Quiet Gaming Cases, Part 1: Antec, Azza, And Cooler Master

The pursuit of performance often dictates that we simply live with a loud PC. Enthusiasts sometimes feel forced to choose between reasonable acoustics and the ventilation needed to overclock. Today, we evaluate three cases that promise to deliver both.

Much of the noise that emanates from a modern gaming PC is attributable to high-end graphics cards. Modern GPUs employ two types of coolers: centrifugal and axial. Centrifugal coolers, also known as blowers, use an impeller to push air out through an exhaust at the back of the card. Meanwhile, axial-flow fans have blades that blow directly toward the card, where it exits around the sides of the heat sink and into the case itself.

If all of that is too much for you, just know that both solutions have their advantages and downsides. Blowers are noisy, and they aren't as effective as axial coolers. Axial fans tend to operate more quietly, but pollute the inside of your chassis with their heated air.

As an overclocker, I’m dubious of graphics cards with axial coolers, since they typically have a really bad effect on the ambient temperature of most enclosures. You never want a high-end graphics card to sabotage your CPU overclock, after all.

Yes, you can use water cooling to make the whole axial versus centrifugal debate a moot point. But now you're talking about spending more money, too. There's another way to approach this conundrum, and it often gets overlooked: simply choose a better case.

We expect most cases to have vents for warm air, but we expect quiet enclosures not to have them on their side panels, right next to a noisy graphics card. The concept here is simple: reflected noise is usually less obtrusive than direct noise, and noise-dampening materials help enhance this effect. They also help minimize panel vibration and alter resonant frequencies, often to the point where they're no longer noticed. Those are the features we want to see from a gaming-oriented chassis that its vendor considers quiet.

The table below lists the dimensions, optional cooling capacity, maximum number of drives, and sound-dampening materials for the three cases we're testing today. In the days that follow, we'll be going in-depth on six more enclosures before figuring out which one does its job the best.

  Antec P280 Azza Silentium 920 Cooler Master Silencio 650
Dimensions
Height20.6"18.2"18.8"
Width9.1"8.8"8.2"
Depth22.3"20.5"21.0"
Space Above
Motherboard
1.3"0.8"1.3"
Card Length13.8"12.3"11.5" - 17.0"**
Weight21.7 Pounds15.8 Pounds23.0 Pounds
Cooling
Front Fans
(alternatives)
2 x 120 mm
(None)
1 x 120 mm
(None)
2 x 120 mm
(1 x 140 mm)
Rear Fans
(alternatives)
1 x 120 mm
(None)
1 x 120 mm
(None)
1 x 120 mm
(None)
Top Fans
(alternatives)
2 x 120 mm
(None)
None
(None)
None
(1 x 140/120 mm)
Left Side
(alternatives)
None
(None)
None
(None)
None
(None)
Right Side
(alternatives)
None
(None)
None
(None)
None
(None)
Drive Bays
5.25" ExternalThreeFourThree
3.5" ExternalNoneOneNone
3.5" InternalSixFiveSeven
2.5" InternalSix* +2Five* One***
Card SlotsNineSevenSeven
Noise Dampening
SidesPolycarbonateFoamFoam
TopNoneFoamFoam
FrontFoamClothCast Aluminum
Price$120 $80 $160
*Shared on 3.5" tray
**Slots 1-6 w/o Center Cage
***By Adapter on 3.5" External Backplane


Most of the common noise-reducing techniques can be found across the three samples in today’s test, including thicker material to block the noise (Cooler Master’s cast drive door), reflection-weakening foam (Azza’s top and side panels), and vibration-dampening weighted film (Antec’s polycarbonate layer). Before we test the effectiveness of these techniques, we’d first like to show you a few of the features that we think make each of these cases a viable contender in our competition.

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  • HEXiT
    a bit misleading this article... you can have a quiet case if you get rid of 1 part. the impeller on the gfx. then swap all the fans in the case to FDB (fluid dynamic bearing) for less than £80 most ppeople can silence there cases completely...
    i run an ati 5870 with an arcticcool extreme cooler (fdb).
    an antec 900mk2 case with 4 FDB 120mm 75cfm fans and the big boy on top.
    at 100% load my case gives off about 5bd above a double glazed silent room. at 1 point my case was giving off 50+db over ambient but the fluid dynamic bearing fans just stoped that dead.
  • mi1ez
    The whole of the first 2 paragraphs is utter bullsht.
  • mi1ez
    Quote:
    Though the P280 has no intake fans (as it was delivered), two 120 mm coolers can be added behind the removable filter.

    Erm. Fans, not coolers
  • mi1ez
    Quote:
    The bulges are padded with noise-dampening foam, which helps suppress noise, but doesn't create any extra room for components.

    Surely the bulges mean the damping doesn't reduces the internal size?