HTPC Hardware

Jun 05 2012

News - BitFenix Prodigy Mini-ITX Case Reviewed

Mini-ITX always seems to be right on the cusp of bursting into the mainstream. Low-power and cool running processors abound and many of the major manufacturers are offering compelling mini-ITX motherboards, but for those of us that like to roll our own systems, the biggest challenge in selecting components for a mini-ITX build is often in selecting the right case. Mini-ITX cases tend be studies in trade=offs. Go too small and give up too much choice in expandability and drive slots, but go big and give up the space-saving advantage of the form factor; not to mention that mini-ITX cases often seem to be grouped into just two groups: cheap but low-quality or high-quality but expensive. However, we might finally be seeing some manufacturers finding that "just-right" sweet spot. The SilverStone FT03 Mini is certainly one contender, and now comes the BitFenix Prodigy. There might still be some rought edges, but it sound like the Prodigy may just be the Goldilocks mini-ITX case, offering configurations that allow it to serve in home server, HTPC, or gaming desktop roles all without breaking the bank.

BirFenix Prodigy

There's also been a slow trickle of new mini-ITX enclosures designed to support that kind of hardware, but even these enclosures have had their limits unless you were willing to spend through the nose on a Lian Li case. That changes today with the BitFenix Prodigy, a $79, full-frills mini-ITX enclosure designed for maximum performance in minimum space. If you're looking to build a powerful mini-ITX system with a single graphics card, this may very well be the case you've been waiting for.


May 28 2012

News - SilverStone FT03 Mini PC Case Reviewed

SilverStone FT03 Mini

Every so often, a case manufacturer decides to try to break the mold and release something new and different. Such efforts tend to result in, at best, niche products, but occasionally the result is so eye-catching, that I can't help but root for it. SilverStone's FT03 was one such case. The first time I saw a picture of the FT03 in all it's monolithic glory, I was smitten. Well, SilverStone is back at it and have followed up on the FT03 with a pint-sized version for Mini-ITX motherboards. The FT03 Mini is tall for a Mini-ITX case, but retains the striking profile of its big brother and is evidently is even easier to work in and offers superior cooling capabilities. I'm still not completely sold on the top-mounted USB ports, but otherwise it might make a fine HTPC case for those who like to build HTPC systems with a distinctive flair.

The FT03 Mini is the FT03 condensed further still, swapping out Micro-ATX for Mini-ITX and requiring an SFX form factor power supply in the process. Users who didn't care for the look of the FT03 aren't going to find anything new here, but people who dug on the FT03 are bound to find a lot to like.


Apr 13 2012

News - Passive Power Supply Roundup

SeaSonic X Fanless

Few things can take the shine off a new HTPC faster than a noisy fan, and few components are more likely to be the source of that noisy fan than the power supply. There are many ways to hide the sound of a CPU cooler and eliminate case fans, but for most folks, there is little remedy for a PSU with a buzzy fan. This is where passive power supplies come in. Choose a power supply without a fan and you are one step closer to a silent PC, but given how few passive PSUs there are on the market at a given time and that passive PSUs tend to be rather expensive, how to choose? A noisy PSU is bad enough, but a poorly built passive PSU zapping your precious components is even worse. How fortunate then that our friends at X-bit Labs have put together a roundup of some the best passive PSUs available today. They don't include my personal favorite, the SeaSonic SS-400FL, but they do have its big brother and three other top-notch contenders.

I am sure that anyone would love to have a quiet power supply unit in their system. The products addressing these wishes are the fanless PSU models, which have no noise-making components by definition. Today we are going to talk about four products like that from Enhance, Kingwin, Seasonic and Silverstone.

X-bit Labs


Apr 13 2012

News - ZOTAC ZBOX Nano XS AD11 Plus Now Shipping, Already Reviewed

ZBOX Nano AD11

At Cebit this year, ZOTAC unveiled three new ZBOX mini-PCs. At the show, ZOTAC was also showing off a prototype motherboard for a new generation of ZBOX machines, a motherboard that was only a fraction the size of a mini-ITX board and even smaller than VIA's pico-ITX standard. It merited little more than a blurb in the Cebit write-ups that mentioned it at all, and I honestly didn't expect to see anything come of it for a good long while. Evidently a month is a good long while in the tech industry these days because ZOTAC has announced the launch of the ZOTAC ZBOX Nano XS AD11 Plus, a particularly petite version of the company's mini-PCs, and Anandtech has already had the opportunity to kick its teeny-weeny tires. Like ZOTAC's other ZBOX mini-PCs, the AD11 is targeted at HTPC aficionados, but unlike the other ZBOX mini-PCs, the AD11 will only be available in a completely assembled "Plus" version. No barebones option for the AD11 will be available because the custom-sized internals are not appropriate for user upgrades. In fact, the AMD E-450 based system is so small that it cannot even accommodate a 2.5" hard drive, opting for a 64GB mSATA SSD instead. The AD11 is not quite as small as the Apple TV or Roku 2, but it is getting close. Unfortunately, the AD11 is also going to be quite a bit more expensive, so it is rather disappointing to see the AD11 struggling with some streaming playback.

Today, Zotac is launching their AMD E-450 based custom sized solution, the ZBOX Nano XS AD11 Plus. The motherboard of the unit measures 10 cm x 10 cm, which is smaller than the nano-ITX (12 cm x 12 cm) and just slightly bigger than the pico-ITX form factor (10 cm x 7.2 cm). The system comes in at 10.6 cm x 10.6 cm x 3.7 cm, and is definitely one of the smallest machines we have reviewed.


Apr 08 2012

News - ZOTAC ZBOX Blu-ray AD05 Plus Reviewed

I recently had a Blu-ray player die right in the middle of family movie marathon night, leaving me wishing that my HTPC was equipped to take its place. An HTPC like the ZOTAC ZBOX Blu-ray AD05 Plus would have come in mighty handy. The AD05 is the latest in ZOTAC's line of Blu-ray equipped mini-PCs. The base model is a barebones system equipped with an AMD E-450 with its integrated Radeon HD 6320 GPU, but the plus model is a complete system with 2GB of RAM and a 320GB hard drive. Both versions include a remote control and IR sensor, as well as a VESA mount for installing the system to the back of a TV. Just add your own OS and the result would certainly be better than the replacement Blu-ray player I ended up with.


Starting with the build quality of the ZBOX AD05 Plus we have a unit which feels sturdy in the hands thanks to parts which fit well together, thick rigid plastic and a nice brushed metal finish. The overall design is also nice with the system looking like it would fit into most home theatre environments. It certainly looks like a Blu-ray player more than a PC.

Hardware Heaven

Mar 20 2012

News - Seagate Demonstrates 1 Terabit per Square Inch Hard Drive Technology

March seems to be turning into the month for hard drive technology announcements. Last year, Samsung was showing off the first 4TB hard drives. This year, Seagate is showing off the technology that they expect to take hard drives up as high as 60TB. That technology is Heat-Assisted Magnetic Recording (HAMR), a system that uses lasers to flip the bits on a hard drive and is poised to replace Perpendicular Magnetic Recording (PMR), the technology behind current hard drives. For PMR, 1Tb per square inch is the theoretical limit which would leave hard drives topping out at about 6TB. For HAMR, 1Tb per square inch should be just the beginning with headroom for 5-10 times greater areal density in the future. Seagate's tech demo may not have come with any timelines, but Seagate and the other hard drive manufacturers working on HAMR were shooting for 2015 at Diskcon last year, with 2013 maybe being eyed for lower areal density drives to test deployments. I know most of us will be pretty wary of those early drives, but it is exciting to think that expanding hard drive capacities might become a more frequent part of the news cycle once again and give me an excuse to free up some drive bays in the home server.


The press release provides few details on the specifics of the implementation, but HAMR is something Seagate has been working on since at least 2006. Although there's no timeline for when the technology will be ready for mass consumption, the perpendicular recording technology currently used by hard drive makers is expected to run out of steam near the 1Tb/in² threshold.

Tech Report

Mar 12 2012

News - ZOTAC Announces New ZBOX PCs at Cebit 2012

Cebit is usually one of my favorite tech trade shows. CES may be fun, but shows like Computex and Cebit are when the real hardware is unveiled. Unfortunately, between the Windows 8 Consumer Preview release and the new iPad announcement, this year's Cebit kind of fell through the cracks for me. It's unfortunate too, because there was some neat stuff on display such as AFOX's single-slot 7850 graphics card or the ROCCAT Power-Grid app. On the HTPC front, ZOTAC announced some new entries into their line-up of ZBOX mini PCs. At the high-end is the new ZBOX ID82 sporting a Core i3 2330M processor. Intel also gets its first opportunity to provide a processor in the extra tiny ZBOX nano line with the Celeron 867-packing ID61. Finally, ZOTAC also announced the ZBOX Blu-Ray AD05 based on AMD's E-450 processor. As usual, all three new ZBOXs are available in a standard barebones and in a Plus version with preinstalled memory and hard drive.

Zotac AD05 Plus

 ZOTAC International, a global innovator of graphics cards, mainboards and mini-PCs, today starts CeBIT 2012 with three new mini-PCs in standard, nano and Blu-ray form factors. The new ZBOX ID82, ZBOX nano ID61 and ZBOX Blu-ray AD05 series mini-PCs are perfect matches for users seeking a powerful tower PC replacement, home theater PC or energy-efficient PC.


Mar 11 2012

News - ZOTAC ZBOX ID80 Plus Reviewed

ZOTAC kicked the new year off at CES with the announcement that would be unleashing a new line of ZBOX mini PCs in both AMD and Intel flavors. We've seen a review of the AMD E-450-based AD04, but if Intel Atoms are more your speed, then the ID80 may be worth considering. Under normal circumstances, an Atom-based system would be hard-pressed to keep up with a Fusion-based system for HTPC duties, but the ID80 has a trick up its sleeve. The ZBOX ID80 comes equipped with a 2.18 GHz Intel Atom D2700 processor paired with an NVIDIA GT 520M GPU. That Nvidia GPU means the ID80 should offer considerably better performance where it counts for HTPC fans. The ZBOX ID80 Plus is a pre-assembled version of ZOTAC's systems, and comes equipped with 2GB of memory and a 320 Gb hard drive, but Zotac also offers a barebones, non-Plus version for those who want to bring their own memory and storage.


The Zotac ZBOX ID80 Plus Mini PC is an energy efficient system utilizing the latest Intel Atom D2700 processor with an NVIDIA GT 520M GPU. The Zotac ZBOX ID80 Plus Mini PC also comes with a 2GB DDR3-1066 SO-DIMM memory module, as well as a 320GB 5400rpm HDD, requiring an OS installation to be functional right out of the box. For display connectivity, the Zotac ZBOX ID80 Plus MiniPC has a dual-link DVI and an HDMI 1.4 port so you can connect it to your HDTV or 3DTV.

HiTech Legion

Feb 24 2012

News - VIA QuadCore EPIA-M900 Mini-ITX: Announced and Hands-On


VIA has announced a pair of new mini-ITX boards, the EPIA-M900 and EPIA-M910, aimed at digital signage and consumer media applications. The new boards can be outfitted with the VIA Nano X2 processor, but are also the first to support VIA's QuadCore processors. Both boards pair the processor with the VX900 chipset that we most recently saw VIA using on their Nano X2-powered VE-900 boards.

Remember the QuadCore CPU Via introduced last spring? We've been waiting for the chip to pop up in actual products, and now it has. Via's new EPIA-M900 and EPIA-M910 Mini-ITX boards are available with the quad-core CPU.

Tech Report

The VIA QuadCore comes in three different speed points. At the high-end is the L4800E running at a base clock speed of 1.46GHz, while at the low-end VIA offers the U4650E with a base clock speed of 1.0GHz. Sitting right in the middle is the L4700E which our friends at VR-Zone got to spend some time with on one of the new EPIA-M900 boards. There does seem to be promise here, but like most of VIA's recent offerings, I suspect the QuadCore processor and the new EPIA motherboards don't offer quite enough performance for most living room HTPCs.

The EPIA-M900 can also be equipped with an S3 graphics card as per the one we were demoed and this allows for up to four 1080p displays to be connected. The system could even handle four 1080p video streams simultaneously, although this did slow down the system to a crawl, but at least the videos appeared to play just fine without any stuttering.


Feb 18 2012

News - J&W Announces New Cedar Trail Motherboards, Barebones

J&W's MINIX line of mini-ITX motherboards have consistently targeted the higher end of the market with unique features and a focus on quality components. My first experience with their boards was the fantastic MINIX 780G-SP128MB, a mini-ITX gem that made its way into several HTPC and home server builds I assisted with. J&W looks set to continue the trend of quality craftsmanship with the release of the MINIX D2700-DC and MINIX D2500-DC. Both Cedar Trail-based boards will be passively cooled, include USB 3.0, and feature all-solid capacitor designs. J&W is also prepping a barebones kit based on the new boards. No word on pricing or specific release dates just yet, but evidently the D2700-DC is expected out first. Atom processors may not be as popular for HTPC builds as they once were, but J&W's new boards may be worth a look for those interested in going low-powered and silent.


Luckily, J&W spared no expense and both boards feature an all-solid capacitor design, with two USB 3.0 ports courtesy of a Renesas controllers and HDMI. They also feature 5.1 audio, VGA, Broadcom dual-gigabit LAN, one PCIe x1 slot and two DDR3 SO-DIMM sockets for up to 8GB of DDR3 1066, although Intel only recommends 4GB.


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