Streacom FC5 Silent HTPC Chassis

Dec 26 2011

The quest for the silent home theater computer (HTPC) is one that almost all enthusiasts have faced and either given up or achieved at some point in their life. The quest for the perfectly silent computer has gone in circles from acoustic dampening the case, to spinning down processor fans, to even using slower hard drives because the decreased speed caused less noise. We’ve come a long way since then, with more capable CPUs with lower thermal demands, CPU heatsink and fans (HSF) becoming significantly quieter and the growth of affordable solid state drives. Streacom has developed a series of chassis with this particular type of consumer in mind--one that fits appropriately in your AV component stack without it sacrificing acoustic levels. The Streacom FC5 hopes to achieve the goal of a silent HTPC with the usage of heat pipe cooling for the CPU instead of an actively cooled option.
SPECIFICATIONS

Before we begin, let’s take a look at the specifications and requirements for using this case. As you might expect, with the heat pipes placed from the right side of the chassis directly across to the CPU, there is a limited number of motherboards that are supported by the Streacom FC5 chassis. There are several different mounting plates available to help which we’ll explain later.
Construction 
Type:Super Low Profile Fanless Chassis
Chassis Material:100% Aluminum
Dimensions:435mm x 325mm x 60mm (L x W x H )
Weight:5.2 Kg
Color:Black or Silver
Motherboard Compatibility:mini-ITX/micro-ATX
Cooling SystemSix heatpipe passive fanless heatsink System for LGA775/LGA1156/AM2/AM3 Socket CPU**For AM2/AM3 socket use four heatpipes.
ExpansionInternal 3.5″/2.5″ Drive Bays 3x 2.5″ HDD bay/ 2 x3.5″ HDD bay
Expansion Slots 1 Full Height Single Slot PCI/PCIE Card (Riser Required)
Internal MCE IR Receiver Supported

THE CASE

The chassis arrived in an outer brown box, and inside was a sleek black box from Streacom, both boxes showed no sign of damage from shipment. Inside everything was packaged very professionally, with Styrofoam enclosing the borders of the case, and an inner “Accessories” box holding the additional screws and manual. A full user manual was not included, is definitely necessary, and is available online at www.perfecthometheater.com.
 
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The Streacom FC5 chassis is made up entirely of aluminum, making it a very light chassis even with all of the heat pipes and metal around those components. The unit we received from Perfect Home Theater already had the heatpipes installed and connected to the right of the chassis, which was a pleasant surprise and saved a fair amount of steps in the build process. There were also Styrofoam pads underneath the heatsink to ensure there was no damage during the delivery process.

As with most chassis of this nature, it had four feet on the bottom, and also vents on the top lid directly above the CPU to assist with convection cooling. On the rear of the unit there is one add-on slot for an expansion card if one was desired, but will require the use of a riser card to seat it horizontally. There is also a hole in the rear for the internal power supply connector to conveniently be connected to its external power supply. Unfortunately, the internal PSU tested had the connector cord about one inch too short, so it did not reach. Keep that in mind as you are planning your components for the build.

THE BUILD

Here is the system hardware we used for our build.

 

MotherboardMSI H61I-E35 Mini-ITX
CPUIntel Core i5-2500T
CPU Coolern/a
MemoryG.Skill 2x2GB DDR3-1600
GPUn/a
Hard Drive / Solid State Drive1 x Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 1TB SATA
Optical DriveOptiarc BC-5600S Blu-ray Slot Load
Power SupplyInternal 80W PSU
Operating SystemWindows 7 Ultimate 64-bit

As with any build in an unconventional chassis with unique features such as passive cooling, you have to anticipate a learning curve and some extra effort in getting things to just the way they should be. The biggest challenge with a case like this, as was implied previously, is in the selection of motherboard--choose the wrong one, and you will have to stop your build before it even begins. Be sure to pay close attention to memory and capacitor locations, as those components must not be too tall to the right of the CPU or they will interfere with the heat pipes.
 

Since the Streacom FC5 arrived with the heatsink pre-assembled, the pipes needed to be loosened up a bit to properly adjust it over the motherboard. At that time it was found that the mounting brackets which screw down to the board were the incorrect version, so we had to remove the entire heatsink and swap them out. The FC5 comes with support for both AM2 and Intel processors, so no need to delay the build on this account. With everything situated and aligned the brackets simply need to be screwed down onto the board (using the back connectors you place underneath). It became concerning that the screws may be too tight, as there was seemingly no guide, spacers or limit to control their placement. This was most likely due to Streacom wanting to ensure they supported as many motherboards as possible, but still be careful things aren’t connected too tightly.

With the hard part out of the way, the remainder of the build is seemingly very traditional. Remove the optical tray to install a disc drive if you feel so inclined--we say this knowing that some of you would opt for the non-optical disc version since this would be a fantastic bedroom client due to the noise benefits. The internal PSU is standard installation, and was nice having so much space to work with inside the Streacom to route the cables. There were three connectors coming from the front--the front panel power switch, power LED and then the internal IR receiver (RC260), an optional component but one that was included with our review unit. This receiver is upgraded from the version found in other chassis and includes support for the standard Media Center remotes as well, which is a great convenience factor if you're not a fan of the included remote's form factor. 
 
There is a blue LED light directly above the power button, and it's at the user's discretion if they choose to connect it or not. Unlike some other chassis lights which are very bright, the FC5's light is one of the dimmest I've seen, and did not bother at all even in a completely dark room.

You may be wondering about the hard drives, which we have saved for last. This case actually can accommodate up to...three hard drives internally! We use the exclamation mark because it has become so customary for chassis of this nature to have minimal space on the number of slots for hard drives, even if we felt there was space for extra. The Streacom FC5 includes screw holes underneath the chassis to save space, and thus can accommodate two 2.5” hard drives and up to one 3.5” hard drive. If completely silent operation is your objective, we would highly recommend the usage of a solid state drive since that would allow for an entirely silent system, but we would forgive you if you had to save a few pennies and use an existing hard drive. Trust us when we say it will be the only thing you hear in the system.

TESTING & PERFORMANCE

With everything built, it was time to test the Streacom FC5 and see if it was up to the task of full time HTPC duties. We installed the standard Windows 7 Ultimate x64 edition on our hard drive and started to closely monitor the temperatures coming from the system. From that point, we wanted to see how bad things could get. With it being winter, it was impossible to simulate a summer heat in Los Angeles, but we did our best to make the testing conditions brutal. Since CPU cooling is of great concern in a chassis with zero active cooling (there’s not even a slot if you were concerned and wanted to accommodate one), it has to not falter.

To maximize the capabilities of the cooling, we setup our test bed with two stress testers whose objective is to max out the components being tested to their maximum threshold to see if the thermal temperatures remain stable. We used Prime95 to stress the CPU, and RTHDRIBL to max out the video card’s capabilities--again, these tests aren’t to test the capabilities of the on-board graphics, but to ensure that the CPU and GPU are both working at their maximum capacities.
 CPUSYSTEM
Idle50C / 120 F66C / 150F
After 5 Mins78C / 172F69C / 156F
After 10 mins77C / 172F72C / 161F
After 2 hours78C / 172F71C / 159F

As shown above, the temperatures are well within the limits of the processor, with quite a lot of room with which to work. Given the lack of any active cooling, this is quite impressive. This particular motherboard even had the option of underclocking the CPU to run a bit slower if you are concerned or desire even lower temperatures, but I found this result more than acceptable.

CONCLUSION

With an MSRP of $350 (on sale at the time of this writing at PHT for $262), the Streacom FC5 is a chassis in a price range reserved for only the most lavish and feature rich cases on the market. Unlike gaming customers, where size, fans and lights are desired by many and increase costs, in a home theater chassis the exact opposite is what you are paying a premium. Such is the case of the FC5, which features the unique heatpipe cooling technology. Previously, chassis such as this would be limited to one or two motherboards, or found only in OEM systems such as the now defunct Niveus Media Rainier (full disclosure, I was the Sr. Product Manager for Niveus Media back in the day). There has always been a reason why these types of heatpipe chassis are extremely limited in the market, as the installation has often been difficult and the risk versus reward of having no active fans in the chassis was never caught valued as much. Cost is the most obvious reason--the heatpipes, the chassis’s aluminum heatfins on both sides (even though only one side actually uses them), and the heatsink for the CPU itself, all with their own material and engineering development expenses, all bring the price up to what we have here, a $350 chassis. But knowing its price and the lack of similar competitive options, we take this at face value for what it is, and accept that the chassis simply works. The heatsinks work wonderfully and even remain relatively cool even after significant stress testing and internal temperature rising.

Streacom has built a solid case in the FC5 with no unnecessary flashy lights or showmanship, and stuck to its sleek and attractive brushed aluminum exterior. While the installation is not simple, it was also not as difficult as anticipated. As noted earlier, there is an upcoming version of the FC5 without the optical drive slot coming soon, available for $25 less.

PROS:
  • 100% silent chassis
  • Gorgeous brushed aluminum
  • Supports both AMD and Intel platforms
  • Built-in IR receiver
  • Expansion capabilities--3 hard drives, 1 add-on card
CONS:
  • Price
  • Advanced installation
  • Limited number of motherboards supported

Thanks to Perfect Home Theater for providing the Streacom review unit, as well as the motherboard and RAM used in this review.

Comments

Thank you for the excellent review.

I built my most recent HTPC using the very similar (though considerably - and disturbingly - more expensive) A-Tech Fabrication HeatSync 2500 chassis. I find the A-Tech to have a more traditional AV component appearance with blue power LED and power button on the left-hand side. I know it's a little thing, but I'm disappointed Streacom chose to place the power button on the right while a significant percentage of AV components sport left-justified power buttons. I'm also baffled by their decision to build a passively cooled chassis that utilizes only half of its cooling potential (only one side is used for cooling; the other for good looks?).

I've built HTPCs with chassis from Ahanix, OrigenAE, SilverStone and A-Tech Fabrication. The passively cooled HTPC that I enjoy today is by far my favorite of the bunch. Like the Streacom, it's a beautiful blend of form, function...& silence!

Thanks for the review. Can you take a look at the HDD and mobo VRM temps (if available)? I'd be concerned about HDD lifetimes if they were constantly subjected to 60-70C.

@Mike Garcen

 

Do you know if the heat pipes would fit the DH61AG ? (I know it's not listed on their compatibility list, just figured I'd ask since you guys review the DH61AG a while back and probably have one.)

Mike actually tried to use the DH61AG and there was a conflict with the heat pipes and that board.

Does anyone know if a Ceton tuner with fit in this case without interfering with the  DVD-ROM ? 

I been interested in this case, if they ever release a version with longer heatpipes to work on hte DH61AG, but if the DVD-ROM interferes with the expansion slot then I need to find a new case to obsess about. It's hard to tell in this pic http://lh6.ggpht.com/-Z5j4jXCgISA/Tuwx_GaNVZI/AAAAAAAAExo/E3c-1foP78Q/s500/IMG_0171.JPG since the DVD-ROM isn't mounted... looks like it will be close if it does fit.

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