If heroes get remembered, but legends never die, then Antec’s P180 series of enthusiast computer cases is likely to outlive most of us mere mortals. Six years ago, this iconic enclosure was unleashed as a follow-up to the P160, heralding a 180° stylistic departure from its forerunner. The P180 introduced a combination of performance, silence, and styling that were unmatched at the time.
Built in collaboration with Mike Chin of Silent PC Review, the original P180 melded an innovative chambered design with acoustical accoutrements galore. Rubber grommets, three-ply side panels, and thoughtfully engineered airways joined forces to create a case quiet enough that some system builders still swear by it today.
We’ve had the next-generation entry in Antec’s Performance One series in our labs for a few weeks now, and to say it has big shoes to fill would be a gross understatement. Dubbed the P280, this new enclosure brings a wealth of updates and looks to pick up where the old model left off. We’ve run the P280 through our usual battery of tests to see if the case can live up to its legendary lineage.
P180 + 100
Like its predecessor, the P280 is billed as a “super mid-tower” case. Measuring 20.7″ x 9.1″ x 22.1″, the chassis definitely pushes the limits of what can reasonably be considered a mid-tower. Most enclosures in this category top out somewhere between 16″ and 18″ in height and 18″ to 20″ in depth. By volume, the Corsair Graphite 600T is still the largest “mid-tower” to walk through our doors, but the P280 comes in a close second place.
On the outside, the P280 retains much of its predecessor’s trademark styling. The monolithic door remains, although the port cluster has been relocated to a trapezoidal bar at the top of the case’s front face. The power and reset buttons have been moved to the top panel, ensuring easy access when the case is sitting on the floor. Unlike the Fractal Design Define R3, whose top-mounted power button is easily depressed by jumping cats or fumbling fingers, the power switch on the P280 is slightly recessed and takes a reasonable amount of force to actuate fully. The buttons are far enough away from the front ports that inserting and removing USB devices and audio jacks shouldn’t trigger unwanted power cycling.
The front port cluster includes a pair of 3.5-mm audio jacks, one for headphones and another for a microphone. Also present is a pair of small blue indicator LEDs for hard drive activity and power status. While it’s a matter of personal taste, I can’t help but think white LEDs would better match the case’s personality.
Four USB ports complete the port cluster, and two of them (the blue ones) offer USB 3.0 connectivity. Antec connects the SuperSpeed ports to an internal header, but you’ll need a motherboard with the newly standardized USB 3.0 internal connector to take advantage. That apparently didn’t sit well with users, who complained about the lack of a header adapter. To its credit, Antec has responded by offering free USB 3.0-to-2.0 header adapters to anyone who contacts its support department with proof of a P280 purchase.
As you can see in the picture above, the top of the P280 lacks the sporty wind duct that helped define its predecessor’s unique look. The omission probably won’t matter to most people, but if you absolutely need some sort of spoiler atop your PC, Honda Civic forums are but a Google search away.
One of the advantages of the P280’s port and button layout is that everything is accessible with the front door closed. When the time comes to get at something behind the door, it smoothly swings open to the left. The new symmetrical motif of the front face would seem to be ideally suited to a more versatile dual-hinge design, but Antec decided to respect the traditions of NASCAR and keep things turning in one direction.
On the upside, the door rotates a full 270° to rest flat against the side panel. Although some magnetic latching action would have been appreciated to keep the door tight to the side panel in wide-open mode, it tends to stay put when the case is sitting on a flat surface.
Hidden behind the door are three external 5.25″ drive bays but no external 3.5″ bays. Below the bays sit the front intake vents, which are covered by a removable dust filter with a striking honeycomb theme.
With acoustic material lining the front door as well as both side panels, the P280 carries on the noise-dampening heritage of its elder. However, instead of replicating the multi-layered composite panels of the old model, Antec applies sheets of more conventional acoustic foam to the inner surfaces of the P280’s steel walls. This incredibly dense material is barely thicker than a credit card, and it will be interesting to see if the two-layer approach is effective at not only absorbing system noise, but also minimizing vibration. The P180’s composite panels were designed to avoid resonating with the whirring of mechanical components like hard drives, which can make the side panels of uninsulated cases vibrate with an audible hum.
The P280’s underbelly has four sturdy rubber feet and a removable dust filter for the power supply’s intake fan. Notably, the dust filter is inserted from the left-hand side of the case rather than from the back. This 90° deviation from the norm may seem mundane, but now that I’ve had a taste of this common-sense arrangement, going back to rear-loaded filters seems a bit silly. Perhaps, in future revisions, Antec can take this design one step further and allow the filter to be removed from either side of the chassis.
Around back, the P280 is business as usual. There’s plenty of ventilation, and two grommeted holes provide paths for liquid-cooling tubes to pass through. The switches above the 120-mm exhaust fan allow up to four system fans to be toggled between high and low speed settings.
For some reason, Antec decided against bundling matching black screws with the P280. The mismatched hues are most apparent when viewing the case from behind, and I personally like the contrasting silver-on-black look. If that’s not your bag, Hexus reports that Antec will “gladly send any customer requesting black screws a set if they give [them] a ring.” The silver rivets holding the case together are probably there to stay, though.
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.
Time to build
I might sound like a simpleton for saying this, but one of my favorite aspects of the P280 is its thumbscrews. Unlike every other case I’ve dealt with to date, Antec uses light-weight, plastic-coated thumbscrews that can actually be removed and tightened by human fingers. The difference between these and typical, all-metal thumbscrews is like night and day.
Along the same lines, Antec gets most of the little things right with this enclosure. The motherboard standoffs install without fuss, and nothing feels cheap or rickety. During our system build, everything fell into place without major incident.
My one complaint regards the insertion of optical drives into the tool-less bays. While the retention mechanism is adequate, if unremarkable, my issue lies with the amount of insertion force required to shove a drive into place. Plenty of things can go terribly wrong when you are pushing the majority of your body weight against an optical drive to coax it into position. Some Newegg reviews complain of similar struggles, so I’m not just being a wuss. Now, can somebody please help me out with this pickle jar?
Thanks to the P280’s generous cable management options and spacious interior, this was one of our quickest and most pain-free system builds to date. I did run into a first-boot snag involving the fan speed controller, though—it requires a single Molex power connection to get things spinning, and I forgot to plug one in. Oops.
In case we missed anything, here are the particulars of the P280 distilled into chart form.
|Dimensions (H x W x D)||20.7″ x 9.1″ x 22.1″ (526 x 231 x 562 mm)|
|Weight||22.3 lbs (10.2 kg)|
|Supported form factors||Mini ITX, micro ATX, ATX, XL-ATX|
|3.5″ drive bays||6|
|2.5″ drive bays||8 (6 shared with 3.5″ bays)|
|5.25″ drive bays||3|
|Fan mounts||7 x 120 mm|
|Included fans||3 x 120 mm (two-speed)|
|Max graphics card length||13″ (330 mm)|
|Max CPU cooler height||6.7″ (170 mm)|
|Max PSU length||~12″ (305 mm)|
|Gap behind motherboard||7/8″ (22 mm)|
Our testing methods
Case review groupies may note that the components used in this build differ slightly from those that Cyril uses in his reviews. The table below outlines the specifics of the hardware we’ll be using for our test bed.
|Processor||AMD Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition at 3.4GHz (140W TDP)|
|CPU Heatsink||Thermaltake Frio – Single fan in a pull configuration|
|Thermal Compound||Arctic Silver 5|
|Memory size||4GB (4 DIMMs)|
|Memory type||Corsair XMS3 DDR3-1333 at 1333MHz|
|Audio||Realtek ALC889 with default Windows drivers|
|Graphics||AMD Radeon HD 6870 1GB GDDR5|
|Graphics Drivers||Driver Version: 8/850.0.0, Catalyst Version: 11.5|
|Hard drive||Seagate NL35.2 ST3500641NS 500GB|
|Optical drive||ASUS DRW-1814 with Lightscribe|
|Power supply||OCZ GamerXStream 700W|
|OS||Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64-bit|
In an attempt to promote some consistency, the chosen parts for this system use roughly the same amount of power as Cyril’s at full load. Using a Kill-a-watt P3 meter, I measured the following peak power utilization numbers (at the wall) to use as a reference.
|CPU load only||302W|
|GPU load only||280W|
|CPU & GPU loads||394W|
Due to the similar energy usage, you can compare these test results to Cyril’s with the requisite salt shaker in hand. To make things scientific, however, I maintain a separate data set, representing only the cases I’ve tested using these parts in the same environmental conditions. The components used may not be the newest kids on the block, but they do represent approximately the same power and thermal characteristics associated with today’s high-end hardware.
Below is a list of the relevant software pieces used in this review.
Some further notes on our test methods:
- Noise levels were measured using an Extech 407727 Digital Sound Level Meter placed six inches from the side, front, and top of each case. Ambient noise levels were below the 40-dB threshold of the Extech meter.
- Each case was tested with its stock cooling fans. All side panels and doors were secured in place, and dust filters were installed in their factory positions. The ambient room temperature was measured at 22°C during testing. AMD’s Cool ‘n Quiet dynamic speed throttling technology was enabled, and the CPU fan was set to run at a constant speed of 2,100 RPM. This fan speed was settled upon after much trial and error, and it represents the best balance between cooling performance and noise.
- Idle temperature readings were taken with the system sitting at the Windows desktop with 0-1% CPU utilization. After setting this idle baseline, we moved onto a GPU load consisting of the Unigine Heaven benchmark running at 1920×1080 with stereoscopic 3D and tessellation disabled, “high” shaders, 16X anisotropic filtering, and 4X antialiasing. GPU-Z reported GPU utilization of 98% or more for the duration of the stress test. Then, we applied a full system load by adding a four-way instance of Prime95 using the “in-place FFTs (Max heat/power consumption)” setting. Temperatures were allowed to stabilize before taking readings at each load level.
The tests and methods employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have any questions about our methods, hit up our forums to talk with us about them.
The P280 is the first case we’ve reviewed that sports a negative airflow design, so I’m curious to see how it performs versus the competition. The rivals we’ve assembled include the NZXT H2, BitFenix Shinobi Window, Fractal Define R3, Corsair Carbide 400R, and Fractal Core 3000. Because the P280, Core 3000, H2, and Define R3 feature factory fan controllers, those cases were tested at both their highest and lowest fan speed settings.
The P280’s CPU temperatures look good. Even though it doesn’t take the top spot overall, the Antec case handily beats the H2 and Define R3, which also feature acoustic-dampening materials.
Due to a fan failure, we were forced to swap graphics cards for this and future case reviews. The replacement card is exactly the same as the original down to the clock speeds and the reference cooler, but in multiple enclosures, it seems to run 4-5°C cooler under load and maybe 1-2°C cooler at idle. This discrepancy may be due to the fact that we removed the new card’s heatsink and reapplied with a superior thermal compound some time ago.
Regardless of the compound used, this new card’s heat dissipation should match that of the original. Since the cooler design is also identical, we don’t expect the new card to alter any results beyond the GPU temperatures. The affected scores have been highlighted with an asterisk in the graphs above.
Even if we add a few degrees to the P280’s GPU temperatures, it still turns in an impressive performance. The P280 keeps our graphics card at least as cool as its contemporaries despite having all of its fans clustered near the top and back of the case.
Again, we see the P280 at the top of the pack—and by a wide margin—with its fans cranked up to high. I suspect the temperature sensor being read by Speedfan is located near the P280’s second top-mounted fan, an area that hasn’t gotten much direct cooling in the other cases we’ve tested.
Although the P280’s hard drive temperatures aren’t quite as low as those of the Carbide 400R, the Antec case scores a solid second place. Kicking the fans into high gear has no effect on hard drive temperatures at idle, but it reduces temps by a few degrees under load.
Having no previous experience or expectations associated with negative airflow designs, the P280’s system temperatures are eye-opening. No matter which component you look at, this is a remarkably cool-running case in its factory configuration.
In the past, we’ve observed that the price paid for superior air-cooled performance is not necessarily measured in dollars and cents, but in decibels and complaining neighbors. While the cops weren’t called out to this case-testing party, the acoustic results we gathered are rather interesting.
If you only look at the position of the P280’s results within the graphs, it would appear to be a no-brainer for enthusiasts scoping out parts for a muted rig. While the side and front noise levels are quite low, the P280’s quiet demeanor erodes when the sound meter is placed above the case—especially at idle. Because all three of the case fans are located up top, the noise they emit is very much localized in that region.
When sitting on the floor, the Antec box seems just as loud to the naked ear as the more vocal cases we’ve tested. From the sides and the front, it sounds rather sedate, and the acoustic lining seems to keep resonance to a minimum. Placing the P280 on top of one’s desk would be the ideal acoustic configuration, but many will find the case’s size prohibitive to this arrangement.
In an attempt to illustrate each enclosure’s proclivity for emitting high or low frequencies, we’ve recently begun analyzing recordings of system noise. Just because two sources emit the same amount of noise as measured in decibels doesn’t mean that they necessarily sound the same. Hopefully, these next results will help to paint a more complete picture of the P280’s acoustic profile.
Audio recordings of our assembled test systems were captured in a silent room. We then ran a spectrum analysis on the audio file produced and plot the case’s sound signature across a range of frequencies from 30Hz to 15,000Hz—the limits of our microphone. We used an Audio Technica ATR-2500 USB mic placed approximately 1.5″ from the side and front of the case. The uncompressed mono audio track was recorded at CD quality with 16 bits of resolution at 44.1kHz. The spectrum data was plotted and exported using Audacity’s Plot Spectrum feature with a Blackman-Harris window, a linear frequency, and a FFT size of 4096. We cut off our charts after 4,000Hz to highlight the most relevant portion of each case’s acoustic profile. At higher frequencies, the lines really start to converge, indicating less difference between our subjects.
This is a new method for us, so we haven’t been able to test all of the cases in our stable. The P280 will have to make do with the Core 3000 and Carbide 400R as its only competition. The Core 3000 and Carbide 400R were tested with their fans plugged directly into the motherboard, while the P280 used its built-in fan controller at the “high” setting.
When analyzing the graphs above, it’s important to note that sound pressure levels and frequencies both influence our perception of loudness. To the human ear, high-pressure sounds at lower frequencies can seem just as loud as low-pressure sounds occurring at higher frequencies, a concept described by the equal-loudness contour. The case noise we recorded is a constant hum, which is similar to the steady tone associated with equal-loudness contour curves. Spikes along the curve represent variations in the sound produced by each case.
Due to clearance limitations in our testing environment, we unfortunately don’t have audio recordings from the top of any of the cases. That’s the loudest part of the P280 due to the position of its fans.
At the front and side of the case, the P280’s spectrum curves tend to ride a little lower than the competition. Even with the fans in high gear, the Antec case hits lower decibel levels across the range of frequencies.
There is a lot to like about the Antec P280. Sure, she’s a little chunkier than her predecessor, but the added internal space can be put to good use housing everything from quad-GPU monsters to ironic mini-ITX builds. The P280 can tuck away more hard drives than most sane people would consider installing—especially at today’s street prices—and it features plenty of forward-looking SSD mounts as icing on the cake.
Antec has also retained much of the clean and elegant styling that made the P280’s progenitor a lusted-after commodity. (The new design eschews elements like the rear roof scoop and compartmentalized internals, though.)
My post-mortem wish list for the P280 is fairly short, since Antec has already addressed the silver screws and the USB 3.0 adapter. I wish the case supported 140-mm fans like most other recent mid-towers. It would also be nice to have a magnet to hold the door open and longer, sheathed wires for the front-panel lights and buttons. However, I’m hesitant to lodge a formal complaint about the lack of an external 3.5″ bay adapter; those are rapidly becoming an acceptable exclusion in modern cases.
With a $130 street price, the P280 is cheaper than its predecessor. While alternatives like the Fractal Define R3 and NZXT H2 offer similar capabilities, layouts, sound proofing, and aesthetic cues for a little bit less, I’d drop the extra scratch on the P280 for its roomier internals. Of course, when shopping for mid towers in this price range, it’s not terribly difficult to justify another $20 or $30 to upgrade to something like the Corsair 600T. There are options aplenty in this segment of the market.
We’ve already established that the P280 is a great case that’s easy on the eyes, reasonably quiet, and serious about cooling. Does it have what it takes to become a legend? Only time will tell, but I fear that the P280 doesn’t break away from the pack enough to endure like the old P180.
The P180 was something different, something unexpected, and a bit radical when it was released six years ago. Even though the P280 does just about everything the original can and more, its feature set is somewhat more pedestrian by today’s standards. The P280 is a very safe bet for Antec; very little risk was taken with the design. Where elements were changed, they were brought into alignment with current trends. These changes result in a generally improved enclosure, but they also erase some of the distinctiveness and allure that the old design brought to the table.
Regardless, I would happily recommend the P280 to anyone looking for a solid enthusiast enclosure. This is a very good case, even if it lacks the rare uniqueness of its predecessor.