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Antec Solo II: The Legacy Lives On

The Solo II is the long anticipated update to the Antec Solo. Are the updates of USB 3.0, long graphics card support, a top panel power supply vent, removable cross-bar, and a new TrueQuiet 120 fan enough to bring a 6-year design to modern silent PC standards?

September 8, 2011 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Antec Solo II
ATX Tower Case
Manufacturer
MSRP
US$129

Six years ago, Antec released the P150/Solo, a simple but effective case for noise reduction. Antec had played with features like beveled fan grills and soft rubber grommets for mounting hard drives before, but the Solo brought together almost everything they knew about computer silencing including panel dampening mats and hard drive suspension, packaged in a stylish and easy-to-use package.

While still a excellent case for quiet computing, the competition has become much more sophisticated in recent years. In contrast, the Solo remained unchanged for more than half a decade, and its minor flaws became increasingly more significant. Many SPCR enthusiasts hoped for a worthy successor but feared the Solo would be abandoned altogether. Now, Antec has finally introduced a new and improved Solo, the ironically named Solo II.


The box.

 


The case.

The Solo II has a simpler look than the original, all-black rather than the silver/black blend of old. It has the same dimensions as the original, standing just a shade over 17″ tall, noticeably short for a modern brand name ATX tower. The 5.25″ external drive bays have been reduced from four down to two with no 3.5″ option, and they are flush with the front bezel rather than inset. The front FireWire connector has been decommissioned in favor of a pair of USB 3.0 ports (connected with a proper 20-pin internal cable). There is also a pair of USB 2.0 ports in the front. The only other change on the outside is a vent at the top of the case above the power supply position.

While the position of the PSU follows standard ATX case format, it is increasingly unusual among high performance discrete cases. Antec’s own P180 case, which preceded the Solo by several months, was one of the early leaders of the PSU-at-the bottom configuration. Today, the bottom-back PSU position is virtually mandatory among higher-end ATX tower cases. The main advantages of this configuration:

  • Spreads the heat in the case more evenly
  • Prevents competition for airflow among CPU, case exhaust and PSU intake fans in a small space
  • Frees up the top panel for additional venting for better airflow
  • Reduced heat exposure for the PSU, which should lead to better longevity

The decision to retain the original PSU position in the Solo II was likely predicated by convenience and cost. We’ll see what impact this has on cooling or noise performance compared to other recent quiet-oriented case designs.


Accessories.

Like its predecessor, the Solo II comes with few accessories. Aside from the 5.25″ drive rails secured to the case floor for convenience, our sample shipped with just some zip-ties, screws and standoffs. Note that the accessory pack was not finalized, so our sample was missing a few things like fan screws and grommets for 2.5″ drives which will undoubtedly ship with the retail version.

Specifications: Antec Solo II
Case Type Mid Tower
Motherboard Standard ATX, microATX, Mini-ITX
Drive Bays External:
– 2 x 5.25″
Internal:
– 3 x 3.5″ / 2.5″ using tray mounts
– 2 x 3.5″ with suspension mounting system
– 1 x 2.5″ (dedicated)
Cooling 1 rear 120 mm TrueQuiet exhaust fan with 2-speed switch (standard)
2 front 120 mm intake fans (optional)
Maximum Graphics Card Size 15.0″ (381 mm)
Expansion Slots 7
Front Panel 2 x USB 3.0
2 x USB 2.0
Audio in/Out
Product Weight 20.2 lbs (9.1 kg)
Product Dimensions 17.3″ (H) x 8.1″ (W) x 18.5″ (D)
(440 mm (H) x 205 mm (W) x 470 mm (D))

EXTERIOR

The Solo II measures 20.5 x 44.0 x 47.0 cm or 8.1 x 17.3 x 18.5 in (W x H x D) making the total case volume 42.4 L. Despite its relatively small size, it is a heavy steel enclosure weighing 9.1 kg or 20.2 lb.


Though the silver is gone from the front panel, the Solo II has the same super glossy finish as the original. While this makes it shine in a showroom, fingerprints and smudges quickly accumulate. A more textured matte finish would be preferable.

 


The bezel can be opened only after the side padel is removed, by pushing three plastic tabs outward, as in the original Solo. You can remove the bezel completely by lifting it upwards to unhook the metal hinges. The previous 92 mm fan intake mounts have been replaced with 120 mm placements complete with removable dust filters.

 


The spongy power and reset buttons remain. They’re difficult to depress accidentally but feel a bit odd. The buttons on the original Solo were prone to breaking. Although Antec assures us that they are much improved, we have to note that the assembly has thin plastic arms secured to the bezel with screws. Depressing the buttons deeply puts pressure on what appear to be fragile joints.

 


The rear is mostly unchanged except for the presence of a two-speed fan control switch for the included 120 mm exhaust fan.

 


The side panels are 1 mm thick, which accounts for the sturdiness of the case, like the original; most cases rarely use panels thicker than 0.8 mm. Like its predecessor, the main panels have polycarbonate sheets bonded on the inside, which mostly works to damp panel vibrations. Again, like the original, the left panel is equipped with what we believe are the best attachment devices ever created for PC case side panel locks: Permanently attached spring-loaded thumb screws. They are impossible to lose, secure and sturdy. Why such devices are not more widely used is a mystery to us.

 


The bottom is the same… except the small slits under the front bezel in the original Solo have been expanded to three large holes for increased airflow.

INTERIOR

The layout inside is fairly standard for a modern ATX tower with a vent on the top panel so that a 120mm fan PSU can be mounted “upside-down” to provide cooler outside air intake. It has two 5.25″ bays, a hard drive cage featuring three 3.5″/2.5″ drive trays separated by two 3.5″ suspension points. There’s another 2.5″ bay underneath. Three 120 mm fan mounts are provided, two at the front and one at the rear, equipped with an Antec TrueQuiet 120 fan.


In quiet cases, getting enough airflow can be a problem. The Solo II draws in outside air via a series of large holes on the sides of the front bezel.

 


The hard drive cage has been slimmed down and raised upward to make room for a large empty space in the bottom third. This creates ample clearance for long high-end graphics cards which could not be installed in the original Solo without modifications to the drive cage. There is also a spot for a 2.5″ drive in the same area.

 


The back panel has a 120 mm Antec TrueQuiet fan rather than the TriCool included in most Antec cases. The new fan design features soft, raised mounting pads, semi-translucent blades, and it is mounted with long rubber isolators rather than screws — this seems redundant given the soft padding around the screw mounting holes.

 


The Solo II retains the crossbeam that supports the PSU and lends overall structural stability to the chassis. It is now attached with screws and thus removable, so that the power supply can be more easily accessed with the motherboard and CPU heatsink in place.

 


To make room for the video card clearance area at the bottom, the 3.5″ hard drive cage has been shrunk. Compared to three pairs of elastic suspenders and four mounting trays in the original, the Solo II has two and three, respectively.

 


The motherboard tray has been modernized with a large hole in the upper half to facilitate CPU heatsink backplate replacement. The hooks on the side of the hard drive cage remain the linchpin of the cable management system, but now there are four rather than six. One large hole has been added near the bottom but the Solo II lacks the plentiful tie-down points for cable ties found in the the best modern cases.
There is no more room behind the motherboard tray for tucking away cables than there was in the original Solo

ASSEMBLY

Assembling a system in the Solo II is straightforward. The power supply, motherboard, and expansion cards are mounted with in the traditional way, with Phillips head screws, while 5.25″ drives are attached on the sides to drive rails and 3.5″ drives are secured at the bottom to drive trays or suspended using the suspenders. Our base test system consists of an Asus 790GX motherboard, a ZEROtherm FZ120 heatsink with a Nexus 120 mm fan, a WD Caviar Black 1TB hard drive and a Cooler Master 700W modular power supply.


Accessing the hard drive cage is easy enough. Remove the front bezel and loosen one thumbscrew, and the top intake fan mount lowers, exposing the hard drive trays and suspension elastic. If a fan is installed here, orient it so the fan cable is in one of the bottom corners or it might be pulled out of its socket when the door is opened.

 


The 3.5″ drive caddies have been updated with 2.5″ mounting holes though our sample did not include the smaller grommets needed for them.

 


When using the suspension system, twist the elastic to ensure a tight fit. You can also insert screws on the bottom of the drive so they will hook onto the elastic and prevent the drive from slipping out.

 


You can use both suspension and the drive sleds simultaneously for five drives in total, but this doesn’t leave much breathing room between them.


Plenty of space for components: The case can accommodate a graphics card up to 40.9 cm long, and a CPU heatsink up to 17.4 cm tall.


These hooks can tie up much of the excess cabling.


The blue LEDs complement the all-black coloring. Note fingerprint smudges around the 5.25″ bays — the glossy finish makes them hard to avoid.

TESTING

System Components:

Measurement and Analysis Tools

System temperatures and noise levels were recorded with SpeedFan and GPU-Z
at idle and on load using CPUBurn (K7 setting) and FurMark, an OpenGL
benchmarking and stability testing utility.

Baseline Noise

The Solo II ships with a single 120 mm fan, an Antec TrueQuiet 120. Compared to the old TriCool, it has a smaller hub, longer fan blades with more curvature, curved struts like the Scythe Slip Stream series, and silicone padding over the mounting holes. According to the spec sheet, it’s a 0.12A, 19.9 dBA, 35.8 CFM model, running at 1000 RPM (600 RPM when the fan controller is set to ‘low’). We used this fan in our Silent Mid Gaming PC Build Guide last year, describing its noise as having “a smooth, benign character at all speeds.” The sample from the Solo II was tested here.


The TrueQuiet 120.

 

TrueQuiet 120 Noise Level
Voltage / switch
Speed
SPL @1m
12V / High
980 RPM
19 dBA
9V / High
740 RPM
14 dBA
7V / High
550 RPM
12 dBA
12V / Low
540 RPM
12 dBA
Measuring mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle left/front
of case.

In open air, the TrueQuiet 120 fan lives up to its name with a very smooth pleasant profile at low speed and just a touch of whine at full speed. Inside the case with the side panel closed, it is exceptional, measuring just 19 dBA@1m at full speed. Undervolting or using the low setting on the built-in switch made the fan almost inaudible, 14 dBA@1m at 9V and a scant 12 dBA@1m at 7V (same at “low” speed setting at 12V).


At full speed, the stock fan measured just 19 dBA@1m.

Configuration 1: Radeon HD 3300 IGP

The first test configuration used the motherboard’s built-in graphics.


HD 3300 IGP test system.

 

System Measurements
System State
Idle
CPU + GPU Load
System Fan Speed
7V
9V
CPU Fan Speed
9V
12V
9V
CPU Temp
30°C
52°C
47°C
51°C
SB Temp
33°C
40°C
40°C
38°C
HD Temp
34°C
37°C
37°C
37°C
SPL@1m
17~18 dBA
18~19 dBA
19~20 dBA
20 dBA
Ambient temperature: 24°C.

Our IGP test system was very quiet at idle, measuring 17~18 dBA@1m with the CPU fan at 9V and the system fan at 7V (same as setting it to “low”). On load, the CPU, Southbridge, and hard drive temperatures rose by 22°C, 7°C, and 3°C respectively, and the system noise level went up by 1 dB (caused by the power supply fan ramping up). Cranking up the CPU fan to 12V was more effective than speeding up the system fan to 9V, cooling down the processor by 4°C and with less additional noise.

Note: We also tested the hard drive hard-mounted, but omitted the results for brevity as there were no differences in thermal performance and only a half a decibel increase in noise, which is also negligible.


Our HD 3300 IGP test system measured 18~19 dBA@1m on load with the stock fans at 7V and CPU fan at 9V.

With the stock case fan being so quiet and the hard drive suspended as not to cause any vibration, the resulting noise was more than satisfactory. The system emitted a gentle hum that was entirely inconspicuous; it wasn’t inaudible, but easy to ignore even in our very quiet home office environment.

IGP Configuration Comparison (Load)
Case
NZXT H2
Antec Solo II
Fractal Define R2
CM Silencio 550
System Fan Speeds
rear & fronts @low
rear @low
rear & front @12V
rear & front @12V
CPU Temp
51°C
47°C
51°C
51°C
SB Temp
38°C
38°C
38°C
41°C
HD Temp
37°C
35°C
34°C
31°C
SPL@1m
19 dBA
19~20 dBA
19~20 dBA
19~20 dBA
CPU fan set to 12V.
Ambient temperature: 22°C.

Competing against recently tested “quiet” cases, the Solo II does quite well, equaling the Fractal Define R2 in noise level while maintaining a 4°C advantage in CPU temperature. It also compares favorably to the NZXT H2 which while quieter by 1 dB, had higher hard drive and CPU temperatures due to its lack of airflow. Most impressive of all is the Solo II accomplished all this with just a single system fan. Note, too, that all the other cases position the PSU at the bottom.

Configuration 2: Radeon HD 4870


HD 4870 test system.

 

System Measurements (HD 4870)
System State
Idle
CPU + GPU Load
System Fan Speed(s)
7V
12V
12V + 12V*
CPU Temp
36°C
56°C
51°C
48°C
SB Temp
48°C
58°C
56°C
50°C
HD Temp
37°C
38°C
37°C
37°C
GPU Temp
78°C
90°C
88°C
85°C
GPU Fan
960 RPM
2230 RPM
2140 RPM
1880 RPM
SPL@1m
19~20 dBA
29 dBA
29 dBA
27~28 dBA
CPU fan set to 100% speed.
Ambient temperature: 25°C.
*Nexus 120 mm fan added as bottom intake.

Adding the HD 4870 graphics card created a bigger challenge for the Solo II. While relatively cool and quiet when idle, full load brought the CPU and Southbridge temperatures into the mid to high 50’s and the GPU fan had to spin at 2230 RPM to keep the GPU core at 90°C. Increasing the system fan’s speed to maximum resulted in some thermal relief, but the noise level remained a rather high 29 dBA@1m.

Additional cooling, in the form of a Nexus 120 mm fan added to the bottom intake position, helped chill the graphics card such that the GPU fan slowed to 1880 RPM. The system noise level dropped to a less harsh 27~28 dBA@1m and all the components inside, save the hard drive, saw thermal improvement.


Our HD 4870 test system measured 27~28 dBA@1m on load with the stock fan and an additional Nexus 120 mm intake fan running at 12V.

The HD 4870 stock cooler can be quite a beast but spinning at ~1900 RPM it has a lower, less jarring pitch making the overall acoustics considerably less intrusive than the 27~28 dBA@1m measurement might suggest.

HD 4870 Configuration Comparison (Load)
Case
Fractal Define R2
Antec Solo II
CM Silencio 550
NZXT H2
System Fan Speeds
rear, front & side @12V
rear, front @12V*
rear, front @12V
rear, fronts @med
CPU Temp
48°C
45°C
57°C
53°C
SB Temp
45°C
47°C
56°C
52°C
HD Temp
34°C
34°C
31°C
33°C
GPU Temp
84°C
82°C
89°C
87°C
GPU Fan
Speed
1710 RPM
1880 RPM
2330 RPM
2110 RPM
SPL@1m
26~27 dBA
27~28 dBA
27~28 dBA
28 dBA
CPU fan set to 100% speed
All temperature results adjusted to 22°C ambient.
*Nexus 120 mm fan added as bottom intake.

In the HD 4870 configuration, the Solo II runs far cooler than either the Silencio 550 or the NZXT H2 . It trades blows with the Define R2 with the Fractal case running a decibel quieter, while the Solo II touts a slightly cooler CPU and GPU. Again, note that the competition all feature bottom mounting for the PSU.

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 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.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The original Antec Solo was a landmark in quiet computing, and remains a very nice case, even today, six years after its launch. The Solo II brings many expected upgrades like a motherboard tray cutout, USB 3.0 (with a proper internal 20-pin header) and just enough design tweaks to retain the heart and soul of the original while making it competitive with today’s offerings.

Compared to today’s cases, our biggest complaint about the original Solo is the cramped interior. It is particularly difficult when installing graphics cards and power supplies. Most video cards longer than the width of the motherboard simply won’t fit, and servicing the power supply is impossible without removing the motherboard. The Solo II fixes these issues by making the PSU support bar removable, and creating extra room for long GPUs by getting rid of a few drive bays. The latter was a necessary evil but a second removable hard drive cage so users would have been better. The drawbridge style grate opening to access the drives is also more convenient than the side-swinging original.

Fan support was improved by upgrading the front 92 mm fan placements to 120 mm versions, and the rear TriCool fan was replaced with the much better TrueQuiet 120, complete with noise isolators. While we were surprised at first to see the power supply still at the top of the case, the new top panel vent makes it better than a bottom location for a fanless unit. On the case floor, a traditional PSU would certainly have an advantage but a passively cooled model wouldn’t be aided by the rear exhaust fan.

The cumulative results of all these changes is excellent performance. Thermally, the Solo II outperforms the Cooler Master Silencio 550 and NZXT H2 in convincing fashion. It goes go toe-to-toe with the Fractal Define R3, perhaps exceeding it by virtue of its hard drive suspension system, which six years later, has yet to be adopted by any other case makers. Acoustically it is at least as good as the others. Our only complaints about the case itself are minor/superficial: Less than ideal cable management options, glossy exterior finish, and largely unchanged power/reset buttons which may still prove to be unrelable, though only time will tell.

Our biggest concern is not physical, but fiscal — the Solo II’s MSRP price of US$129 is substantially more than its competitors which offer more drive support, fans, and features. It’s also significantly more than the original Solo which has been selling at some online outlets for less than US$80 for the past year. We cannot deny that the improvements make the Solo II an excellent upgrade but the changes made don’t seem to justify such a big increase in cost. For those willing to wait, competition almost always drives the price of tech gear down in a matter of weeks or months.

Antec Solo II
PROS

* Very quiet
* Excellent thermal performance
* Excellent stock fan
* Hard drive suspension system
* Proper internal USB 3.0 cable
* Supports long graphics cards

CONS

* Only one fan included
* Only two sets of hard drive suspenders
* Questionable power/reset buttons
* Glossy finish attracts fingerprints
* Could use better cable management
* Expensive

Our thanks to Antec for the Solo II case sample.


Antec Solo II receives the SPCR Recommended Award

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Articles of Related Interest
SilverStone Temjin TJ08-E: MicroATX Evolved
Cooler Master Silencio 550 Quiet ATX Tower
In Win Dragon Rider Enthusiast/Gaming Tower
LanCool PC-K59 Midtower Case
Fractal Design Define R3 ATX Tower
NZXT H2 Classic Silent Midtower Chassis

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