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Inside the shell
Upon first inspection of the internals, one can readily see two primary differences between the P280 and its ancestor. First, the innards have finally received some black powder-coating love. Second, the compartmentalized design has been jettisoned in favor of a more traditional and cavernous layout. Some design distinction has been lost, since many of today's mid-tower cases employ a similar internal layout.

Still, the 280's new internals are much easier to build around. I've sliced and diced my tender digits on many exotic case designs over the years, so the simplicity and openness of the P280 is a welcome advance, in my book. There will undoubtedly be some backlash from those who believe in compartmentalized designs, but I think the new layout represents a positive change overall.

One potential downside to the simpler digs is the fact that the hard drive cage is no longer removable. However, you can still stuff expansion cards up to 13" long into the P280. That's enough clearance to cover the gamut of today's graphics cards; AMD's new Radeon HD 7970 is only 10.75" long.

Fixed hard drive bays can hinder the airflow produced by front intake fans. The P280's factory configuration doesn't put an intake up front, though. All of the included fans are arranged up top and set as exhausts, creating a negative pressure zone inside the case that draws in cool air through the ventilation holes. There are two emplacements ready to accept 120-mm spinners if you want to add your own. Antec addresses the potential for obscured airflow to these fans by providing a set of mounting points for two more 120-mm fans on the bay wall, between the drives and the motherboard. This accommodation allows builders to create push-pull airflow configurations that draw cool air over the hard drives and onto the expansion cards and motherboard. In exchange for the added breeziness, you'll lose about an inch of clearance for longer expansion cards.

The drive cage is designed to accommodate up to six 3.5" drives or up to eight devices of the 2.5" variety. Each of the six drive sleds has mounting holes for both 3.5- and 2.5" storage devices, and an additional two 2.5" bays are located at the top of the stack, under the optical drive bays. Antec pads the 3.5" mounting holes with silicon grommets, which help dampen vibration from mechanical hard drives. The 2.5" mounting holes have no grommets—if you're going to stick solid-state drives in there, mechanical vibrations won't be a problem.

Compared to the P180, installing and removing drives in the P280 is a dream. Despite their versatility and airflow-maximizing orientation, the old drive cages had to be removed entirely in order to add or remove individual drives. The P280 offers a more sensible arrangement.

As far as cooling is concerned, the P280 ships with two 120-mm exhaust fans mounted to the top of the case and one additional 120-mm finger-chopper at the rear. Each fan is tied to one of the dual-speed switches at the back of the case. The switches are handy for fine-tuning the performance and acoustic characteristics of an air-cooled rig, but according to some online customer reviews, the controller and required Molex power connector may hinder the installation of some 240-mm liquid-cooling radiators. For the record, our dual-fan Corsair H100 radiator fits just fine.

Oddly, the P280 lacks support for 140-mm fans. There appears to be ample room up top, but Antec has decided against providing the required mounting holes, even though the rest of the industry is trending toward larger fans.

Expansion options abound in Antec's new creation. The P280 comes equipped with nine expansions slots to satisfy the needs of chubby XL-ATX motherboards and quad-graphics configurations. Even if your motherboard can't use all the slots, it's nice to have extra space for additional ports, fan speed controllers, and other expansion-slot-mounted accessories.

There's also plenty of room inside the case for cabling, including slightly less than an inch of clearance between the motherboard tray and the right side panel. The tray is riddled with oblong, grommet-lined cut-outs for cables to pass through. Antec puts cut-outs in the top of the tray for auxiliary power leads, as well.

The PSU bay at the bottom has no defined size restrictions. Power supplies up to 7.5" in length will slide in without blocking the bottom-most cabling cut-out. If your system requires time travel-inducing levels of electrical power, you could conceivably install a PSU up to 12" long before running into the hard drive bays.

If I had to call out one aspect of the cable-management system for improvement, I would cite the inexplicably short wires leading to the front port array. The unsheathed LED and switch wires are just barely long enough to reach their destinations through the conventional cable management holes. An extra six inches of length would make life much easier and alleviate any anxiety caused by putting undue stress on the motherboard's headers. Some added sheathing or black insulation would be a nice touch, as well. The naked wires look out of place in an otherwise tidy environment.