Scorecard
6.8
Average
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So if you are the compromising type you will love the features of this case that make it so good. If you must have the best you will have to keep looking. The Cooler Master HAF-X with its excellent tool-less construction or the Xigmatek Elysium with its huge size are two alternates.

The Author
I am an avid console / PC gamer, I own a PC and a PS3 along with a DS Lite. I follow all major game releases and am very familiar with major titles. I am part of the games review team on the site, so watch for my reviews of all major titles as they release.
Pros Fleet-Release bays
Fan Controllers
2 x Rear exhaust fans
loaded with fans
Fleet Swap (Theory)
LED Fans
Two piece plexi-glass window
Cons 5.25" gates
fleet swap (application)
Cabling fiasco (too many power fan wires)
limited use of 5.25" bays
Presentation  8
Performance  6
Usability  6
Features  8
Value  6

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Antec has been around for about 25 years. Since then it has made a name for itself as a provider of PC cases, power supplies and more. It has enjoyed a lot of success with its 900 series cases (over 5000 user generated feedbacks for the 900 on new egg).

But while Antec was relying on brand recognition and patriotism (it is an American company), its Eastern (or Western depending on how you look at it and where you live) competitors took the best of what Antec had to offer and upgraded it with features like tool-less installation, extensive cable management options and the likes.

Antec’s response to this onslaught has been to release updated older models. While they cover some of what everyone else is offering, Antec needed a new design to really show off its prowess as a leading case manufacturer.

The Dark Fleet (DF) series is just that. There are 4 models in the current lineup. Three mid tower cases, the DF-10, DF-30, DF-35 and one full tower the DF-85.

Today we’ll take a look at the big daddy of the dark fleet cases –the DF 85.

Quick Specs

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Type

Full Tower

Dimensions

556 x 239 x 578 (mm; H*W*D)

Material

Plastic & Steel

Color

Black

Fans

TOP: 2x 140mm

FRONT: 3x 120mm (LED fans/ filters)

REAR: 2x 120mm (LED fans)

Fan Controllers

REAR: 2x fan controllers for rear & top fans

FRONT: 3x fan controllers for front fans

Boards

E-ATX, ATX, m-ATX, mini-ATX

Bays

TOP: 1x 2.5” HDD Hot Swap

FRONT: 3x 5.25” ODD Bays

9x 3.5” HDD Bays

BOTTOM: 1x 2.5” SDD Bay

Expansion

7 Slots

IO

USB 2.0 3x

USB 3.0 1x

E-SATA 1x (Hot Swap)

HD Audio 2x

Max. GPU length

12.5”

Weight

11 kg

Packaging

The DF-85 comes in a large box, befitting for a full tower case. The box is illustrated and full of details regarding the case. The figures are accompanied by one liners (in English plus several East Asian languages).

The front of the box highlights the 4 most prominent features of the case (according to Antec’s thinking). These are top 2.5” hot swap bay, the front USB 3.0 port, the 4 fleet swap 3.5” SATA bays and finally the 3 fleet release drive access bay doors.

The back of the box lists the casing’s specification (again in multiple languages).

One of the sides has tons of icons displaying other salient features of the case, while the other side has a picture of the case itself.

The casing itself lies between two foam pieces in clear plastic bag.

Bundled Accessories

The case comes with a very ‘specific’ set of accessories. You get a large flyer which lists the case specs in various languages. There is another flyer with basic installation instructions (especially for bottom mounted SSD).

There is a bag of screws (a separate bag holds the screws and washers for 2.5” bottom SSD mounting) and 3 large cable ties.

The instruction flyer lists all the basic features of the case. For details the end user can either check the official youtube video or simply figure it out for him or herself!

Exterior

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Exterior: Overview

The DF-85 goes against the trend of a curvy (sexy) silver trimmed exterior seen in some of the cases. It has straight lines and a rugged almost a super cargo ship like appearance which is further accentuated by the design of the top of the case.

Exterior: Top

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The top of the case looks like a cargo ship with the bridge at the one end and a large flat cargo area in front of it! The bridge bit is the 2.5” HDD/SSD hot swap bay with its transparent top while the flat area in taken up by the exhaust grills of the 2 140mm top mounted fans. The hot-swap bay is pretty short thus most of your 2.5” drive will stick out of it. Had Antec included some form of a locking mechanism the hot swap bay would have been more meaningful especially in LAN parties. As things stand this is a good feature, but it could have been a great feature.

While reviewing the case I asked several friends and colleagues to comment on the style of the top. Most of the people did not have good things to say about it, while a few (very few) found it to be ‘interesting’. Personally I fall into the second category. While certainly not eye catching, especially when you consider that this is what you be looking at most of the time, (full towers belong on the floor not on the desk) it is not unsightly either. There is a certain ‘attraction’ to it. Maybe because it is different, I can’t say for sure, but it is definitely an interesting approach.

Exterior: Front

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The front of the case is occupied by the 5.25 and 3.5 drive bays. The 5.25 bays, of which there are 3, have a plastic gate in front of them. The only way to access whatever is fixed to these drive bays is to first open the gate then use the device. These doors do provide an element of aesthetics, but can be annoying in the long run

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The 3.5” bays are however another story and one of the strongest point of the case. These are covered by what Antec calls the Fleet-release mechanism. By moving a lever up (located inside the case) it is possible to independently open the 3 bays. Each of these is made up of a 120mm LED fan with its controller and a removable and washable dust filter. This is very, very convenient and much better than removing the entire front panel to get inside the drive bays.

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Exterior: I/O Panel

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The IO panel is located at the top of the front of the case. At the two extremes are the reset and power buttons. In the center are the USB 2.0/3.0 and Audio ports. At the top of these is the opening of the hot swap bay.

Exterior: Rear

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Fan controllers for the top and rear fans are located at the top of the rear panel of the case.

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Two 120mm red LED fans are located at the rear for exhaust. Almost all cases feature one exhaust fan at the rear, while this unit has two which is a welcome addition

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The IO shield area is located in its traditional space. The IO shield that comes with the case will not be usable with many of the newer motherboards and thus is essentially a filler.

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The case comes with 7 expansion slots covered with perforated plates. The last plate has an extra large opening for USB 3.0 cable to attach to the motherboard. The unit does not come with an internal motherboard attachment for the USB 3.0 port. Thus the only way to utilize the port is to take the wire to the back of the case and plug it into a rear motherboard USB 3.0 port.

There are ventilation holes above the case with two grommeted openings for water cooling.

Finally the PSU cutout is located at the bottom of the case which is typical for all modern cases.

The rear of the case reminds me of the Antec 1200. In fact had it not been for the fans with red LEDS and some very minor changes, I could have sworn I was looking at a 1200!

Exterior: Sides

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The left panel has a large plexi-glass window divided into two segments. The anterior (front) segment has a reversed “E” shape while the posterior (back) window has a “D” shape and mounts for a 120mm fan. There are a couple of silicon standoffs to prevent vibration from the added on fan.
The side panel again is reminiscent of the 1200. There are difference but the general design remains similar.

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The right side panel is bare and only has “Antec Design” embossed on it.

Exterior: Bottom

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The bottom of the case has 4 anti slip rubber feet. There is no opening to mount the PSU with the fan facing down wards. The case does not ship with castors so you are stuck with rubber feet. Moving the case for cleaning is going to be a chore.

Exterior: Impressions

The exterior has some outstanding features like the fleet-release bays, top 2.5” hot-swap bay, plexi-glass window, fan controllers and 2 exhaust fans. Some average features like the construction of the top. While some of the features are could definitely be improved in future revisions (the 5.25” doors, no intake opening for PSU fan, no castors). The construction quality is typical Antec and thus no complaints there.

Interior

Interior: Motherboard Tray

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The interior is all black with several openings for cable management. These are unfortunately not grommeted. There is a large cutout for mounting or removing CPU cooler without removing the motherboard. This is very important as the tray itself is not removable. The tray has holes drilled for motherboard stand offs.

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The case can take a graphics card of about 12.5” in length. You can thus safely install a ATi 6990, which is actually 12.5” long. It will be a tight fit, but fit it will!

Interior: Bottom

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The bottom of the case has room for the power supply. There are 4 soft rubber feet to reduce vibration. Unfortunately, as there is no cut out for the PSU fan, the PSU can only be installed with the fan facing upwards. 4 holes are provided to mount a SSD drive at the bottom. You will need to first insert washers into the openings then screw in the drive from the bottom. Not overly complicated but definitely a minor chore.

Interior: Top

The top of the case has 2 140mm fans. These can be removed to fit a radiator.

All the connector cables also enter the case from the top and will be discussed a little later.

Both the front 140mm fan and the cables will prevent the first 5.25” drive bay from holding anything but fan controllers or other bay devices.

Interior: Front

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The front of the case is all about drive bays. The top three bays are for 5.25” devices, while the rest can accommodate 3.5” drives. The top 5.25” drive bay might not accommodate a full length drive as the top fan and/or front panel cables get in the way. Out of the nine 3.5” bays, 4 are fitted with Fleet-Swap SATA interfaces. These allow one to install and remove 3.5” drives without entering the case -at least theoretically. Theoretically because, although it is possible to leave the drive in the bay without screws, it will wobble with knocks and bumps to the case.

The lever to release fleet swap bays is located on the left of the front of the inside of the case. Lifting the lever unlocks the 3.5” bays.

Interior: Back of Motherboard Tray

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The back of the motherboard tray provides ample room for cable management. It also includes two reusable ties already mounted in addition to those bundled with the case.

The 3.5” drive bays are recessed in and provide more room to hide cables.

Interior: Impressions

As with the exterior, the interior is a mixed bag. The lack of opening for PSU fan, half baked approach to SATA swap bays are some of the features that can be improved. This is compensated by two 140mm fans at the top and ability to squeeze in the largest of graphics cards.

As this is a full tower case, you might have some issues getting the CPU power cable all the way from the bottom to the top especially if you want to route it along the back of the case. Unfortunately Antec does not bundle an extension cable for CPU power with the case. Thus if you have a power supply with a rather short CPU power cable (initial HX620s come to mind) you might not be able to route it cleanly (behind the case).

Fans

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The case comes absolutely loaded with fans. Apart from the side window, whose fan is optional, all other fan areas come preinstalled with fans. There are 5 120mm LED fans and 2 140 fans. All of them are on a controller. However they all need to be individually plugged using 4 pin molex connectors which is a shame. It creates a lot of cable mess. A dedicated fan controller board would have been very welcome. The front and rear fans can be replaced but you won’t be able to use the fan controllers without some modification.

The fans are not too loud, especially at lower speeds. Running 7 fans is bound to produce some level of noise, but the included controllers allow adjustment to suit one’s requirements.

Cables and connectors

Apart from the customary front panel connectors (LEDs, Buttons, HD Audio, USB 2.0) the case also comes with a USB 3.0 connector and connectors for the hot swap bay.

The USB 3.0 connector must be plugged into a rear USB 3.0 port on the motherboard. Antec only provides this connection for the port.

The hot swap bay has its own SATA cable which should be plugged into the motherboard.

Conclusion

From the exterior to the interior the DF85 is like the best Vanilla ice-cream that you will ever have. Spoon after spoon its delicious vanilla flavor will satiate your taste buds. That is until you notice all the nuts in the ice-cream that you just hate. Bite after bite they will spoil the vanilla flavor in your mouth. At this point you will either learn to live with the nuts or just simply live without the ice-cream

This case is just the same. You will either learn to live with its glaring short comings or live without it.

At times I was wowed by the case –the fleet swap system, two exhaust fans, fan controllers. At other times I was mumbling to myself “What was Antec thinking”. The 5.25” bay covers, the almost useless first 5.25 bay, the half hearted attempts at SATA dock, the plethora of fan power connectors, lack of internal USB 3.0 connectivity all remind me of the bitter nuts in my sweet vanilla!

So if you are the compromising type you will love the features of this case that make it so good. If you must have the best you will have to keep looking. The Cooler Master HAF-X with its excellent tool-less construction or the Xigmatek Elysium with its huge size are two alternates. Both fall in this casing’s price range and both have workarounds for some of the short comings mentioned above. But none of these casings have the excellent fleet-release system which is one feature that just might be enough to over shadow all of its short comings.

Pro’s:

  • Fleet-Release bays
  • Fan Controllers
  • 2 x Rear exhaust fans
  • loaded with fans
  • Fleet Swap (Theory)
  • LED Fans
  • Two piece plexi-glass window

Con’s:

  • 5.25″ gates
  • fleet swap (application)
  • Cabling fiasco (too many power fan wires)
  • limited use of 5.25″ bays