I wanted something that will keep my system cool regardless of the ambient air temperature and I can upgrade over the next three to five years without concern of air flow or cooling requirements.
I chose the Antec Nine Hundred for the cooling it can provide, namely lots of large fans. With four hard disks and a passively cooled 7600, my system can generate a fair amount of heat.
I imagine I'll buy a new ATX mainboard, CPU, RAM and GPU in another 18 - 24 months. This would then last me another 24-36 months, giving me my 3 - 5 years' use. In the meantime, I'll probably buy another two SATAII hard disks in the next six months and run RAID 0. This would bring my hard disk count to six.
Packaged Antec Nine Hundred
Fans work on the basis that, the larger they are, the slower they can go to push the same amount of air through. Slower, usually means quieter. Given that I spend a fair amount of time next to my PC I prefer to not have the "jet engine test field experience".
Warm air rises, so placing a large fan at the top to directly extract the air is a great idea. This logical fan placement was another selling point for me.
Main components of this PC
Passively cooled Intel 945 chipset North and South bridge chipsets
Intel Dual Core 2.66Ghz CPU
Zalman, CPU cooler, turned down to 1200rpm
4x PATA hard disks, one is a 320GB that runs quite hot
Passively cooled GeForce 7600GS
Cooler Master 450W PSU with 1x 12CM cooling fan
One of the curses of the standard PC is the rats nest of cabling that they generate. SATA helps to relieve this, but for now I've got PATA drives and have reduced it by using rounded IDE cables. Even so, it still makes for quite a tangle when assembled.
Case selling points
1x 200mm top mounted cooling fan with manual speed selections of 400,600,800rpm
3x 120mm fans, two front (one per hard disk cage), one in rear, all with manual speed selections of 1200, 1600, 2000rpm
2 additional fan mount points, one above GPU for direct side intake, the other in a bracket at the back of a HDD cage to boost GPU cooling
Bottom mounted PSU, PSU fan blows up through the case, and a joins other warm air, extracted through top
Decent space between 5.25" bays and mainboard, creating more room for cabling
PCI slot covers have holes to assist front - rear air flow
Storage tray for keys, USB keys, iPods & anything other than liquids. Comes with shaped rubber mat for grip
Top mounted, easy access 1x 6pin Firewire, 2x USB ports, 1x 3.5mm stereo headphone jack and mic pick up (headers as connector & individual pin outs)
Screw-less design, uses small or large thumbscrews (except for the mainboard, PCI slots and 5.25" bay covers)
Comes with one 3.5" to 5.25" adapter and face plate
2x HDD Cages with front mounted 120mm fans that blow air back across disks. Fans are removable
HDD cages can be moved around and 5.25" area configured to:
3x 5.25" drives, 6x HDDS (default)
9x 5.25" drives
6x 5.25" drives + 3x HDDs
3x 5.25" drives + 3x HDDs + VGA cooling tunnel
User manual for header pinouts and installation guide
Case Assembly and Review
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but for my 2c, I think the case looks cool enough. It's certainly a point of difference to the usual beige box and the blue LEDs on the fans add an interesting touch.
The storage tray is useful - right now it holds my 2.5" external drive.
I did smile to myself when flicking through the manual, they had a list of items you shouldn't put in the tray - drinks, candles, coffee and perfume. Damn!
Storage tray with 2.5" external enclosure
GPU fan bracket behind mesh, other fan bracket at back of HDD cage
Standard 5.25" config. 3x bays at top, followed by each HDD cage
HDD cage running, 3x LEDs light up spinning fan
Top left to right: Reset, HDD LED, headphones, mic, Firewire, USB & power
Top down, tray has rubber mat for grip
Front half for drives, and two cages
This shot shows the default 5.25" configuration. The top three bays are suggested for ROM drives, then each hard disk cage. Again, you can also see the removable bracket for the optional rear-mounted fan in the cage.
The idea is to leave this cage empty and place another fan in the rear bracket, which would create a GPU cooling tunnel. A great idea if you have a high-end GPU or SLI configuration.
You can also see the built in cable management tie, on the bottom right, there's another one near the top. These allow you to put your front cabling through and keep them out of the way.
Looking down case and hard disk cage. Bracket and face plate mid left
You can see the 3.5" to 5.25" adapter and the front cover. Something the manual doesn't point out is that you need to mount the 3.5" device quite forward, otherwise, the bracket interferes with the front cover when you try to screw it back on.
Fan switch for Low (1200rpm), Medium (1600rpm) and High (2000rpm) fan speeds
Bottom mounted floppy
I don't like fans close to the floor. They often suck in extra carpet fluff and floor dust. Usually I raise the system off the floor, this can be done with a couple of concrete cinder blocks or phone books.
Standard SATA support now comes as part of the Windows XP install disc, provided it is at Service Pack 2 or greater. However, given my intention to buy a couple of SATA II disks in the next six months, and my reluctance to spend the seventy odd dollars on a USB-Floppy drive, I decided to install the floppy drive.
I moved the floppy to the middle of the bottom three and used the two foam blocked grills above and below the drive.
All parts in, cables connected
As you can see, once all parts are in place and cables connected the roomy feel soon vanishes. I have four hard disks in there, two per cage. I use an external DVD-RW connected on the USB, but could easily have placed a 5.25" drive into the top bay in the bottom three, above the floppy. I find that the rounded 60cm IDE cables I use are very handy for larger cases. They are longer than the standard ribbon and are easier to make "stretch" into those less than usual configs.
Side panel on: Later I unplugged the rear (Cooler Master) fan, it was unnecessary.
With the completely assembled unit up and running the CPU, GPU and hard drives are all running cooller than before.
I'm pretty happy with the fan noise, it's not noticeable unless the room is completely quiet and even then, it's a mere hum. In terms of the case fans, I'm using the two HDD cage fans and the top mounted 200mm fan. All three are set to Low. Additionally I have my PSU and CPU fans, which are pretty quiet anyway.
That's a total of five fans, four running about the 1200rpm mark and the large one at 400rpm.
The stock, Antec branded fans that come with the case are high quality and the ability to manually select their speed is a good idea. It could be argued that it would be better if they thermally adjusted. However, I prefer to add an additional fan at lowest speed, rather than listen to the constant ups and downs that are accompanied by thermal fans.
A set of switches to adjust the fan speed as needed on the top between connectors and detachable face, that would be "cool"
A slightly bigger storage tray
Thumb screws for PCI slots and 5.25" drive covers
A plastic base to raise the case off the floor so my PSU isn't sucking straight off the floor
A rethink on the HDD cage screw design. It's quite fiddly getting the screws in to the drives, even more so when they drop out halfway through
Overall, I'm happy with my purchase, I think there's some great ideas in the case and the fact that it separates the mainboard and PSU nicely, makes working in the case easy.
It doesn't have a slide out mainboard tray, but that doesn't really worry me as I don't often do stuff with the mainboard itself. The board attaches with the standard mainboard hex screws and there's plently of mount points for other board configurations.
The air flow is consistent in its directional flow and more efficient in cooling. If you have a CPU higher than 3.2 GHz, a high-end GPU or SLI GPU configuration you should seriously think about this case if you haven't gone to water cooling.
The two hard disk cages are good. It's nice to see that they realise how hot modern disks get and come with fans at the front ready to cool them.
The 5.25" area is a standard design and this lets you shuffle things around any way you want. As you can see in the above picture I shuffled the drive cages around to avoid having them low to the floor.
My previous case ran the CPU at between 43 - 45 degrees, with this new case it runs at 39 - 41. This is only about a 4 degree drop, but it's clear there's room for expansion.
Additionally, I still have fan options. I could place a fan in the GPU mesh bracket or one in the rear bracket near the CPU. Unfortunately because I'm using both HDD cages, I can't use the cage bracket.
So, if you're looking for a large, stylish case with plenty of fan options that include settable speeds and can provide a well-cooled system, then you should seriously consider this case.