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Antec Signature S10: A Second Coming?

The Signature S10 may mark a dramatic resurgence in the PC market for Antec. This beast of a tower features thick aluminum side doors, a separate drive compartment to improve cooling, and a lofty $499 price.

June 28, 2015 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Antec Signature S10
ATX / E-ATX / XL-ATX
Tower Case
Manufacturer
Price
US$499

There was a time when Antec was a titan of the PC case market, a solid brand with which you couldn’t go wrong. Enclosures enblazoned with their name were commonly found housing the systems of the most ardent enthusiasts. They were known for their build quality but some models also stood out as fine examples of ingenuity. The mark left by legendary P180 is still visible today as many of its design elements live on in most contemporary towers. A few years ago, Antec quietly lost interest in the genre, and aside from minor updates, their lineup aged and fell out of favor as their competitors continued to battle and innovate. They haven’t really produced anything notable since 2011, but the Antec aura is so strong that some models close to a decade old continue to be widely available, apparently still selling.

Antec’s reemergence into the case market begins with the Signature S10, a unique
chassis that could potentially be another landmark product, in the same vein
as the P180. It’s a beast of a tower, adorned with thick aluminum panels, featuring
a clever design that could give it a distinct advantage over the competition.
It also has a shockingly high sticker price, which makes it more a statement
rather than a feasible product. It can be taken as a declaration that the sleeping
dragon has awakened, a warning to the likes of Fractal Design, BitFenix, NZXT,
and Corsair.


The S10.

The S10 has a unique, intriguing layout that may inspire Antec’s competitors
to copy them, just as they did with the P180. The killer feature is not a thing
but rather a no-thing: An almost inch-wide gap separating all the hard drives
from the rest of the system. Instead of having drive cages that need to be removed
to improve airflow, they’re simply out of the equation altogether by being in
a different, isolated compartment. The drives are still located at the front
like 99% of towers but they have their own separate cooling system.

That perhaps is an overstatement — it’s actually just a single 120 mm
fan at the bottom blowing air through the vertically mounted drives but in most
PCs, hard drives don’t need a lot of cooling, so it doesn’t make sense to have
two or three fans blowing over them. With this layout, the main section’s three
intake fans are not affected by the drives and have been moved much closer to
the hottest components (the CPU and GPU) as well as the three exhaust included
fans. The gap supplies fresh cool air from the outside, unimpeded by drive bays,
though there still is a pesky dust filter in the way.

The S10 also has an imposing form, standing nearly 24 inches tall and weighing
a hefty 39 lb thanks in no small part to substantial 4 mm thick brush aluminum
side doors. Thumbscrews cannot support such bulky panels so strong magnetic
strips are used to keep them in place, while hinges at the back allow them to
swing outward like a kitchen cabinet. The separation makes it seem like the
S10 has a head and this combined the slightly angular contours gives it some
resemblance to an AT-AT Walker from Star Wars, or least what I imagine one would
look like immortalized as a legless Easter Island statue. Oh, and did I mention
the price? Just US$499.


Packaging material.


Foam padding.

Given the substantial build materials, the S10 is not shipped in a typical PC case box. Antec uses packaging similar to that of a HDTV, a two-piece solution with a bottom that detaches via four plastic locking mechanisms. Lifting off the top reveals the case sandwiched between thick foam inserts and a good amount of clear tape wrapped around them as a backup measure.


Accessories.

The accessory box contains a manual, a few zip-ties, four 80 cm long SATA data cables (the large gap between the sections makes wiring a little tricky) and a microfiber cloth. The latter comes in very handy as the aluminum panels get smudged incredibly easily and apologize in advance for the number of fingerprints visible in this review.

Relevant Specifications: Antec S10
(from the
product web page
)
Dimensions 23.7 x 9.5 x 23.2 inches (H x W x D)
Weight 39 lb
Cooling Motherboard Chamber:
Top – 2 x 140 mm fans, 240/280 mm radiator
Center – 3 x 120 mm fans, 240/280/360 mm radiator
Rear – 1 x 120 mm fan, 120 mm radiator
Washable air filter – Large

Power Supply Chamber:
1 x 120 mm fan (optional)
Washable air filter – Medium

Hard Disk Drive Chamber:
1 x 120 mm fan
Washable air filter – Small

Drive Bays 6 x 3.5″ Quick Release Tool-Less Bays (HDD)

8 x 2.5″ Quick Release Tool-Less Bays (SSD)

Motherboard Size Up to 12” x 13” (304 mm x 330 mm)
Mini ITX / Micro ATX / Standard ATX / XL-ATX / E-ATX
Top I/O Panel 4 x USB 3.0
5.25” Shallow Depth Bay for Control Panels
HD Audio In and Out Power / Reset Button (Tap for Power, Hold for Reset)

EXTERIOR

The Antec S10 has a steel interior, aluminum side door panels, and a plastic top/front, and weighs 39 lb or 17.7 kg. It measures 23.7 x 9.5 x 23.2 inches or 60.2 x 24.1 x 58.9 cm (H x W x D) for a total volume of 85.5 Liters, making it around 40% more voluminous than a typical ATX tower.


Despite carrying a US$499 price-tag, both the top and front portions of the case are made of plastic. The front bezel is solid, smooth, and rounded at the corners with no door or external drive bays.


The top of the case has an odd cover which serves no purpose as far as I can tell. A matching dimpled surface makes the round ventilation holes less noticeable. Toward the front where it begins to slope downward, is a 5.25 inch slot, but it’s only deep enough for a fan controller or add-on panel, not an optical drive. Further down is the control panel with four USB 3.0 ports, headphone and mic jacks, and a shallow power button.


Between the two sections is a 17 mm wide gap (23 mm with the filter removed) providing airflow to the larger portion. The panels are quite heavy, reinforced at the outer corners, and have strong magnetic strips holding them tightly in place but a plastic lever at the top helps pry them open more easily. There’s also a release at the bottom which allows the front fan filter to slide out through the side.


The 4 mm thick removable aluminum panels swing outward revealing the S10’s innards, which are split up into three sections There are three removable fan filters, the main one servicing the intake fans, and smaller ones under the power supply and at the top of the hard drive stack.


The main door’s hinges are located at the back and are fitted with removable plastic pegs to prevent metal-on-metal contact. One of the plastic pieces was damaged during our initial inspection causing a slight issue where the front of the door had to be lifted slightly in order to close properly. These little plastic bits seem too fragile to handle all this weight and are not that well secured. A couple of them fell off during my time with it and some time was spent at floor level searching for them.


Aside from the 10 expansion slot covers, the back is not well-ventilated. A single 120 mm exhaust fan graces the rear.


There are no case feet to speak of as the bottom of the chassis is basically just a big flat platform like TV stand. Space has been allotted underneath to feed the hard drive fan intake vent and the power supply fan toward the rear.

INTERIOR

The S10’s interior is actually fairly standard if you ignore the gap and the front intake location. The power supply is at the bottom and the drives are at the front, though both sections are cordoned off into separate sections. This compartmentalized design along with the strong build quality makes it very structurally sound.


The section at the bottom houses the power supply and a small drive
cage for 5 x 2.5 inch drives. The portion at the front holds up to 6
x 3.5 inch and 3 x 2.5 inch drives and is cooled by a single 120 mm
fan at the bottom blowing upward. The main section, where cooling is
most important, has six fans in total and without hard drive bays in
the way, they’re much closer to each other and all the critical components.


The 120 mm fans appear to be lower speed variants of Antec TwoCool 120 fans.


The front fans are secured to a metal frame that also accepts 140 mm models. Two tabs on one side of the frame act as hinges and a pair of thumbscrews on the other side hold it in place. The long dust filter at the front, along with every other filter included is rather restrictive, impeding airflow by about half.


The two fans at the top are larger 140 mm variants and are mounted using the same system. There is about 39 mm of space between these fans and the edge of the motherboard so radiator thickness will not be an issue.


The power supply is luxuriously elevated on two foam ledges. Toward the front is a secondary drive bay for fitting up to 5 x 2.5 inch drives.


The rear side of the motherboard tray is well stocked with routing holes and tie-down points. The grommets are easily dislodged as they don’t hug the rim as well as most cases, but on the otherhand, they have fitted tabs that make them easier to pop back in place. Along the edge of the CPU cutout is a fan hub (not controller) powered via molex connector with 10 x 3-pin connectors.

ASSEMBLY

The assembly process is uncomplicated as there are no unusual mounting methods
and the interior is quite spacious. The only issue is with wiring as a minor
amount of cable slack will prevent the doors from closing. It’s also a nightmare
if you have a power supply with shorter cables as the S10 forces users to utilize
certain cable routes and there are obstructions not found in typical towers.


3.5 inch drives are attached to plastic trays with little knobs on the sides gripping onto the mounting holes. They fit reasonably but there is some wiggle room.


The trays are installed sideways in slots with rubber padding to help reduce vibration, but they don’t fit as snugly as I would like. In the past I’ve found that a tight fit is preferable with vertically mounted drives. Each level has a spot of a 2.5 inch drive to slide in. The smaller drive placements both at the front and near the power supply are fairly loose which is okay for SSDs, but ill-suited for hard drives.


Our test system fully installed. I was unable to thread 24-pin ATX cable (45 cm long) or the 8-pin cable (55 cm long) behind the motherboard. These problems were caused by the height of the case, the location of the main routing holes, and an obstruction behind the motherboard tray. If Antec ever makes a more mainstream version of the S10 with a side window, these issues would have to be addressed.


There is a relatively comfortable 23 mm of of space available for cabling but even a single dangling molex/SATA power cable is enough to keep the panel from sealing. The door magnets are quite strong but they don’t exert enough force to push flat thicker cables.


The highlighted ledge under the motherboard tray prevented me from connecting the 8-pin cable through the back. Any cable running over it, even a fan cable, prevents the panel from closing.


A similar feature in the hard drive section makes wiring multiple drives difficult. The provided SATA data cables are long enough but without extensions, I could only stretch power cables to five of the six 3.5 inch bays. Even at 75 cm in length, our power supply’s SATA chains were not long enough.

TESTING

System Configuration:


Test system device listing.

Measurement and Analysis Tools

  • Prime95
    processor stress software.
  • FurMark
    stability test to stress the integrated GPU.
  • Asus GPU Tweak to monitor GPU temperatures and adjust fan speeds.
  • SpeedFan
    to monitor system temperatures and adjust system fan speeds.
  • Extech 380803 AC power analyzer / data logger for measuring AC system
    power.
  • PC-based spectrum analyzer:
    SpectraPlus with ACO Pacific mic and M-Audio digitalaudio interfaces.
  • Anechoic chamber
    with ambient level of 11 dBA or lower

Testing Procedures

The system is placed in two states: idle, and load using Prime95 (large FFTs setting) and FurMark, an OpenGL
benchmarking and stability testing utility. This puts more demand on the CPU and GPU than any real life application. Throughout testing, system temperatures, noise levels, and power consumption are recorded. During the load test, the system and GPU fans speeds are adjusted to various levels in an attempt to find an optimal balance between cooling and noise while maintaining a GPU temperature of 80°C (assuming an ambient temperature of 22°C).

Baseline Noise

For our baseline noise tests, the system is left idle, the CPU fan is set to its minimum speed under PWM control (400 RPM), and the GPU fans are off by default. The system fans are connected to controllable fan headers and are set to a variety of speeds using SpeedFan. This gives us a good idea of what the stock fans sound like at different speeds with minimal interference from other sources.

With seven stock fans, testing for noise was rather tricky, especially as no fan controller is included. After cursory observation, I found that the fan cooling the hard drive section was considerably louder than all the others. Its top speed is 1300 RPM compared to 1000 RPM for the remaining 120 mm models, while the twin 140 mm fans on the ceiling run at about 650 RPM. As hard drive cooling isn’t that important, I decided to run the rogue fan at only 600 RPM throughout testing. Unfortunately our test motherboard only has three fan headers free, so splitters were used to connect the six main fans, and the hard drive fan was slowed using a low voltage adapter from a Noctua heatsink combined with a Zalman Fan Mate, and a 3-pin to molex adapter to get power directly from the power supply.

Fans were tested with three different fan configurations (see fan diagram above): two fans (fans #1~2), four fans (#1~4), and six fans (#1~6). The fans have been paired by importance based on my own past experience. The rear exhaust is #1 being vital for helping the CPU cooler and getting rid of rising hot air coming off the graphics card. The center intake is designated #2 as it feeds fresh cool air to the graphics card. #3 is the top intake which creates a push-pull dynamic with the rear exhaust fan. The rear/top exhaust is #4, taking priority over its neighbor simply because its location is closer to the heatsink. If you choose to leave two fans disabled, they should be #5 and #6.

Baseline Noise Level
(Idle, CPU fan at 400 RPM, HDD fan at 600 RPM, GPU fans off)
Fans
Fan Speed Setting
SPL @1m
0
N/A
15 dBA
#1~2
80%
18 dBA
100%
22 dBA
#1~4
80%
20 dBA
100%
23~24 dBA
#1~6
60%
18 dBA
80%
21 dBA
100%
25~26 dBA
Measuring mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle left/front
of case.
Noise level with all system fans off: 14~15 dBA@1m
Ambient noise level: 10~11 dBA@1m.

With the hard drive fan dialed back to a low speed, the case is actually fairly quiet despite the number of remaining fans. The stock fans produce 25~26 dBA@1m altogether running at full speed which is somewhat loud but it’s a low mark for a six fan setup. To put this in perspective, the Antec P100 generated 25 dBA@1m with just two stock fans at maximum speed. The four and two fan configurations top out at 23~24 dBA@1m and 22 dBA@1m respectively. To enjoy quiet operation, all three configurations need to be slowed down somewhat.

The included fans are not great acoustically. The 140 mm models at the top are generally smooth but they emit a dry hum throughout their range. The 120 mm models, especially the higher speed model under the main drive section, have clicky profiles at lower speeds, which is unsurprisingly similar to my experience with the Antec TwoCool 120. At higher speeds, they sound better, as the increased turbulence drowns everything out, and it also helps that they reside inside a thick case to further muffle this defect. The clickiness is only audible when up close and when the other noise-producing components are silent. At close proximity, the vibrations generated by the hard drive can be heard as well but it doesn’t appear to shake anything else in the case as most of the pieces are well secured.

TEST RESULTS

System Measurements (Best Results):
CPU + GPU Load, 80°C Target GPU Temp
System Fan Speed Setting
2 x 80%
4 x 80%
6 x 60%
GPU Fan Speed*
1210 RPM
(44%)
1050 RPM
(41%)
1120 RPM
(42%)
CPU Temp
60°C
56°C
60°C
MB Temp
43°C
42°C
40°C
SSHD Temp
35°C
35°C
35°C
System Power (AC)
354W
355W
357W
SPL@1m
23 dBA
22 dBA
22 dBA
*set as low as possible to maintain target GPU temperature on load.
CPU fan at 800 RPM, hard drive fan at 600 RPM.
Ambient temperature: 22°C.

For brevity, I present a summary of my extensive testing with the best noise results for each of the three fan configurations. All three are fairly strong performers but the four fan setup produces both the lowest noise level and temperatures. At 80% speed, this configuration is so efficient, the video card fans have to spin at only slightly above the minimum speed allowed by the GPU’s BIOS. Keep in mind this is only a one GPU system, so the additional fans are not necessarily a waste, just not optimal for our specific set of hardware.

The noise emitted by the four fan configuration is only bordering on quiet, but the quality is relatively good. The system sounds innocuous for the most part with no tones or clicking audible from one meter away. Though it measures only 1 dB lower than the two fan configuration, its acoustics are more substantially improved as the lower GPU fan speed results in more pleasant pitch.

Filter Removed

The S10, like almost every case that enters our lab, comes equipped with fairly restrictive dust filters. Obviously it’s no fun having to dust out the interior every month or so, but the more blocked off the vents are, the worse the performance, so a balance has to be struck. This test uses the optimal system fan speeds from earlier with the main filter removed to check the performance difference.

Temperature Difference (Front Filters Removed):
CPU + GPU Load, 80°C Target GPU Temp
System Fan Speed Setting
2 x 80%
4 x 80%
6 x 60%
CPU Temp
-3°C
-2°C
-4°C
MB Temp
-2°C
-2°C
-2°C
GPU Temp
-3°C
-3°C
-5°C

The results show significant thermal improvement when the front intakes are left open. The configuration with six fans running at 60% shows the greatest effect with the GPU receiving a 5°C benefit while the CPU runs 4°C cooler. The MB temperature also lowers by 2°C, no matter how many fans are running.

Multiple Drives

Given the S10’s unusual drive cooling arrangement, it seems appropriate to test it with more than one drive. Complementing the single Seagate SSHD in our system are four 5400 RPM WD Reds, two 4TB and two 6TB models, the types of drives perfect for mass storage.

The acoustic difference is dramatic when the system fans are off with the extra drives driving up the noise level from 15 dBA@1m to 18~19 dBA@1m. A strong tonal peak emerges at 90 Hz, corresponding to the additional drives’ 5400 RPM motors. They resonate at a fairly high frequency so they don’t emit the rhythmic waxing and waning effect that sometimes accompanies drive resonance. The vibrations are probably better dampened than most cases but it’s still clearly audible even from one meter away.

System Measurements (Best Results):
CPU + GPU Load, 80°C Target GPU Temp
Drive Configuration
SSHD only
SSHD + 4 x WD Red 4/6TB
SSHD Temp
35°C
35°C
HDD Temps
N/A
33~36°C
System Power (AC)
355W
370W
SPL@1m
22 dBA
22~23 dBA
CPU fan at 800 RPM, hard drive fan at 600 RPM, 4 x system fans at 80%, GPU fans at 41%
Ambient temperature: 22°C.

As for cooling, the number of drives doesn’t seem to make a difference. Adding the four WD Reds has no effect on the temperature of the original SSHD, and every drive in the configuration is reasonably well-cooled, staying at 36°C or lower while the system is on full load. Furthermore, with all internal fans spinning at higher speeds, the measured noise level difference is almost negligible.

Comparison

Case Comparison: System Measurements
(CPU + GPU Load, 80°C GPU Temp)
Case
SilverStone FT05
Antec S10
Fractal Define S
SilverStone KL05
CM Silencio 652S
Avg. System Fan Speed
2 x 500 RPM
4 x 80%
630 RPM
(2 x 80%)
840 RPM
(2* x 60%)
550 RPM
(4 x 40%)
GPU Fan Speed
1000 RPM
1050 RPM
1120 RPM
1070 RPM
1120 RPM
CPU Temp
53°C
56°C
60°C
57°C
62°C
MB Temp
36°C
42°C
45°C
43°C
45°C
SSHD Temp
33°C
35°C
35°C
34°C
32°C
System Power (AC)
346W
355W
350W
351W
352W
SPL@1m
21~22 dBA
22 dBA
23 dBA
24 dBA
24 dBA
*one fan added.
CPU fan at 800 RPM.
Ambient temperature: 22°C.

Thus far, the Antec S10 (with the filter in place) is the second best performing case we’ve tested, trailing only the SilverStone FT05 with its rotated motherboard design and gigantic 18 cm fans. However, among towers with standard layouts, it edges out all the competition in every metric aside from drive temperature.

AUDIO RECORDINGS

These recordings were made with a high resolution, lab quality, digital recording
system inside SPCR’s own 11 dBA ambient anechoic chamber, then converted to
LAME 128kbps encoded MP3s. We’ve listened long and hard to ensure there is no
audible degradation from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent
a quick snapshot of what we heard during the review.

Each recording starts with ambient noise, then 5~10 second segments of product
at various states. For the most realistic results,
set the volume so that the starting ambient level is just barely audible, then
don’t change the volume setting again while comparing all the sound files.

  • SPCR ATX Test System in Antec S10 – Operating
    — idle, CPU fan at 400 RPM, HDD fan at 600 RPM, GPU fans off, six system fans off (15 dBA@1m)
    — load, CPU fan at 800 RPM, HDD fan at 600 RPM, GPU fans at 44%, two system fans at 80% (23 dBA@1m)
    — load, CPU fan at 800 RPM, HDD fan at 600 RPM, GPU fans at 41%, four system fans at 80% (22 dBA@1m)

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Antec S10’s innovative design helps deliver the best performance we’ve
seen from a tower with a traditional (non-rotated) layout. It’s one of the few
such cases I would consider housing dual high-end graphics cards. Taking the
hard drive bays out of the equation by separating them from the rest of the
system is a stroke of genius. The HDD compartment’s single fan, even at a low
speed, is sufficient to cool this section, and the gap separating the two compartments
provides ample airflow for the main intake fans, which are positioned at closer
proximity to the hottest components.

However, its superb airflow setup is hampered by restrictive main and top panel
dust filters. Alleviating these impedances would make performance even better.
Aside from the hard drive fan, the included fans are fairly quiet, but it should
really ship with a fan controller. Motherboard fan control can’t handle seven
fans unless splitters are employed. Most users will have to pick and choose
which to control and which to run at full speed using the provided hub. Drive
vibration is somewhat of an issue but less so than most towers; I wouldn’t mind
seeing the 3.5 inch drive mounts being tightened up though.

From a usability standpoint, wiring is its biggest problem. The size of the
interior, the ledges on the right side of the case, and the location of the
routing holes, conspire to make many of the cable runs longer than usual. To
route all of the main cables through the back, our system would have required
extensions for all the main power connectors. This may have been by design,
as a small amount of cable bulge behind the motherboard is enough to prevent
the doors from closing. It should also be noted that you need plenty of room
on both sides of the case as the doors require a wide berth.

With its thick and heavy side panels, the S10 is built like a tank. If you accidentally hit a wall while moving it, check the wall for damage — the chassis is probably fine. However, the doors exert substantial force on the tiny hinge protectors. These little bits of plastic are tasked with taking on too much weight, and they’re also easy to lose. A couple of them popped off during testing and I was frankly very fortunate to retrieve them. The exterior could use some work as well, as the sliding top cover seems to have no purpose, and for US$499, there shouldn’t be any superfluous plastic on the outside.

Antec should be rewarded for their creativity but the S10’s high price and various flaws makes it a tough sell for the consumer market. [Editor’s Note: Keep in mind that there have always been pricey high end cases. Think back to the $700 mATX Zalman TNN-300 and >$1,000 TNN-500 cases, as well as the $500 Moneual HTPC cases.] However, as a prototype or proof-of-concept chassis, it’s an unmitigated success. Antec is definitely onto something, and if they produced a more realistically priced model and ironed out some of the wrinkles, the result could be an absolutely stellar enthusiast tower. Either way, it’s exciting to see signs of resurgence from a once great case manufacturer. [Editor’s Note: SPCR’s Recommendation is contingent on the price fitting your budget, but it’s too interesting and good a case for us not to recommend. Surely, the S10 is the first, the flagship, of a new line, and more affordable models are probably in the wings.]

Our thanks to Antec
for the Signature S10 case sample.

* * *

Recommended by SPCR
Antec Signature S10 is Recommended by SPCR.

ERRATA & Manufacturer’s Feedback (June 29, 2015)

Han Liu, Antec’s long-time Product Development Manager, gave us this
feedback, which includes two clarifications, the first of which some attentive
forum member already picked up.

Thank you very much for the review in such a short time. I’m
still digesting the review.

There are two points I would like to make.

1. The 120 mm fan at the bottom of the HDD chamber is not blowing up
as Lawrence mentioned. It actually blows down so the fresh cool air
will be drawn down from the top, which explains the top filter.

2. Lawrence also mentioned that “The top of the case has an
odd cover which serves no purpose as far as I can tell.” It does
have a purpose: To hold down the heavy side panels so they won’t
move during transportation. Examine the case with the cover on, you
will see what I mean.

Thanks Han!

Articles of Related Interest
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Budget

Phanteks Enthoo Evolv ITX
Mini Tower

Fractal Design Define S Tower
Case

Zalman Z11 Neo ATX Case
Corsair Carbide 500R Performance
Midtower

BitFenix Pandora MicroATX Case

* * *

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