Antec P180: Elegant, Understated... Mini-fridge?
The first thing that my wife said when I showed her the P180, which was about to house my main rig, was "Ooh, a new fridge! Where's the beer go?" The looks are a little striking to say the least... the exterior is boxy, smooth, and definitely akin to a stainless steel refrigerator.
The side panels are aluminum with a black plastic edge, designed specifically to dampen noise. The front door is made of the same material, so when it is closed the entire case takes on a uniform, appliance-like look. In fact, aside from the backside and the front I/O panel, it's hard to tell there's a computer in there. If your home theater PC demands a tower ATX setup, this case may just be the look you were going for.
Shall we dive straight in?
The front I/O panel is visible from outside the door, and it is incredibly easy to access from my chair. This is a nice touch, as many case makers choose to place their panel in an inconvenient spot at the bottom of the case, or on a side. The panel contains the usual two USB ports, one 1394EE Firewire port, microphone in, and headphone out.
It is worth noting that the power LED is also located here, a tiny little blue dot that is small enough to not be blinding. Considering that some manufacturers use ultra-bright blue LEDs that are enough to guide a 747 in to land at night, in a blizzard, Antec can be applauded for understanding that less is more. As bizarre as it is to congratulate them for this, if you have ever suffer from BlueLEDitis, you'll know what I'm talking about.
The door swings out to the left-hand side of the case, and the hinge mechanism is actually has two separate piano hinges. This provides a full 270 degrees of motion, another useful and often overlooked feature. Not many people like their doors having to hang out from the side of their case when it needs to be open, and this eliminates that problem by letting the door be closed or open against the left panel.
While studying the hinge mechanism, I noticed that the door is also framed by small vents, which facilitate airflow through the system when the door is closed. The door itself closes via a magnet structure on the upper right, though I do wish this were a bit stronger. The door stays closed, but it does not 'feel' secure. A minor niggle, particularly when one considers that the door does stay closed, even when I hefted the thing to lean facing downward.
Speaking of heft, it must be said that this case is NOT light. It weighed in at well over 48 lbs (21.78 kilos). Between its size and its weight, it is not going to be something you want to haul to your next LAN party. In fact, I was contemplating the humble suggestion from a fellow BT staffer to throw some wheels on it. That may still be on the cards for the future. Wherever you put it, it'll look good sitting there... both your eyes (and your back) will agree.
With the door open, it is clear that Antec put a bit of function over form on the parts that most people won't see. The first unique feature you notice is that the drive bays have weird spots beside the coverplates. This is because your drives actually load in from the front of the case, a rather unusual arrangement. Very well thought of, but I wish they could have made it look a little prettier.
Optical drive installation becomes a snap (quite literally, as you can hear the drives lock into place clearly) with this feature. Other reviewers have mentioned that the coverplates do not stay in place firmly, I am happy to report that I did not experience this rather worrisome complaint with my model. They both snapped and unsnapped firmly.
The power button and reset button are both behind the door, along with the hard-disk activity light. The HDD light is a larger than the power LED, but this isn't a problem since it provides the perfect amount of light to shine through the vents with the front door closed.
The system actually provides two separate lights for two hard drives, if your motherboard supports this feature. The power and reset buttons are both boring grey, generic, plastic-feeling buttons, and are one of the things that make me scratch my head: Antec have been full of details with the entire case, it would be nice to see these small details get noticed, too.
The top grill is has a 120mm Antec Tri-Cool fan mounted underneath, with another attached to the rear of the case. The grill itself is a nice, fine mesh, and if you don't like it, you'll be happy to know it is removable.
Personally, I think it looks nicer than the open honeycomb stamped through the actual case for fan airflow, and over time the little "chimney" started to really grow on me. Also of note in the back is that the power supply goes on the bottom, a feature we'll now examine in detail.