Media Pc Hardware Round-Up (Part 1) - CASES

6/25/2012 9:35:05 AM

We look at some of the finest HTPC hardware available


The foundation for any good HTPC is the case. The first question you need to answer is if you need to use a set-top-box form factor, or if you can live with a compact tower case. The latter will, of course, allow you considerably better flexibility when it comes to the hardware you can install. It's also easy to keep cool quietly and it will provide you with additional ability to store hard disks. A settop box, on the other hand, will slot in seamlessly with your other AV peripherals, and can sit unobtrusively under your television and generally look less like a computer and more like a high end hi-fi separate.

A Fantastic HTPC Tower Case

Description: HTPC Tower Case

One of our favourite towers for HTPC usage is the Fractal Design Define Mini. This is the smaller brother to the well-established (and extremely well received) Fractal Design R3, an ultra-low noise chassis with lots of storage ability, noise insulation throughout, a pre-installed fan controller and smart, understated styling. Despite its diminutive size, the Mini holds no fewer than six 3.5" hard drives in vibration-isolated caddies as well as up to two optical drives. It takes a full-size ATX power supply and accommodates any micro-ATX motherboard. Providing you choose a quiet PSU and CPU cooler, it's possible to create a system in the Mini that is pretty much inaudible, even in an otherwise quiet room. The only downside to this case is the size. Even though it's small compared to most normal PC cases, dimensions of 210 x 395 x 490mm mean it won't exactly blend into the background of your lounge.

Passive mini-ITX Case

Description: mini-ITX Case

For some people, any amount of noise simply isn't acceptable. For them, German manufacturer Impactics has the perfect solution. This very compact case measures just 262 x 88 x 237mm and is entirely passively cooled. Overclockers UK now stocks the complete range of accessories for this case, allowing you to install a number of different mini-ITX setups. The Intel Atom-based systems are, of course, easily accommodated, but if you have a need for more performance, there are upgraded passive coolers available for Socket 1155 Core i3 processors as well. The case itself will cost you around $136, and then the cooler will cost almost the same again. You'll also need a proprietary 130W power supply unit, which costs an additional $96. At over $352 for just the case then, this certainly isn't a cheap option, but if a small, passively cooled, powerful HTPC is your requirements, this is a fantastic choice.


Description: Silverstone

Silverstone has a massive range of different HTPC case options, from affordable mini-ATX-supporting slimline models to impressive AV-receiver-form-factor cases that can take full-size components. One of our favourite products is the Milo ML03, an affordable slim-line HTPC case costing around $88. Constructed of steel and plastic, this case certainly looks the part and will fit in seamlessly next to your Sky HD box or DVD player. It also supports full-size ATX power supplies, regular desktop optical drives and motherboards of up to the mini-ATX form factor. We used this very case in our eight-page HTPC building guide.

If you need something far more capacious, then the LaScala LC17 could be for you. This monster of HTPC cases supports full ATX motherboards, full-size power supplies, two full-size desktop optical drives (ideal if you want one for one region and one for another), as well as six internal desktop hard drives. The case measures 425 x 170 x 425mm, making it a near perfect match in width for popular AV receivers from big brands like Denon, Onkyo and Yamaha. If you want your HTPC to double as a capable gaming system, a larger form factor of case like this will be essential. If the aesthetics of this particular model don't do it for you, Silverstone offers several other cases with identical internals but different styling. The Grandia GD01, for example, is silver rather than black and has a sleek minimalistic flip-down door, as well as a VFD (Vacuum Fluorescent Display) for that lovely AV receiver look.


Description: OrigenAE

Arguably the Rolls Royce of HTPC enclosure manufacturers is OrigenAE. Many of this company's range of cases use impressive 5mm-thick extruded aluminium as the material of choice, giving them an unrivalled feel of quality and robustness, not to mention sound insulation. The S10V, for example, is a beauty of case, with the aforementioned thick side panels, support for micro-ATX motherboards and an included VFD module. The case accommodates a standard full-size ATX power supply, as well as two 3.5" hard disks. A single notebook optical drive is accommodated, and it comes with an HTPC remote. Such quality doesn't come cheap however: at $480 a piece these are among the most luxurious of HTPC cases on the market.


Description: Antec

Perhaps best known for its excellent gaming cases, Antec also has a wide HTPC case range, encompassing a variety of sizes and form factors. The ISK 300-65 Mini, for example, is a mini-ITX case supporting notebook storage devices. It measures just 222 x 328 x 96mm, and is a great container for a low-power, Atom-based HTPC. Its 65W external power supply will prevent you from fitting anything much more powerful, however.

Setting your sights on something a little larger? If so, the Antec Micro Fusion 350 is a great choice. One of the main draws of this case is the quiet 350W power supply bundled, which uses a special proprietary size to provide quiet yet capable power output. This would be ideal for a grunty Core i5- or i7-based HTPC that doubles up as a machine for work as well as media playback. It accommodates mini-ATX motherboards, a single hard drive and one optical disc drive. Despite  this it measures just 120mm high, making it relatively slim for a case capable of accommodating such a powerful computer.

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