I make my living writing computer software, but computer hardware is actually my first love. I LOVE HARDWARE! Motherboards, CPUs, video cards and hard drives. Nothing gets me quite as giddy as when the UPS man delivers a package from my favorite on-line computer store. And so it was last week that I received TWO packages - an Antec P280 chassis and a Seasonic Platinum 860W power supply (PSU).
I've been using an Antec P180 (the original Performance One model) chassis since just about the time they first came out. I can't be certain, but something tells me that was in 2005. Seven years is a long time to hang on to the same computer chassis, but the P180 was such a stellar performer that there never really was any reason to replace it. For about the same amount of time, I've also had a Corsair HX620W modular PSU. The Corsair may have worked fine for a year or two, I'm not sure, but I returned several new hard drives that had the "click of death" before I realized that my PSU was the real culprit. I was able to keep limping along with the Corsair fine for the most part, moving my hard drive to a different modular connector, but I was still plagued with flickering white levels on my monitors. I originally blamed my Radeon 5870 for this before once again pointing the finger at the Corsair.
I decided that I wanted to wait and get both a new chassis and new PSU at the same time. (Actually, I was waiting to get a whole new Ivy Bridge system but decided to get the chassis and PSU now.) But there really wasn't anything compelling in the chassis department. I could have moved to Antec's P183, but it was so close in design to the P180 that it didn't seem like a worthwhile upgrade. Silverstone has their FT02 which is a VERY nice, elegant design but is quite a bit larger than the Antec cases, and also significantly more expensive. I was also impressed by Fractal's Define R3 chassis, but at the time it lacked USB 3.0 ports and there was some concern over fan noise. So I waited and waited. And then finally, the P280 was announced late last year and I knew it was my next chassis. Still very similar in design to the original P180 including the "270-degree" fold-back front door, but now with front USB 3.0 ports which have also been moved to the top of the case where they are much more convenient. Also more convenient are the power and reset buttons on the top, no longer requiring me to open the front door where they are hidden away half-way down on the P180. Minor enhancements to be sure, but welcomed. Of far greater note are the superior cable routing capability, much quieter fans, and generally improved cooling performance (see below - CPU and GPU temps are 2 to 4 degrees better, while the motherboard and hard drive temps edge a little higher).
Working inside the P280 is an absolute delight. Gone from P180 is the separate "power supply zone" baffle and the interior is now wide open. Add to that the cable routing ability behind the motherboard (which has become a standard feature these days) and you have an environment that is no longer cramped and confined, but rather one that is open, clean, and organized. Here is a look at the insides of my P180 compared to the P280. Note that in the P180 I had moved my hard drive to a rather sloppy, unsecured position just sitting on the PSU zone divider. This was a "frustration" move to get the drive closer to a different power connector, since sharing one with my SSD drive in the bottom drive cage was causing the "click of death" I mentioned above. But even without the hard drive, you can see the mess of cables everywhere and how difficult it is to route cables, especially from the PSU to various points on the motherboard, graphics card, and drives. A look at the insides transplanted to the P280 is comparitively-speaking a work of art! Everything is neat and tidy, greatly improving air-flow and making maintenance a breeze, too.
P180 - Messy
P280 - Tidy
Other ease-of-use changes in the P280 include the tool-less install of 5.25" drives, like my LG Blu-Ray writer. Just slide the drive in and it locks in place via a cantilevered plastic locking tab. I further secured it with a couple of screws, but you can only do that on the right side - there are no screw holes on the left side. Still, with the two right-side screws, it's secured in there pretty solid. One screw secures my 2.5" SSD in the top 2.5" drive cage (there's room for one more) and my 1.5TB hard drive is secured via four screws to a platic caddy (with silcone grommets for vibration isolation) that slides into the main drive cage. Of course, the PSU is on the bottom of the chassis, in the same place as the P180 but without any separating baffle this time. There's also a vent right below the power supply to aid with PSU cooling. Also of note is the use of thumb screws for both side panels, and the expansion (PCI) slot covers.
Chassis cooling is provided via three 120mm Antec "TwoCool" fans - 2 on top and one on the back. The speed of each fan can be adjusted individually via switches on the back of the case. There is a low and high speed setting, and I have mine set on low. The fans are significantly less noisy than the P180's three "Tri-Cool" fans which I had all set on "Medium". I also had a 120mm orange Nexus fan on the front of my P180 to draw air in. Though you can mount up to two 120mm fans on the front of the P280 and/or another two 120mm fans on the other side of the main drive cage, I find that the provided fans offer the same cooling power as my P180 - but with one less fan and much less noise. In fact, the unit is all but silent from my sitting position about three feet away. There is still an intermittent resonant hum from the case which I expect will prove little problem to eliminate once I get the chance to spend a little time tracking it down.
The P280 is substantially less heavy than the P180 "beast" that it is replacing (the P180 was 14kg while the P280 weighs in at only 10.2kg), it doesn't really feel less sturdy. The P280 is ever-so-slightly larger, too, but not enough to make a fuss about. It's worth the extra room for the cable routing ability. However, I do miss the "DeLorean" look of the aluminum side panels on my P180 (see image gallery below) but I suppose there's nothing wrong with flat black.
Overall, I am very satisfied with the Antec P280 and I look forward to owning it for another seven years. Highly recommended.