Usually when I do tower cases the name Antec is soon to follow. Most of the time it is in the context of comparing airflow to what was once an industry standard bar raiser for case airflow. This time I happen to actually be reviewing one of the many products in their lineup. Antec is well known for the 900 as well as many various PSUs or even something as small as a 120mm Tri-Cool LED fan. For those of you who haven't had the opportunity to use an Antec product, in my experience they have been all quality parts.
As much as I brag up the Antec 900, it wasn't everything it could have been out of the box. I see many reviews and forum threads on the love hate relationship with that case, as well as the same with the review I am presenting today. I remember when this chassis first hit the news, I wanted to get my grubby little hands on one, as it seemed to me Antec listened to their users and offered a lot of options with this concept turned reality. As they say, good things come to those who wait and that's just what I did. After a few months of waiting my goal was attained when Antec asked me to look at the Skeleton open air Chassis.
This isn't a typical case by any stretch of the imagination and isn't quite a tech bench either. What Antec offers is a tech bench with style and great air circulation, something not always offered on a tech station. Time to see if all the hype and my own personal wait was worth it. I'm going to now take some images and get things underway and see what the Antec Skeleton has to offer.
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
The 15.5 pound Antec Skeleton's chassis is mostly grey textured plastic on the outside and top with an all steel tray system below it. When you first get a hold of the Skeleton it does have a plastic feel to it, but it's structurally very sound with no noticeable flex in the structure when force was applied to it. Being a slight twist on a tech station type layout, the Skeleton has a larger footprint than a standard tower, but only needs 13" in total height for clearance. In reality the overall clearance should be about 15" to allow the fan to breathe correctly.
Speaking of fans, Antec ships the Skeleton with two. First and foremost is the 250mm, top mounted, Tri-Cool, multi-colored LED fan. They also ship a second optional 92mm fan assembly you may add to cool the hard drive bay area. For external bays the Skeleton only has two to use; hard drives on the other hand are a bit different. Antec includes two in the tray underneath, but also adds trays to support up to four more if needed. While not being a tower style chassis, the Antec Skeleton offers all the front panel and expansion options of them; no additional pieces are required to make the Skeleton function, such as the overlooked switch kit for powering the rig most buyers forget to add to the cart. Antec has you covered here!
Availability of the Skeleton is a mute point at this time. Taking a look at Google shopping shows me 190 hits of different e-tailer and retailers carrying stock at this time. All the favorite web based sites are included here as well as a few "box" stores, so you could even get one local possibly. So getting the Skeleton ordered and on its way isn't really the issue, it's whether or not this case style is for you and will your wallet support your decision.
Speaking of how much of a dent in your wallet the Skeleton will create, I found it available at Newegg for $149.99 with free shipping at this time. Considering most tower cases with any flow run into the $100 range, as do many tech stations, the asking price in my opinion is right on. While a tower case may be cheaper, it doesn't offer the overall ease of access to the hardware. Tech Stations offer most of what the Skeleton offers but with a lack of both the overhead fan and the unique style Antec offers.
Antec boxes the Skeleton in an all-black package with a bright yellow stripe for high contrast. The front displays this negative or reversed image of the Skeleton frame over the catchy tag line, "Think beyond the box".
This side of the box is a bit on the plain side, but Antec still used a bit of the room to apply a small specs chart above all their notification icons.
The rear of the Skeleton package is an almost mirror image of the front. That stripe has to be good for marketing, as it certainly catches my eyes full attention.
Antec uses this side of the package to give the buyer an image from the top down of the Skeleton's 250mm fan in action with lights all ablaze.
Slicing the tape on the bottom of the box, pulling back the flaps and lifting off the box revealed this. Antec supports the Skeleton in a dense foam side panel set. These both secure the case against movement as well as fully suspend the Skeleton to minimize any damage from other box corners puncturing the box and so forth.
Inside the foam the Skeleton is also shipped, as many others are, with a plastic bag liner. When the case is inserted to the box the instructions are slid down the front. The way I opened the box made them very easy to locate, as they dropped into place where you see them.
The Antec Skeleton Open Air Case
Removing the packaging reveals why the name Skeleton was chosen. My first impressions are of a steel infrastructure to a building, a very industrial feeling. Using both arches and triangular supports explains why the chassis feels so sturdy, need I mention the aqua ducts or the pyramids? Antec chose to use a black base and tray while using almost a charcoal gray outside structure to compliment the base.
From the side you can see the double arch that supports the 250mm Tri-Cool fan. These are also supported with angular braces, continuing the theme. Hanging off the right is the clear expansion slot brace that can easily be removed with two screws. Between the arches are honeycomb grills that can be removed for access to the lower level.
Looking at the rear of the case you can start to get a good feel of how it all works. All the wiring from the fan and the front I/O panel are there to be hooked up and for now are held out of the way. Antec zip ties the power supply rack to the rest of the frame to keep it secure during shipping. They also choose this as a good place to tape in and ship the extra hardware. The thumbscrews, one per side, must be loosened to allow the tray to release.
Looking at the left side you can see it mirrors the right. This makes placement in the room not so much of an issue. The Skeleton offers the same appeal from either side, just the view of the hardware changes a bit.
Looking down into the mouth of the beast, this an aerial view of the 250mm fan that Antec has molded into the top of the Skeleton. Not only is this nine bladed behemoth a Tri-Cool (or 3-speed) fan, it is also Tri-LED, which you may view in the fit and finish section.
Flipping the Skeleton around to see the bottom shows Antec even kept to the angular lines here. The bottom is made from two pieces of steel that have been folded around each other for added strength. At the foot of all four points of the arches Antec has placed little rubber pads to keep the Skeleton from making any sudden escapes off your desktop.
I wanted to show the idea behind the expansion card support. It is made of clear plastic, which on first glance does sort of disappear. There are eight brass nuts that are inside of the plastic that the screws can be tightened into for up to eight total spots; that's one more than most tower cases!
The front cross bracing of the Skeleton also holds all the front I/O functions for this chassis. From the very left you can first see a tiny hole; this is for the HDD activity LED and just to the right is the system reset button.
More centrally placed is the FireWire (IEEE 1394) port followed by two USB 2.0 slots and again followed by an eSATA port. To the right of all this is the front 3.5mm audio and microphone jacks.
Lastly, all the way to the right is the large and easy to feel for system power button.
Inside the Antec Skeleton Open Air Case
Looking into the slide out trays front end is where the two optical drives can be placed on the left side. The skinnier right half is of course for the internally place hard drives. There are thumb latches that you can use for fast install and removal that I will cover later in the build section.
Sliding a release latch on both ends of the top of the side panel allows them to flop down for access to the inner workings. For instance, if the quick release drive screws aren't enough stability for your liking, there are four holes on either side to more securely mount the drives.
Spinning the Skeleton around to the back, I lifted the metal tab and the power supply tray slides right out using three plastic rails for alignment. There are four rubber pads to keep vibrations to a minimum. Also, with the openness of the trays bottom, you could also run the PSU with the fan down if you wanted to.
This is a closer look at the PSU tray. To the left side are two of the three rails that it slides back in on and the right side is where the PSU is actually screwed into place. Just for giggles I flipped my PSU in both directions and mounting alignment is good both ways.
Loosening the two thumbscrews I pointed out earlier allows them to spring out of the way so that you may slide the innards out to have better access. This tray is on bearing rails that are smooth and supportive, even when the tray is fully loaded with components.
Getting a little closer to the motherboard tray shows Antec places six of the spacers when they ship out the Skeleton. Upon inspection of the wire management holes I saw that there were three screws holding this tray into place. With a few quick spins of the screwdriver, you can easily install your components then you can apply it to the Skeleton in one piece.
While I was checking everything out, I unbundled the wiring so you could see just how much wire you have to play with inside the Skeleton. On the left is the HDD LED and system reset connections. In the middle are all the connections for the USB 2.0, HD Audio/AC'97, eSATA and IEEE 1394. This leaves us with the two to the right. These are for the system power switch and the power LED.
Moving up toward the 250mm fan atop the Skeleton are the two switches to control said fan. The top one is a three position switch to control the fan speed and the one below it is to control the LED lights or lack of light at all.
Accessories and Documentation
Here we have the hardware box that was taped into the PSU tray and the included bag with all the paperwork.
The included paperwork is simplistic as far as instructions go. Antec includes a fold-out that has the features of the Skeleton listed, but no real instructions as to what anything does. You are pretty much left to your own mechanical ability and know-how when assembling the Skeleton. Antec also includes a paper outlining the three year warranty. And lastly, they include a little pin assembly chart.
Antec also included in its own little box a 92mm fan for adding to the front of the hard drive bays. It simply clips into place if you choose to use it and is powered with a 4-pin molex connection.
Another thing Antec takes into consideration is maybe two hard drives just aren't enough. With the Skeleton they include these trays that you mount the drives into and they can simply hang on the rails at the top off the side mesh panels. As you can see, they also took steps to add rubber strips to the back, again to keep drive vibrations from causing any unwanted noises.
Then we have the more basic hardware you are accustomed to seeing with a case, just this time there are a couple specialty parts. Labeled in their own bags are the screws used in the sides of the drives that work with the quick release system. Another bag contains the screws for mounting drives to the adapter plates, while the other bag of two screws went unused.
In the middle is the assortment of screws for mounting the motherboard and the securing of the drives. Also in the middle are three more motherboard spacers for use with ATX boards. To the right are the mounting screws for the PSU and expansion cards. Antec also includes two wire management straps that you can use for bundling big groups of wires by the PSU, or for tidying up some of the exposed wires up top.
Removing the three screws I showed earlier allows for the motherboard tray to lift up and slide off the chassis. Antec has already looped a wire management strap to the tray, I assume to help manage the wires coming from the rear I/O panel as well as your choice of video cable. The tray is designed to mimic the angular designs of the Skeleton; this time the design should aid in allowing air to the back of the boards components, helping to keep things cool from underneath.
Again we have the motherboard tray, but this time with the board, RAM, and processor installed and ready to get put back into place and get hooked up to the Skeleton's wiring.
While I was prepping the Skeletons removable components, I also mounted my OCZ GSX 700 watt power supply in the tray. Mounting is done simply by screwing in four screws into the universal grooves and holes in the tray.
As the baggies designate, there are specialized screws to use on your drives. This is a shot of the hard drive screw mounted in the left side of the drive to grab into the quick locking system.
For the exact same reasons, you add a silver screw from the optical drive bag to the right of the DVD drive.
Once the screws are added to the correct corresponding holes, you can just plug them in and slide the drive into place until the tab clicks into place. For normal use with little movement of the Skeleton, this is plenty secure enough to hold the drives in place. However, if I were to travel with this case, I would add a screw or two for security's sake and peace of mind.
Yet another aerial view of the Skeleton, but this time with all the components in place. You can see the 250mm fan covers most of your motherboard and should have no issues aiding in cooling vital components.
Fit and Finish
Looking into the front of the completed build shows both drives are installed, the wiring is connected and we are almost ready to plug it in and try it out.
Turning the Skeleton to the right, you can see there are no clearance issues with graphics cards. If you haven't noticed by now the back half of the 250mm fan shroud is higher than the front. This is to allow for taller coolers and cards to slide easily into place. Another thing to show is the room in the bottom behind the drives. I was able to stuff quite a few of the unused cables into this area and leave an overall clean build, even without a modular PSU.
The rear of the Skeleton even looks clean when completed. The wire tie that was on the tray worked well to hold my 8-pin wire and keep the top fan power wire out of harm's way. I chose to mount my PSU with the fan down for only one reason in the Skeleton and that is based on the fact that the side of the PSU that had the switch needed to be exposed for easy access to it.
The left side view of the Skeleton gives us a view of our GPU mostly, or a sound card if placed in a lower slot. To the right is the nest of wiring I wasn't quite sure what to do with. Antec uses all black wire leads which is good, but they don't leave enough to try to hide them anywhere, so they just have to lay out in the open.
I did pull out the tape measure and from the top of the motherboard to the left side of the fan shrouds bottom most edge is 4.5". So it won't accommodate the largest air coolers, but still offers quite a bit of room for a choice of quite a few coolers.
My biggest issue really was the lack of length of the audio cable. With the board I chose the header is at the far bottom left corner of the board and as you can see, it barely gets there.
Adding power to the Skeleton and starting it up shows both the little blue LED hard drive activity light shining, as well as the illuminated system power button.
These last few shots are to show the 250mm fan in action. This time the fan is on, but the lighting is from the motherboard underneath it; the switch is set to no lighting.
With the switch set to blue.
The switch set to green.
Lastly, with the switch set to red. I know it's hard to see, even with the lights down in the room the red option isn't lit as brilliantly as the other two.
Aside from the complete lack of any helpful instructions supplied by Antec, I found the Skeleton a pleasure to work with. I would, however, like to address the issues at this point. The motherboard tray when it works correctly is smooth as silk, but I did find it to bind occasionally, making sliding the tray out a frustrating task at times. The front I/O panel wiring, in my opinion, is just too short. I prefer a clean looking system as well and Antec thought of keeping everything else clean aside from this. My last complaint is the lack of headroom to allow for some of the more prevalent coolers buyers are using these days.
With my issues addressed I can now move on to what the Skeleton offers the end user. This open air concept is a bit more of a hassle to deal with than a tech station, but a ton more accessible than a standard case; but neither offers the uniqueness of the Skeleton. With my limited time in testing the Skeleton, I did find that while running stock my Northbridge and PWM temps were down three degrees from their average. I can only attribute this to the power of the 250mm Tri-Cool fan running at full power. The noise of the Skeleton at full power is a lot less of the noise I was accustomed to hearing in my 900 from Antec. No real surprise there to me, though; usually with bigger fans comes less noise as they don't cut the air in the same fashion as their smaller brothers.
I've had quite a few cases run across my camera's lens in the past few reviews and most of them fall into the range of just over $100. Most of those are square, black and with a lot of the same old, same old. Antec has taken quite a step in thinking outside the box with the Skeleton and offers all the goodness of a full enclosure, with almost all the benefits of a tech station. While offering all these features to the customer, I have to say the asking price of $149.99 at Newegg is right on the mark given what it has to offer.
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