Antec Sonata Proto Introduction
Antec offers several models in the Sonata family of cases which have been very
popular with enthusiasts and casual builders alike. Long respected in the business of building cases, Antec is proud to offer one of the newest Sonata models in a mid tower configuration carrying the name of Sonata Proto. When Antec asked if we would be interested in giving it a look, we couldn't resist accepting.
The Proto is styled only in black and is on the value end of the Sonata line retailing for $69.99 shipped. As mentioned, it's a mid tower so it has a modest footprint and is relatively light for its size. It came packaged securely in a box with foam cushions and wrapped in a plastic bag to protect it from damage during transit.
On the exterior, it looks much like the Sonata Elite and Sonata III 500 with a few minor differences. The design is simple yet attractive.
Antec lists the features and specifications as follows:
- Quiet Computing™ functionality reduces system noise and delivers maximal quiet operation
- Modernist black exterior finish
- Built-in washable air filter for quick and easy cleaning
- 9 drive bays:
- External 3 x 5.25"
- External 2 x 3.5"
- Internal 4 x 3.5"
- 1 rear 120mm TwoCool™ two-speed switch conULol exhaust fan
- 1 middle (optional) 120mm fan
- 2 x USB 2.0
- Audio In and Out (AC'97 and HDA compatible)
- 16.7" (H) x 8.1" (W) x 18.2" (D)
- 425mm (H) x 206mm (W) x 463mm (D)
- 19.8" (H) x 10.5" (W) x 21.5" (D)
- 502mm (H) x 267mm (W) x 546mm (D)
- Net: 16.7 lb / 7.5 kg
- Gross: 22 lb / 10 kg
In the packaging were two pieces of literature with the first being an SSD/HDD installation diagram and the other a multilingual product overview guide. The case design is pretty straightforward so these will be superfluous for most builders.
Also included is a bag of hardware with all the standoffs and screws you'll need to complete build. The keys for the case locks that we'll look at later are also in the bag as is an Antec badge sticker that should eventually reside on the indented square on the front of the case, should you choose to use it.
Let's have a closer look at the Proto!
Antec Sonata Proto - Exterior
Taking a look at the front of the Antec Sonata Proto shows a door covering the optical bays as well as offering a lock for keeping things secure. There's an empty square towards the top where the Antec brand sticker, mentioned on the first page, is placed.
Directly in the center of the front lies two USB 2.0 ports, HDD activity and power LED's as well as the headphone and audio jacks. The power and reset buttons rest behind the door which can eventually be somewhat of a pain if you are a user who powers your machine off and on daily. No Firewire or eSATA ports are present which is not unexpected on a value priced chassis.
Three optical bays reside behind the door along with two external 3.5" bays. Visible also are the power and reset buttons that are stacked vertically but offset a bit horizontally.
Below the bezel on the edges of the case are air vents that allow cool air to flow into the front of the case. We'll have a closer look at the front airflow when we move inside the case.
The top of the case is virtually featureless with no fans, vents, controls or ports in sight.
The same can be said about the right side panel although that is typical of most cases.
The one noteworthy aspect of the right panel is that it is not removable but rather is a continuation of the top and bottom panels. This makes the case a little stronger but can hamper building it out as we'll see.
The left panel features a sliding-latch handle complete with a lock, similar to the one on the front bezel. I found the latch to be a little stiff and I had to force it a little at first before it acquiesced and opened. After a few iterations of removing the panel, it seemed to loosen up a bit and became easier to open.
The bottom sports four rubber, non-adjustable feet to prevent slippage or damaging furniture. Stamped is the Antec brand and towards the front are four screw holes for mounting a 2.5" SSD drive inside the case. We'll have a look at this when we take a peek inside.
Around the back side you'll find two thumbscrews which hold the left panel on securely. Also note the cutout for the PSU which is top mounted. Seven slots are present for expansion cards and right next door are holes for additional ventilation.
The one and only fan found in the case is mounted on the rear panel for exhaust and is of the Antec 120mm TwoCool two-speed variety.
That about covers the exterior. Next we move inside to see what we have to work with for the build.
Antec Sonata Proto - Interior
Behind the front panel bezel of the Antec Sonata Proto case, are the three 5.25" bays and two 3.5" bays. The panel doesn't come off easily with the 3.5" bay caddy still in so do yourself a favor and remove it prior to attempting to pull the panel off. Below the bays lies the washable air filter which is also removable.
The filter slides right out the bottom and doesn't require removal of the front panel. Note that there are no mounts for an intake fan on the front and while we are at it, we'll note that there are no other areas where a fan might be mounted on the case for intake. Even for a value series case, this design really puts a limit on your cooling options although you can place an optional fan inside the case to move air from the front to the back.
Four slot mounted 3.5" hard drive bays reside in the front of the case and oriented such that the connectors are perpendicular to the case front. They each have four silicone grommet mounts for quiet, vibration-free operation which utilize the special screws provided with the accessory bundle. It's best not to over-tighten the screws so that there is still some give in the grommets for the best performance.
Directly below the hard drive cage are four holes for mounting a 2.5" SSD drive. Although you could, I wouldn't recommend mounting a traditional platter drive here as there are no vibration dampeners and metal on metal is usually not a good combination for hard drive mounts. It's nice to see this feature incorporated even if it is done frugally and we'd like to see more cases make allowances for SSD's.
The external dual 3.5" bay slides in an out on rails that are permanently attached. Drives just screw in without benefit of and vibration reduction material.
A nice design by Antec is their bay covers which discretely house the 5.25" drive rails fitted snugly on the backside. The unfortunate part is that the bay covers don't sit very tightly and can be knocked out of place if bumped. In fact, the case arrived with one of the bay covers already dislodged and rattling around inside the case. We all know how gently couriers treat their freight so it's not all that surprising.
The backside of the left panel features the workings of the latch and lock. The lock simply pivots a plastic piece that prevents the slide latch from moving back to release the panel. Simple, yet effective.
The inside is primer gray which is ok if you don't plan on modding the panels to incorporate a window. You might want to get out the spraypaint can if you do. There aren't a lot of features to discuss once you head towards the back of the case. The two-speed fan is powered by a molex connector and has a small speed switch hanging off of a short wire. The rails for the PSU are ample enough to support most any power supply and there's plenty of room for those with extra length. A few of the motherboard standoffs that are universal to all boards are pre-installed for you.
On the base of the inside there's quite a bit of over-spray from where the exterior was painted which has no impact at all on the performance of the case but doesn't give you that warm and fuzzy attention to detail feel. Then again, this isn't a $200 performance case so concessions must be made for lower pricing.
The wires from the case that connect to the motherboard headers are clearly labeled and plenty long enough to reach any motherboard you may attempt to mount.
A closer look at the fan speed switch shows it's a simple slide switch and is simply labeled "L" & "H". I would prefer to see a switch like this mountable to where it can be accessed without having to open the case. While this isn't difficult to mod, it would be nice to have it in that configuration by default.
The seven expansion slot covers are held in place by Phillips head screws. Nothing fancy here. Antec believes that tool-less designs are often noisy and don't add as much value for non-enthusiast users who don't upgrade or tinker with their PC on a regular basis. This makes good sense and helps make price of the case more affordable.
Let's see how all of this comes together with the build step.
Antec Sonata Proto - Build
Being a mid tower case, the Antec Sonata Proto offers a modest amount of space inside to fit the guts of your rig but you know going in that space for extra large graphics cards or CPU coolers is going to be tight at best.
Optical drives mount very easily with the supplied drive rails and the drives snap in very snugly an securely. The drive rails must be screwed onto the drive however which is not quite as nice as those that just fit on with nubs that align in the screw holes.
With the right side panel not being removable, it really diminishes any hope of routing cables between the motherboard tray and the side panel so alternatives must be found. I prefer modular PSU's and for a case where cable routing is limited as it makes building out a system much cleaner.
The room between the rear of the case and the side of the HDD cage only measures 11" so be wary of what size video card you plan to install - especially if the power connectors come out the end of the card.
With the HDD's mounted with the connectors pointing towards the left panel, you'll be best off with right angle SATA connectors to ensure clearance from the side panel.
The fan on the back is very quiet on low speed and noticeable but not annoying when on high. It pulls a decent amount of air through the case with an assist from the PSU fan. That said, this probably isn't going to be a good case for keeping ambient temperatures low inside the case if you plan on doing heavy overclocking.
Overall, this is a relatively easy case for building a system as long as you don't have overly large components and a ton of PSU wires.
Final Thoughts & Conclusion
The Antec Sonata Proto computer case runs very quiet when the fan is set to low and relatively quiet when on high. In a quiet room, neither setting is loud enough to be annoying which makes it a decent candidate for an HTPC case should the size not be an issue.
The locks are a nice feature for those that share living or work spaces with others although the keys are rather generic and it probably wouldn't be too difficult to find another set that worked. The blue HDD activity and power LED's are bright enough to be seen in a well lit room and when the lights are low or off they don't give off an overabundance of light.
I have few complaints about the overall design with the biggest being the inability to remove the right panel to route wires or access the CPU cooler from the back. If you don't upgrade frequently, this is less of an issue. The power and reset buttons being behind the door can be a bit annoying as well. I get that they can't be accessed behind the locked door for security but someone could pull the power cord and ruin your day just the same.
The Antec Sonata Proto build quality is very good - as we would expect to see from Antec - although there were a few minor items we saw. We found the front bay covers to be a little loosely seated and then there was the matter of the paint over-spray which is just an aesthetics thing. That said, the overall construction is solid with no sharp edges and a few nice features sprinkled in such as the SSD mount (we'd like to see this more often) and the silicone grommets for the HDD mounts. All which far outweigh the minor flaws we observed. For $69.99 shipped, there's little to complain about.
Legit Bottom Line: Antec has again made an affordable, yet well constructed case in the mid tower class with the Sonata Proto, a case that will appeal to a large number of consumers. However, those looking for something flashy or a little more feature rich may look towards some of the other cases in the Sonata lineup.