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A Proud Heritage
Antec, along with companies like Lian-Li and Coolermaster, has long enjoyed a position at the top of the PC-case market. The company has become famous for well-built mid-range cases which emphasize elegant, even anonymous styling over flashier enclosures. Any excess garnish is typically left out in favor of flat surfaces and well-sculpted front facades; even Antec's gamer cases are subdued compared to the competition. This emphasis on quality over looks has generally served the company well, but Antec has never been perfect. Some of their smaller enclosures, like the NSK1380, seem a tad over-priced, and the Antec 1200 is considered by many as too large for a gamer case but not well equipped enough to be a file-server.
Today, I'm reviewing the Antec NSK6580, a product from Antec that isn't particularly celebrated and shows no obvious signs of being very good or very bad. So does the NSK6580 deserve a spot next to Antec's famous 900, or does it deserve to be forgotten?
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Exterior Style and QualityRating
From a distance, the Antec NSK6580 is as anonymous as an enclosure gets. This is typical for Antec's "New Solution" series, which is aimed for home users and office users who need a basic, solid enclosure. That said, the NSK6580 is not to be mistaken for the average major-brand econobox. While the front facade is plastic, it doesn't look like plastic, a change that people used to budget-priced PC cases will greatly appreciate. This theme of higher-than-average quality continues throughout the case, which, besides the front, greets you with nothing but sturdy black steel. Up close and personal, the power button looks and feels solid, and becomes downright attractive when the PC is turned on, thanks to a blue LED which circles the button. The audio and USB jacks, located on the lower right side of the front facade, look solid but do feel a little squishy when headphones or USB drives are plugged in, reminding the user that the front of the case is made of plastic, even though it may look like steel or aluminum.
In terms of options, the NSK6580 gives you two - you can either have this case with a silver front facade or a black one. It seems that the silver one is far more common, as many online retailers don't even seem to carry the black model, which is called the NSK6580B. Personally, I prefer the black one, but it does appear more monolithic and unfriendly - if I were building PCs for a small business or a family desktop, I'd probably choose the silver. But no matter what you choose, you can count on the NSK6580 not attracting attention, although anyone who does give it a good once-over will likely be impressed with its exterior build quality.
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Interior Layout and QualityRating
Once you're done examining its exterior, you'll want to crack the case open. This is not an unpleasant experience, as the case is kept closed by thumb-screws and two easily operated hinge mechanisms. Inside, you'll find a typical mid-range Antec case, featuring lots of high-quality metal with no sharp edges. The Antec NSK6850 is not a small case, but the interior room is not as large as you might expect. A steel reinforcement bar in the top portion of the case can make the installation of 5.25" drives a bit harder than normal, and the same goes for PSU upgrades, though the NSK6850 does come with a very nice 430W Earthwatts PSU. The motherboard area is not particularly roomy - in fact, it can be rather crammed - and there is no removable motherboard tray. In total, this isn't the easiest case to work with, and for that reason an enthusiast who frequently messes around inside their PC should simply look elsewhere. That said, more routine users, including gamers, shouldn't mark this one off their list, as the NSK6850 did fit a Radeon 4850.
Strangely, the Antec NSK6850 does include one very convenient feature - a removable hard drive rack. Why this particular feature is included is a bit of a mystery to me, but it is nice to have. Even nicer is the fact that the removable hard drive rack includes a rubber mounting system. These sort of mounts are intended to reduce hard drive noise, as the rubber absorbs the vibrations coming from the drive, and in this case the system works very well. The hard drives were very nearly inaudible, and mostly drowned out by the case fans.
Overall, the NSK6850 isn't particularly spacious for a case of its size, but it is very quiet and should fit virtually anything that you could desire. It is clearly aimed for users who do not intend to frequently work on their PC.
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Besides cases like the NSK6850, Antec is also know for making great PSUs. The Antec Earthwatts 80% efficiency PSUs are well known, and considered a solid, quiet, reliable choice. And the Antec NSK6850 comes with a 430W Antec PSU, worth around 50 dollars. Factor this into the price, and Antec's NSK6850 becomes a very attractive value. And it gets better, because the NSK6850 is a very capable case with the high build quality typical of Antec. Antec, NSK6850, PC Case
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Looking at the front of the case, you'd be hard-pressed to guess what kind of fan mounts the Antec NSK 6850 provides. In fact, from the front, the NSK 6850 looks to have very little cooling of any kind. That would be a mistake, however, as the Antec NSK6850 has enough cooling mounts for virtually any user.
In the front, the NSK6850 features two 92mm fan mounts. This is a far cry from what is available in gamer's cases, obviously. But it should also be noted that two 92mm fans will provide all of the cooling you'll ever need, even if you're cramming a high-end video card into this case, as I did. The case also features a side fan mount and a vent over the graphics card area, which can be put to good use if you're into fitting customized cooling solutions on your GPU. In the rear, the case features a single 120mm fan.
The case is fairly wide, and it did provide ample room for the Zalman 9700 CPU fan I tested it with. The location of both the side and rear fans is perfect for exhausting warm air away from the CPU.
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The Kit and The PriceRating
The NSK6850 comes with one very, very important extra: a 430W Antec Earthwatts PSU. This is an excellent power supply, capable of powering anything with the exception of high-end gaming configurations using multiple GPUs. My test system, which included an over-clocked Core 2 Duo 8400 and a Radeon 4870, had more than enough power to operate at full load. The Earthwatts PSU is also 80 PLUS certified, making this a decent choice if saving the planet is a priority for you.
Besides the outstanding PSU, the NSK6850 comes with little else. In terms of fans, the NSK6850 is actually rather skimpy, as it only includes one Antec 120mm fan at the rear. You'll have to pony up extra if you want to fill the other fan slots. As this case has no motherboard tray or other ease-of-use features besides the hard-drive rack, the Antec NSK6850 provides little else besides the various screws you'll need to mount hardware.
In terms of price, the Antec NSK6850 typically retails for around $120 dollars, and can be readily found on-sale at prices hovering around $80. Since it comes with a PSU that is worth around $50 dollars, this brings the price for the case itself to approximately $30-70 dollars. Even if bought at the typical full retail price of about $120 dollars, the case represents a very good value, and if found on sale it is a steal.
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Overall, the Antec NSK6850 is a solid case, but stops short of being an exceptional one. The build quality is there, but the interior room is not. However, given its price and its target market, it is reasonably well equipped, and when it comes to building a home or office PC, the Antec NSK6850 compares vary favorably to cases like the Lian-Li PC-AO5. I particularly enjoyed the rubber-mount removable hard-drive rack, which caused the hard drives to be very nearly silent, the included Earthwatts PSU, and the high build quality both inside and out. Anyone who frequently works on their PC should steer clear of the NSK6850, but those who don't intend to muck about the internals of their PC often should certainly consider it.