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How I stuffed an Antec Aria case...

About a year ago, I built a machine for video recording and DVD playback using the Cooler Master ATC-620 case. The case looks pretty good, and the quality is great, too. The only problem for me is that it is a bit large (I didn't pay much attention to the size before I bought it), and I had to partially remove the back panel of my cabinet to fit it in. Recently I got an Antec Aria case to replace the ATC-620. Below you can see the size comparison.

Top comparison Figure 1
Front comparison Figure 2

The Aria looks okay (I don't particularly like/dislike cube-style cases). It's much smaller, very quiet, and fits in my cabinet with lots of room to spare, so overall I'm pretty happy. However, because of its small size, the installation is a bit tricky. To fit all the components into the case, they have to be installed in a particular order. Here are some notes I took during the installation. (Click on an image to open a window with a larger image, and click again to close it.)


In the original machine, I had the following components.

Now I need to put all these into the small case...

Installing the motherboard

The first thing is to install the motherboard into the case. Since my motherboard already has the CPU/HSF and RAM on it, I did the following:

  1. Remove the PSU from the case. Note that you can't completely separate them since they are connected by the power cord.
  2. Remove the IO panel on the back of the case and install the panel that came with the motherboard.
  3. Remove the HSF from the CPU
  4. Install the motherboard. Basically, make sure all "clip-on standoffs" clip their corresponding holes on the motherboard, align both "brass standoffs" to the corresponding holes on the motherboard, and then use screws to attach the motherboard to the brass standoffs. For my motherboard, the two extra clip-on standoffs can be used, so I installed them first.
  5. Re-install the PSU

The following pictures show what it looks like after completing these steps. (Note that in these pictures the CPU heatsink is already installed because I forgot to take a picture before that. I'll talk about the HSF next.)

Motherboard installed Figure 3
CPU side Figure 4. The cable connection to the left of the CPU is the CPU fan connector. The black box is for fan speed adjustment.
PCI side Figure 5. Note it is easier to connect the ATX 12V connector (between I/O ports and the chipset heatsink) before PSU is re-installed.

As you can see, the CPU heatsink and the motherboard IO ports are very close to the bottom of the power supply. Installing the motherboard will be quite difficult if the PSU is not removed first. Similarly, if the CPU HSF is not removed, it will be quite difficult to re-install the PSU.

Installing the CPU HSF

The next step is to install the CPU heatsink/fan. Before I bought the case, I read the article here, which mentions that some HSFs are too tall and will be blocked by the PSU. I was worried that the Intel stock HSF might be too tall, so I bought the HSF used in the article, Zalman 6500AlCu-B. It turns out that the stock HSF also fits under the PSU. However, since I have to remove the HSF when installing the motherboard anyway, and the Zalman is likely quieter, I decided to install the new HSF.

Unlike the stock HSF, the Zalman heatsink and fan are installed separately. The heatsink is already installed in the figures above. To install the fan, the adjustable fan bracket provided by the case must be used (the one that comes with the HSF doesn't fit). The bracket consists of two pieces. The fan is attached to the rail on the small piece, and the large piece is attached to the PSU. First, attach the small piece to the rail on the large piece using two screws as shown below.

Fan bracket Figure 6

Note that these two pieces can be assembled in different ways (e.g., the rail on the small piece can be near the left, center, or right), and the manual doesn't say much about installing the bracket. There are actually two very important issues here.

  1. If a fan is installed with this bracket, it will in fact occupy the space of the bottom 3.5" drive bay, i.e., there will be only two 3.5" bays left.
  2. If the small piece is not in the right position, the installed fan will block the sides of the bottom 3.5" drive bay, i.e., the drive cage can not be put back into the case.

Since I only have two hard drives, the first issue is not a problem (although only the bottom drive bay can use the special "noise-reducing" screws that come with the case). To address the second issue, the position of the small piece in Figure 6 should work. So now we can install the bracket and then the fan.

Before installation Figure 7. Before installation.
Bracket installed Figure 8. Bracket installed.
Fan installed Figure 9. Fan installed.
Fan connected Figure 10. Connect fan to the speed control.

Installing the AGP/PCI cards

This case allows four expansion card slots, so there should be no problem for my AGP card and two PCI cards. However, two things should be noted (let's number the slots from 1 to 4, starting with the AGP slot):

  1. If a 3.5" hard drive is installed on the side of the card slots (as I will do), the hard drive power connector is likely to block slot 3, i.e., only slots 1, 2, and 4 can be used.
  2. Again, if a 3.5" hard drive is installed here, the card for slot 4 must be installed after the drive cage (with the drives installed) is put back into the case. If the card is installed first, it will block the hard drive when putting the drive cage back.

Therefore, I first install the AGP card and one PCI card on slots 1 and 2, as shown below.

Two cards installed Figure 11

The other PCI card will have to wait until the drives are installed.

Installing the 3.5"/5.25" drives

Installing the drives into the drive cage is quite straightforward. First install the 5.25" drive in the 5.25" bay, and then the two 3.5" hard drives are installed on the two side bays.

Drive cage Figure 12
Drive cage Figure 13

Note that I use the hard drive on the left as primary-master, the hard drive on the right as secondary-master, and the DVD drive as the secondary-slave. Therefore, the hard drive on the left will be on its own cable, and the other two will share a cable. Now I need to put the drive cage back into the case. Before doing that, the IDE cables and power cables for the drive need to be "arranged", as shown below.

Cables Figure 14. The round IDE cable (which comes with the case) is used for secondary IDE, and the regular IDE cable is for primary. The PSU has three power cables for drives. I use the short one at the center (right next to the fan) for the 5.25" drive, and the two long power cables to the left and right will be used for the two hard drives.

Note that due to the length of the cables, some can only be connected after the drive cage is installed. Arranging the cables as shown in Figure 14 will ensure that it won't be too difficult to connect them. Now let's put the drive cage back in.

Fan and bottom drive bay Figure 15. As the drive cage is being installed, we can see that the two sides of the bottom drive bay will be right next to the CPU fan.
Right Figure 16. Connect the cables for the drive on the right. Note that the direction here is the reverse of the direction in Figures 12 and 13, so this is the primary-master drive.
Left Figure 17. Connect the cables for the drive on the left.
Center Figure 18. Connect the cables for the 5.25" drive.

Finishing up

Now that the drive cage is installed and the drives connected, the last PCI card can be installed. It might seem that the card is blocked by the side of the drive cage and can not be installed. However, given the right angle (as shown below), the card can be "slided" into position.

Sliding the card Figure 19. Slide the card inside the side of the drive cage.
Installing the card Figure 20. Install the card into the PCI slot.
Card slot cover Figure 21. Install the cover on top of the card slots.

Finally, arrange the excess cables (e.g., USB and FireWire) inside the case, put the top and side panels back, and it's done!

Finished Figure 22. Finished!

If you are about to use the Aria case to build a machine, I hope this helps.

Last modified: Sat May 1 14:21:10 EDT 2004 using Vim
by pach at