01/30/2009 | 07:00 PM
I will be honest with you: most of contemporary system cases do not impress me. In my humble opinion, most of them have pretty ordinary design, while their price may often be way past the levels of “ordinary” products. Therefore, I thought it would be not a very good idea to ask me to review a system case from Antec: I would not be totally unbiased, because of pre-existing disappointed attitude. And the moment I saw Antec Skeleton I got even more certain of that. However, I knew that I would be biased for a completely different reason: it was love at first sight! :)
The first time I saw pictures of Antec Skelton I was completely carried away by its charm and originality:
Antec Skelton looks like nothing you have ever seen: it will be an excellent decoration, a true boast for the owner and center of attention for his guests. However, it will suit not only mainstream users. This case is almost completely open, features excellent ventilation, easy access to any part of the system and gives you the ability to replace any component problem-free. It looks like a perfect choice for a computer enthusiast or tester!
You know, if you are constantly testing the latest computer components, your attitude to them changes gradually. The interest remains, but the feeling of newness and the exciting expectation of the moment you meet disappear. A mainboard on a new chipset? Ok, I’ll check it out… The today’s fastest CPU? Alright, we’ll try overclocking it and see what’s up… The newest graphics card? Thank you, please keep it for now and I will pick it up later… However, Antec Skeleton revived the feelings that were almost completely gone by then; and these were not just some recent feelings, but something from the childhood. I suddenly felt like a little boy who points at a colorful toy store window pulling on mom’s hand and jumping with excitement.
“Yes, yes, I want it!” – this thought kept bothering me over and over again, however, I didn’t waste my time while waiting for this case. First of all I checked out the technical specifications of Antec Skeleton. It looked like the size of this case would make it a perfect fit for my test desk, it would even free some extra space:
Then I took a close look at the user’s manual: everything was clear and simple but I still couldn’t understand how easy it would be to assemble and take apart a system like that. I downloaded a video review trying to sort things out, but it turned out completely useless and I could have just listened to the sound instead: two guys sit and talk about the case turning it one way or another occasionally. I really hope that our today’s article will help you get the feeling that you have just had Antec Skeleton in your own hands. You are going to learn about all the smallest assembly and disassembly peculiarities, get to know Skeleton’s advantages and drawbacks.
Antec Skeleton ships in a nice looking box decorated with the case photographs taken at different angles. The slogan “Think Beyond the BOX” is undoubtedly a great fit for the case and speaks for itself. You can read it differently: it can refer to the fact that the case doesn’t have to be box-shaped, as well as encourage you not to be narrow-minded.
The case ships assembled. There is a small cardboard box with accessories inside that contains: a fan, four retention frames for additional 3.5-inch drives, reusable plastic ties and a set of screws.
Moreover, there is also a brief assembly manual in several languages, however, the manufacturer strongly advises downloading a complete user’s manual from their web-site.
The case didn’t disappoint: it looks exactly like the photographs, only better because it is real :)
It looks deceivingly simple, but every little detail is very well thought through. For example, all front panel connectors are plugged via a connector set, i.e. in one little move. But audio ports have two connector sets: AC97 and HD Audio.
A little dot on the left is HDD status indicator, then comes Reset button, IEEE1394 (FireWire) port, two USB ports, eSATA, headset out, mic out and Power button.
Now let’s start putting our system together. Everything is very simple and fast. At first you have to remove two thumb-screws at the back:
Now easily pull the chassis out.
In fact, this is more than enough, but for even more convenience we will take the chassis off the frame completely. To do this, locate a little lever on the lower right end of the chassis…
Push it in and keep pulling the chassis towards yourself until it is completely out.
I suggest that you start by installing a power supply that is not included with the case. Fins a metal latch at the back…
Push it in and pull towards yourself at the same time and you get the PSU retention frame.
It even has four rubber pads absorbing the vibrations and protecting the PSU from scratches during installation. The PSU is fastened with four screws, just like in a normal system case.
Now push the power supply unit in the retention frame along the rail runners back into the chassis until you hear the latch click.
Wow… I didn’t expect that the PSU will be turned sideways, I should have studied the manual more attentively… However, if you think about it, this is the only possible and most convenient way of putting in the power supply, although it is indeed very unusual. If they decided to place the PSU the usual way, they would need to significantly increase the length of this case to make sure that any PSU would fit in. And even then dealing with modular cables connection would still be challenging. I took a 1kW power supply unit that was larger than standard for my system. However, there was enough room for cables on the left and I could easily reach the power switch on the right and plug in the power cable.
The next step is installing the hard drive and optical drive. Before putting those in, you have to provide each of them with a special retention screw that will serve as a stopper.
Plastic clips on the case front panel have little slits in them.
We push the drives in along the rail runners until we hear a clicking sound indicating that the stopper is in the slit and dead locked. If you need to replace a drive in the future, all you need to do to remove it is to slightly bend the clip and pull the drive out.
The light metal color of my optical drive stood out against the overall black color scheme of the system, so I moved it to the upper bay later on and used the lower bay for cable management needs. As for the hard drives, they will be covered with an additional 92mm fan included with the case. Its only drawback is that it is of non-standard shape, so if it fails it will be really hard to find an adequately looking replacement for it. However, the retention holes for this fan will easily accommodate a standard 80mm one.
There are two lugs on one side of the fan frame and two latches on the other. Set the lugs into the slits in front of the HDD bay and push the frame in until you hear a familiar click.
The fan rotates at 2100 RPM, and to me it seemed a little too much. It is hard to slow the fan down, however, in most cases you may not even need to connect it, unless you have two hard disk drives, each with 1TB capacity and made of 4-5 platters, which heat a lot. You can just keep the fan there for aesthetic purposes, as a single HDD installed into this chassis will get all the cooling it needs even without the fan.
Now it is time for a mainboard. The top mainboard tray is attached with three screws and can be easily removed, so that you could make cable management a walk in the park.
As for us, we will install the mainboard right away onto standard metal stands.
Now let’s push the chassis back into the frame, but not till the end.
You have to remove the retention panel made of clear plastic before you install any of the expansion cards. Then install the cards into corresponding slots, push the chassis back till the end, reattach the clear plastic panel and fasten the cards to it with enclosed screws.
Now all you have to do is put back two thumb-screws that hold the removable chassis in place, connect all the cables to the board, and you are done!
By the way, if you need to fit more than two hard disk drives into your system, you can use special retention frames to hold another four.
As you can see, there are rubber pads on these frames, too. The retention holes allow using these frames not only for hard disk drives, but also for a floppy drive or a card-reader. Additional drives will be attached to the sides of the Antec Skeleton case.
Note that you can easily remove these side panels if you need immediate access inside the system. Just pull open two latches and you can get in even without removing the chassis.
For some reason I expected the top 250mm fan to be really noisy. However, it turned out very quiet, but capable of creating a powerful airflow even at the minimal 400 RPM.
A three-step switch allows increasing the fan rotation speed to 600 RPM or to 800 RPM, but it will be quite audible in the latter case. There are six holes in the fan retention frame, each with three color LEDs inside: read, green and blue. It is a fully-fledged RGB (red-green-blue) although no one combined these colors, of course. When the system is on, these LEDs light up all together or one by one following a special algorithm and the transparent fan blades glow in different colors, which looks really beautiful. Due to a rotating fan and the use of pulse-width modulation method for LED brightness adjustment, we can see different amazing color ornaments on the fan blades, each lasting a few seconds, before the mode switches again.
Theoretically, you can use a special button to select one suitable color or combination of colors, or disable the LED lighting completely, however, I doubt that anyone will often do it. There are two reasons for that. First, even though the LEDs are very bright, you cannot really see it, unless you somehow look at the fan from beneath. Normally you see reflected lighting that is not annoying at all. On the contrary, it is very entertaining to watch the colors and shapes change. The second reason is a little more down-to-earth: the set color mode will not be saved anywhere. Every time you turn the system on, the fan will start working in its default mode, changing colors dynamically. I doubt that anyone will use the button to adjust the LED lighting to his or her liking every time the system is powered on.
The color combinations change in consecutive order. The list below describes all possibilities (the numbers stand for the number of times you need to press the button):
0 – colors change dynamically (default)
1 – constant blue
2 – constant green
3 – constant red
4 – blue and green
5 – blue and red
6 – green and red
7 – blue, red, green
8 – no LED lighting
Working with this case is a real pleasure: everything is so quick and easy. Of course, it is the result of tremendous effort put into the development of this solution, when each little trifle, each potential obstacle a user may ever face is carefully taken care of. As a result, we have a unique system case that provides easy access to all system components, excellent cooling at very low level of noise and sensational exterior looks.
Of course, there are certain things a potential Antec Skeleton owner should keep in mind. First of all, you have to pick your system components very thoroughly, if you want to end up with an acoustically comfortable system. The first things that come to mind in this respect are the CPU and graphics card coolers, however, a loud hard disk drive may also spoil the impression. There is one more aspect that is not directly connected with the case itself, but is part of any working environment. I am talking about dust. The case is completely open and has no filters of any kind. Keep your workstation clean and your Antec Skeleton will always look as good as new. Finally, there is one more limitation that I would have never thought about, if it hadn’t been for the user’s manual: pets. Things may turn real ugly if your dog sticks its nose into the case, a kitten crawls in to stay warm or your favorite bird decides to clean its wings beneath a 250mm fan.
All the things we have mentioned above are not really drawbacks. These are just peculiarities of the work environment for Antec Skeleton that you should keep in mind. Otherwise it is an almost ideal case. That’s it. I cannot push it back anymore. It is time for me to spit it out: the only, but very serious drawback. It is in fact so serious that it makes the use of Antec Skeleton system case pretty questionable altogether.
The case is incompatible with almost any of the existing high-end CPU coolers.
Which models did you think of first? Scythe Ninja, Zalman CNPS9900, Tuniq Tower 120 - none of these coolers will fit inside Antec Skeleton. However, it is not a good idea to use a tower cooler with the fans directing airflow along the mainboard PCB. You should take full advantage of the quiet but very powerful top fan. That is why you should choose a cooler with a heatsink letting airflow go through from top to bottom. Antec Skeleton can only accommodate cooling solutions that are a little taller than an installed graphics card (only 110 mm), while most super-coolers are 140-160 mm tall. Zalman CNPS9500 measuring 125mm will fit in really tight and that would be the best you could do in terms of height. Even that cooler wouldn’t fit if it had a rectangular heatsink, just like most traditional tower coolers.
Another good choice would be Thermalright XP-120, it fits in just perfectly.
Even a Thermalright SI-128 SE will fit in, but without the fan.
Strange as it might seem, but I didn’t find any mention of this serious issue neither in the user’s manual, nor on the manufacturer’s web-site. However, it will discourage most computer enthusiasts and testers from using this case. So, it turns out that the only type of user Antec Skeleton will suit are those valuing for extravagant looks above all.
Sadly, my naïve childhood dream of an ideal system case fell apart on me. The same feeling struck me when I first learned that there was no Santa Claus and that babies were not brought by a stork. Now I understand that I wasn’t told the truth because it was really hard to explain the childbirth to a little boy. But why didn’t Antec warn the users about limited compatibility of their Skeleton system case with CPU coolers? They remembered to warn us that the case might be hazardous for hamsters and kittens, but forgot about the CPU cooler? I don’t think so. The truth is that Antec knew about this drawback and its ability to scare away a lot of potential users.
However, if you really want to, you can solve this problem. For example, pull out the chassis and do not push it back in at all. Or remove the part of the frame with the top fan. It will be a very good testbed, but a pretty expensive one, too. Besides, we will no longer be able to use the extremely efficient top fan. Or you can pull out the chassis and put something underneath the fan frame to make it taller. In fact, the distance from the mainboard to the fan is 165mm, so you can fit in a 160mm or lower cooler if you remove one of the stiffening fins and file down the decorative fan frame above it. In the two latter cases everything will work just fine, but will not look pretty anymore, unfortunately.
That is why I impatiently look forward to Antec Skeleton II case. Its top fan needs to be not just removable, but with adjustable height. It will certainly slightly increase the production costs. However, they could make the chassis non-removable and thus save some money here. Besides, they could use a variable resistor instead of a three-step switch for smooth adjustment of the fan rotation speed. That’s all.
But while Antec Skeleton II exists only in my dreams, I will still not give up the case I fell in love with at first sight. Three photographs above show that even now you can find a suitable solution for efficient processor cooling. Everything else about Antec Skeleton is impeccably ideal.