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Antec’s P380 case reviewed

Renee Johnson
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Ahh, Antec. There was a time when the company’s P180 and Sonata enclosures were staples of our System Guide and the go-to cases for enthusiast builders. Like all things in the PC world, though, the case market doesn’t stand still. Enclosures from Corsair, Fractal Design, NZXT, and most recently Phanteks have superseded Antec’s classics.

Today, I’ve got Antec’s brand-new P380 flagship in my lab. Let’s see if this full tower is good enough to recapture some of the company’s past glory.

Antec certainly nailed the P380’s appearance. The front and top panels are formed from thick sheets of aluminum bent into a wraparound design. The semi-metallic gray paint on these panels, combined with their bare metal edges, lends the P380 an immediate air of class.

In a departure from Antec tradition, the case does away with a front door. The face also lacks external 5.25″ drive bays, ports, and switches that would otherwise break up the front panel’s clean lines. Instead, the USB and audio ports are tucked away under the top panel, while the power and reset buttons hide behind the front panel’s sweep of aluminum. Antec includes a set of power and reset buttons on both sides of the front panel, a nice touch.

Around back, we get a good look at some of the P380’s cooling provisions. There’s a single 120-mm fan on the back panel and a couple of hose grommets for custom water-cooling loops. A pair of 140-mm fans is hidden under the top panel. If this setup sounds a bit strange, that’s because it is: unlike typical towers, the P380 has no front fans.

With its top and rear fans configured as exhausts, the P380 is set up for negative-pressure airflow, meaning that dust or dander could get sucked in through any opening in the case. Thankfully, the front panel vents and the PSU intake are both covered by removable dust filters.

Also on tap are—count ’em—nine expansion slots. This is a full tower, after all. The P380 should be ready for as many expansion cards your motherboard can handle.

Here are the P380’s specifications in convenient tabular form:

  Antec P380
Case type ATX full tower
Dimensions (W x H x D) 8.8″ x 21.8″ x 21.9″  (224 x 555 x 557 mm)
Supported motherboards Mini-ITX, microATX, ATX, E-ATX, SSI CEB
2.5″/3.5″ combo bays 8
5.25″ drive bays 2 (internal only)
1 slim
Fan mounts 2 x 140 mm or 3 x 120 mm (top)
2 x 140 mm or 3 x 120 mm (front)
1 x 120 mm (rear)
Included fans 2 x Antec FDB 140 mm (top)
1 x Antec FDB 120 mm (rear)
Radiator mounts 1 x top mount, up to 360 mm long and 65mm thick (with fans)
1 x front mount, up to 360 mm long (with all drive cages removed)
Front panel I/O 2 x USB 3.0
2 x USB 2.0
Headphone
Microphone
Expansion slots 9
Max. graphics card length 13″ (310 mm) with drive cages installed
18.3″ (465 mm) with drive cages removed
Max. CPU cooler height 7″ (180 mm)
Gap behind motherboard 0.9″ (1.5″ behind hard drive cages)

The P380 isn’t available for purchase yet, but Antec expects the case to start selling around May 1. Although the suggested retail price is $229, Antec estimates the street price at $199. That price may seem high at first glance, but those thick aluminum outer panels are a distinctly high-end touch. Corsair’s Obsidian 650D mid-tower, which only features a brushed aluminum front panel, currently retails for $180 at Newegg, so Antec’s price isn’t unreasonable for a full tower with premium materials.

Let’s take a look inside the P380 now, and see whether there’s function to go along with all of that form.

 

Interior
Opening the P380 is painless. Antec uses a side-panel design similar to that of Fractal Design’s Define R5, which means that one need only remove a pair of thumbscrews and swing away the sides to get in. The side panels are insulated with sheets of foam to keep noise and vibration down.

As with most modern cases, the P380’s motherboard tray is surrounded by grommets that allow for behind-the-motherboard cable routing. Wider E-ATX boards will block access to some of those portals, which is true of many cases that support this larger form factor.

Despite the lack of 5.25″ openings at the front of the case, Antec does include a couple of jumbo bays inside. These internal 5.25″ bays won’t work with optical drives, but they could be used with some liquid-cooling reservoirs and pumps.

Behind the motherboard, there’s a large cut-out for CPU cooler backplates and copious tiedowns for cable management. The P380 lacks the 2.5″ drive mounts hiding behind the motherboard tray on some enclosures, such as Corsair’s Obisidian 450D and Fractal Design’s Define R5.

Antec includes a six-fan hub powered by a single Molex connector. The Molex source can’t tap into motherboard fan controls, so the hub seems best suited to fans with integrated speed control, like Antec’s pre-installed units. Unlike the built-in fan controllers in the Define R5 and Corsair’s Graphite Series 380T, where a single front-panel switch controls multiple fans, changing speeds in the P380 involves flipping individual switches on each fan. Those switches are only accessible from inside the case, making the process even more inconvenient.

With eight 2.5″/3.5″ combo sleds, the P380 can swallow copious amounts of storage. 3.5″ drives are secured to the plastic sleds with a grommet-and-screw system, while 2.5″ drives are screwed directly onto the sleds.

Those eight sleds are divided between three cages. Two of the cages hold three sleds each, while the topmost cage houses two. Each cage can be removed to make room for extra-long graphics cards or liquid cooling setups, but the process isn’t tool-free at all. The cages are held in place with what seems like a million tiny screws, and getting them all out requires removing the P380’s front and top panels, as well as the switch module for the twin power buttons. This design is a major pain in the rear compared to other modular drive cage implementations I’ve tested. Mark this section of the report card as “needs improvement.”

Removing the case’s front and top fascias is somewhat easier, at least. The top panel is secured with a pair of thumbscrews, while the front panel is held by six standard screws.

With these panels removed, we get a better look at the P380’s twin 140-mm exhaust fans up top, as well as its 120-mm fan at the rear. Curiously, there’s only room for two 140-mm fans in the top panel. Those willing to switch to smaller 120-mm fans can put three spinners up there, though. Liquid-cooling radiators up to 360 mm long can be installed here, too.

Since the fan mounts protrude from the top of the case, there’s plenty of room for thick radiators or push-pull fan setups. I measured 2.5″ (65 mm) of clearance from the top of the fan mounts to the top of the motherboard tray.

The front panel has mounts for an identical complement of fans or radiators, though all of the drive cages must be removed to accommodate a 360-mm radiator or a large reservoir like the one in this Thermaltake kit. That leaves builders in a bit of a lurch: since the P380 doesn’t have any other drive mounts, improvisation might be in order with extreme liquid-cooling setups. At least the front panel can take a 240-mm radiator without sacrificing the dual drive sleds in the top cage.

The P380 has a couple other tricks behind its front and top panels. For those who absolutely need optical storage, Antec provides a plastic bracket (seen on the left in the picture above) for slim optical drives, which then screws into the back of the front panel. Cable-routing holes are punched into the front of the case, too, so wiring a slim optical drive shouldn’t be a big deal.

The front dust filter slides in through the bottom of the front panel. This design choice is annoying, since it means that the case has to be tipped on its back or side in order to make the filter accessible. That might not be so easy with a complete system inside and a bundle of peripheral cables attached.

In keeping with the twin sets of power and reset buttons, the I/O port block can be unscrewed from the top panel and rotated to face either side of the case.

Now that I’ve field-stripped the P380, let’s put it back together and install my version of TR’s Casewarmer system inside.

 

The build
Building a system in the P380 is fairly straightforward. So straightforward, in fact, that I only have one major complaint.

Since this case is a full tower, a standard ATX motherboard looks kind of puny in there. The copious volume means there’s plenty of room for cables and extra-large components. I was afraid the cables of my Cooler Master V550 PSU would actually be too short to route behind the motherboard tray, but they turned out to be just long enough to reach all the major plugs on the motherboard. Keep the P380’s size in mind when selecting a PSU.

There’s just under an inch of clearance behind the motherboard tray, which is enough space to run thick cables like the 24-pin ATX connector without causing the side panel to bend outward. The hard drive cages offer 1.5″ of cable clearance, but there’s a big flange between the cages and the motherboard tray that cuts clearance down to half an inch. Builders with lots of storage will want to be aware of this bottleneck.

My one complaint with building in the P380 is the bargain-basement feel of its fan hub. One of the fan headers was loose out of the box, and the Molex power connector popped free of the circuit board when I connected it to the PSU (although the solder didn’t break). I was able to pop the connector back into place, and the fans worked fine, but the experience wasn’t confidence-inspiring. Remember, this is a $200 case.

Now that the Casewarmer is nestled into the P380, let’s run some benchmarks and see how the case handles the heat.

Our testing methods
Today, I’ll be testing the P380 with the following system inside:

Processor AMD A10-7850K
Motherboard Asus Crossblade Ranger
Memory 8GB AMD Entertainment Edition DDR3-1600
Graphics card Zotac Nvidia GeForce GTX 660 Ti AMP! Edition
Storage Kingston HyperX 120GB SSD
Samsung Spinpoint F1 750GB HDD
Power supply Cooler Master V550
CPU cooler Cooler Master Hyper D92
OS Windows 8.1 Pro

A big thanks to AMD, Asus, Zotac, Kingston, Cooler Master, and Antec for providing the parts that made our testing possible.

I used the following applications in my tests:

Our case test cycle consists of the following phases:

  • 10 minutes idling at the Windows desktop
  • 10 minutes running the Prime95 Small FFTs CPU torture test
  • 10 minutes running Prime95 and the Unigine Heaven GPU benchmark
  • 10 minutes of cooldown time at the Windows desktop

I first tested the P380 with its fans connected to the built-in hub on their low and high settings. I then ran another test cycle with the fans hooked up to motherboard’s fan headers. Where releveant, comparative results are included from Fractal Design’s Define R5 and Corsair’s Obsidian Series 450D.

 

Turning up the heat
First, let’s examine the P380’s performance with its fans controlled by the motherboard. Here are the results of my cooling tests, plotted over time:


And here are some minimum and maximum temperatures from each test phase:


With the motherboard running the show, these cases are all pretty closely matched. There’s only a two or three degree margin between the best- and worst-performing cases in each test. “Worst” might be harsh, too, since none of the cases allow temperatures to get out of safe territory.

For those whose motherboards lack firmware fan control, here are the results from the P380 running with the fans controlled manually:


And here are the minimum and maximum temperatures from each test:


The P380 runs cooler than the Define R5 when each case’s fans are controlled by their built-in switches. Again, though, the differences are only a few degrees for the most part. Maybe one of these cases will distinguish itself from the pack in our noise tests.

Noise levels
Here are idle and load noise levels measured with Faber Acoustical’s SoundMeter iOS app. These measurements were taken 6″ from each side of the case.

First, let’s examine the P380’s acoustic performance under manual fan control:


With the P380’s fans controlled by their built-in speed switches, the noise levels are nothing to write home about at idle. In fact, the high-speed setting is exceptionally loud.

Under load, however, the low-speed P380 config is the quietest one by three to four dBA. That’s an impressive achievement given the fact that the Define R5 features a couple of sound-deadening features missing from the P380, like foam-lined front and top panels. That said, the P380 loses out to the Define R5 when both cases are spinning their fans at full speed.

Next, let’s look at noise levels with the motherboard in charge:


With the firmware dictating fan speeds, the P380’s idle noise levels fall between the Define R5 and the Obsidian 450D, and they improve when compared to the manual results. Under load, the P380 is the quietest case once again, beating out the already quiet Define R5. The P380 might be the quietest tower-style case I’ve tested under load, period. Bravo, Antec.

Those low dBA numbers don’t tell the whole story, though. To my ears, the P380’s top fans produce a distinctively identifiable pitched noise even at their low speed setting, and that problem only intensifies with the controller switched into high gear. The stock fans in Corsair and Fractal Design’s cases produce broader-spectrum noise that sounds better to me.

Controlling the P380’s fans with the motherboard can improve the case’s perceived noise levels. Antec states that the 120-mm rear fan runs at 600 RPM on its low setting, but the Crossblade Ranger’s firmware spins the fan as slowly as 476 RPM. I saw similar slowdowns with the top fans, which run at a minimum of 800 RPM with their built-in controllers and about 530 RPM when attached to the motherboard. These differences diminish the tonal character of the fans and make the P380 perceptibly quieter overall.

Also, I should add that my test rig’s mechanical hard drive occasionally causes the P380 to vibrate and buzz. Every other case I’ve tested has had problems keeping the buzz down, so the P380 isn’t unique in this regard. When the case isn’t buzzing, the insulated side panels and huge rubber feet do a good job of reducing hard-drive noise. I had to check whether the drive was running several times during my testing.

 

Conclusions
The P380 has a lot of expectations riding on it. Does it deliver?

The P380 has some quirks, like the difficult-to-access dust filter for the front panel. Other parts, like the included fan hub, just feel cheap. The individual switches on each fan aren’t the most convenient method of fan speed control. The P380 also lacks a lot of the tool-free niceties that I’ve come to expect in modern cases. Dedicated mounts for 2.5″ storage behind the motherboard tray would have been nice to see, and Antec’s included fans aren’t the best-sounding spinners that I’ve experienced.

It’s not all bad news, though. Antec really hit a home run with the P380’s styling: the solid aluminum fascia looks incredible under a desk. The duplicated power and reset buttons and the swappable I/O cluster are both thoughtful touches. This case is plenty spacious, so building a system inside is easy. The P380 is also good at cooling the system inside, and with the fan speeds managed by the motherboard, it delivered the lowest noise levels I’ve measured with these components.

If Antec had included better-sounding fans, a higher-quality fan hub, and more tool-free features, the P380 would be in the running with some of our favorite cases. For now, buyers will have to weigh the P380’s good looks and solid performance against its minor drawbacks and premium price.

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