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Antec has an impressive range of cases; while we’ve reviewed some of the more gaming orientated cases, this time we’re taking a look at a case aimed at a different market. The Antec Dark Fleet DF-85 and Antec Eleven Hundred that we have reviewed are both medium-to-large cases aimed at those putting relatively high-end machines into them. In this article, I review the Antec Solo II, which aims to provide a good looking and quiet case as part of the Antec ‘Quiet Computing’ series of products. This unit comes in at around £90 in the UK (Scan) or $130 in the USA (Newegg).
Packaging and Presentation
The unit arrived in a glossy colour cardboard box wrapped in bubble-wrap. Unfortunately, UPS appear to have managed to damage one of the top edges but the case inside was unharmed. While I don’t really see the point in such colourful boxes (I buy almost all of my computer components via the internet, due to a lack of decent and affordable shops in my area), there has clearly been some effort put into the packaging. This same style of packaging can also be seen in the two Antec case reviews that we have published previously.
Appearance, Build Quality and Features
The case itself is covered in a very nice gloss back paint; the styling is vastly different from that of the Dark Fleet DF-85, and achieves a very clean and professional look. The aesthetics of this unit are far more my better half’s cup of tea: although she grimaced as I unboxed the DF-85 last year, she was very impressed with the look of this unit. I’d quite happily have the DF-85 in an office, however the Solo II is perhaps more suited to an office machine, or an environment where clean and professional is more important than flashy. The blue power and hard disk LEDs are in keeping with the crisp and clean look. The gloss on the side of the case is such that taking a photograph is quite difficult, due to the reflections. The colour match between the front of the case (which is plastic) and the sides is excellent, although the front doesn’t suffer the same issues with reflections. Another model is also available which features a silver front.
The front of the unit features grilles in both sides to allow air intake for an (optional) fan behind. Two 5.25″ drive bays are available at the front, an arrangement that Antec have chosen to allow for more 3.5″ drives within the unit. As someone who firmly believes that optical media is close to obsolete, I like this design decision (the DF-85 currently houses a gaming rig, sans optical drive and I have replaced the optical drive in my laptop with an Ultrabay HDD). The front of the case has the power switch, reset switch and a typical arrangement of ports. Headphone, microphone and USB ports are present, with the USB3 ports in blue. At the rear are the gap at the top where the PSU will sit, plus the gap for the motherboard connectors. In addition, a two-speed fan is included, with a switch to adjust the fan speed. One of the side panels can be removed using thumbscrews alone, which is a feature I appreciate as I’m frequently inside my machines. Once inside the case, it is easy to remove the front by pressing in two plastic tabs and swinging open the hinge.
Unlike larger cases which often feature grommeted holes for running tubing, there isn’t any provision for watercooling. While silent computing is the aim here, and watercooling often helps towards that aim, it’s clear that there just isn’t enough room. The space on the inside, pictured below, is almost all accounted for. Antec state that they chose to have the PSU mounted at the top in order to allow larger graphics cards to be used inside the case (an image illustrating this can be found towards the end of this article); the drive cage is certainly at the appropriate height. The bag containing screws and such can be seen attached in the space behind the 5.25″ drive bays. The included rear fan, set up as an exhaust by default, has orange rubber grommets at each corner and is threaded onto rubber strips that hold it in place. The case panels are lined with sound-absorbing material, which has a slightly rough texture, in order to keep noise to a minimum. There are no sharp edges to be found within this unit; I could run my hands over most areas, corners and surfaces without feeling anything sharp. Anything that could have potentially been a sharp edge has been neatly rolled.
Underneath the drive cageare four holes, which are provided for the installation of 2.5 inch drives. Solid state drives (SSDs) are obviously most likely to be the sort of 2.5 inch drives that you will find in a desktop machine, so it’s nice that Antec have found (otherwise wasted) space in which to fit a place for a SSD. It’s a far less gimicky position than the top bay provided in the Dark Fleet DF-85.
Removing the front of the case is straightforward once the clips inside are pushed in. Getting the front back on is more complicated, and requires carefully lining up one edge first, slotting it into the hinges, and then closing the front across. Two removable filters can be seen in the picture below, and there’s space behind the bottom one for a fan (as you can see in the image above). The filter in front of the drive bay is a nice idea, especially for those who run their machines 24/7 and can build up a significant quantity of dust in the innards.
Both filters can be unclipped and removed for cleaning. The drive cage behind the upper filter, while sadly not removable, can hold either two or three 2.5 inch or 3.5 inch drives. Three drives can be mounted in the supplied trays, and clipped in. Alternatively, two drives can be suspended in the strips of fabric provided. While the latter method limits the drive capacity a little more, it does decouple the drive vibrations from the case better. In fact, it does so in a method almost identical to that published on this very website 8 1/2 years ago! (Chris McQuisition’s article on quieting hard drives can be found here).
Drives that are 3.5 inches wide will fit snugly into the tray and can be fixed in using screws. Drives that are 2.5 inches wide can be attached using the supplied extra set of screws, after the white rubber grommets are moved. Thus, in total, this case supports one 2.5 inch drive plus two or three drives of either 2.5 or 3.5 inches in width.
Installing a System
The final task is, of course, to fully install a working system. The following machine was installed:
- AMD Phenom X4 9650 with stock cooler
- Asus M3N-HDMI ATX motherboard
- 6 GB (3 x 2 GB) RAM (two brands)
- Corsair CX600 PSU
- Blu-Ray drive
- Four hard disks, all 3.5 inches wide
- Extra ethernet and wireless PCI cards
As the case only supports three drives in the cage, the fourth was installed below the Blu-Ray drive, using some 5.25 inch to 3.5 inch rails (purchased separately, many years ago). Each of the other three drives were screwed into the trays (see above) and the trays were slotted into place with a satisfying click. Attempts to wiggle the trays didn’t free them, yet they can be released quite easily if the tabs are pulled in. On the downside, adding or removing hard disks requires the front panel to be removed; however, given the relatively small footprint of the case, there isn’t any room to have the drives withdraw into the case.
Separate rails are provided for the 5.25 inch-wide devices. While four should be supplied, I could only find three at first. However, one had come free from the clip they were supplied in during transit, and could be found stuck between the motherboard tray and side panel. Installing the Blu-Ray drive was quick and easy, although I struggled to judge where on the drive the rails should be installed. My first attempt left the drive protruding a few millimetres from the front of the case, but this was easily fixed.
Next, I installed the power supply at the top. I installed it with the air intake facing downwards (to act as an exhaust), before realising that it would work equally well with the intake facing upwards, as there is a grille at the top of the case. I’m not quite sure if there are any noise implications for the way I have installed my PSU, however it will act as an extra case fan if it faces downwards. I suspect if cooler air is taken in to the PSU then, in some units, the fan may run slower and produce a little less noise. For cable management, there are some hooks on the side of the drive cage, as well as a relatively generous gap between the motherboard tray and side panel. I found it relatively straightforward to route cables sensibly.
If the case were even a few millimetres smaller I would honestly have struggled to squeeze the board in. The case will accept ATX, MicroATX and MiniITX motherboards, but I had to be very carefully installing my ATX board. Once it was inside the case and rested on the standoffs, it was plain sailing. There are barely a few millimetres of case visible on each side (see the image below). While I’ll never win prizes for neat cabling, I have to say it doesn’t look too bad. There’s quite a lot of machine in what is quite a small volume for an ATX case.
Antec claims that full-length graphic cards are supported due to the placement of the PSU. While this machine has onboard graphics (the nVidia 8300 does very nicely for a Linux server/HTPC box), I did line up a (regrettably very dead) GTX 275, and it’s very clear that it would fit comfortably into this unit.
Once assembled, the machine was powered on; while not completely silent, it’s definitely very quiet. If the stock cooler were to be replaced with a quieter unit, such as the Corsair A70 in my other machine, I’m sure it would be difficult to tell from sound alone whether the machine is on or off. With the TV on the machine is inaudible.
The Solo II is a very nice, solid case which manages to keep the hardware inside quite quiet. It feels like a quality unit and has pleasing aesthetics. It is, however, rather expensive for a mid-tower case. It does look and feel like a high-end case, and manages to fulfill its promises of quiet computing, but I can’t help but feel that it’s priced too high. If I were putting together a high-end office desktop machine for a professional environment, I’d have this in a heartbeat. For the majority of my (enthusiast-level) builds, I think I’d be more tempted by a full tower for this sort of cash.
The space inside is just enough – I’m perhaps used to larger cases, but there’s not much extra room in this case and so the build has to be approached carefully. The board fits almost to the millimetre and there’s no removable motherboard tray to make installation easier. Installing drives is easy, and the case does successfully make good use of the space it takes up. I’d strongly recommend installing the PSU first; the rail at the top is removable which makes PSU installation much easier.
I’m torn between ratings for this unit. Part of me wants to label this as a pricey niche product (and slap an Overclockers.com ‘Meh’ badge on it), yet it is a very nice, solid and clean case. For a build you don’t plan to have open frequently, e.g. for a mission-critical workstation, it’s an excellent unit. For this reason, I’m giving this an Approved stamp, but only just.