Making The Original Antec Sonata Better
Today we take a look at yet another in the 2005 line of Antec cases, the Sonata II. For those of you familiar with the original Sonata, a great case at a modest price, you will be pleasantly surprised to see that Antec took an extremely solid design and made some simply enhancements with regards to system cooling.
I have to say, that to this point I've been very impressed with Antec's 2005 line. The TX1050B and its little brother the TX640B both are well designed cases that would have no problem housing any type of setup (I'm using the TX640 for a Prommie setup, and the TX1050B is housing a Koolance Exos 2 complete with an entirely water cooled system).The Titan 550, after a few modifications for motherboard compatibility, has seemed to be a favorite in our forums and judging by the positive feedback I have received both for the case and the review.
This brings us to todays topic, the Sonata II from Antec's "Lifestyle" line of enclosures. I bought the orginal Sonata last summer while looking for a decent mid tower case. As I have said before, I'm not a big fan of exotic shapes or colors when it comes to my systems, I'm more about performance than aesthetics, and the Sonata definitely fits that description.
The one concern I had with the Sonata was cooling. There was no side mounted fans, and in fact only one fan for system cooling, a rear mounted 120 mm fan, which in today's systems is simply not enough. When it came to temperatures, the biggest concern I had was for my HDD, which ran 3-4C higher in the Sonata than any other case. Antec did allow for a 120mm fan to be mounted to the side of the HDD section, but it was more of a hindrance than anything else. All in all, the Sonata is a great ~$100 case that I still use today.
Lets look at the specs before we move on to an in depth look at Antec's Sonata II.
- Advanced Chassis Air Duct to cool the latest CPU and graphics cards on the market
- Improved overall air intake for better and quieter cooling
- Specially designed low-noise SmartPower 2.0 450W ATX12V v2.01 power supply
- Front mounted USB, IEEE 1394 (FireWire,i.Link) & Audio ports
- 9 Drive Bays:
- 3 x 5.25" external drive bays
- 2 x 3.5" external drive bays
- 4 x 3.5" internal drive bays in individual trays with rubber grommets to absorb hard drive vibrations
- Cooling System:
- 1 rear 120mm Tricool fan (standard) with 3-speed control to balance quiet with cooling
- 1 front 120mm case fan (optional) 25mm thick
-1 92mm fan (optional) in the air duct to cool the CPU
- 1 80mm fan (optional) for graphics cards
- Double hinge door design: allows the door to open up to 270
- Made with 0.8mm SECC Steel
- Built-in washable air filter keeps harmful dust out of your case
- Individual drive trays
- Front USB/FireWire Ports
|Case Dimensions||16.75"(H) x 18.25"(D) x 8.13"(W)
42.5cm (H) x 46.3cm (D) x 20.6cm(W)
|Weight||20.7/25 lbs (net/gross)
9.4 kg (net)
|Power Supply||450Watt SmartPower 2.0
ATX 12V V2.0 for AMD? & Intel systems
|Special Features||Internal drive trays with rubber grommets|
Upon first glance there is very little that separates the Sonata II from its predecessor the Sonata. You will notice the same semi-glossy finish, same size, shape, and basic design, this is a good thing as the Sonata was a great case, and proved very popular among the DIY crowd.
Gone are the "Antec cutouts on the tops of both side panels. In fact, the Sonata II has no side venting at all. This caught my attention immediately as my biggest issue with the original was lack of cooling, and Antec's entire 2005 line thus far as featured ducted cooling for the CPU. The side panel features the same thumb screw and latch assembly of the original, I find the latch assembly to be more than sufficient and have never used my thumb screws to secure the side panel.
Those of you that read my review of Antec's Titan 550 and TX1050B enclosures know that I did not care for the plastic front bezel or door assembly. On a server case, which usually isn't going to have its door opened and closed as much as a gamer's mid tower, the plastic door is not much of an issue, but with me constantly switching out CDs and DVDs, my Sonata's door lasted about a month, pity, as the rest of that case has remained flawless over the past year.
The Sonata II is prone to the same fate, although Antec did try to address the issue by using the same twin swivel door assembly found on their other 2005 cases. With the ability to open almost completely (the door allows a 270 degree swing), broken doors should not be too much of an issue if care is taken during handling. I think the door swivel is a unique concept, one that would work flawlessly, and the plastic door would be much less of an issue if Antec would simply use metal hinges and studs.
Moving down the front of the case, the Sonata II keeps the same smooth, pleasing look of the original, complete with a covered front I/O port with connections for !EEE 1394, USB 2.0, and audio jacks, nothing drastic here, and something that has become a must have feature with digital camera and USB keys being so widely used. To either side of the I/O port is lighting that kind of confuses me. Like the Sonata, the Sonata II has a clear plastic section on both sides of the I/O port, these plastic capsules house a very bright, very annoying, blue light that easily lights up a dark room. Why put something like this on such a subtle case? This can be overcome simply by not connecting the 4 pin molex running from the front panel to the inside of the case.
Just below the front I/O ports is the first noticeable difference with the Sonata II. To improve the case's air flow, Antec' widened and rounded the front inlet, allowing more cool air to be drawn in through the filter, over the HDD racks, and finally over the entire system. Though subtle, the change cannot help but make a significant difference in the case's ambient temperature.
Moving to the rear of the case, the Sonata II keeps the same sturdy design of other Antec cases, no broken or bent PCI slot covers here. The second, and perhaps more significant change with the Sonata II comes into play as you look at the lower section of the case's rear. Next to the PCI covers, is a rectangular grill.
While most cases draw cool air in from the front and exhaust warm air out the rear, Antec uses this as an air intake for their new ducting system that we'll cover shortly in our interior impression.
The Sonata II is a very nice looking case, again, Antec uses a subtle, yet attractively sturdy design and it works. I had two issues while looking at the front of the case. First, I hate plastic doors, the sign of a high quality case is durability, and plastic case doors seem easily broken, as my original Sonata suffered that fate less than a month after purchase. I'd gladly pay an extra $5-10 if Antec would switch over to a metal door or hinge assembly. Second, as attractive as the Sonata II is, it's impossible to handle without leaving finger prints or smudges all over it. If you are going to have this case, make sure you keep a smooth, clean rag handy.
That said, the Sonata II is every bit as beautiful and sturdy as the original. Let's move on to the interior of the case.
After removing the side panel, I was greeted by an enormous ducting system! Attached to the top rail below the PSU, the bottom of the case, as well as the rear of the case, this thing is a monster. The duct itself runs from the rectangular grill on the rear, toward the front of the case, then straight up to the CPU area.
The first thing I noticed was how much room the duct actually takes up within the case. I was a bit worried that the duct itself blocks a large part of the rear 120mm exhaust fan, and though it should direct air to the CPU, seems like the rest of your system will suffer simply by the cramped confines.
The duct is made of a hard plastic, secured to the case by thumbscrews. It also features three other thumbscrews which allow the user to customize the height and depth of the CPU duct based on your cooler and motherboard. As the duct draws air in from the rear of the case, it directs it up at a 90 degree angle, about half way up, there is a cutout for an optional 80mm fan for a video card or other PCI/PCI-E component. At the top, there is another 90 degree turn, here Antec allows for a 92mm fan to be attached, drawing the air up and directing it over your CPU.
The problems I have with the ducting system are plenty. As I stated above, the shear size of the thing means there is much less room within the case for air to circulate over other components, then there is the issue of it blocking most of the 120mm exhaust fan. As to the ducting, as most cases exhaust warm air out the rear, does it make sense to draw air into your case from where the rest of your system rids itself of warm air? Add to this the complete lack of a filtration system, and any dust sucked into your case is going to stay in the ducting or in your case.
Aside from that, the relatively small intake area, followed by two 90 degree turns really hampers the air flow. Compound this issue with the wide variety of heat sinks on the market, and I see some serious compatibility issues. While the duct no doubt will work fine with a stock HSF assembly, I was unable to use a Thermalright XP-90C, which definitely will mean the larger XP-120 will not fit either. In the end, I simply removed the ducting and set it aside.
In my opinion I believe that Antec's ducting system is a creative idea, I think a much simpler and better solution would have been to simply mount a 120mm fan on the cases side. Aside from my issues with the ducting, the Sonata II is pretty much identical to the original. My favorite feature is how Antec mounted the HDD trays sideways to reduce case clutter and allow easy routing of cables, but this too is on the original Sonata.
I also applaud Antec for again using rubber grommets on the HDD trays, which should make even the noisiest HDD purr along quietly. As with the rest of their 2005 line up, Antec included their Tri-Cool 120mm adjustable fan with the Sonata II, for those of you not familiar with it, the Tri-Cool has a small toggle attached to it that allows the user to customize the air flow to three different settings. I personally don't adjust mine, because 120mm fans are so quiet to begin with, and because there is only one fan included with the Sonata II, I leave mine on the high setting.
Like the original Sonata, the Sonata II has a mount for a 120mm fan on the back side of the HDD rack, this mount is a bit of a pain to use, and many people, who don't read the manual are unaware of it. The fan itself is a great idea, but by placing it behind the HDD rack, you have to remove it to remove the motherboard. I would rather have seen a single 120mm fan placed between the HDD tray and the air inlet in front, thereby pushing more cool air over a larger area, but this is a small complaint.
The Sonata II includes a large washable filter that is hidden behind the lower front bezel of the case. I like the filter a great deal, because living in Las Vegas, and with pets, means that dust and hair can be a problem, and we all know that these things can cause major issues with computer systems.
One issue I did have with the filter, is because of its orientation and placement, you must tilt the Sonata II almost completely on its rear to remove the filter through the bottom. This might necessitate disconnecting your entire system to clean the filter. Not a big deal, but definitely something to be aware of.
Overall, the interior layout of the Sonata II is almost identical to the original. Though I personally don't care for the ducting system, it should reduce fan noise. I am always happy to see a manufacturer be creative in addressing important issues with their cases, and Antec definitely put the emphasis on cooling the CPU.
The Power Supply
Antec's SmartPower 2.0 450W PSU
ATX12V version 2.0 Compliance
Dual 12V output circuitry provides added system stability and meets 240VA UL requirements and safety purpose: 12V1 for Motherboard and peripherals; 12V2 for processor
ATX12V v2.0 compliance allows SmartPower 2.0 to consume up to 25% less power than standard power supplies, saving you money on your electric bill. 24-pin power connector with detachable 4-pin section for backwards compatibility with ATX 20-pin motherboards.
4 SATA Connectors support Serial ATA optical drives
Flow-through dual 80mm fans (one intake and one exhaust)
Unique Dual Fans Technology: exhaust fan starts to spin when the power supply reaches certain temperatures to ensure proper airflow, the second fan spins on power up
Industrial grade protection prevents damage resulting from short circuits, power overloads, excessive current, low voltages and excessive voltages
Increased 12V output capability for system components that consume more power from 12V rail
PCI-E graphic connector
Safety approvals: UL, CUL, TUV, CB, FCC Class B, CE, CCC
Increased MTBF: 80,000 hours
Size: 6.1"(L) x 5.9" (D) x 3.4" (H)
Gold plated connector for superior conductivity
The biggest difference between the original Sonata and the Sonata II is the power supply that the case comes with. The Sonata came with a 380W power supply that offered 35A on the 5-volt rail and 18A on the 12-volt rail. The 450W power supply that comes with the Sonata II has 30A on the5-volt rail and an 32A when adding up the two independent 12-volt rails. These should be ample to power many of the current high end dual core processors that are coming out on the market today and is far better than the original Antec Sonata power supply.
The fact that Antec includes a high quality PSU with their enclosuers only makes them even more of a steal. The Sonata II includes a 450W SmatPower 2.0 power supply. With systems becoming more and more power hungry, 450W is adequate for most, and considering the ~$115 price tag of the Sonata II, the SmartPower 2.0 makes this enclosure a steal.
While I won't get into the Technical Data, I have found this power supply to work just fine during case testing. Antec PSU's have always featured rock solid rails and plenty of connectors for whatever I decided to install in my system. The 450W PSU included with my review sample had 4 SATA connections, as well as a PCI-E connection. Two features i really appreciate are the fan management system, which spins one fan up at startup, and the second only when the PSU needs it, and the Smartpower 2.0's backwards compatibility with 20 pin power connector motherboards by way of a detachable section of the power connector, meaning you don't have to buy a special adapter if you plan on using this enclosure or PSU with an older system.
A couple of things I'd like to see is a second PCI-E connector (for SLI systems) and a much better cable management system. My PSU's wiring was a mess as the wires left the housing, and the wires themselves were only managed by a handful of zip ties. I'd happily pay a little extra for a much cleaner wiring job and some sleeves over each wire.
That being said, the SmartPower 2.0 is about the same as every other Antec PSU I have used, a very good power supply. The complaints I had aren't deal breakers, and simply add a little work to a system setup for the end user.
Although I did not like the ducting system used on the Sonata II, it is easily removed and set aside. That being said, the Sonata II is almost the same case as the original, only with some minor adjustments that make system cooling much better. The Sonata II retains all of the positive features of its predecessor, and improves the PSU from the original's 380W to an adequate 450W SmartPower 2.0.
Another major draw of the Sonata II is sound. This might be the quietest case I've ever seen. When using the ducting system, the CPU and VGA fans were noticeably quieter, coupled with the HDD rubber grommets, the Tri-Cool fan, and Antec's always quiet PSUs, the Sonata II could easily be used as a multi media center PC.
Overall I have no problem recommending the Sonata II to anyone looking for a quality mid tower case. Featuring Antec's typical high quality design and some great looks, the Sonata II should prove to be every bit as popular as the original.
The Legit Bottom Line
The Sonata II retains everything positive from the original, and with some cooling enhancements, a larger PSU, and decent price, those of you in the market for a mid tower to house your gaming system should be very happy with what the Sonata II has to offer.