Introduction

Even though micro-ATX motherboards have been in rather widespread use for a while now, the small form factor PC is still relatively new to most people. Show an average PC user a no-holds-barred system roughly the size of a bowling ball and they will most likely be impressed... even if they already know about Mac Minis and Shuttle PCs. This is not to say that the market isn't growing, however. Indeed the computer industry as a whole will probably never cease to try to miniaturize even the most powerful of machines, even if there are already computers smaller than a C battery.

Smaller contraptions containing more processing power pose real thermo-dynamic challenges though, and without good enclosures systems built in these compact sizes will be prone to all sorts of problems stemming from the high heat levels. Unfortunately, the only way most manufacturers deal with heat problems is by compensating with more noisy fans, which ironically defeats a primary purpose of the small form factor PC - simply being a less noticeable computer.

Worse yet, even if a case company happens to get the heat and noise issues of a small PC enclosure handled admirably, they might make the case so impossibly difficult to work in that no one would ever want to put up with the headache of installing parts in it. Extrapolating this mentality brings us to an even worse scenario, where a company would choose to use the case to build a mass quantity of miniaturized computers and they could lose all sorts of revenue simply to lost time spent futzing with poor construction.

As usual with our evaluation of computer cases we have decided it is most beneficial to view several models at once to see how different manufacturers choose to handle the design challenges. We'll compare these techniques to give an overview of not only what we think about these particular models, but the ideas and methodology used to design these units and how they might be improved.

From a mile-high perspective, here's how the three cases we are looking at in this article 'stack up'.


(TL: Tool-less, TS: Thumbscrews, SS: Standard Screws, TR: Tool-less rails, SR: Screwed rails)

Antec Aria - Exterior
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  • jmke - Wednesday, January 03, 2007 - link

    Do you have a picture of your test room? 15dB (I guess A weighed) seems awfully low :) Reply
  • JoshuaBuss - Wednesday, January 03, 2007 - link

    It is very low.. in our old location we couldn't get any lower than 23 dB and now we're further away from the highway. All I know is that's what my new meter says if everything is silent and the dogs next door aren't barking. Reply
  • JoshuaBuss - Wednesday, January 03, 2007 - link

    Whoa, I'm sorry.. it was supposed to be 18 dB. Updated. Reply
  • KayKay - Tuesday, January 02, 2007 - link

    I built a machine for my brother using the Ultra microfly and it is a great case. The deciding factors for this was the ability to accept a Full-Size Power supply and the removable motherboard tray. They make this in several colours, as well as clear-sided versions. A small box with the ability to put some powerful components in it! 3800x2 with a 7600GT, this thing runs super quiet Reply
  • CuriousMike - Tuesday, January 02, 2007 - link

    I *just* built a machine three days ago using the Aria (NSK1300) as the basis; I just wanted something smaller than a tower case. I didn't see the review mention the case as being the NSK1300--- the Aria (IIRC) was all black. The case you reviewed is identical to the NSK1300.

    My build included a Frys X2 4200 "EE" combo deal with ECS C51GM motherboard.
    The retail box AMD fan must have been running full tilt all the time (3000rpm sound right?)... it was the noisiest in the case. The CPU would reach 70' under Prime95 load within about 20 minutes, idleing at around 50'.

    I replaced the stock HSF with a Zalman CNPS8000, which was reviewed poorer than the 7000 used in this review. The 8000, at anything other than it's lowest fan setting, is as loud as the AMD retail unit; at it's lowest fan setting, it *just* beats the cooling capacity of the stock HSF; running around 50' idle, and 69' with Prime load.
    With the 8000 at full RPM, it only knocks a few degrees... 67'. The machine runs hot.

    I used a evga 7600GTS and put a zalman 7000 GPU cooler on it (using the slowest fan setting); that made it go from idleing around 54' to 48', and running ATITool for 15 minutes, stock fan was 71', zalman brought it down to 65'.

    With the current fan setup, the machine is tolerable noise wise. It's nowhere near silent.

    The NSK1300 is cramped... almost impossible to route cables neatly.
    It's pretty slick removing all the panels and the drive cage.
    Reply
  • Myrandex - Tuesday, January 02, 2007 - link

    I have the Lian Li PC-V300 and given its popularity with this crowd, I would have loved to see it included in there. I look forward to finishing the article as it is great so far. Reply
  • JoshuaBuss - Tuesday, January 02, 2007 - link

    There are still a few more mATX cases on deck to be looked at soon.. hopefully the V300 will be one of them too. Reply
  • tayhimself - Tuesday, January 02, 2007 - link

    I can't for the life of me find a good uATX motherboard with decent overclocking features for a core2 chip. I would like to build a uATX system but I havent gone with one because of the motherboards. Reply
  • Staples - Tuesday, January 02, 2007 - link

    Unfortunately, good motherboards are not made in this size or even micro ATX for that matter. There are some decent P965 boards made in micro ATX sizes but the best ones are all in full sized ATX. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, January 02, 2007 - link

    µATX, uATX, mATX, and micro ATX are all the same thing. (u is the abbreviation used for mu a lot of the time - m already being taken by "milli" and most people not want to bother with the special symbol µ.) Reply

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