December 2004 HTPC Case Roundup

by Purav Sanghani on 12/27/2004 2:00 AM EST
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  • monsoon - Wednesday, September 07, 2005 - link

    hola,

    i want my HTPC to be a full fledged double-core AMD PC capable of running everything, with double 5'25" front bays and silent.

    so, what'S out there today to realize such a project ?

    it's been almost a year since this shoot-out, and i would really love to see some commercial products ( already assembled or cases only ) to match these needs.

    120mm fans anyone ?
    passive cooling ( or should we wait for the coming laptop double-core CPU releases ) ?

    thanks for reading this,
    cheers
    Reply
  • rdunnill - Friday, January 28, 2005 - link

    Quote: "There isn't anything requiring these large cases except a gaming video card"

    To the contrary, I use a Holo3Dgraph-I deinterlacing card, which is full-height and thus requires a modestly-footprinted case like the NMediaPC.
    Reply
  • rdunnill - Friday, January 28, 2005 - link

    I am considering the NMediaPC case due to its small footprint.

    Footprint barely received mention in the review, but it's important to me, because the space in my HT cabinet is small.
    Reply
  • mindless1 - Thursday, December 30, 2004 - link

    JKing76, the distinction is not "just playing movies". There isn't anything requiring these large cases except a gaming video card, or to look at it another way, stuffing so many cards in that you can't get a riser to work and need a larger power supply too. Perhaps if you need more than 2 HDDs, that's an issue too... but most won't.

    Games <> Home Theater

    Some can't grasp that, and that's OK, there SHOULD be cases suitable for building living room gaming boxes, but that does not begin to mean HTPC cases per se, should be this large.
    Reply
  • goku21 - Thursday, December 30, 2004 - link

    What about doing a project/review on a HTPC you build yourself? Go all out and instead of using a HTPC case use a SFF case or something. Be a little different about it.

    That's something I'd like to see. Perhaps something interactive where all the readers can vote on what types of components go into it and what not.

    Of course that's just my stupid opinion =)
    Reply
  • PuravSanghani - Wednesday, December 29, 2004 - link

    We gave our Editor's Choice Award to the SilverStone LC10/M because it has a combination of great features (VFD Text display, room for expansion with more HDD mounting space, the ability to install a full ATX board and power supply, as well as an optional multimedia kit since MS Windows Media Center is not sold on store shelves just yet). Bias is not one of the reasons we chose the LC10.

    The HTPC100 is a great out-of-the-box solution if you want a simple barebones system. It performed well in our thermal and sound benchmarks. The case, however, does not have much room for expansion, only supports microATX boards, and does not have a text display. Although, for its performance in thermal and sound we believe it is a worthy competitor to the LC10.

    We hope this clears up some confusion in our regarding our conclusion of this roundup.

    -----
    Nintari, Mindless, mcveigh: We chose these components because many boxed Home Theater PCs come with hardware similar to our configuration. A media center PC, in our definition, is not just a PC with a TV Tuner slapped in it, but rather a fully functional PC with the ability to process home theater content.

    Definitions of the HTPC will vary by user and the purpose of the HTPC in their home theater setup.

    During our testing we do not install a TV Tuner card but we do process content like playing a DVD and video games to simulate operations during normal PC use with this "standard" hardware.

    -----
    #27: Feel free to let us know of any errors in the article and we will be more than happy to fix them. Thanks.

    Purav Sanghani
    Reply
  • Clint - Wednesday, December 29, 2004 - link

    All three vendor links for the Silverstone case show a completely different case (though they all match one another). Reply
  • ElFenix - Tuesday, December 28, 2004 - link

    I've asked for years: please hire an english major to edit your articles. The sentence structure of this article is even worse than most of the articles around here. Reply
  • JKing76 - Tuesday, December 28, 2004 - link

    Sorry mindless, I don't buy your definition of HTPC. I consider an HTPC to be a computer you'd keep hooked up to a home theater system full time. You want a tiny, low-power PC just for playing movies, well, that's your choice. But there's no reason big screen, high-quality surround sound gaming support can't be part of a HTPC. Reply
  • geogecko - Tuesday, December 28, 2004 - link

    Personally...the best HTPC case money can buy...

    http://www.atechfabrication.com/products/heatsync_...
    Reply
  • mcveigh - Tuesday, December 28, 2004 - link

    mindless yes you can build a basic htpc with simple components, my current one is a 2.4P4 ATI 9100 radeon, and pVR 250 capture card.

    I want to do 2x resize with ffdshow and for that I'l need a 2.8 or faster processore and for some hardware assisted WMV acceleration I 'd like to get a 6600GT.

    then if I want to convert videos to mpg or wmv for storage thats where my CPU will come into play more.

    yes you can do basic functions with the essentials in a small case like hush pc does. but if you want all the bells and whistles, and not beign limited to 2-3 expansion slots you need a larger case.
    Reply
  • Nintari - Tuesday, December 28, 2004 - link

    You are absolutely correct on that you cant have it both ways. I do reviews and guides for HTPCNews.com and have experimented so much with different parts and etc and it took me a very very long time to setup such a powerful HTPC with such low noise and heat. Just so there is no confusion on this I was not sayign the CPU would be completely passive... the system can be set to turn off fans and run completely silent when idle (such is the case with cool n quiet on the AMD athlon 64 cpu, combine that with a systemboard liek the ones from Aopen that have built in fan control and your all set for silence and speed without sacrafice)

    Again as stated earlier you have your opinion on what a HTPC is and should consist of, others have the need for more power to do a lot more with thier HTPC than just basic DVD and PVR. I am not saying you are wrong ut I am stressing that it is incorrect to say that the system being used was overkill I for one find it hard to go back to DVD without ffdshow post processing, the capability to PVR HDTV and perform multiple recordings all at once on my HTPC and therfore find it nessecary for the power.
    Reply
  • mindless1 - Tuesday, December 28, 2004 - link

    You can't have it both ways though, a silent, passive heatsink inside the system increases need for passive airflow. Spec'ing out a system that has more power than it needs will ultimately produce more heat, need more airflow and either filters (which increase noise level per same flow rate) or a service interval. There's another area where passive theater equipment has an advantage, a passive (proper) design has fewer mechanical parts to break and longer service interval- It's not often one has to open up such equipment to dust it out. Reply
  • Nintari - Tuesday, December 28, 2004 - link

    it is all a matter of selecting the rigth parts to work in conjuntion with one another. The AMD Athlon 64 CPU has the cool n quiet tech that can cool the cpu down so much in a optimal environment that the cpu fan can some times even shut it's self off. With the right cooler on the right video card that can be silent as well without using a passive heatsink to allow heat to build up in your case.

    Reply
  • Nintari - Tuesday, December 28, 2004 - link

    You are incorrect I built a HTPC with a little bigger gaming card in it. I could have got the 6600GT but then I would not of been able to get a VGA silencer for it at all. The newer NVIDIA cards ahve excellent image quality for DVD movies or TV and ETC when using the NVDVD decoders read up on pure video). I actually cool everythign in my HTPC with ease at extremely low noise levels :) In other words when the room is dead silent I still barely hear my HTPC and that is only when I am on top of it. From across the room it is inaudible.

    I take it you have never ran WMV9 HD content, PVR HDTV content or used FFdshow resize to scale DVD to 1920x1080i to a HDTV set if you had then you would see why more CPU power in a a HTPC is required. I can on my HTPC record two SDTV shows and a HDTV show in the background while I watch a DVD....without the system flinching
    Reply
  • mindless1 - Tuesday, December 28, 2004 - link

    Nintari, high-end HT equipment is typically large only because it allows passive cooling. If it had audible fans too, it could/would be smaller.

    Again Nintari, you didn't build a HTPC, rather an entire gaming system that ALSO does HTPC functions. Perhaps the difference is in our individual interpretations of what a "HTPC" is... almost all of my boxes have a tuner/cap card of one vintage or another in them but I dont' go calling them all HTPCs.

    No, you dont' want to have "as much CPU power, video performance and mmemory as possible". Well, ok, maybe some do, but it's a negative thing for a HTPC unless you're into the bigger/larger/faster/more-expensive is inherantly better mindset. Otherwise, many people prefer a cost, size, heat, noise optimized system. It would be impossible to cool the components you describe with < 30db of noise, yet some don't want 30db from a HTPC.

    Perhaps my tone started out wrong. I'm not trying to tell anyone what they should do with THEIR HTPC, rather stating my opinion, and an evidence that there are those who aren't looking for just another almost-fullsized desktop system for a HTPC. The market is large enough it should support both extremes, many alternatives.
    Reply
  • Nintari - Tuesday, December 28, 2004 - link

    I have to agree with the others on this one... tests for noise levels should have been made with and without the rest of the fans on in the system..

    #17 mindless1: your post is your opinion and I will give you that but to say that these cases are too big is ridiculous. High end and mid range THeater equipment is not small by any means so some of these cases will fit in perfectly. Granted the depth of the cases is one of the worst thing on some of these especially on the D5 from Ahanix (which is excessivly deep). As to the hardware used that is not a total waste at all! Sure the 9800XT should have been used with a silent cooler such as a VGA silencer but really the system specs were good. Even when just using PVR and DVD in a decent HTPC you want to have as much CPU power, video performance and memory as possible especially when post processing DVD movies FFDshow, Playing back WMV9 clips or movies or other intensive tasks. I personally have a AMD A64 3200+ w/ Zalman CNPS7000A-Cu, Nvidia 6800 w/ VGA silencer, V@Box DTA 151 HDTV tuner, SB Audigy 2, Dual PVR cards 2x 300GB hard drives and a few other goodies in my HTPC. The noise levels are very very low and this system can do just about anything I want it to including scale DVD to HDTV levels (on DVDs that are encoded well) and play Half Life 2 and other games at High IQ & resolutions with AA and AF on!
    Reply
  • mindless1 - Tuesday, December 28, 2004 - link

    All of these cases are ridiculously large.
    They're not really suitable for HTPC cases at all, they're merely desktop cases instead of towers, with beautified bezels.

    A 2U case is borderline "too big" for a HTPC case. If you can't get a HTPC built into that size or smaller you're doing something terribly wrong. Granted, some setups may require a PCI and/or AGP riser.

    Now the hardware - Athlon 64, R9800XT, and 1GB of memory. RIDICULOUS. A complete and total waste, and inferior to appropriate hardware due to higher thermals and power requirements. This is not a HTPC, it's just the same old desktop system except median-tiered instead of high-end.

    Now, if you actually do want to play games in your living room, so be it, but it's NOT a "HTPC" then, rather a gaming box with a tuner/cap card in it.
    Reply
  • mcveigh - Tuesday, December 28, 2004 - link

    I haven't handled the NMedia but it looks like similar cases out there from it's design and I think the silverstone looks nicer and of a higher quality.

    I want my htpc to look nice. I currently have an delr coolermaster aluminum case and most people don't realize it's a PC.

    so i'm going with the minority and saying I loke the Silverstone :)
    Reply
  • Mears - Monday, December 27, 2004 - link

    Man, I wish the NMedia accepted a full ATX board. I'd buy it in a heart beat... Reply
  • Pandamonium - Monday, December 27, 2004 - link

    I concur w/ #12. There seems to be incredible bias towards Silverstone here. Despite my research in the world of HTPCs, I had not even heard of NMedia. This article may have introduced me to my future HTPC chassis - my current choice is with the Ahanix X235 (Formerly D.Vine 5)

    Excellent job on the thermal maps though. This was the first time I've seen thermal readings taken at every square inch and then visually reported in such a manner. If more reviewers pick up on this trend for case reviews, I'd be extremely pleased.
    Reply
  • SunTzuTech - Monday, December 27, 2004 - link

    Agree with #12. The review seems to be slanted to the SilverStone, despite it's cost and obviously audible intrusion. Perhaps if there had been some more detail into the IR remote that's talked about in the conclusion, comparing and contrasting the other components, I'd buy the review. However, in the end, it doesn't pass the sniff test.

    If you don't like the NMedia because it only supports mATX, say so. But the fact that it's quieter than the rest, should be the first consideration for an HTPC case.

    #11 - I found a LianLi PC9400 and 320W mATX PS in about 3 minutes of searching on the internet. Nice case, but the IR remote is something you'd have to add.
    Reply
  • hoppa - Monday, December 27, 2004 - link

    also agree w/ 4 and 5. what is with anandtech recently and giving so much praise for big, loud, expensive cases? the nMedia is about half the price, half the size, has half the noise output... for some reason, you didn't give it an X for 'thermal' in that chart (i assume the X means good?), even though its highest temperature was the exact same as that of the silverstone, and overall temperature seemed to be quite the same. and how about these quotes..:

    from thermal page:
    "It is evident that while the NMediaPC's HTPC 100 case had only a single 60mm exhaust, it performed almost as well as the LC10/M and the Cavalier 2, and better than the D.Vine 5 in our thermal benchmarks due to its smaller size as well as the numerous ventilated areas on the shell. On average, the ambient air temperatures per square inch varied by only fractions of a degree."

    from conclusion:
    "NMediaPC's HTPC 100 did not perform as well in our thermal benchmarks as the LC10/M or the Cavalier 2"

    that kind of editorial slant in the conclusion is completely unfair. for someone that reads only the conclusion (which im sure many do), it sounds as though there is actually some real difference in the thermal performance, even though you say originally on the page that performance only varies by fractions of a degree.

    so what we have here is a much louder, much more expensive, bigger case than the nMedia, with equal thermal performance and included features, and you give this the gold?! plus, the thing is ugly.

    you may give accurate numbers, but lately your conclusions are making me wonder.
    Reply
  • gonzo2k - Monday, December 27, 2004 - link

    Full size motherboards MUST fit in a HTPC case to be considered practical for my needs.I have an extemely rare Lian-Li PC9400 that gives these three a run for the money.
    It took me weeks to locate a 300+ watt psu for it (mATX). Finally scored a 320 watt!
    Bought the case used (like new) on AT for $150 (came with an FSP-200 psu... the replacement 320W psu was another $35/shipped. Added Vantec Stealth 60mm fans to replace the stock ones & all is well. 2 HDDs, 2 optical drives and a floppy bay for a 7-in-1 media reader make this case a keeper.
    Reply
  • JKing76 - Monday, December 27, 2004 - link

    I'm failing to see how the rollover temperature data images back up the claim that the Silverstone has better thermal management than the Nmedia. Reply
  • CrystalBay - Monday, December 27, 2004 - link

    Nice review, I also like the NMedia for the looks, and quietness. Seems like some manufacturer could find a spot for a low noise, low rpm 120mm fan. Reply
  • mrdudesir - Monday, December 27, 2004 - link

    I'd agree with #4 and 5, the NmediaPC seems like a much better buy than the silverstone. Of course astethics depend on the person, but it is a 100 dollars cheaper, and produces less than half the noise of the silverstone. Especially in an htpc environment, 51db is unacceptable. Reply
  • joeld - Monday, December 27, 2004 - link

    Why disable the fan on the power supply for the audio tests? Think about it - the power supply comes with each of the chassis's, so why not test the sound "out of the box"? I've got a shuttle XPC, and the loudest fan is the little 40mm power supply fan! Reply
  • Spacecomber - Monday, December 27, 2004 - link

    Thanks for taking on this subject for a review, as it is one that I find worthwhile.

    Besides sound levels and cooling, another factor that I think is particularly important with these HTPCs is their overall external dimensions. Typically, these will be used in a cabinet or other entertaiment stand, and these often have relatively shallow and narrow shelf dimensions. Many computer cases tend to be too long or too wide to conveniently use in these situations.

    Perhaps something along these lines could be added in future reviews. Maybe some "group photos" could be incorporated that give a graphic look at how these cases "stack up" against each other, when viewed from the side as well as the front.

    Space
    Reply
  • sonicDivx - Monday, December 27, 2004 - link

    umm 51dbs for a HTPC are you kidding? It would be nice if you included sound files to hear difference. Also would be good to measure the PSU sound level as someone may wish to switch out the PSU for a quieter model.

    I recommend www.silentpcreview.com to see nice ways to measure sound and report them.

    Other than that not a bad review, just needs more depth and analysis
    Reply
  • matthewfoley - Monday, December 27, 2004 - link

    Great article! I'd love to see more on the HTPC area, including a processor article.

    I agree, benk. How could you choose the SilverStone over the NMedia? It runs hotter, louder, is more expensive and doesn't look as good.

    Another thing I'd like to see in all of the cases is more room for hard drives. If you're going to store anything recorded in Media Center 2005, you're going to need tons of space, and the average user isn't going to want to have a separate file server. Then again, your average user isn't going to build a HTPC...
    Reply
  • benk - Monday, December 27, 2004 - link

    As noted, please fix pics in thermal section.

    That aside, great review. The pictures are extremely helpful. I would love to see added to them a comparative shot of all of the cases, or failing that a single chart that lists all of their dimensions.

    My personal choice would probably go to the NMedia...if the temperatures are within normal operating ranges, and you're not overclocking (overclocking seems unnecessary in the HTPC arena), noise plays a much more defining factor in my purchase than thermal management.
    Reply
  • Locut0s - Monday, December 27, 2004 - link

    Ahh now these are what I'm talking about when I mean some nicer looking cases, even if I'm not in the market for an HTPC. Reply
  • mcveigh - Monday, December 27, 2004 - link

    fix rollover pics on testing section :)


    great article! I love my htpc but am looking for a newer case I wish you had tested Ahanix D.Vine 5 with 2 siletX fans installed.

    actually how about changing testing to include using identical fans for all systems. I know it's more work but this way you could see how casese compared based on design alone.
    Reply

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