Antec SLK3000B mid-tower case

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The SLK 3000B is the latest evolution of Antec’s popular 3700 series cases. The SLK 3000B has the same bezel as the 3700 AMB and BQE models, with subtle tweaks and refinements that make it the best of the breed yet. One big change: No power supply is included, with a corresponding drop in price… and the freedom to chose any PSU based on need, whim and budget.

January 9, 2005 by Ralf Hutter with Mike Chin in the SPCR audio lab

Product
SLK3000B
PC case
Manufacturer
Antec,
Inc
Price
MSRP – US$60; Street – US$45-60

The Antec SLK3700 series of cases is well known, not only in the
quiet PC community but also in the mainstream
PC enthusiast community. Antec has always been known for well made,
reasonably priced PC case designs that don’t go over the top in the styling
department. The SLK3700 series fits perfectly into this mold and has become
the de facto case to recommend these days. It’s basically replaced
Antec’s earlier SX10x0 series in this respect.

Nothing’s perfect however, and even though SilentPCReview has always liked
this series of cases, we’ve always felt that they were open to some improvement.
The original SLK3700AMB
was not designed or marketed as a “silent” PC case as was done with
the Antec
Sonata
, but its 120mm fan grills, well-designed front bezel and grommeted
HDD mounts made for an excellent quiet PC foundation. In our original
review of the SLK3700AMB
, we picked a few nits about the somewhat restrictive fan grills and the borderline
quiet PSU and fan. Reader feedback echoed these sentiments, along with the occasional
complaint directed at the “Metallic Bronze” color of the case.

Antec,
showing good responsiveness to customer feedback, released a slightly revised version of the 3700AMB called the
SLK3700BQE,
with “BQE” standing for “Black Quiet Edition”. This was clearly a direct appeal to the newly-emerging market of
silent PC enthusiasts. Changes included free-flowing fan grills,
a quieter PSU and case fan, as well as the seemingly marketing driven changes
of 3.5″ drive bays rotated 90° and a satin-black paint job. Some of
these changes helped improve the silent potential of the case while others
actually hurt. The low restriction fan grills were a giant plus, the PSU and
case fan were helpful but the 90° rotation of the drive bays actually hurt
the airflow through the case. User reaction mirrored the tone of our
BQE review.
People also seemed to greatly prefer the satin black finish over
the earlier metallic gray piano finish of the 3700AMB.

The powers that be at Antec seem to have listened again to the
silent PC community’s reaction to the SLK3700BQE. They recently released
yet another reworked version of this popular case. With the new SLK3000B
, it seems that Antec is serious about gaining more market share among quiet PC builders. They have taken the
best features of both earlier SLK3700 cases, and removed some some extraneous
features in an attempt to morph the SLK3000B into a leader in this growing market.

Changes from the previous SLK3700BQE include:

  • a return to a the standard HDD orientation,
  • 3-speed switchable 120mm case fan
  • an Intel-spec side air duct and VGA cooling grill to the left side door

Antec has kept

  • the same excellent BQE-style fan grills front and rear
  • more user-friendly satin black paint job

Our Main Questions:

  • How effective are these changes for improving the potential of the case to house a silent/quiet PC?
  • Will we see yet another revision to this platform or will the SLK3000 be the summit (and end) of the line?

We’ll start by taking a quick look at the box and the case.


SLK3000B packaging is plainer than most Antec products.
This case seems to be marketed more towards
OEMs and VARs than the retail channel.


The exterior of the 3000B looks almost identical to it’s predecessor,
but for the two added cooling grills in the door.

SPECIFICATIONS

Not surprisingly, the feature list of the SLK3000B differs little
from its predecessors, except for the absence of a PSU and a different
case fan:

* 3.0 Ghz compatible
* No Power supply
* Drive Rails for 5.25” drives
* 2 Front USB ports with shielded cables
* Removable Side Panels
* Removable Drive Cages for 3.5” drives
* 11 Drive Bays:
— External: 4x 5.25″, 2x 3.5″
— Internal: 5x 3.5″ with rubber grommets to absorb hard drive vibration
* Cooling capacity: up to 2 120mm fans
— 1 rear (standard) TriCool fan 25mm thick
— 1 front (optional) 25mm thick
* Fan Specs:
— RPM: 1200 – 2000
— CFM: 39 / 56 / 79
— dB(A): 25 / 28 / 30
* Motherboards up to Standard ATX size

DESIGN

The basic design of the SLK3000B differs little from the earlier
SLK3700’s that we’ve come to like. Up front it has:

  • four external
    5.25″ bays,
  • two removable external 3.25″ bays and
  • a double set of
    external USB 2.0 ports.


Looks like a black, PSU-less SLK3700AMB from this view.

The plastic front bezel is easily removed, as long as you do it right: Press on the side tabs near the bottom to release them, then pull down a bit to release the top hooks before pulling the bezel away from the chassis.

The same seven slim curved slits found on the 3700 series bezel are used for the intake vents. These slits are designed to prevent direct fan-to-ear path for sound, which usually helps to keep perceived noise down, but still provide a fairly open path for air to flow in. It works as designed as long as the case is positioned below ear level. The total intake area of these slits is about 17~18 cm square. Add the bottom 15 cm square intake hole for a total front bezel intake area of about 32-33 cm sq.

Is this area adequate? Well, an 80mm fan typically has a slightly bigger fan blade area (~36 cm sq), and a 120mm fan has a typical fan blade area of 87 cm sq. For minimal airflow restriction, you might want the vent area to be the same as the intake fan blade area. Given that the front intake fan position allows for a 120mm fan, this seems a bit restrictive. A simple solution for those who see this as an issue, and want the best breathability: There is room to at least double the size of the bottom hole by cutting carefully with a hacksaw.

Clipped to the bezel on the inside of the intake vent slits is a
removable dust filter. Air coming in from the bottom intake hole in the bezel bypasses this filter, a small design error which remains unchanged from both the 3700 models. It’s too bad Antec did not correct it here. Those who seek to minimize dust may opt to remove the filter and use it (or something similar like mosquito netting) at the metal fan intake grill on the chassis.

It is at the metalwork that we come to one of the redesigned features
of the 3000B, the front fan grill and fan mount. The fan grill itself is the
same free flowing design of the 3700BQE but the fan is now mounted
behind the front wall of the case, instead of in front of it (as on the 3700BQE).
The room for this revision comes from the best new feature of the SLK3000B,
a return to the 3700AMB HDD cage design.


Front grill looks similar to 3700BQE, HDD cage similar to 3700AMB.

Antec has ditched the “different is better” sideways HDD cage in
favor of the original removable, normally oriented HDD cage of the
SLK3700AMB. As pointed out in out 3700BQE review, the sideways HDD cage
had a detrimental effect on intake airflow, and its
non-removable, cramped design made it difficult to successfully
suspend hard drives. The combination of the original 3700AMB hard drive cage
and the new open grill allows better airflow over the drives and through the case. The HDD cage and the bracket on the floor of the case can both be easily removed, which greatly facilitates the suspension
of hard drives
, a noise reduction technique that is highly effective and
widely used by SPCR enthusiasts.

Not everything is rosy, however.
Antec has chosen the same plastic fan mounting bracket of the original
AMB. The mounting holes for this bracket are in a non-standard location,
so mounting a fan directly to the case (using regular
fan screws or some type of isolating technique) requires the user to
drill new mounting holes slightly inboard of the existing holes.


“Retro” drive cage, updated fan grill and plastic fan mount
.

Moving towards the rear of the case, the next new “feature” is the lack of a PSU. Why do we consider the absence of a PSU a “feature”? The PSUs included in the 3700 models, while quieter
than average, are not quiet enough for the more
noise-obsessed among us. By not including a PSU, Antec reduces the price
and the shipping weight (22 lbs for the 3000B versus 30 lbs for the 3700BQE),
and gives end-users greater freedom to choose any PSU based
on their own needs, whims and budget.

A few inches below the PSU area lies another of the revisions that Antec applied
to the 3000B, the adjustable speed 120mm TriCool fan. This is
a fairly standard 120 x 25mm fan with a small three-position (low, medium and
high) switch wired into the fan hub. Will
this user-adjustble case fan be an improvement of the previous fans included
in the SLK3700 series? Can we believe Antec’s published specs for this new fan?
We’ll put it to the test in a bit and find out.


New TriCool three speed fan with pass-through Molex connector
.


“Action shot” of fan at low speed. Note 3-position selector switch
for fan speed.

The rear view of the SLK3000B will look very familiar to SLK3700BQE owners.
The 3000B uses the same low restriction fan grill as the BQE, and of course
there is the empty PSU bay.


Rear of SLK3000B showing BQE-style fan grills
.

The right side of the 3000B has the exact same removable door
as the earlier versions. This is convenient for getting to the drive bays,
as well as providing easy access to the PSU wiring for cable management.


Additional CAG and system vent make up the new TAC side
panel of the 3000B.

The left side door shows off Antec’s implementation of Intel’s
Thermally
Advantaged Chassis”
. Introduced
when Intel released the P4 3.06GHz CPU, the TAC
provides additional cooling air to the processor by using a plastic duct,
or “Chassis Air Guide”
to allow additional cool room ambient air to reach the CPU. It is a completely
passive solution, relying on the system fans to guide air to the processor and
other components. The rectangular lower vent is also a part of the TAC spec.
It is designed to provide additional cooling air to add-in cards such as
a hot video card. The CAG follows Intel specifications closely. It’s
a manually adjustable, telescoping plastic duct. It enables the
system builder to position the intake duct at the correct position in relation
to the processor heatsink.


CAG duct retracted.


CAG duct extended.

The 3000B includes the standard accessory package provided with
the earlier cases. Included are a complete set of snap-in drive mounting brackets;
special shoulder bolts for the HDD mounting grommets; a large set of brass motherboard
standoffs; mounting screws and insulating washers; and a set of replacement
EMI covers for the 5.25″ bay. No manual was provided with our sample but
a parts diagram was included.

ON THE TEST BENCH

There’s not much to test here, as we can easily summarize the performance: The SLK3000’s cooling / acoustic potential is better than a 3700AMB, even with the front and back fan grills cut out and replaced with wire finger guards. It’s the side cover vents that give the edge to the 3000.

The grill-cut 3700AMB has excellent cooling / acoustic performance, as already well documented not only in the previous 3700 case reviews, but also the various systems I have assembled in modded 3700AMB cases and posted information about in the General Gallery of the forums.

The 3000 also has better airflow / cooling performance than the 3700 BQE. Not considering the effect of the 3000’s vented side cover, the BQE can match the performance of the SLK3000 only if the HDD cage is completely removed — but then you can’t easily put the HDD cage back, at which point you’d obviously be better off with the SLK3000!

The vented side cover can allow a direct path for sound between fans and the user’s ears, but if the system is judiciously placed under the desk, there’s no increase in perceived noise. This is particularly true for rigs that emply low speed fans. If they are not needed, then it is easy to block the side vents in a variety of ways — tape or glue with black colored heavy paper, plastic sheeting, or dense foam work fine. On the other hand, the vents can provide very useful cool air intake for a hot CPU or VGA card.

Now for some listening, performance
tests, and sound recordings of the new Antec TriCool fan, with data from Mike Chin’s audio lab.

Switch
Airflow (CFM)
SPL (dBA/1m)
Comments
Claimed
Measured
Claimed
Measured
Low
39
35
25
21
It moves less air than claimed, but also is quieter. It is slightly quieter than a Nexus 120 at 12V. Probably quiet enough for lots of applications and certainly still moves plenty of air. Basic noise is smooth, very little bearing noise.
Mid
56
57
28
28
Measurement match claims almost dead on. It is smooth, mostly wind turbulence, with some vibration and mechanical bearing noise. May be quiet enough for some, but probably not for most serious silencers.
High
79
78
30
37
The airflow measurement matches the claim, but the noise is much higher. It is too noisy for a quiet PC, but the option to push this much air may be useful at times.

There is some evidence of greater bearing noise when the fan is in a horizontal position blowing up or down.
This is fairly common. and in this case, not very serious because this fan is used vertically.

MP3 Files of Audio Recordings

Antec TriCool 120 – low – 35 CFM / 21 dBA @ 1m

Antec TriCool 120 – mid – 57 CFM / 28 dBA @ 1m

Antec TriCool 120 – high – 78 CFM / 37 dBA @ 1m

Comparables

Globe Fan 120SL – 5.8V – 35 CFM / 22dBA @ 1m

Globe Fan 120SL – 12V – 77 CFM / 37 dBA @ 1m

Nexus 120 – 8.8V – 35 CFM / 19 dBA @ 1m

Nexus 120 – 12V – 41 CFM / 22.5 dBA @ 1m

Both the Globe Fan and the Nexus fan speeds were adjusted to give the same airflow (cubic feet per minute) as the Antec TriCool at the low setting ,which is the one of greatest interest to SPCR users.
Please see the note just below about sample-to-sample variations.

In general, this new TriCool fan isn’t ground-breaking, but it is decent. At the high
speed, it moves quite a bit of air, much like the Globe Fan, but the high turbulence and mechanical noise
put it out of the running for use in a quiet PC. Direct screw mounting to the case does not help as I can easily hear some case resonance generated by the
vibration of the fan. Decoupling it would definitely help. It’s not too bad at the mid setting, but still a bit loud. It’s quiet at the low setting, with little more than a touch of mechanical noise to
break the silence. At this setting, the TriCool fan reminds me a lot of
the case fan included with the 3700BQE.

NOTE: Mike’s comments and lab results differ slightly from my listening impressions. My TriCool 120 sample has some light clicking at the low setting, and I would actually not replace any of my 120mm Globe Fans with it. Since we are looking at only two samples, it is impossible to say which one is more representative of the norm. Often these inconsistencies are caused by minor bearing damage during shipping, which we think is one of the most common sources of fan variances. It’s a safe guess that my fan sample was damaged and Mike’s was not. So be aware that sample-to-sample variations can impact low speed acoustic performance.

FINAL THOUGHTS AND CONCLUSIONS

The SLK3000B is a logical evolution of the successful SLK3700
series. With the low restriction grills and a return to the more conventional, removable HDD cage of the 3700AMB, Antec
has eliminated the last of the major bugs out of the SLK3700 series. The absence of
a PSU is a big “plus” for system builders, especially
silence-obsessed types; it allows us to pick and choose the best possible
PSU for our individual systems. The Therrmally Advantaged Case vented side cover expands the suitability of the case to a broader range of hot components, and provides the intelligent silent PC builder with useful options for improved cooling at little cost in noise.

Early on in this review, we posed the question Will we see yet another revision to this platform or will the SLK3000 be the summit (and end) of the line? Well, the 3000B isn’t quite perfect, with
its plastic front fan mounting bracket, hard-mounted rear fan, slightly restrictive front bezel and dust filter byspass flaw. Maybe
if Antec is bored, they could consider doing a “SLK3000.5B”,
but I doubt the retooling is going to happen. Their marketing department will probably demand this series be replaced with a brand new looking case — for better or worse.

With the SLK3000B, Antec has created about the best modestly priced case for the mod-wary silent PC enthusiast. Only the Evercase 4252 poses any real challenge. Some people may grouse about the
cosmetics, but the cosmetics don’t affect the performance, and it
is a subjective judgment anyway. Objectively speaking, the SLK3000B is a great
case for building a quiet PC.

PROS

* Very low restriction fan grills
* HDD cage oriented for best case airflow
* CPU and VGA vents in side cover can be very useful

* Easily removable HDD cage allows for suspending HDDs
* Sturdy steel construction with no sharp edges

* No included PSU – freedom to choose your own
* Satin black finish resists fingerprints and easily matches drives

CONS

* Plastic front fan mount with non-standard hole pattern.
* Hard mounted rear fan that’s not quiet at faster speeds
* Front bezel could be less restricted and the filter better positioned
* No manual (might be changed w/o notice though)

Much thanks to Antec
for the opportunity
to review the SLK3000B.

* * *

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