One thing you can be sure of as an enthusiast is that as you upgrade your PC and its components, you will inevitably have spare parts laying around. And if you horde your 'old' components like me, you're also going to inevitably annoy your significant other half too. You'll have coolers and cases, graphics cards and hard drives, motherboards and mice. So why not put them to good use? If you don't have all the parts already, you likely only need a few extras to build your very own Home Theatre PC. Of course, using spare parts to build an HTPC isn't the only option, and some of the best setups come from carefully planned systems with newly bought components. Either way, if your going to do it properly, then the finishing touch is undoubtedly a dedicated HTPC case designed to blend in with the natural surroundings of your lounge or home cinema.
There are a multitude of cases designed for HTPC's on the market these days but the general trend is to use small and slim which requires mATX components. If you're using spares, then it's more likely you will have ATX components. If you want to run a killer graphic setup for some big screen gaming you'll more than likely want to use ATX. Still, there are ATX HTPC cases available which brings us to the point of our review; the . This isn't a brand new case but has been in the line-up for a few months now, but it did (along with it's brethren) get noticed at CeBIT this year. Let's see what the has going for it.
|427(W) x 148(H) x 398(D)
|435(W) x 167(H) x 406(D)
|5.25" x 1ea / 3.5" x 2ea (Hidden : 2)
|M/B Form Factor
|PSU Form Factor
|Black, Silver, Gold
|None (bottom intake area provided)
80mm 1ea (Front & Side Airhole)
|USB 2.0 x 2ea / IEEE1394 / MIC / SPK / Multi Card Reader
|Multi Card Reader
|CF, MD, SMC, SD, MMC, MS
|Multimedia Control by using iMON(NEW iMON LCD)
As mentioned in the introduction, we've opted to look at the Silver (SL) model, however do offer the in Black and even Gold as well. While the dimensions of the case make it quite slim in height for a case which accepts an ATX PSU, it will obviously be a little larger than a case designed with mATX components in mind. Of course the is quite capable of using an mATX motherboard.
The box for the 3RSystem M-Station HT-1000 is a fully printed affair giving it a more mass market appearance than the R110 case we looked at previously. All of the pertinent information is on the box, although the majority of the appearances of the case on the box is for the black and silver models. Inside, the case is protected first by polystyrene mounts and secondly by a foam bag which helps to protect the case from scratches.
Removing the packaging, we get our first look at the front of the case. Brushed aluminium split by a recessed mirrored strip. The design follows a sort of photographers 'rule of thirds' in dropping the recessed front panel down below the central line. On the left hand side are the aluminium power and reset buttons. Power is nice and large with the smaller reset button just right of it. Also marked here is the HDD activity light which uses a blue LED to indicate hard drive access.
Moving to the right we find the single optical drive bay; currently nothing more than a gaping hole. Again the eject button for this is aluminium and clearly marked. Below is the iMON LCD area, complete with fan control facilitated by the four buttons.
The lower area of the front of the case is a drop down door, much like you might find on some DVD's, VCR's or other A/V gear. This drop down door is held in place (rather aggressively I might add) by a series of small magnets; I like that more than one magnet is used here simply because if one fails for any unforeseen reason there is another to keep the door in the upright position. To drop the door down, both ends of the door to the left and right feature a recessed finger area to pull the door down. Inside and below the optical drive bay area is a hidden a bonus; an 8in1 multi card reader. This card reader features 4 slots for the differing formats and also has power and activity lights to the left hand side. At the left of the case, below the power and reset buttons, are standard USB2.0, Firewire and MIC/Headphone jacks.
The top of the case is solid and uneventful but both the left and right hand sides have vertical air vents. To remove the case top, 2 screws on each side must be removed, and then the case top slides backwards and up to reveal the interior. The rear is a somewhat familiar sight that you might see on any ATX case; a PSU area, an 80mm fan and grill, I/O Panel and PCI slots. Note that the rear fan is included, and has a proper stainless steel grill. A 92mm or 120mm fan would have been nice, but the dimensions of the case prevent that. Speaking of which, you can also see how 3RSystem manage to get an ATX PSU into the case; they take advantage of the extra room gained by dropping the PSU below the case bottom and into the area of the feet.
The bottom of the case has 3 feet in circular home theater device style, while the 4th 'foot' is in actual fact the base of the PSU area. Also on the bottom of the case, is an 80mm square vent which can be used to mount an 80mm fan.
Moving inside we can see more clearly the PSU area and how it is dropped/recessed into the bottom of the case. We can also see the included rear fan. I would have liked to have seen a second stainless steel grill on the interior, just to be safe.
An overview of the interior shows that there are two mountable ...er ... mounts or bays; one for the 2 hard drives on the right (closest in the picture) and a second to hold the optical drive (furthest in the picture). Both of these mounts are held in place by 4 screws, allowing you to remove the mounts to install hardware before putting them back into the case. You can also see behind each the electronics for the power button, USB/Firewire/Front Audio, Card reader and iMON LCD. Note also that the optical drive mount has underneath a possible third area for mounting a Hard drive; it isn't a real mount by any means as no provision for fixing a drive is there (you simply get the lips to hold a drive), however should you require more hard drive space then this is certainly a consideration.
When you first open the case, a brown cardboard box is taped into the optical drive bay and contains the extra items. Inside we find an iMON Pad IR Remote Control (2x AAA batteries included), a 1 sheet installation guide*, some zip ties and sticky back twist cable holders, a software CD, replacement foam strips for the 4th 'foot' on the bottom of the case, a 2 pin MB Power lead and a PC Speaker/buzzer. The other included item is the aluminium, DVD branded optical drive tray front replacement. This simply replaces the current tray front by sticking onto the tray.
*the one included with mine was in Korean (I believe), however for download in english if the pictures are not self-explanatory enough. You shouldn't have the same issue as me however, as the inclusion of a non-english manual was a simple oversight in this case related to sending me a sample from Korea.
I'll get back to the remote in a little while but for now let's continue our tour of the interior. The cabling for the 3RSystem M-Station HT-1000 comes bundled with elastic bands and is quite a hefty amount. We have cables for power, for fan control (three of), motherboard systems, front panel audio, USB and Firewire and temperature, as well the expected system cabling. Incidentally, the ATX power lead pass-through (to allow for the iMON LCD to power up the system) is of the 20+4 pin variety, allowing for both 20pin and 24pin motherboard setups.
The temperature probe takes a departure from the majority of probes found in cases in that rather than being a flat probe, this is a solid orb type probe. One nice touch here is that 3RSystem have included a USB interior pin adapter to standard USB adapter. What this means is that you can install the iMON LCD directly onto 4 internal pins provided by your motherboard or if none are available you can use the standard USB ports on the rear. With the ATX compatibility, 20 and 24 pin motherboard compatibility, and now this twin USB solution, you should find the case to be highly versatile and compatible with both old and new hardware while still allowing access to all the case features.
The motherboard mounts are matching silver and bolted directly to the case bottom. You are then supposed to screw in the standard motherboard mounts (included) to these.