Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/6192/antec-isk-110-vesa-case-review-just-about-as-small-as-it-gets
Antec ISK 110 VESA Case Review: Just About As Small As It Getsby Dustin Sklavos on August 31, 2012 12:01 AM EST
Introducing the Antec ISK 110 VESA
We've been having a good run of Mini-ITX cases lately, but most of those cases are designed to still be able to support what are essentially fully-powered systems: standard voltage CPUs, dedicated graphics cards, an optical drive and multiple storage drives. Yet part of the charm of Mini-ITX is that it's capable of fitting into a much smaller space than even a Micro-ATX board theoretically could. If you're gunning just to produce a system that's very small and very efficient, but you don't want to just use someone else's build, a Mini-ITX board and the right enclosure can have you covered.
That's where the Antec ISK 110 VESA comes in. This case is about as small as it gets, and includes the necessary hardware to actually mount it to the back of a monitor. Antec has trimmed about as much fat as you could conceivably hope to trim; there's enough room for a Mini-ITX board, two 2.5" drives, and that's it. It includes an external 90-watt power supply and just enough internal power circuitry to drive low-to-moderate power hardware. With so little room to work in, did Antec make the right decisions, or was there still more they could do?
A few months back we were able to review two complete designs from Puget Systems that employed the ISK 110 VESA, and those systems proved you could still install a formidable machine in the tiny space. Yet there are very real limitations in getting a desktop this small, as well as certain trade-offs that Antec made. Just because there isn't much to pack in the ISK 110 VESA doesn't mean there isn't much to say about it or consider in its design; when you're drilling down this far, real choices have to be made.
|Antec ISK 110 VESA Specifications|
|Motherboard Form Factor||Mini-ITX|
|I/O Port||4x USB 2.0, 1x Headphone, 1x Mic|
|Power Supply Size||Included external 90W|
8.7" x 3.1" x 8.4"
222mm x 78.6mm x 212mm
|Weight||2.9 lbs / 1.3 kg|
|Special Features||External 90W 92% efficiency PSU|
I wasn't kidding when I said this is about as barebones as it gets, but the price is reasonable at least considering you're getting a fairly specialized case, the necessary mounting brackets for placing it behind a monitor, and a power supply.
In and Around the Antec ISK 110 VESA
Given just how small it is, even compared to lightweight heavy hitters like SilverStone's Sugo SG05, you'd think there wouldn't be much to the Antec ISK 110 VESA. That's not quite true, though; just like good game design, what's not included is often just as important as what is.
Even before you get to the enclosure itself, there's a decent amount of extra kit that comes with the ISK 110. Antec includes a bracket for mounting the built system behind a monitor, the external power supply, and a snap-on stand that allows the case to stand vertically. The external AC adapter is a stock Delta Electronics unit similar to what you might find with a notebook, which means that some of the power circuitry still has to be included in the chassis. We'll get to that in a second.
The styling for the ISK 110 VESA is pretty simple; since there isn't any room to include fans, most of the case is ventilated in some way. In fact the only face of the enclosure that doesn't have ventilation is the front, which features the power button, indicator LEDs, and four USB 2.0 ports. You can argue for or against USB 3.0 in an enclosure this small; internal USB 3.0 headers and their cables are pretty substantial, and a quick jaunt to NewEgg reveals only a handful of Mini-ITX boards that feature them.
Antec's two-toned design relies on a silver band encompassing the front, rear, bottom, and top of the case; the side panels are black. The left or "top" panel of the ISK 110 VESA is entirely mesh and it's worth mentioning that the slight extrusion gives the interior a bit more space than it would initially seem to have. Unfortunately the right or "bottom" panel isn't ventilated anywhere near as much, and you'll see later on that's to the case's detriment. There's very little reason not to include better airflow through this side, since it's where the two 2.5" drives are kept.
Opening up the ISK 110 VESA is actually easier than it looks. On the back of the case, the two side panels are each held in place by a pair of screws, and Antec actually includes thumbscrews you can replace these with if you're so inclined. Once the screws have been removed, the two side panels just snap off and back on. They're secure without being too difficult to deal with, but it's also clear that Antec didn't design the ISK 110 VESA to be regularly tweaked.
The interior of the case reveals the thick cable bundles you've come to expect. It's only when you're dealing with a case this small that you realize just how much space all these headers can really take up, but I'm not sure there's a better way for Antec to handle these. Draw your attention to the board on the right side of the photo, though; since Antec is using a stock AC adapter to power the ISK 110 VESA, they have to supply the necessary power circuitry to separate the individual rails. There's also a proprietary connector on the board where a cable that branches off to the individual leads is connected; since the ISK 110 VESA can support such a limited number of components, though, Antec only has to include what's absolutely necessary.
On the opposite side is a removable tray that includes mounting holes to install one 2.5" drive laterally or two next to each other. It's a nice touch on Antec's part to include an alternative mounting orientation for systems that are only going to use a single drive, but also note that this means the drive is butting up against the underside of the motherboard...and the CPU.
Antec's design is really about as bare essentials as it's going to get, and with the cooling needs of the ISK 110 VESA coupled with the size constraints of a Mini-ITX board (both in terms of how small it can get but also how big it still needs to be), I don't know that they could've really done too much to deal with the needed cabling and power board. This does mean that you're always going to be able to see the inside of the system, for better or worse, and dust is liable to be a bigger issue with the ISK 110 VESA than it might be with a larger case. It also means that whatever cooler you use on the CPU is going to basically define the sound profile of the case; there just isn't anything muffling it or any directed airflow.
Assembling the Antec ISK 110 VESA
Given that there isn't a whole lot to the Antec ISK 110 VESA, you'd think assembly would be simple and straightforward. While it's straightforward, simplicity unfortunately isn't part of the equation; cramped quarters are never good for getting a system put together, and the ISK 110 VESA is incredibly cramped.
What you'll find very early on is that while it was nice of Antec to include motherboard standoffs (in Mini-ITX cases especially I'm mystified when a vendor doesn't), that power circuitry board is going to have to come out. The height and placement of the capacitors on the board ensure that the already tough squeeze caused by the bundles of cabling and the size of the case itself make it nigh impossible to actually get the board in. Thankfully the board is secured by two screws.
Unfortunately, this also means you're going to have to jimmy it back into the case after the motherboard has been installed. Because of the way the power board sits on the two mounting posts, it's incredibly easy to knock it off center and mess up trying to mount it again. If you're not steady, this could get frustrating in a hurry.
Connecting cables has almost never been as trying as it is in the ISK 110 VESA, either. You're going to be squishing and squeezing them around corners, over DIMMs, and pretty much just wherever you can get them, and this is all before you connect the internal power headers. That breakout cable is for the most part up to the task, but the four-pin AUX 12V header is way, way too short. It was designed for Mini-ITX boards with that connector in the top left corner, behind the I/O cluster, not in the top right like our testbed board. A visit to NewEgg reveals that there's no standard placement for this header on Mini-ITX boards; they're pretty much all over the map. As a result, I had to use an extension cable.
Thankfully all the excitement is happening on this side of the case; you can connect the needed SATA power and data leads and then jam them through the single gap left between the motherboard and the chassis to route them to the underside. Installing a 2.5" drive or two to the removable bracket is a breeze, and connecting the leads to the drive doesn't require too much finesse.
Where I'll admit to being surprised is that after looking at the cable spaghetti (and be absolutely certain there are no wires obstructing the fan on the heatsink) I wasn't sure I'd even be able to jam the top of the ISK 110 VESA back on. The bottom went back on easy enough, but there isn't a whole lot down there. The extruded ventilation of the top panel is much more spacious than it appears, though, and closing up shop proved to be much easier than I had anticipated.
A finished system in the ISK 110 VESA just isn't going to be that attractive; even Puget Systems had a hard time keeping the cabling straight and clean with the two Echo systems they sent us for review. What matters most is just keeping the fan blades on the heatsink clear, since that's the only active cooling your entire system is going to have.
For testing Mini-ITX cases, we use the following standardized testbed with and without dedicated graphics cards to get a feel for how well the case handles heat and noise.
|Mini-ITX Test Configuration|
Intel Core i3-2120
|Graphics Card||Intel HD 2000 IGP|
|Memory||2x2GB Crucial Ballistix Smart Tracer DDR3-1600|
|Drives||Kingston SSDNow V+ 100 64GB SSD|
|CPU Cooler||SilverStone NT07-1156 with Cooler Master ThermalFusion 400|
|Power Supply||Included 90W AC Adapter|
Each case is tested with just the Core i3's integrated graphics as well as with a discrete graphics card when possible. The system is powered on and left idle for fifteen minutes, the thermal and acoustic results recorded, and then stressed by running four threads (three with a dedicated GPU) in Prime95 (in-place large FFTs) on the CPU, and OC Scanner (maximum load) is run when the dedicated GPU is installed. At the end of fiteen minutes, thermal and acoustic results are recorded. If the enclosure has a fan controller, these tests are repeated for each setting. Ambient temperature is also measured after the fifteen idle minutes but before the stress test and used to calculate the final reported results.
We try to maintain an ambient testing temperature of between 22C and 24C. Non-thermal test results aren't going to be directly comparable to the finest decimal point, but should be roughly comparable and give a broader idea of how the enclosure performs.
Before moving on, we'd like to thank the following vendors for providing us with the hardware used in our testbed.
- Thank you to Puget Systems for providing us with the Intel Core i3-2120.
- Thank you to Zotac for providing us with the Z68ITX-A-E motherboard.
- Thank you to Crucial for providing us with the Ballistix Smart Tracer memory.
- Thank you to Kingston for providing us with the SSDNow V+ 100 SSD.
- And thank you to SilverStone for providing us with the NT07-1156 heatsink/fan combo.
Noise and Thermal Testing
Without anywhere to put a dedicated graphics card in the Antec ISK 110 VESA, testing winds up being a bit more truncated than we'd expect. In a way some of these results are going to seem academic, essentially reviewing SilverStone's NT07-1156 heatsink/fan unit about as much as the case itself.
Ambient temperature during testing hovered between 24C and 25C.
These test results are actually a little more interesting than I'd expected; despite the ventilation, the heatsink has to do all the work of keeping the CPU cool. With no directed airflow in the system outside of that, the processor actually runs notably warmer than in larger, more closed off cases with more directed airflow. Only the Cooler Master Elite 120, with its poor intake airflow, posts a worse temperature on the processor, but those thermals are still perfectly reasonable.
On the other hand, the SSD in the ISK 110 is running much hotter than I'd like. The bottom panel really needs more ventilation than it has; a peak temperature in the mid-40s is still within spec for most 2.5" drives, but that's with just a single SSD. A second drive, especially a mechanical hard drive, could bump thermals up a few degrees and start edging pretty close to 50C, which is spec for some drives.
Fan speed in the ISK 110 is middle of the road. As long as you're using a processor that runs fairly cool you shouldn't have too many issues with it; we still have some headroom on ours.
The flipside to the Antec ISK 110 VESA's design is that while it relies solely on the heatsink/fan combo to actively cool the system, it also relies solely on the heatsink/fan combo to actively cool the system. That means with a unit like the SilverStone one we use, the ISK 110 VESA can run comfortably quiet even under load.
Conclusion: Good Deal, If You Need It
When you're talking about the Antec ISK 110 VESA, it's important to note-and I've stressed this over and over-what you're giving up. Even for a Mini-ITX system, you're sacrificing a lot to hit a form factor this small. That's not necessarily a bad thing; the ISK 110 VESA isn't intended for full-powered or even compact-powered systems and Antec makes no bones about it on their product page. It's meant for kiosk and basic lightweight corporate and personal use.
I'd argue that for those purposes it's actually more than adequate. It's very easy to make it a quiet system (just use a quiet heatsink), and as long as your expectations are properly adjusted, you should be perfectly happy with it. Antec charges a competitive price for it, too.
With all that said, though, there are still definitely a few places where Antec could improve the design. Ease of assembly is always going to be an issue with a case this small, but the ISK 110 VESA is more difficult than it needs to be. While I'm not an electrician I find it hard to believe that the power board needs to be laid out as clumsy as it is; the caps are just too tall, and the precarious way it's mounted makes it needlessly difficult to remove and replace. The power leads on the separate cable are fine for the most part (a sheath around the cables would go a long way), but the AUX 12V line is just plain too short.
Antec could also make plugging headers into the motherboard easier by employing completely removable cables similar to how BitFenix handles them in the Prodigy. These wouldn't actually take up much more space than the existing black plastic box, either, but would again go a long way towards making the case easier to assemble.
Finally, the panel on the underside just plain needs to be ventilated better. As the case is designed it does run the risk of cooking 2.5" drives housed there, and there's no reason not to increase the ventilation.
Whether or not USB 3.0 connectivity should be added in an update (or a reset button for that matter) is going to be a matter of some controversy. I see the pros and cons for going either way, so I can't hold it as a strike against the ISK 110 VESA. I'm also wondering just how difficult it would be to switch to a 120W power adapter instead of the existing 90W; the case has enough thermal headroom to it that I don't think it's out of the question to try putting a standard 95W processor inside.
All of that essentially leaves us with a case that's pretty good at what it does, but definitely has room for improvement. This is a fairly old design from Antec, too, so it's ripe for updating. Let's hope they do it.