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Antec Minuet 350 Case Review

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Introduction

Founded in 1986, Antec is recognized as a pioneer in the high-performance computer components and accessories for the gaming, PC upgrade and Do-It-Yourself markets, and has maintained its position as a worldwide market leader and international provider of quiet, efficient and innovative products. They recently sent us their Minuet 350 case to test.

We've been quite looking forward to this as we believe the enclosure has great potential beyond simply to use in building a small form factor (SFF) desktop or home theatre PC (HTPC). Our aim in this review is to not only evaluate the case but also to see if any single enclosure can double as a stylish HTPC and also provide mainstream functionality as a fully fledged games machine, thereby avoiding the need to have a seperate computer for each role.

 

Case Packaging

Clicking on any picture in this review opens up a larger, more detailed image and in some cases may be the only way to spot fine details such as the front mounted fan speed controllers.

 

Shipping in a sturdy box the 902 weighs in at 6.1 kg with only 1.1kg being accounted for by packaging material. Speaking of which, we were pleased to note the soft flexible foam and not expanded polystyrene surrounding the case. This offers better protection, last longer (for case re-use later) and does not break off in small particles when taking the case out.  

 

The Antec Minuet 350 unveiled  

Straight away the compactness becomes apparent. A single 5.25" and one 3.25" drive is all that can be easily fitted. In practice this means an internal Blu-Ray player/recorder and an internal 3.5" hard drive. Some may prefer to use an SSD to keep noise down but the drive will be mostly used for storage and for practical reasons a traditional HDD can store hundreds of DVD and BD images for ease of playback as well as other media files. An SSD of the same size would be extremely expensive. With 2TB drives available now for less than $100 it seems the practical way to go (might as well get an eco or 5400rpm drive rather than a fast one as speed is not that important in this case as comfortable listening).

The sole air output is from an 8cm fan on the side. This fan has a 3-step speed control attached to it. Even during heavy gaming we found the middle setting to be fine and the noise of this fan could not be heard over the CPU fan.

The mirrored surface (except for the front and back for obvious reasons in a HTPC) adds a touch of class and will complement some high end Hi Fi systems. Front panel connectors for E-SATA, HD Audio and 2 USB ports mean few trips to the back and the minimalist lights for power and HDD activity give subdued feedback without lighting up an entire room.

   

Moving to the back and top we see the ventilation strategy whereby air is drawn into the case by the power supply and out by the side fan which pushes far more air then the PSU resulting in a net inflow from other areas such as the large top grill and the intake above the motherboard. This is quite clever as the main grill is above the CPU socket and the long grill down the side of the top will cool a full length graphics card. The power supply is deceptively small and compact despite its rating of 350W and 80%+ energy efficiency. This will be a key factor when we overclock the PC and add a high end graphics card.

 

The area inside is quite spacious and ample for any mini-ATX motherboard. We used an Intel P67BL board with an i5-2500K unlocked processor from the recent Sandy Bridge launch. Motherboard spacers are not needed since raised domes on the surface provide screw holes to secure the motherboard. A box is provided containing all the needed screws etc. as well as 2 holders to secure the case on its side if that is preferred.

The housing for the optical and disk drives slides over past the vertical so that it's out of the way.

 And even comes right out to allow easy motherboard installation.  

 

Here it can be seen that things are not too cramped even when fully loaded. We used the stock cooler that came with the i5-2500K but there is plenty of room to add a petter performing 3rd party cooler or even Antec's new Kuhler 620 liquid cooling system (we'd have to attach the radiator externally to the back of the case but would allow for extreme overclocking).  

 

Now we've done something people will find hard to believe in an HTPC case - adding a full-length high end PCI-E graphics card - a Sapphire Radeon HD6870! We're left with the problem of adding two PCI-E power connectors as the PSU does not come with these as standard (it is unlikely Antec ever thought their enclosure would be used for this purpose so we're opening up new market segments here :) so a couple of adapter leads are needed to convert spare molex connectors. These are cheaply available from various sources. The important thing is that the power supply supports the up to 200W draw from a high end graphics card and the 95W rated draw of the CPU. The Minuet 350 does this without any problems.

 

Case Overclocking Performance  

Can a case like the Minuet 350 support high levels of overclocking? Conventional wisdom has been to use specialist gaming cases such as the recent Antec 902 V3 with a host of fans to cycle air quickly and a lot if internal space to give breathing room and add more hardware. Here we have only one fan but the pathway that airfolow takes is so close together that it works very efficiently. Here's what we were able to achieve:

 

The first screen capture shows the system running at stock speed. All our tests were done at stock speed. The second capture gives an idea of the incredible overclocking potential of not only Intel's latest Sandy Bridge processors but, more relevantly in this case, the capabilities of this remarkable enclosure. Over 5.5GHz with a stock cooler! That's more than a 2GHz performance boost. We ran stress tests for 2 hours at this astronomical speed without any problems for the CPU or the case.

 

Synthetic Performance - 3D Mark Vantage

 

Intel may have great processors but even their latest on-chip graphics, the HD3000, performs poorly compared to discrete add-in solutions. The Sapphire Radeon HD6870 Vapor-X we are using here is easily ahead of the 4 entry level and midrange cards shown. The reason we selected these cards is that other HTPC enlclosures can only accept half height cards and the 4 models shown in the graph are the best graphics cards available in half height format. In other words, people using a different enclosure would be forced with settling for a mediocre graphics card as that is all that would fit into their case. 

 

Gaming Performance  

Performance in this first person shooter is great at any resolution. If you're going to watch movies at 1920x1080 then you might as well play games at that resolution too. The HD3000 is provided for comparison only - the key to our experiment is to use a high end graphics card. 

 

HAWX is more of a flight simulator and is even playable on the HD3000.

   

The current favourite of horror games is Resident Evil 5 and when the graphics options are set to maximum quality the results are stuning. Playing at 1920x1080 is a joy to behold.

 

HTPC Performance

What about HTPC performance? Isn't the Minuet 350 a bit big compared to offerings from Zoltac and Asus?

This is misleading as there are some key factors most of the public is not aware of. Firstly, these micro designs all rely on processors such as Intel's Atom and Nvidia's ION chipset. In reality, they can barely cope with 1080i video let alone 1080p or even 3D Blu-Ray. When they do play high definition content the CPU utilisation is usually very high (often at 100%) meaning that not enough processing power is available for decoding. This results in two types of visual defect - dropped frames which are seen as stuttering and incomplete decoding which results in blockiness, smearing and similar artifacts. Both of these can be quite annoying when sititng down to enjoy a movie. So how does our system compare?

 

Here we see a 1080p clip rendered in flawless perfection and the CPU utilisation of our test system stays below 15%.

 

Even high speed action can be reproduced effortlessly using a fraction of the computing power available. If this was an Atom based processor the picture above would be a blocky mess.

 

 

Conclusion

The Antec Minuet 350 is the perfect combination of aesthetics and functionality - looking stylish in a rack amongst expensive Hi Fi components yet capable enough to be used for a high end games machine and even supporting extreme levels of overclocking. It's too easy to pigeon-hole this enclosure simply based on looks but deeper inspection shows that it can do much more - perhaps this is the fashionable case to take to LAN parties, friends will be impressed by the looks and astounded by the performance.

We can't find anything wrong with this case (we thought really hard and perhaps Antec might consider putting in a peelable veneer for the face of any optical drive since its virtually impossible to find one the colour of the case front) so apart from that minor observation the Minuet 350 is ideally suited to fulfiling a multi-purpose role with a scope far wider than most would envisage from just looking at it.

We award the Antec Minuet 350 our Hardware Review Gold award.


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