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Cooler Master CM Media 280 Cooler Master CM Media 280: Is it a HTPC case, or a standard desktop one? The choice is yours with this new one from Cooler Master.
Date: April 4, 2007
Written By: Craig Shyjak

Who doesn’t like a metal-roofed convertible?  You can go from the wind blowing through your hair, to hard-top goodness in a matter of seconds.  These multi-function style devices are becoming more and more the norm these days.  From convertibles to smart phones to music players, it seems if a device can perform in multiple situations it receives instant attention.  Cooler Master is hoping for some of that style of attention with their new HTPC case offering, the CM Media 280.

So what multiple functions can the CM Media 280 perform?  Well, it is a desktop HTPC case and a tower case, with ability to flip the drives/front panel around to the new orientation as well as move the case feet.  A full transformation, not just a tower/desktop flipped on its side.  Cooler Master didn’t stop there, packing in a stealth 5.25” drive, VFD display, media center controls and integrated IR receiver.  Add to that a good deal of cooling potential and some classic looks and we have quite a package.

Cooler Master CM Media 280
Cooler Master offers two versions of the CM Media chassis in this style, the CM Media 280 and the CM Media 281.  The difference between the two is the front panel, with the 281 missing the VFD display, IR receiver and media buttons on the front.  Swapping the two is as simple as popping out one (held by 4 clips) and popping in the other.

The front panel of the case features two rotatable panels, one for the optical drives, the other for the front panel ports and display.  The CM Media 280 supports 3 5.25” devices, one hidden behind a stealth drive cover, the other two behind a panel.  This makes for a nice clean look to the front of the case.  The middle section of the case features another panel to hide an external 3.5” device.  The last panel on the front holds the VFD display, media buttons and front panel connections.  The whole front of the case is made of plastic, and then skinned in black aluminum. 

One issue was present on the case on the 3.5” panel, where the aluminum sheeting was coming off of the plastic chassis slightly.  This slight peel back causes the bottom of the 3.5” cover to rub on the bottom square panel, leaving a slight mark in the cover.  A better adhesive solution could have fixed this issue.  Another issue to do with the front panel is the power button, where when the case is setup in tower mode disallows the power button to be pressed.  As you can see, the problem lies with the small tab on the bracket that holds the square panel in, blocking the surround of the power button.  By cutting off the bump the power button problem was resolved.

The sides and top of the case all feature honeycomb fan grills sized for 120mm fans.   The right and top of the case allow for the installation of additional 120mm fans, where the left is a cooling port for the power supply.

The rear of CM Media 280 is laid out in a reverse fashion, with the motherboard mounting to the left side of the case, with the CPU to the bottom.  The only cooling fan included with the case is mounted to the back, as a 120mm exhaust fan.   As you can see the rear panel is recessed about an inch from the case sides.

The inside of the case features room for five internal 3.5” drives, one external 3.5” device and three external 5.25” devices.  The internal 3.5” devices are all mounted on rubber vibration dampeners.  The drives have adequate room in between to allow for adequate airflow, especially with room for another 120mm fan right in front of them.  The hard drive rack is removable by means of two screws, allowing for easy installation of the drives.

Above the hard drive rack is the sole external 3.5” slot.  To mount a device in it, you need to first remove the support brace, which allows access to the only included thumbscrew in the case.  The mount for the device is removable once the thumbscrew is removed.  By removing the 3.5” cage, you also gain access to the lower screw less mounts for the 5.25” devices.  When using the case in desktop mode, you need to remove the 3.5” cage to mount your 5.25” devices.  One problem encountered when working with the case was these 5.25” mounts.  When working with the case in desktop mode, it is impossible to see if the screw holes line up with the screw less mounts.  You need to just guess and check, until you get the holes lined up just right.  Once they are lined up however, the mounts do provide a good solid mount.  When using the case in tower mode, the wholes are fully visible, allowing for much easier mounting of your drives.

The power supply mount on the case is one thing to point out.  CoolerMaster allows you to mount your power supply upside down if you need to.  This allows you to line up your power supply with the large cooling grill on the side of the case.  With a lot of power supply featuring a bottom fan, this mounting strategy allows you to choose how you want your cooling to work.  Options are always nice to have…

The motherboard mounting solution on the CM Media 280 is a bit of a blunder.  The motherboard standoffs are not removable, and 10 are installed from the factory.  This is fine if your motherboard uses ten standoffs, but my A8V uses nine.  This would leave a metal standoff to be sitting on the bottom of the board, a good way to short out your board.  A little drilling later and the motherboard standoff was removed and the installation continued. 

The CM Media 280 includes iMon’s VFD Controller to control the VFD Display.  This software allows you to display various pieces of system information, as well as an equalizer when audio is playing.  The software was easy to use and configure, but does not provide any real customization of the display besides the included presets.

Cooling performance of the CM Media 280 was tested using the following system:
Asus A8V
AMD Athlon 64 3700+ w/Zalman CNPS7700-CU
ATI Radeon X800
Ultra X-Connect 550W
2x Seagate 250GB SATA
Seagate 200GB SATA
Temperatures were measured using SpeedFan v4.31 with an ambient room temperature of 22.5° C (72.5° F).  Temperatures were recorded with the system at idle (nothing running for at least 30 minutes) and at full load (Folding@Home and a movie playing for at least 30 minutes).  Shown below are the recorded temperatures.

As you can see, the CM Media 280 performed pretty good. Keeping temps below 50° C is quite an acheivement. My system usually runs atleast 3-5° C hotter than this normally (4 hard drives do put out a good amount of heat). I attribute the good performance to the layout of the case and the utilization of 120mm fans.

The CM Media 280 is once again a full featured offering from Cooler Master.  With support for enough devices for a good HTPC, and the convertibility to be a good Mid-tower as well make this one case to not overlook.  The CM Media 280 has sharp looks and the option for the built in VFD display with media control buttons and IR Receiver solidify its place in the HTPC case sector.  Cooling performance was adequate with potential to be great.  The case was nice and quiet when tied with other silent components.   The iMon VFD control software works well, although lacking in customizability the built in presets allow for easy operation and cover most if not all of your display needs.  The built in IR receiver and included remote work great, and cut down on clutter from external IR receivers. 

The CM Media could improve in some places though.  Items like the motherboard mounts, 3.5” bay door, or the power button not working were easy to fix, but should be fixed from the factory.  Hopefully Cooler Master will switch out the motherboard mounts to the typical brass screw in variety and fix some of the manufacturing blunders for the next revision.  If you can get past these minor blunders the case is solidly built, looks great, and has the features and performance to make it a solid contender.

If you have any comments, be sure to hit us up in our forums.

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