Introduction, Specifications, Availability and Pricing
As you saw with my last review from Antec, they are turning a corner and offering new and better products for the end user. I know a laptop cooler isn't the most advanced tech on the planet, but it's nice to see a major brand accommodating all of your needs. With a bit of creativity and the ability to listen to their customer base, Antec is again stepping up to the plate with new products.
I'm sure by now you are all tired of my Antec 900 stories, but here they actually apply. I never did get to look at the 1200 from Antec, so the 900 is as close as my eyes can get to a comparison. Out of the box my 900 was loud at full speed, but it did offer some of the best air flow for any case at that time. According to most reviews, the 1200 offered all of that plus a bit more room for a cleaner build. More fans, better wire management and more room made the 1200 a very functional full tower chassis compared to the cramped accommodations I was used to in the 900.
Today I get to take a look at the Dark Fleet series of chassis. From what I can gather, Antec took their already popular designs and added a bunch of options and a new lighting color. Things like easily removable fan filters in the front, fans swinging out of the front for easy cleaning, the ability to mount a radiator inside the chassis and new red bladed fans with red LED lighting are just some of the options. While the Dark Fleet does depend on the previous generation cases for most of the design cues, the outside does get a different look this time around as well. Have a look with me as I open the DF-85 and see what Antec has devised in the chassis department.
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
On the outside you will find a redesigned front for the Dark Fleet. Made from black plastic, there is the main bezel, guards for your optical drives and doors that open on the bottom that house individual fans. The main body of the DF-85 is made from steel and features a smooth black interior and a textured black exterior. In this area, things look very similar to the 1200; even the windowed panel looks very familiar. Under the hood is where Antec made a lot of the changes. You will find plenty of wire management holes, more space enough behind the motherboard tray and a red lighting scheme from the included fans. If you dig a little deeper into the DF-85, you will find up to five hot swappable hard drive bays and even a locking system to keep those front bays closed for security.
Speaking of the fans, you will find there is no lack of them in the DF-85. In the front there are three 120mm fans. Each fan emits a red glow of light and their speeds can be individually controlled with the twist of a dial. On the top, you will find twin 140mm fans. If you choose to remove them, this space will easily accommodate a 140.2 radiator. Antec keeps the feel of the 1200 in the back of the DF-85 with two 120mm fans to exhaust warm air from the chassis. The rear fans also come with red LEDs to add a bit of color to the inside of the chassis. All 4 of these are Antec TwoCool Fans with four little switches in the rear of the case for speed control.
The Dark Fleet series from Antec is already on shelves, so finding one isn't the real issue. Deciding if this is the case for you is the real decision to make. With a price tag of $169.99 at Newegg, this chassis is priced under cases like the HAF X and Obsidian series cases. Does the DF-85 offer what the big boys can at a better price? I am about to delve into the chassis and see if the Antec Dark Fleet 85 is "the" case to buy with your hard earned money.
Antec adopts a bold color scheme with the Dark Fleet packaging. The bold red background with Antec's signature yellow stripe is sure to catch your eye as you walk past this chassis. On the front, Antec shows off four of the features included in the DF-85. The top hot swap bay for 2.5" drives, USB 3.0 compatibility, hot swappable 3.5" drive bays and swing out fans are all showcased here.
On the side Antec chose to simply add a full image of the DF-85; there should be no confusion as to what you will see inside.
At the top of the rear panel you will find images of the outside as well as the inside. The bottom half of this panel is taken up by the specifications list in four different languages.
On this side you will find most of the DF-85's features listed with images and text to help explain what's inside.
On top of the box is where you will find the dimensions and weight of the chassis.
The DF-85 comes packed in high density foam caps that cover the back and front of the chassis. The inner plastic liner will protect against any minor scratches, while the foam should keep the plastic front of the case safe as it did for my sample. The hardware and instructions can be found taped to the top of the case, so there's no need to go digging as it's all there right in front of you.
The Antec Dark Fleet-85 Full Tower Case
Looking at the front of the DF-85, you can see what I was talking about earlier with the optical bay covers and the three individual fan panels. This uniquely designed front bezel is subdued a bit with the black on black color scheme.
The front I/O can be found at the top of the front of the chassis. It has the usual connections for USB 2.0 and audio as well as a blue USB 3.0 connection.
The top of the chassis offers two 140mm fans to rid the inside of heat. Near the front, you will find a surprise hiding underneath a plastic cover.
Removing a screw allowed me to remove the plastic cover to expose what is underneath. This is where Antec allows you to use a 2.5" hard drive in a hot swappable fashion. Just slide it in and get to work.
This side of the chassis resembles the 1200 quite a bit, as the same side window design and shape are found. There are no clips on the inside of the window to hold the fan as like my 900 had, but screws are provided to mount an optional fan here.
The rear of the DF-85 has a few things not normally found in chassis design. There are the typical features like a PSU hole, seven expansion slots and some ventilated areas. Three things I'm not used to seeing are dual exhaust fans, the oddly shaped expansion slot, and the bank of four switches near the top.
The switch panel I just mentioned controls the two rear exhaust fans on the left and the top fans on the right. Each individual fan can be set to high or low for optimum noise versus cooling performance. This whole system is pre-wired internally; all you have to do is power the Molex connections and you are ready to personalize your fan settings.
The back side is pretty plain; the only thing to see is the embossed Antec Design logo on the textured black side panel.
Large rubber feet support the DF-85. The feet are glued to the solid steel floor of the chassis. Rivets hold the various internal pieces in place, while the four holes in the middle are for mounting a SSD to the floor.
Inside the Antec Dark Fleet Full Tower Case
With the door out of the way, we see the black interior of the DF-85. Again, the resemblance to a 1200 is uncanny. A couple noticeable changes are the two hot swap components hanging off the drive rails and the two 140mm fan up top. When the fans are removed, this area will easily allow a dual radiator to be installed.
Three optical 5.25" bays are found at the top with room for up to nine 3.5" drives. The two sets of hot swappable brackets can be removed entirely or placed behind any of the drive bays by using the extra holes provided in the back of the rails. Left of the bays are rather large holes in the motherboard tray for wire management.
The hot swappable devices are pretty simply constructed. Two PCBs with the appropriate ends are screwed into a large plastic frame to get the correct spacing. While there are no included wires for these modules, they are still easy to connect using parts included with most power supplies and motherboards.
The rear of the chassis is well ventilated. With four fans at back of the chassis, heat stands very little chance of staying inside the DF-85. The left side of the motherboard tray has a large CPU access hole and two holes above for wire management. The one above the CPU hole is made for the 8-pin wire to get to the top of the motherboard, while the hole at the very top will allow the fan wiring to be routed cleanly behind the tray.
There is a ton of wiring in the DF-85. All of the USB 2.0, USB 3.0, and audio cables as well as the 2.5" drive SATA connections are sheathed in black. The power cable for the 2.5" drive as well as the power, reset, HDD LED, and power LED wires are all left as colored wiring. The wiring is long enough to reach almost anywhere; let's just hope his allows for a cleaner build than my 900.
Behind the tray, two wire retaining straps are already installed. The left side of the bay area is offset pretty well to allow for quite a bit of extra cabling to be hidden there. Something else that jumped right out to me was that unlike my 900, the DF-85 has quite a bit of room between the tray and the door panel.
Accessories and Documentation
The included hardware seen in the packaging images is all laid out here. You get four extra wire straps as well as the bag of screws, risers and washers needed to mount components inside the DF-85.
The manual is multi-lingual, and is more of a specs and features list than actual instructions. Most of us know how to get things inside of a chassis by this point, but there is very little help for a novice builder found here. The other included piece of paper explains the internal mounting of an SSD to the floor of the chassis.
The Build and Finished Product
This photo is more for show than to demonstrate how to get hardware installed. I had to remove six little screws, the hot swappable drive bay up top, and a grounding wire to get this photo so I don't suggest you go through the hassle. As you can see, this chassis it is fully open to airflow. The door holds the three red LED fans with incorporated dust screens which you will soon see. If you do have the need to go this far in dismantling the chassis, be very careful as most of the wiring is tightly routed inside and will make this a tough venture.
Each of the three front panels can be open individually. At the bottom, I lifted the filter's tab and slid it up so you could see it. Cleaning and installation are made really simple with this implementation of individual doors.
Covering the top three optical bays are these swing out guards. They have tabs to hold them in place and easily open to allow for installation and drive use. One down side is that these always need to be opened to use an optical drive.
The DF-85 is all wired up and ready for power at this point. I can definitely say that installation was a breeze. The holes are all in the right places for wires, and when installation is completed this case leaves a clean finished product. You may notice the wire hanging out the back. This is the USB 3.0 wire, and it is run through that funny shaped expansion slot cover to allow it to plug into the back of a USB 3.0 capable motherboard.
As you can see, the covers make for an attractive looking chassis. In all honesty, I don't like covers on my functional parts; it just makes an extra step I have to go through to put in or take out a disc. Digital media is making this less of an issue, but if I want to get a disc in and out I prefer no obstacles in my way.
At the bottom of each of the individual doors you will find a little knob. These allows for speed control of each of the front fans. Having to adjust three knobs may be overkill for some, but it is very handy to have them easily accessible from the outside.
I left the wires sort of haphazardly routed to test the gap between the steel panels. With the wire retainers supplied and a few zip ties, cleaning up my mess is really easy. As for the results of the testing, I found the panel went on easily over these wires. This is a godsend from Antec; it took two men and a large boy to get the rear panel on my 900.
Just before I flip the switch, I stepped back to absorb all that is the Dark Fleet 85 from Antec.
Under power, the DF85 has a mild red glow. The three front fans and the two exhaust fans will all glow like this. Being accustomed to Antec's typical blue LEDs, this is a nice change to see.
Under power, the fans were the first thing I noticed. I found that when I booted the PC the front fans were making a bit of a rattling noise at first. Running the fans for a bit seemed to have made that noise go away on its own so I decided to play around with the fan controls. With all of the dials set to their lowest position and the four on the back set to low, there is a low audible hum during operation. While there was noise, at this level I would have no issues gaming next to it. When I turned the fans on high in the back and maximized the dials on the front, I was taken back in time as the DF-85 sounded just like my 900 did; really loud! I love that the case has great air flow, but I think Antec may need to work on the sound levels a bit.
The installation and use is very easy. With all the holes in the motherboard tray and the room the DF-85 provides behind the tray and next to the drives, there is no reason this case should end up messy. Touches like the hot swappable drive bays for 3.5" and 2.5" drives are a huge plus. What I would have liked to have seen were maybe some tool-less optical drive bays, or even some sort of tool-less GPU holder. Things like no wiring for the hot swap devices are a downer too, but in order to keep pricing down some things need to be left to the end user to provide.
The chassis is priced right, I will give it that. This case is listed for $169.99 at Newegg, but if you are a more frugal shopper you may find the Dark Fleet 85 for even less. Now comes the tough part. Can it stand up to cases like the HAF-X or Obsidian? In my opinion, no. While the DF-85 does offer great bang for the buck, it just doesn't have the feel of elegance you get from the Obsidian series and nowhere near the internal room of either of the cases I mentioned. What I do see here is a very good evolution of the 1200 chassis. Keeping with an already produced design helps keep costs down, and the 1200 is a good platform to start with. While I can appreciate the evolution in design, I would have preferred a more of a fresh start. While the Dark Fleet is packed with goodies, it still left me wanting something more from Antec.