the time, they do not always show the full picture.
Moving on to the Coolit Eco II CPU cooler, the motherboard is overall hotter than with the Tranquillo Rev2, but this is to be expected since the CPU fan is no longer in the center of the chassis. We again see the same ~5°C reduction in IOH, ICH, and GPU temperatures that we saw in our Gelid Tranquillo Rev2 with a single GPU testing. The CPU temperatures are identical, but since the CPU cooler is now always getting fresh air from the rear of the chassis, we do not expect any appreciable changes in CPU temperature. Overall, these results are essentially the same as our first Gelid Tranquillo Rev2 configuration.
In our final configuration, we again see the same relative results that we saw in the Gelid Tranquillo Rev2 with the video cards in SLI. The motherboard and GPU run much cooler in the P280, while the CPU temperatures are identical. The hotter area around the CPU and between the video cards in the P183 V3 is also worth pointing out.
Overall, we are impressed with the cooling of the P280. Especially considering that Antec puts an emphasis on quiet operation in the Performance line of chassis, the P280 cools better than we expected. Our thermal testing also shows that most system configurations will be just fine with the stock Antec TwoCool fans in the default locations. Users who need more cooling can easily do so however by adding one or two fans to the interior fan mounts.
Cooling is not the only selling point of this chassis however; quiet operation is also a major component. For that reason we also took acoustic measurements of each configuration in both the Antec P183 V3 and the Antec P280 in addition to our thermal readings.
Our acoustic readings were taken 0.6m (~24 inches) from the front-top of the chassis which is the ISO 7779 computer noise standard's defined "Seated User Position". This puts the microphone at about the same position as the end user if the chassis is on the ground next to a desk. Our ambient noise level is 27.5 dBa and since we do not have a perfectly isolated environment, our margin of error is a fairly large .5 dBa.
Starting with the Gelid Tranquillo Rev2 CPU cooler, the first thing to notice is how much quieter the P183 V3 is at idle. 2-3 dBa may not seem like much, but it is definitely noticeable in person. Under full load, we get a mixed set of results. With a single GPU, the P183 V3 is still quieter, but only by .6 dBa. With two GPU's in SLI, the P280 is technically quieter, although the results are close enough to fall well within our margin of error.
With the Coolit Eco II CPU cooler, we again see much better noise levels at idle with the Antec P183 V3. Interestingly, our load results are switched from the previous configuration. With a single GPU, the P183 V3 and P280 are close enough together to be within our margin of error. Adding the second GPU in SLI is what allows the P183 V3 to show how much the additional acoustic dampening available in that chassis helps with noise levels.
So what conclusions can we make from this data? First, an inherently quiet configuration (Core i5 CPU, passive GPU, SSD or Western Digital Green hard drive) or a more powerful configuration (like our test configuration) at idle will be quieter in the P183 V3 than in the P280. A louder configuration like our test configuration at load or something approaching a server-class configuration (multiple CPU's, additional cooling needed for chipset) will be just as quiet in the P280 as in the P183 V3.
Our cooling performance testing in the previous section thankfully goes hand-in-hand with our noise results. Inherently quieter configurations generally require less cooling, so while the Antec P183 V3 does have slightly worse cooling than the P280, it is still more than adequate for those configurations. More powerful configurations on the other hand can really take advantage of the extra cooling in the P280 while still maintaining roughly the same noise levels as the P183 V3.
The Antec P280 is a great chassis for a wide range of system configurations but really shines in keeping high-end configurations running both cool and quiet. Lower power configurations may run quieter in other chassis such as the Antec P183 V3, but since Antec is touting this chassis as a high-performance option this is not much of a surprise. The fans that come with the P280 are great, although the amount of airflow is low enough that we would recommend replacing them with Antec TriCool or similarly rated fans on configurations involving SLI.
We would really like to offer this chassis in our product line as an option for high-end configurations but there are just enough issues to keep us from doing so. Our biggest issue is with the internal fan mounts which our testing has shown to be critical for keeping high-end configurations running cool. Unfortunately, they are designed in a way that would not fare well when the system is shipped across the country.
Our second issue is in regards to the front LED/switch cables. They just barely reached on our test motherboard which means that on many motherboards the cables would have to be strung across the motherboard just to get to the headers. In such a well-designed chassis from such a reputable company, this is a major oversight.
Until these issues are resolved we unfortunately are not able to add this chassis to our product line. We are working with Antec to resolve these major problems and hope to be able to announce an update soon.