I’ve always been a fan of Antec cases. Also a fan of small light cases. Unsurprisingly, the Antec ISK 110 recently caught my attention when putting together a new machine.
When doing some pre-purchase research, I was having some trouble finding close up pictures of a few things I was interested in, so I took quite a few pictures which you’ll see spread out under each section – some are a bit blurry, but if you wanted to see something in particular that other reviews may have missed, hopefully one of them will help you.
Now onto some details:
Case size and materials
The case is quite small – a good bit larger than a Mac mini, but certainly the smallest standalone case (and ITX case) I’ve ever owned. If you looked at the motherboard standoffs in the pictures, it’s pretty clear that the case is literally as small as they could make it while having everything technically “fit”.
Worth noting that there’s no rear expansion slot – if you were hoping to use the 1 PCI-E slot that most ITX motherboards have, you’re out of luck. You might be able to squeeze a very low-profile thin card in there (without a bracket obviously), but even if it clears height-wise, there’s a good chance you’ll hit clearance issues against the case bottom.
Ventilation is fairly straightforward. The front-side grill, the top, and the bottom all allow airflow, though there’s no directional design that utilizes a fan or anything. There’s no rear airflow behind the hard drives (plastic panel has a grill “look” but no actual holes). The case clearly isn’t meant for some of those gaming rigs that double as space-heaters in the winter. There isn’t much to block/muffle noise either, so if you need to use an air-cooled CPU, you’ll want to ensure you’ve got a pretty silent fan.
The case frame is stamped metal. The rest is plastic, with the exception of the 1 grille and the VESA mounting bracket. While I realize the intended price-range for the case probably didn’t allow for some nice light aluminum, the thing is so portably-tiny that I really wish they would have found a way to do the frame in aluminum. That said, it can be carried with 1 hand as-is, so long as you don’t toss a big honking CPU cooler in there.
The 4 front panel ports are USB2. You’ve undoubtedly seen images of the front, so here’s where they attach inside:
Some ITX boards are starting to drop USB2 headers, so if you’re in the situation where your motherboard only has 1 USB2.0 header, options are a bit limited:
- You can grab a USB3 to USB2 header adapter, and use the front ports as-is.
- Modding: you could feasibly remove the ports (3 screws), buy some USB3 headers with extruded panel-mounts, trim the edges off the mounts, and attach them (likely glue-gun them in). That way you get front USB3 that looks really “stock” while really future-proofing the case. If you go this route, make sure you get the smaller-length cables, and make sure the motherboard/RAM won’t get in the way of the cable ends – if it does, you could consider 2xUSB2.0 at the “bottom” and 2xUSB3.0 at the “top” if it gives enough clearance.
- The obvious stuff – a different case or just don’t use the ports.
The hard drive bracket holds 2 laptop-sized (2.5″) drives, which go below the motherboard. You’ll probably want the motherboard out to do the initial installation (and run the cables in the tight space left behind), but if you need to swap out a hard drive in the future, you can just remove the plastic panel to directly access the cage and the drives. The bracket has 2 different mount location options (vertical/horizontal) and can be reversed, so you can orient it whatever direction works best for squeezing the cables between the motherboard and the case.
2 red “pads” were included with the case that can stick on the inside of the drive bracket – presumably to help insulate from vibration and/or elevate any exposed circuit board that might otherwise touch the bracket. I didn’t need it with the SSD, but put it on anyway just because otherwise it’s likely to get lost.
I measured out the internals to see if you could possibly fashion a custom bracket to hold 3 hard drives (move the 2 against the side and orient the 3rd 90 degrees). While it looks like it might be possible to physically fit all 3 drives in (barely), the problem you’d run into (assuming the panel still fits on) is that you’d have to cut through the frame to run cables. So 2 drives in the rear is the realistic maximum. Of course, if you’ve got additional space above the motherboard, there’s nothing stopping you from rigging up something to hold extra hard-drives there.
As far as hard drive thickness goes, the SSD you see in the image fit with plenty of room to spare. A slightly thicker 9.5mm hard drive I had kicking around fit, but I wouldn’t use it without checking the bottom of the motherboard to make sure the solder doesn’t extend down far enough to touch it. And just in case you’re wondering about ripping the 2.5″ ST400LM016 drive out of a 4TB Seagate Backup Plus and throwing it in… I tried and it’s way over height. Almost 15mm (sadface).
Ignoring drive width for the moment, SSDs make sense in the Antec 110 from a temperature perspective anyway. The drives are enclosed below the motherboard which means they’ll get some residual heat from the CPU, and any heat they produce will affect the CPU. Basically, they’re a nice little heat pocket. SSDs are pretty low heat and generally not as temperature sensitive as spinning disks, so they should fare quite a bit better. They also use less power which is good because you’re fitting everything in an < 80 watt envelope.
80 watts max if you look at the rear-shot of the circuit board further below (it’s stamped with 80w max). I realize this case is often listed as “90w”, but that’s likely due to the external FSP power supply which is rated at 90.04 watts.
When it comes to the CPU (which generally pulls over the 12V rail), the power board’s rated for about 60W max (12v x 5a) , so you probably want to look at a CPU that draws somewhat less than that. If we use TDP as the measure of power usage (not 100% accurate) that means you probably don’t want to throw a typical 65W TDP processor at this thing. Obviously one of the SoC boards would be really ideal, as it wouldn’t put a dent in the power usage: A Pentium N3700 for example is rated for about 6W and doesn’t even need a dedicated cooling fan. If you’re looking at something more mainstream, I wouldn’t go above a lower-wattage i3 on Intel, and would really do my research if going AMD. If you want something with some real oomph, you’re probably looking at going a little more exotic like Intel’s lower-power T-series (most of the i5 and i7 Skylake T models are rated at 35w TDP).
You get 45W between the 3.3 and 5V rails, so unless you’re trying to do something silly like charge all the battery-operated devices in your home from all the USB ports on your motherboard at the same time, the 2 hard-drive limit of this case means that the 3.3/5V max should be plenty.
If you do manage to burn the thing out, finding a high quality external 19v power supply (laptop supply basically) to replace the FSP that pushes 90 watts might be a bit tough. On the internal supply, while I’ve yet to have an Antec power supply die on me, note that if the power board *does* die, you may have a really tough time finding a replacement. Converting to a pico-PSU might be your best bet at that point, since they are smaller and run on 12 volt power supplies which are more readily available.
The internal power cables are pretty straightforward: a 24-pin motherboard header (with the nice sliding-split to convert to 20 + 4), a couple 4-pin motherboard headers, a standard molex, and 2 of the newer SATA-style cables.
So basically, it’s got the stuff for nearly any motherboard, 2 power cables for your hard drives (likely SATA), and 1 molex in case you’ve got… a fan or something I suppose. Extremely sensible layout that doesn’t include a bunch of unnecessary wires but also doesn’t feel like they skimped.
There are 2 mounts included with the case. The 1st is a standard vertical stand. You slide the case into it, use 1 of the thumb screws to hold it in place, and enjoy! The 2nd is a VESA mounting bracket, intended to attach to the rear of your monitor at which point the case slides in and is secured by 3 thumb screws.
If you’re planning to use the VESA mount to attach the ISK 110 to the back of your monitor, it’s worth mentioning that you should check the back of your monitor before you buy the case to make sure it has the VESA screw holes. I checked a few monitors here, and much to my surprise, some of them don’t!
While I really like the idea of having the case attached to the monitor (and a little more of a single “unit” if I want to move the monitor somewhere), a few things that might make you consider using the vertical stand instead:
- The case is small, and looks pretty decent. It’s not a clumsy eyesore that’ll get in the way. Does it really need to be hidden behind the monitor?
- My monitors and TVs put out a good bit of heat from the rear. This will result in the CPU being a bit warmer. If you’ve got a warm CPU, it’ll result in the monitor being a bit warmer.
- USB port access. I don’t know about you, but I hate it when I have to reach in behind stuff to get at a USB port. Portable hard drives, which I assume were invented to prop up the USB extension cable industry, exacerbate the situation. Those short cables have enough trouble reaching ports without having to climb the rear of a monitor.
Now I’m not a VESA-hater or anything. I originally planned to use the VESA mount. But once I realized I’d end up sinking money into powered USB hubs and extension cables in the end, I decided “VESA vs vertical mount” is something worth a little extra consideration.
Whatever route you choose, I for one am happy that Antec gives both options.
The Antec ISK 110 is a solid little case. Conveniently portable, compact as a standalone unit mounted vertically, or hidden away: attached to the back of your VESA-compliant monitor or screen. It’s one of those gems that’s so tiny, even if you stop using it due to a future case upgrade, you’ll probably never throw it away.
However, it’s limited when it comes to flexibility (no expansion ports, 2 internal hard drives), and is obviously aimed towards low power processors that either require no active cooling or minimal active cooling. That said, if you’re looking for a tiny case to suit your power-miser of a system, the Antec ISK 110 is certainly worth a look.