HTPC Hardware

Sep 06 2012

News - Antec ISK 110 VESA Case Reviewed

Antec ISK 110 VESAIf your only requirement of an HTPC is that it be as small as possible, then it might be time to take a look at the Antec ISK 110 VESA case. The ISK 110 VESA takes the Mini-ITX platform about as small as it can go and still remain a complete enclosure. There is room for a Mini-ITX motherboard and a couple of 2.5" hard drives, and heaven help you if your CPU cooler is taller than the motherboard backplate once mounted. The result is a case that not only has a small footprint, but as the name implies, can be mounted to the back of a TV or monitor using the supplied VESA mounting brackets. Selecting components for a case this small does mean paying close attention to the thermal characteristics of the components. There is little to no room for active cooling and heat issues can quickly become exacerbated if mounted behind a TV that generates a fair amount of heat.

This case is about as small as it gets, and includes the necessary hardware to actually mount it to the back of a monitor. Antec has trimmed about as much fat as you could conceivably hope to trim; there's enough room for a Mini-ITX board, two 2.5" drives, and that's it. It includes an external 90-watt power supply and just enough internal power circuitry to drive low-to-moderate power hardware. 


Sep 03 2012

News - ASRock Z77E-ITX Mini-ITX Motherboard Reviewed

The Mini-ITX hits just keep on coming. With the diminutive platform becoming increasingly popular with the DIY crowd,  we are seeing more manufacturers offering a greater variety of motherboards and more sites running reviews of those offerings. In this case, the ASRock Z77E-ITX is on the review table. As the name implies, the Z77E-ITX is a Mini-ITX board based on the Intel Z77 chipset, which means it comes packing a PCI Express 3.0 slot, onboard USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gbps ports, and support for not only Ivy Bridge, but also support for K-series unlocked processors. ASRock also throws in extra USB 3.0 ports on the rear panel, full-size DIMM slots, and a WLAN card in the mini-PCI Express slot with antenna connectors on the rear panel. The Z77 chipset is aimed at the enthusiast segment of the market and most HTPC builders are probably fine settling for a board based on the H77, but it is still refreshing to see so many manufacturers opting to use the Z77 given the chilly reception that the Z67 chipset received for Mini-ITX. 


Small form factor PC's seem to be growing in popularity since you can run all of the latest gear. Today we are going to look at our first Intel Z77 mini-ITX motherboard to come across my bench. The ASRock Z77E-ITX is, as the name suggests an Intel Z77 motherboard which supports the latest Intel 22nm 'Ivy Bridge' processors in the LGA1155 package. The key feature to the ASRock Z77E-ITX is clearly the mini-ITX small form factor. 

Legit Reviews

Aug 29 2012

News - MSI and Gigabyte Unveil New Mini-ITX Motherboards

We are currently about halfway through the release cycle of the most recent Intel processor family. Ivy Bridge has now been with us for several months and we are still several months from the release of Haswell, Ivy Bridge's successor. For processor afficionados, these might be the doldrums, but for anyone looking to go Mini-ITX for a new HTPC or home server build, MSI and Gigabyte might have what you need to spark a bit of excitement. MSI has announced the Z77IA-E53, a new high-end Mini-ITX board based on the Intel Z77 chipset. The Z77IA-E53 is overclocking-friendly for those so inclined and packs the usual accoutrements such as a PCI-Express 3.0 x16 slot and 4 SATA ports, but it also comes with a mini-PCI-Express slot and a Wi-Fi/Bluetooth dongle.

The rest of the features include single PCI-Express 3.0 x16 slot, one mini PCI-Express slot, two DDR3 DIMM slots with support for up to 16GB of DDR3-1600 (2600 OC) memory, two SATA 6Gbps and two SATA 3Gbps ports, eSATA port, four USB 3.0 ports (two via header), six USB 2.0 ports, integrated 7.1-channel audio, HDMI and D-Sub outputs, Gigabit Ethernet, integrated (via dongle) 802.11bgn WiFi and Bluetooth 3.0.


Gigabyte H77N-WiFi

Gigabyte is also showing the Z77 chipset some Mini-ITX love with the Z77N-WiFi. Gigabyte's take of the Z77 looks to be fairly similr to MSI's, except that rather than provide Wi-Fi and Bluetooth via dongle, Gigabyte has chose to provider an adapter that fits into the board's mini-PCI Express slot with antenna outs on the back panel. HTPC builders will probably be drawn more to the H77N-WiFi, with should provide just about all of the same functionality with its H77 chipset as the Z77N-WiFi, but at lower price and with an S/PDIF output to boot.

With the exception of the name silk-screened on the board, the H77N-WiFi looks all but identical to the Z77N. Although the platform hub hiding under the heatsink is different, you don't lose much with the H77. The lack of support for dual-x8 multi-GPU configurations is moot given the board's single PCIe x16 slot. The H77 offers only limited multiplier control for overclockers, but the cramped nature of Mini-ITX enclosures is far from ideal for pushing clock speeds.


Aug 24 2012

News - Silverstone Sugo SG05 Mini-ITX Case Reviewed

Silverstone SG05

This summer proved exciting for fans of the Mini-ITX form factor with a number of intriguing new cases including the BitFenix Prodigy and the Fractal Design Node 304 grabbing some time in the spotlight. I was also a bit taken with the new Cooler Master Elite 120 as it reminded me of a smaller version of my once-beloved Antec Aria. However, in the midst of these exciting new releases, it can be easy for one to overlook the classics that have withstood the test of time, so it is fantastic to see a site like Anandtech choose to run a review of a Mini-ITX chassis standby like the Silverstone Sugo SG05. The Sugo SG05 has been around for a couple of years, but as they are wont to do, Silverstone has continued to refine the case with new revisions to keep it up-to-date. The SG05 was the first Silverstone case to catch my eye and, along with SG06, remains one of my favorite cube-style designs and it sounds like it Silverstone got a lot more than the look right with the SG05.

Meanwhile, in the background, SilverStone has been campaigning for us to take a look at one of its older cases, the Sugo SG05. They're of the opinion that the SG05 is capable of producing stellar performance while being smaller in volume than the competition. This case has been around for a little while, but was it ahead of its time?


Jul 25 2012

News - Xigmatek Gigas SFF Case Reviewed

Xigmatek Gigas

Xigmatek is a name I have seen associated with power supplies and CPU coolers at various times, but evidently they make a mean small form factor case, as well. Now, to be fair, small is a relative term to apply to the Xigmatek Gigas. As far as SFF cases goes, the Gigas is rather beefy, but with support for Micro-ATX motherboards, 2 5.25" slots, 6 3.5" internal hard drive slots and 2 2.5" internal hard drive slots, there is a whole lot to like for anyone looking to go cube with their next media server build. Just be sure to keep one of your PCI Express slots open. The tricky part will be finding a Micro-ATX or Mini-ITX motherboard that can power all those drives without adding a controller card. The option to mount 4 120mm fans is also a nice touch for those in need of some serious cooling power, though having the front fans mount horizontally and the rear fans mount vertically might be a turn-off for those who prefer a little symmetry in their airflow. 

The Xigmatek Gigas is an all-aluminum Micro-ATX small form factor chassis with a stylish, brushed aluminum finish in either Silver or Black. From the exterior, the Gigas appears deceptively small for a Micro-ATX case. Inside, the Gigas packs many unique and industry leading performance features.


Jul 06 2012

News - Cooler Master Announces Elite 120 Advanced Mini-ITX Case

Cooler Master Elite 120 Advanced

Cooler Master has announced the Elite 120 Advanced Mini-ITX case, joining BitFenix and Fractal Design in pushing new designs geared not just at SFF and HTPC enthusiasts, but also performance enthusiasts. The Elite 120 Advanced is the latest Mini-ITX case to tout a design intended to house a full-size gaming-grade graphics card without giving up the diminutive footprint that makes mini-ITX so attractive. The new case also includes space for a full-height 5.25 drive, multiple hard drives, and an ATX power supply. Perhaps the most aggressive spec is the price at only $50. It will be interesting to see if this little beast can truly provide the cooling it suggests it can without screaming like a banshee.

The case also supports processor heatsink assemblies measuring up to 2.5 inches (65mm) tall as well as full size ATX power supplies. Despite such cramped quarters, Cooler Master claims the Elite 120 Advanced offers best-in-class cooling, which includes a 120mm front intake, an 80mm x 15mm slim side fan, an optional 120mm x 25mm hard drive fan, as well as perforated side panels for improved ventilation.


Jul 03 2012

News - Shuttle and Asus Offering Cedar Trail-Based Nettops

Intel AtomWhen Intel first announced their Atom line of low power processors way back in 2008, I had visions of tiny, quiet HTPCs sipping power in my home theater stack. Unfortunately, the promise never lived up to expectations and it has been awhile since I seriously considered an Atom processor for my own HTPC, but that hasn't stopped me from hoping that Intel would finally strike the right performance/power balance. The Cedar Trail Atoms that Intel released late last year might just fit the bill, and recent offerings from Shuttle and ASUS are certainly intriguing.

ASUS is pushing the EeeBox EB1030, and from the sounds of things, this little nettop should fulfill the power-sipping part of my dreams with a 1.86 GHz D2550. There is also a slightly more powerful EB1031 sporting the 2.13 GHz D2700, but the EB1033 might be the most interesting option for HTPC aficionados with the addition of an NVIDIA GeForce GT 610M GPU.

We've seen a fair share of space-saving nettops pass through our very own crowded halls, so what's one more to add to the list? Especially when it's one being flaunted as the most eco-friendly, energy-efficient PC. That's exactly what ASUS thinks of its EeeBox EB1030, which aside from sporting a relatively minimalist design (as is usually the case with nettops), it's also boasting Intel's latest batch of Cedar Trail CPUs.


Shuttle is also utilizing Cedar Trail to build on its small form factor roots with the XS35V3 and XS35GTA V3 barebones nettops. Both systems opt for the higher-end D2700, but the GTA version adds on a Radeon HD 7410M GPU. While the ASUS systems offer a variety of configurations for storage options, by going the barebones route, Shuttle is offering the ultimate in customizability, not to mention the option of an optical disc drive for those who still like their media on disc.

 The XS35V3 and XS35GTA V3 have moved on to more contemporary Cedar Trail-era, 2.13GHz Atom D2700 processors that keep the power draw to a fanless 27W, even when everything is churning at full bore. That limit might get tested with the GTA variant, which brings in Radeon HD 7410M graphics for a lift to 3D performance, but neither mini desktop will exactly make the power company beg for mercy.


Jun 26 2012

News - SilverStone Crown Series CW02 HTPC Case Reviewed

SilverStone Crown Series CW02

Few companies offer as wide an array of HTPC cases as SilverStone. With their Crown line of HTPC cases, SilverStone tends to take an "everything but the kitchen sink" approach to design, resulting in some their most feature-rich and versatile cases. The CW02 is a prime example of this design philosophy. The voluminous ATX case serves up a concealed 52-in-1 card reader, a 5.25 inch drive bay, six 3.5 inch hard drive bays and space for multiple high-end video cards. Even with two control knobs flanking an LCD control panel to assist the CW02 in blending into your home theater stack, this large case is going to dwarf many audio receivers. The CW02 might not be the right case for those looking to build an inconspicuous HTPC, but for those looking to build a high-end living room gaming PC or media server, the CW02 appears to have a lot to offer.

The SilverStone Crown Series CW02 is a very impressive HTPC enclosure with a significant WOW factor that is sure to be a show piece in any high-end AV equipment stack. The CW02 is a large HTPC enclosure and is taller than most, which allows installing multiple high-end graphics adapters, a large power supply, and up to six internal 3.5" storage devices. This provides phenomenal storage capacity for all your favorite music, photos, and movies.

PC Perspective

Jun 21 2012

News - Microsoft Drops Certification for TV Tuner and WMC Remote Control and Receiver Hardware

As if Microsoft hadn't already made it clear enough that they don't have any interest in developing Windows Media Center further, along comes word that Microsoft has discontinued one more avenue of WMC support. Microsoft has been updating the Windows Hardware Certification Kit ahead of the release of Windows 8 and in the latest Windows Logo Newsletter Microsoft has announced that they have retired the TV Tuner and Windows Media Center Remote Control and Receiver hardware certification tests from the Windows HCK. From the sounds of things, manufacturers can still certify tv tuners and remote controls as class devices, but there's no more separate category or direct WMC connection.

If you needed another sign that Microsoft has all but abandoned Windows Media Center then there is the news that Microsoft have updated the Windows Hardware Certification kit and retired the TV Tuner and Windows Media Center Remove Control tests. 

The Digital Lifestyle

Jun 08 2012

News - Fractal Design Introduces Node Family of Cases

The list of intriguing new Mini-ITX cases just keeps on growing, this time with the announcement of the Fractal Design Node family of cases at Computex. Representing Mini-ITX will be the Node 304. The Node 304 is a relatively petite cube-style small form factor case capable of housing six hard drives, making it an exciting option for HTPC or home server builds. The case is made even more versatile by offering an option to leave out one of the two-drive cages to allow room for double-wide graphics cards up to 12.2" long. Fractal Design's other new case is the Node 605, a more traditional HTPC case designed to blend in with standard home theater electronics, similar to the nMEDIA HTPC 7000B or the SilverStone Grandia GD06. The Fractal Design Node 605 will accommodate full ATX motherboards, and although it only has space for four hards drives, it does offer a slot for a slim-line optical disc drive. We've seen a lot to like from Fractal Design in the past, so hopefully the new Node cases will continue that trend.

Fractal Desing Node 304

The Node 304 is the more affordable of the two, with a suggested retail price of just $90. It's designed to house Mini-ITX systems with double-wide graphics cards up to 12.2" long. Squeezing in a card that long will require removing one of the three hanging drive cages. Each cage can accommodate two 3.5" or 2.5" drives, so there's plenty of storage capacity to go around. You'll have to make do without an optical drive, though.


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