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Like all the cases in Antec’s Sonata line, the Proto is a consumer case with an emphasis on quiet performance. In fact, it’s virtually identical to its predecessor, the Sonata III 500, except for a few small details. It’s not a gaming chassis—it lacks such essentials as cable management, toolless bays, multiple fans, or a removable right-side panel—but it doesn’t claim to be. It does claim to be silent, efficient, and affordable. So is it?
The Sonata Proto is on the small side for a mid-tower chassis, at eight inches wide, 16.5 inches high, and 18.5 inches deep. Its frame and side panels are steel, with a plastic front bezel and door. The side and top panels are painted a mid-quality matte black, with a glossy front panel and door. The door hides the front drive bays as well as the power and reset switches, and both it and the side panel have barrel locks on them. The rest of the case is unpainted metal. It supports microATX, Mini-ITX, and standard ATX motherboards, although a full ATX mobo will leave your rig feeling cramped. The motherboard tray is not removable and does not contain cutouts for CPU cooling backplates or cable management. In fact, the left side and top panel are one solid piece of rolled steel riveted to the frame, thus making the job of installing a system much harder than it needs to be.
The PSU mounts above the motherboard, and due to lack of space must be installed first. Because there’s no backplate cutout (or even access), your CPU cooler must be mounted before the mobo is installed. If you have a large CPU cooler, good luck wedging a screwdriver between the PSU and cooling fins to secure the upper-left mount point, or even squeezing the board into the case with the heatsink attached.
The case features three 5.25-inch optical drive bays, four 3.5-inch hard drive trays with silicon anti-vibration grommets, two external 3.5-inch bays (you know, for all those floppy drives), and the Proto’s sole new feature: mounting points on the bottom of the case for a 2.5-inch SSD.
At $80, the Proto is aimed squarely at the elusive junction of budget and quiet. Other low-noise cases use big low-rpm fans and acoustic damping foam to minimize noise, but the Proto’s designers opted to eliminate the noise-producing parts rather than trying to muffle the noise itself. Unfortunately, those parts are called fans, and it turns out they’re pretty important. The Proto has just one fan—a two-speed 12cm exhaust fan that isn’t very quiet on either setting. The case’s only intake area, the bottom of the front panel, has no fan but at least has a removable dust filter.
It’s a given that you won’t be building a gaming rig into the Sonata Proto. It barely fits a 10.5-inch card like the Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX. Its sole fan doesn’t provide much airflow to heat-producing parts, and cable-management options are nil. But that’s OK, because it’s supposed to be a quiet case. Unfortunately, it just isn’t very quiet. The two-speed fan is fairly loud on even the low speed, and the case has no acoustic damping inside to muffle the noise from the PSU, GPU, and CPU fans. The silicon vibration-damping grommets on the hard drives are nice, but hard drives aren’t the noisiest parts in a case these days, anyway.
For another $20, you can have your pick of enthusiast mid-towers with the amenities you’ve come to expect. They might be a little louder, but chassis like the NZXT Hades come with scads more fans, vents, and even vibration-damping grommets.
On the other hand, the Sonata Proto is solid, and no worse than its predecessors. If you just need a small no-frills chassis for a workstation or momputer, you could do worse. But we’d be hard-pressed to recommend this case for much else.
Cheapish; quietish; vibration-damping grommets on hard drive trays; SSD support.
Not for enthusiasts; only one fan; non-removable side and top panel; not very quiet.