Antec Fusion Max review.

This covers my build/rebuild of a home theater PC/Gaming PC using the Antec Fusion Max PC case.

While this has been reviewed elsewhere, mine is more of my point of view, less technical and more review “joe” oriented so to speak. PC builds and me have met before, having my share fair under my belt. I do it for the sheer fun of it. The satisfaction of getting it up and running from specifications listed in my head is quite something.

My HTPC duties thus far have been carried out rather dutifully by a Cooler Master Cavalier case for some time now. Cooler Master was one of the early pioneers in turning a PC on its side and slapping on a pretty face on it so it doesnt look out of place in the media room. I had to have it when i first saw it, it was gorgeous. Paired with an Asus p5P800 with music on demand without having to turn on the PC, it was gloriously state of the art.. once upon a time.. ago. Apart from a couple of shortcomings, its put some miles on, valiantly plodding along with its heart on its sleeve, silent in the knowing that the day will come when its Achilles would be the end of it . And that fateful day did come, the Achilles heel  as it turns out is  its proprietary power supply. The Cavalier comes with a 3o0watt PSU that, while will power a HTPC just fine, will not run multiple HDD and a Gaming graphics card. Apart from hacking out the top cover, a standard ATX power supply will not fit in it. HTPCs are all about form and function. Without form, it defeats the part of its purpose to sit pretty. A hole in the top of the case is not fetching in any way.

So, a shopping I went for a new case to house it all. My requirements were:

full ATX motherboard compatibility (My HTPCs tend to run on hand me down hardware from other PC upgrades, so  broad compatibility is key. If you’re in the market to build an application specific HTPC and have decided on a micro ATX MB, then honestly, the Silverstone Grandia GD04 is better than this imho.)

– No 6cm or 8cm fans!! You might think i was nitpicking but you’d be wrong. If there is something to take away from  this.. its that 6cm fans are real loud and move little air. 8cm fans are better….. but there’s nothing like big honkin’ 12cm fans turning over lazily in blissful silence and still move enough air to cool adequately. Graphic cards have fans, HDD spin, PSUs have fans, Cpus have fans… no need to add to it with more noisy 6cm. or 8cm fans. The Silverstone case mentioned above is ingeniously  designed around 12mm fans.

– Enough space to run full or oversize graphic cards. This is not the domain of HTPC cases. Very few can actually do this. The Silverstone GD04 will accept cards upto 10 inches, very decent. Some graphic cards have power sockets facing up, a tall case is a must. Some after market coolers to bring down the dbs are tall and wrap over the card, headroom over the card will accommodate this.

– As many HDD bays as it can afford. more the better. MKVs are huge. Gone are the days of 700Mb avi rips. Its all 1080p now!

That said, the list was annoyingly short in the sub 200USD category. Slim pickings indeed. It finally boiled down to the Antec Fusion Max and the Zalman HD501. (I already own the Zalman HD160 which serves as my primary pc housing and it is built incredibly well. Solid aluminium throughout, and engineered very well. Its a machined piece of art! The HD501s front panel is aluminum, the rest is rolled steel, not quite in the same category).

I find LCDs/VFDs on HTPC cases kinda pointless, so it made no difference to my final decision. The Antec comes bundled with a LCD and Imon remote which could prove useful for first time builders who dont own them without additional outlay. I decided on the Antec as it had the provision to hold longer graphic cards.

8cm fan problems can be worked around using Arctic Cooling’s PWM sharing fans with support from the Motherboards fan speed control as ive done before with the Zalman case. Its whisper quiet! There arent, to my knowledge any 6cm PWM fans. (PWM sharing fans are 4 pin fans that share the PWM signal from one source and all fans will regulate its speed according to the signal supplied to the first one. Its brilliant.) If you havent noticed by now, i really like Arctic Cooling.

Onwards to the build!!

Cooler Master Cavalier

This beauty is where we’re coming from. Sheilas done well, now its time to give up the job to.. Sheila… yeah, they’re all Sheila.

And this is what we’re stepping up to. The  Antec fusion Max. Shes got the sass and the look up front. Unlike the Zalman 160, its only upfront, the rest is rolled steel and doesn’t have the touch or feel of machined aluminum. The volume knob is “clicky”, which is nice. Bottom cover flips down to hide the intake filters (nice touch!) and usb ports ect and is made of glossy plastic. All in all it does make a striking appearance as something that wouldnt look out of place in a audio rack.

Side by side view of the two.

See whats wrong with the picture here.. yep, broke her back it did, poor thing. But this is what she had to contend with. The HD5850 is a beastly thing. The new 5XXX Radeons are quite remarkable. Lowered power consumptiona and practical noise control with sensible scaling of the GPU fan. At idle, i cant hear it. At load, it can rev up.. at 100%  it screams like a banshee in acute pain. But its never crossed 35%.. yet. With game volume, i dont expect it to be a bother. For video, I dont use AVIVO, so no problems there. The i3 core crunches through 1080p MKV without breaking a sweat or warming up.

For those who may wonder in what fashion it gets to you.

It held up well to Mr. UPS man.

Time for  nudies….  *snicker..*

Note the two large fans in the corner, and the attention to vibration isolation. Rubber booties for the PSU to sit on and foam lining.

According to the feature specs, this design is optimized by compartmentalizing the various section. While  I can see that some thought has gone into this design.. and its always nice to see new designs, more so if somebody sat down and took the effort to design it well, it seems to me that while the designer had a good idea, it was built upon and then the budget ran out for a revision.. which it does sorely need.  As many merits this design has, its dogged by as many flaws. Some of them terribly annoying.

Note the HDD bay configuration. Its split into two, two sit in the power supply bay and the other two sit in the main bay in front of the motherboard. The cage in the main bay can be removed to allow for extended length graphic cards but will accommodate 9.5 inches with some squeezing. The two bays in the power supply bay only have a vent beneath for cooling. Most bigger power supplies that also are quiet use large 12mm fans that will face out to the left. That leaves the HDDs sealed in an area of poor ventilation….. now, what were we thinking of eh? Right…..

Supplied accessories. “KingKong” brand triple AAAs? That brought a smile to my face. Theres enough screws and misc ties etc to go around. It also comes with an accessory fan bracket to add a third 120mm fan to the area left empty by the hard disk bay from the main area to supply extra cooling. Its one or the other, both the HDD cage and fan bracket will not fit together. Nice to have the option i suppose. One thing they could have, should have supplied is right angle SATA power adapters and right angle (90 degree) SATA cables… you’ll see why. Pictures paint a thousand words… and also exposes design shortfalls.. hey who would have thought.

This will be the bit to power it all, a XFX 650 watt power supply. Why?, well its future proof enough to SLI/Crossfire if need be and to power what ever else i can throw in there.. plus it was on sale. Before anybody asks, yes, i did cross my mind, but you cant see the big lovely lime green fan once installed. really, you cant.

The power supplies partly modular, so whats not needed can be removed to reduce clutter. It went in without effort. Its snugly held in place by the foam and robber stops. Also note, there also no air draw for the two drive bays in front of it when configured like this. The screws supplied by XFX to secure into place werent quite the right.

The black screws are the ones supplied. You’ll need some washers so they secure tightly without damaging the threads. I had some screws with built in washers/flange, the chrome one in the image above that does the job just right.

The Antec case came with an I/O shield fitted to the case… yep.  Which motherboard is it suppose to be for? Beats me. I popped off the shield and replaced it with the appropriate one.

Antecs party trick for noise control, a manual 3 speed switch for the individual fans. High, medium and low. On low, they’re pretty much silent. With this case’s airflow design in mind, i wouldnt think replacing them with PWM fans would have much benefit. This case is very airy and open, any further airflow may only bring about a small benefit if any at all. Well,.. maybe to overclock to see just how far you can push it… at which point you really need to ask yourself.. did you buy the right case. Its large enough to fit a silent coolet. Theres a reviewer out there on the interweb that managed to fit an Orochi silent cooler.. one less fan.. but cost considerations taken and given the fact that the i3 doesnt really run that hot anyhow, i opted for a Arctic Cooling CPU fan and let the motherboard do its thing with fan speed regulation. I cant hear it. And the neat thing is.. if things start to warm up for whatever reason and the plucky little i3 starts to huff and puff, the fan will ramp up to meet its needs. At 900RPM, I cant hear it.  I love tech. Dont you?

The case came with standfoffs preconfigured for a full ATX board. A added the standoffs (supplied) for a mATX board, and was all ready to drop in the motherboard.

I present to you the Gigabyte H55M-S2H mATX motherboard. Shes a neat little thing, i tell you what. Onboard HDMI coupled with Intels i3 built in graphic accelerator makes this one perfect little HTPC board. It’ll run XBMC and playback anything without breaking a sweat. Its SLI compatible, if the need ever arises. Its limited to two DIMM slots.. so keep that in mind before buying RAM. Six SATA slots provides enough for future HDD upgrades. Dynamic energy saving helps save a couple of bucks. All in all, ive been running this board for a while now, and while shes no high end board, the 3 year warranty plus feature set it comes with makes it remarkable for HTPC use.  Oh, did I also mention it doesnt cost a lot.. at all. All hardware has diminishing returns imho, and i’ll usually only go as far as i need within reason plus 10% to get the job done. The money saved will be well spent in the next upgrade when ever that may be. Or a decent steak and a 6 pack.

Motherboard mounted. A view of what things look like.

The optical drive bay, pops out from the case. Its not secured by any screws. It slides down and forward keeping it in place. Do, not for whatever reason turn the case over without either removing the cage or holding on to it. i found out the hard way, got lucky and caught it as it slipped out of its mounting and headed towards my foot. The spring loaded mechanism that works the door is very well implemented and my old drives arthritic bay manages to open  it on its way out. There is space beneath the optical drive for wire management (stuffing) and i can see how a HDD or SSD could be fitted into the space above the optical drive with an appropriate adapter.

Power cables are routed through openings with sliding covers to keep compartments separate and does also neaten things up considerably.

This is about when things started to go south and made me take a step back and wonder just what was somebody thinking. The above is a futile attempt to fit a stock standard hard disk with a stock standard SATA cable very much rectangularly shaped into a rectangular hole. And it doesnt fit. Theres no way that will fit in there.. like that. The HDD bays are secured with soft silicone grommets that absorb vibration… nice touch, if i can get in there.

This is the doo hicky thats needed to get it to fit.. just barely. A right angle SATA cable. It doesnt facilitate easy mounting or removing of the hard drive. While the drives themselves are secure and the entire concept of the vibration reduction cage works… a quick release solution somewhat like what Zalman uses would be more practical and convenient. In its current form, theres a lot of jostling it around to got it to fit.. and it is a tight fit.

Images showing the silicone mount. Note the acute bend of the SATA power cable to get it to fit. A 90 degree power connector/adapter would have been appropriate but i didn’t have one on hand. To access the drive/s, you will have to get through 4 screws that hold the cage cover down. There are better mounting solutions available. Oh well. Next i installed the HD5850 graphics card.. which met with similar problems.

The PCIE power connectors cant be installed once the card is fitted. Theres some negotiating to first connect the power then get the card to slide into place while bending the power cables at a rather acute angle. Note the proximity of the end of the card to the wall of the hdd cage. While i could have fit the hdd in the power supply bay and removed the hdd cage to facilitate a better fit for the graphics card, i wasnt keen on using the bay with the poor ventilation unless i had to. When i have to utilize the power supply bay, i’ll rig a fan to deal with it. Have dremel, will improvise.

All done! Drinks all around! Neatened up the wires and fired her up..  Welcome back Sheila old girl! What a boob job can do for you eh. Nice! Airy, plenty of space for upgrades to come when they do.

Sheila does not at all look out of place on the A/V rack. Complements the amp and receiver rather nicely.

Make no mistake, this is not a small case and will probably not fit/look awkward in many media cases. Its the depth thats the problem, not the height or width. As it turns out, the Emotiva power amp and Antecs case are of similar dimensions.. worked out rather nicely for me. While everything does fit in my media case, i rather leave them on it for good airflow. Placing them inside the closed case turns it into a proverbial oven and will certainly doom it to premature failure.

Summary: This is a lovely looking case for what it is. Its no Zalman solid aluminum case , not as curvy as a Silverstone Crown or blingy as a Luxa2… but for its performance for value, it sits square in the best bang for my buck category. It provides everything the other big boys do for half the price. You do get what you pay for and this is pretty much as good as it gets at this price point. The big fans are pretty much quiet… I live in a very quite area (relatively speaking, for me it is) and i can hear the CPU fan spin at about 12 feet away with the volume on mute. It has to go! Once replaced, it should be quiet enough to pass my criteria for its permanent spot on the media case. Apart from games and HTPC use, I also use it as a squeezeserver and serve  media to the rest of the house. So, its got a task ahead of it, running 24/7 and adequate cooling is a necessity. Im quite happy with it truth be said. Next will be to tackle the remote, fine tune the bits and bobs, and get the fan sound even lower with a new CPU cooler.

Things to do: replace the CPU fan with the Arctic Cooling fan.

Sit back, configure remote, and feet up, Mohito in hand, revisit Reservoir dogs. Oh yeah!

Edit: Update.

Replaced the CPU fan with a Arctic Cooling unit and noise levels have dropped. It spins lazily at about 1K rpm regulated by the motherboard hardware monitor. One thing about tackling noise is that when the noisiest part part of a system is dealt with, the next noisiest thing seems to become as loud as the previous one. It doesnt obviously, but it sure does seem that way. I got noise levels so low on my main rig that the HDD seek sounds use to bother me an di went the way of the SSD.. silent bliss. Well, with the noisy Intel fan replaced, now ive noticed that the XFX power supply fan makes a ticking sound.. just never noticed it before as it was masked by the CPU fan. Next thing on the list to resolve.

A note about the LCD – its bright as hell. way to bright. what were these people thinking. and theres no way to dim it. am considering to put some window tint on it which should make it right.

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