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Antec Skeleton Open Air Case Review

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lemonlime

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Antec Skeleton Open Air Case Review




Manufacture Product Page: Antec Skeleton
Model Number: Skeleton (UPC #: 0761345-15125-2)
TechWiki Info: Antec Skeleton
Availability:
now
Price: Click here to compare prices
Warranty: 3 years



Anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock for the last few years has undoubtedly heard of Antec, a popular maker of consumer cases and power supplies. Founded way back in 1986, they have become very well known for their high quality products and reasonable prices. Antec’s products are not only very popular among enthusiasts, but also system builders and the mainstream markets. Their reach extends just about everywhere and their products are available for sale at just about any online or walk-in retailer in Canada and abroad.

Antec has had many successes in the enclosure market over the last year, and has recently penetrated the HTPC market as well. One of their most successful cases, the “Antec 900” is making waves in the enthusiast community with its impressive looks, high performance cooling and affordable price. The Sonata line has also been very popular for people looking for an affordable and high-quality case and PSU combo.

Today, we won’t be looking at one of Antec’s traditional tower, desktop or HTPC cases, but rather something completely different—the Antec Skeleton. The Skeleton is an open air case that does not have solid panels and grilles like a regular computer case. The PC hardware within is literally exposed. So, who in their right mind would buy a computer case that leaves hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars of hardware out in the open for pets to chew on and drinks to spill on? We can pretty much guarantee that your “average Joe” is not interested in such a case. There are, however some enthusiasts that just love staring at their components and when a case window isn’t enough, an open-air case is the next logical step.

Open air cases are really not a new phenomenon. In fact, system builders and those who frequently swap and test hardware components have been using cases like Highspeed’s “TechStation” for years. Interestingly, this somewhat useful application of an open air design is not what Antec is catering to. Rather, they’ve got their crosshairs targeted squarely on the enthusiast community. More specifically, they are targeting those who are looking for a very unique case that provides “stylish cooling”.

The open air aspect of the Skeleton is definitely the “stylish” part of that equation but Antec sure didn’t leave out the “cooling” either. A massive 250mm fan dominates the top of the Skeleton and promises to provide heaps of down-draft airflow to the entire system.

Let’s take a closer look at this oddity and see what it offers!


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lemonlime

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Features and Specifications

Features and Specifications

The following features and specifications were taken directly from the Antec Skeleton product page:

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lemonlime

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Packaging & Accessories

Packaging & Accessories

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The Skeleton comes packaged in a fairly small and somewhat reflective box. It is almost a perfect square, hinting to the shape of what sits inside.

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Each side of the box has some artistic shots of the Skeleton frame. Only the upper frame of the case is pictured, which resembles some kind of a mechanical insect in our opinion. A shot of the multi-coloured LED fan can be found on the side of the case.

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The Skeleton is packaged well enough with foam padding and adequate spacing on either side of the case. The case itself is wrapped in plastic to keep the dust out.

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Not much is included with the Skeleton in the way of accessories. A bag of case screws, motherboard standoffs and a couple of zip-ties are provided as well as some hard drive mounting brackets for external hard drive mounting. A very concise manual and some warranty information is also included, but buyers should refer to Antec’s full manual available at their web site.
 
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lemonlime

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Impressions

Impressions

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Once we had the Skeleton unpacked, we were greeted with perhaps one of the oddest looking cases we’ve ever set our eyes upon. The heavy-duty plastic frame and sturdy construction left us with a very positive impression as far as build quality was concerned. The frame itself is very strong and suitable for picking up the skeleton by.

We think that “Skeleton” is definitely an appropriate name and theme for this case, but it also would look just as at home wedged between two opposing river banks with cars driving across it—sorry, we couldn't resist.

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The large 250mm fan dubbed “Super Big Boy”—no, you did read that correctly—dominates the top of the Skeleton and is one of the Skeleton’s most touted features. It seems that 120mm fans have really become completely common place and manufacturers are moving to grossly oversized fans to provide consumers with new levels of silence and airflow. Antec is no stranger to oversized fans as their very popular “900” case was one of the first to break the 120mm mould. With an area covering almost the entire motherboard tray, Antec hopes to provide a great deal of airflow to motherboard components and video cards.

The Antec logo at the front of the fan cover is a cut-out that allows light from the LEDs in the “Super Big Boy”—we cringe every time we say that—to illuminate the logo.

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At the front of the Skeleton we find several ports including firewire, a pair of USB ports and even an eSATA port. The essential AC97 headphone and microphone jacks are there as well as a power switch with an integrated power LED are also found on the front of the frame.

At the top of the frame, we find a 3-way fan-controller for the “Super Big Boy” as well as a switch to toggle between the various LED colour combinations.

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The rear of the Skeleton is pretty bare with no IO shield holder and a plastic expansion card retention frame. This plastic frame is very flimsy and Antec warns buyers not to try to pick up the case using it; we can guarantee that it will snap if you try. The bracket frame is held in place by two screws and can be removed if a bit of extra clearance is needed during hardware installation.

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The PSU mounts sideways in a metal tray with foam standoffs and a metal clip locks the tray in place. Airflow for power supplies with bottom fans should be sufficient but it would have been nice to see a less restrictive opening at the bottom of the tray. Those concerned with this can mount the PSU upside down as mounting holes exist for both standard and upside down mounting.
 
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lemonlime

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Impressions pg.2

Impressions cont.

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A rats nest of header cables are bundled up behind the front IO panel. Unlike some of the rainbow colored cables we’ve seen, Antec has kept things looking clean with black insulation on all of the leads.

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Aside from the massive top-mounted 250mm fan, Antec includes a special 92mm fan that clips to the front of the hard drive cage. Because the lower deck of the Skeleton is obstructed, none of the components below will receive airflow from the “Super Big Boy”. There are no markings visible on the underside of the fan to hint at its OEM manufacturer or its specifications unfortunately. Antec doesn't tell us a single thing about this fan aside from the fact that is a 92mm fan with a 4-pin molex connector. Considering the Skeleton’s enthusiast target audience, buyers would have appreciated a posted CFM and RPM rating at the very minimum.

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Behold the “Super Big Boy” in all its glory; a 250mm fan with clear plastic fins and multiple LEDs. Again, Antec provides absolutely no information on the fan. We can’t tell you its rotational speed, or rated CFM output. We have no idea why Antec wouldn’t boast about this huge fan’s output, especially considering the PR friendly numbers associated with oversize fans.

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Two optical drives and two 3.5” hard drives can be installed in the Skeleton’s lower deck and metal latches are included for a semi-tool less design. Screws are still used on the exterior walls of the case to secure the drives.

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The mesh grille can be removed on either side of the Skeleton and makes fishing wires behind the optical and disk drives a bit easier. There are also some openings on the top of the grille to secure hard drives outside of the case, which we’ll get into a bit more later.

There are two thumb screws on either side of the frame to lock the lower deck in place. Releasing them allows the entire deck to slide out on rails.

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With the deck pulled all the way out, it is easier to access the motherboard and other components. The motherboard tray sitting on the deck can also be removed, although we don’t see why it would be necessary to remove it. Antec really should have secured the expansion card bracket to the deck or motherboard tray and not the frame. Because of this, expansion cards have to be removed when pulling out the deck and has to be removed for taller heatsinks.
 
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lemonlime

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Installation

Installation

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We hit a major issue when we tried to install our test board in the Skeleton. Not only did the expansion card retention frame interfere with the Noctua NH-U12P tower, there is simply no way to use full-sized tower heatsinks in conjunction with the Skeleton. This means that all those with NH-U12Ps, TRUEs and the like are out of luck. Only very short towers and down-draft heatsinks will fit. We have no idea how Antec could have overlooked such a glaring clearance problem. The Skeleton is targeting the enthusiast market, but does not support enthusiast coolers—what a huge disappointment.

Water cooling is pretty much out of the question as well as there is almost nowhere to mount a radiator. With such a limited selection of coolers available that will fit, the Skeleton really limits a buyer’s choices.

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After removing our trusty NH-U12P, we installed the AMD retail heatsink and were able to clear the expansion card bracket and frame without issue.

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Installing a PSU in the Skeleton first requires mounting it on the slide-out tray. We mated the Skeleton with Antec’s modular Signature 650W power supply.

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The PSU mounts almost dead-centre in the case, which does not leave a lot of space to route cables. Those without a 90 degree AC power cable will find it frustrating to connect due to the lack of space. However, removing the mesh screen allowed it to be connected from the side as opposed to the back of the case.

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There are three cable openings in the bottom deck to allow PSU and other cables up to the motherboard. There is also some space between the optical and hard disk bays to shove unwanted leads but it would have been nice to see some more innovative cable management features to make this case a bit easier to work with. All of the header leads combined with PSU leads made the front of the case a bit messy.

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Installing the graphics card was also way more difficult than it needed to be. That expansion card bracket does not slide out with the lower deck and motherboard tray, so the card needs to be inserted through the opening at and angle and then wiggled into position. Antec states that the Skeleton is TRI-SLI ready, but I’d imagine a buyer would have one heck of a time trying wedge three huge 11 inch cards in there.

Aside from the slightly difficult card installation, there shouldn’t be any issues with the majority of cards on the market today. Our Radeon HD 3850 fit without issue and with some space to spare. Longer cards may obstruct some of the header cables but should fit.
 
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lemonlime

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Installation pg.2

Installation cont.

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Once we had the motherboard and cabling taken care of, it was time to install the drives. Two optical and two disk drives can be installed internally.

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The optical drive was quite easy to install. The clip to the right of the drive held it in place while a screw secured it from the exterior.

Space is definitely an issue here though, unfortunately. With the optical drive fully inserted, there is only about an inch of clearance to get cables in place. We’d suggest connecting the cables prior to inserting the drives. Some extra long optical drives may not fit in the Skeleton.

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Installing the hard drive was pretty straight forward and there is quite a bit more space behind it. It mounts just like the optical drive with clips and screws.

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Antec’s 92mm fan simply clips into place and is an appropriate size for cooling a pair of 3.5” drives. We fished the 4-pin molex connector behind the drive where we were able to reach the PSU leads.

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Antec includes brackets to mount up to four hard drives outside of the case. While we think their intentions were good giving buyers an option to install additional drives, we can’t help but wish they even bothered with this. The drives are held on only by a couple of hooks and the force of gravity. There is also the potential for the drives to be banged around very easily outside of the case which could ruin your precious hard drives. Although the entire concept of an open air case is somewhat risky to the hardware, we feel that this feature crosses the line and that its use should be avoided.

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Once we had all of the hardware installed, the Skeleton was an impressive sight. No case window is required to take a peek at your hardware!


Acoustic and Initial Running Impressions

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Once we had powered up the Skeleton, we were greeted with quite a light show. There are several different LED configurations that can be selected including one that constantly fades between all of the various colour combinations. LED fans are definitely not for everyone and are a mater of personal tastes.

Fancy lights aside, Antec’s “Super Big Boy” fan is very quiet and as expected, provides a lot of airflow to motherboard components and the graphics card. It was also a pleasant surprise to see that the massive fan was barely audible at its lowest setting and still very quiet at full throttle. The hard drives were also kept nice and cool thanks to the 92mm fan that provides a healthy amount of airflow while remaining quiet.

Overall, the Antec Skeleton provides very good cooling while keeping fan noise to a minimum.
 
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lemonlime

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Conclusion

Conclusion

So there you have it. The Antec Skeleton is undoubtedly like no other case on the market. However, we are sure that quite a few people will never consider the Skeleton due to its open air concept. Let’s face it, not everyone wants their cat chewing on PSU cables or to worry about spilling anything on their precious hardware components. For those who “think outside of the box”, we’re pleased that Antec has created something unique for them.

But is a wildly unique case really a good thing? Not always. Uncommon designs can prove to clash with common configurations as we have seen with the Skeleton. Our biggest gripe is that it is not compatible with full-sized heatsinks. An enthusiast case that does not support common enthusiast hardware is a big issue in our eyes.

Our second big problem with the Skeleton is that it is difficult to work with. We found it surprisingly cumbersome to route PSU cables and to install video cards. The top frame always seems to get in the way and makes it frustrating to install or move things around. We also found it way too cramped in the lower deck, which caused some clearance issues. There were many little nagging issues that surprised us, like not being able to slide out the lower deck with a video card installed and the totally insecure external hard drive mounting; a feature we think Antec should have just omitted.

Those considering the Skeleton as a case to use on a test-bench will inevitably be frustrated with it. It is definitely not a viable alternative to the popular Highspeed TechStation. In our opinion, it is cheaper and more convenient to work with a simple mid-tower case turned on its side. Obviously it won’t look quite as cool, but those constantly swapping out hardware for testing purposes probably don’t care too much about aesthetics. To Antec’s credit, they never intended the case to be used for test-bench purposes from what we can tell.

Compatibility and ease of use issues aside, there are some very positive things to say about the Skeleton. First and foremost, the large 250mm fan provides a very healthy amount of airflow to the entire motherboard and video cards. Buyers will not have to worry about “hot spots” with the Skeleton. Secondly, the Skeleton is very quiet. The 250mm fan is almost silent at its lowest setting and only slightly audible at full speed. The small 92mm fan is also nice and quiet.

We really tried to keep an open mind while reviewing the Skeleton, but we just can’t overlook some of its very glaring faults, not to mention its high price at almost $200 CAD. Antec is definitely on to something but we think they need to take the case back to the drawing board to address many of these issues.



Pros:

- Very unique aesthetics
- 250mm fan provides lots of airflow to motherboard components and video cards
- Quiet


Cons:

- Does not support full-size tower heatsinks
- No potential for water cooling system installation
- Difficult to mount video cards
- Difficult to route PSU cables and poor cable management features
- External hard drive mounting not secure
- Too expensive

Thanks to Antec for sending us this case
 
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