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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  • warthogism - Thursday, February 01, 2007 - link

    I know that you guys were able to fit an CNPS7000 in there and that a 9000 would not fit. What I was wondering is if a CNPS7700 would fit. The difference is that the height of the 7000 is 62mm and the 7700 is 67mm. Also, the 7000 has a 92mm but the 7700 uses a 120mm fan. Does anyone have first-hand knowledge? or at least, does it look like the 7700 will fit? Thanks for the help. Reply
  • gool - Saturday, January 13, 2007 - link

    I'm the happy owner of a heavily modded Antec Aria - blow holes, sidefans, PSU-fan replacement and so on. It's based on a MSI Micro-ATX 939 motherboard, AMD 64-3200 (Clawhammer), 1 GB DDR-SDRAM, Liteon DVD-CD combo, a 160GB 7200 Maxtor disc, an external (USB2) Maxtor 250 GB disc and a Nvidia 6600GT card. The latter is the one I wish to replace, but I'm uncertain if I'm able to draw enough juice from the standard Antec 300W psu for this purpose? Seen people with a similar setup who uses a 7800GT card without problem. What are you guys advice - could I go down this road?

    Cheers,
    Svend
    Reply
  • Patrese - Sunday, January 07, 2007 - link

    Great review, but I'd like to see something about the new (and not no new) uATX motherboards on the market, specially the Asus M2NPV-VM and Abit NF-M2 NView... Reply
  • artifex - Thursday, January 04, 2007 - link

    I suggest everyone interested in these smaller form factors to look at sfftech.com and mini-itx.com. Plenty of reviews and some nifty case mods, etc. Reply
  • mino - Thursday, January 04, 2007 - link

    I like that you made semi-pro noise tests for the cases.

    However as changing noisy PSU/fan is the easiest thing to do(I have yet to us a case with included PSU/fan)..
    It would be nice to complement out-of-the-box testing with controlled-enviroment testing.

    It would be more informative, especially to enthusiasts, to make a reference rig (fans, PSU, all coolers, HDD) and assemble it into different cases.

    To know that a case comes with a noisy PSU is nice. However to know its ability to dampen the brum of an HDD, or mute the pinch of a GPU cooler is far better.

    Nice work otherwise, keep on.
    Reply
  • JoshuaBuss - Thursday, January 04, 2007 - link

    This is a very good idea, but to a certain extent we believe it's the manufacturer's responsibility to supply a case with fans that work best for its need, not the user's. At the least a manufacturer should offer recommended buys (like PDCL did) so that a user knows what should work well. If a fans that come with a regular case are so bad that it's truly hurting the overall appeal, we normally do try it with a different configuration to see if we can do better. With these micro ATX cases it's often the case that the included power supply is a custom fit and we have to test it 'as is'.

    Thanks for the suggestion.
    Reply
  • mino - Thursday, January 04, 2007 - link

    I suggest you take a look at the ASUS TM-21/23/25 series especially the TM-250.

    I have yet to see a case of this size with better internal organization, such a good cooling performance. As a bonus the case is very sturdy (especially for such a low weight product).

    The ability to put 3 HDD's in a 15.6*6.7*14inch box _and_ cool them without additional fans speaks for itself.

    Newegg lists them for $50 with 300W high-quality PSU's.
    However we bought 100 a month ago in EU and they came with 350W and _without_ that annoying floppy hole...
    Reply
  • mino - Thursday, January 04, 2007 - link

    One little problem I missed, those on Newegg(provided they sell the exact model as on image) have ATX 1.3 PSU's.
    While these Bestec PSU units are pretty good - PFC, very quiet(have 20+ of them deployed) - 180W on 12V rail may not be sufficient for a gaming rig.

    I hope the new refresh models(350W,no floppy), we bought recently, will hit the US market soon.
    Reply
  • artifex - Thursday, January 04, 2007 - link

    I'd like to see a review of the power supplies used in some of these, as well as third-party replacements. Heck, I'd even like to see a new version of the old ATX PS roundup/review Anandtech did years ago -- I bought my Antec TruePower 430 after that, and it's lasted through a second system, but I've no doubt it's getting creaky now. Reply
  • IronChefMoto - Wednesday, January 03, 2007 - link

    First off, decent article. I would like to have seen Anandtech test different video cards in the cases, though. One of the issues with nice mATX cases like the Lian Li V300 (???) is that longer, high-level chipset cards like the 7900 series hit pieces of the framework in the case. You have to mod your case or your card for the Lian Li model.

    While folks won't always be dropping a 7950GT into one of these, having that option is nice if you want to build a small, high-end gaming rig. Please try and make that part of your mATX review setup in the future. I've even asked Newegg.com to start adding card length data to their specs (they're opening the cards anyway for product shots) so you don't end up having to send back a card that doesn't physically fit a case by 1/4".

    That said, my friend and I built v1 Aria (when it had more front ports) about 2 years ago. It was the toughest build I've ever had to do. It was cramped, the PSU had to come out for assembly, and the CPU cooler was up next to the PSU. The temps idled 60C with a very hot P4 Prescott (???) CPU. My buddy upgraded the unit with a Zalman Reserator and continues to use it today running at about 35C under load.

    I would recommend that anyone looking at an mATX case check to see that the PSU is STANDARD ATX or a replaceable mATX format. The v1 Aria will not accept an ATX replacement without some modification and/or loss of space. This holds true for mATX barebones like Shuttle XPCs (I own/am stuck with two (2)).

    IronChefMorimoto
    Reply

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