Which case should you choose?
This is the basic question, because everything will depend on it, especially the appearance, because HTPC is to be equipment in the living room, next to home cinema. Equally important will be the opportunities it has to give us. The last thing is the budget, some HTPC cases can cost a lot of money. You can also make a case to order according to your own design. It will also not be the cheapest option, besides, when we undertake something for the first time, the effect may not come out as we expect.
The most important thing is to answer the question what we need. Whether a small case that will fit a mITX motherboard, pico power supply and small 2.5 ” HDD/SSD or maybe we need a big case for an ATX format board that will fit a full-size graphics card, optical drive, several 3.5″ HDDs and a power supply ATX.
The second question is whether a sheet metal housing is enough for us, whether it is to be made of aluminum or maybe with passive cooling. Good aluminum housings are manufactured by Streacom. Their cases have passive cooling with heat pipes (heatpipes) that transfer heat to the side wall of the casing made of ribbed aluminum, which increases the heat dissipation surface.
If we intend to use an energy-efficient processor with TDP 35W and 65W, in my opinion, there is no need to invest in an expensive passive housing made of aluminum. Such processors when at rest and under low load such as watching video do not generate too much noise, being almost inaudible.
There are also cases with LCD displays, including touch screens, allowing you to control the functions of the equipment without the participation of the TV. An example of such a housing is e.g. thermaltake DH202, unfortunately not available for sale anymore.
We’ll do a small review and recommend several housing models for each segment, so that everyone can choose a model for themselves, or at least know what to look for. I divided the segments due to the size of the motherboards that can use.
1. The lightest weight. Raspberry Pi and equivalents
Starting with the smallest midget. Raspberry Pi and similar counterparts in the form of e.g. Banana Pi and others. For such microcomputers, we can also put on a casing and such a computer can also be used as a movie player at the lowest cost. Such a computer, however, has no sata connectors and you need to use an external data storage in the form of a NAS or USB disk.
2. Intel NUC
We are still in the minicomputer segment, but Intel NUC systems or 10×10 cm motherboards with an integrated processor and graphics card. The processor can be e.g. core i3 with integrated Intel HD graphics card.
Akasa offers such cases and they and they are completely passively cooled.
3. Segment Mini ITX
This is a segment of small cases, usually up to 250×250, which can accommodate a mITX standard board and a disk or two hard disks. The selection will be really big in this segment. We can find passive aluminum as well as standard steel sheet enclosures. If we install the motherboard integrated with the processor and passive cooling, we do not need an aluminum case. Aluminum passive casings have limited heat dissipation, usually up to TDP 35W or 65W. With such a processor, e.g. intel pentium or core i3, even when installing the processor in a steel housing with factory cooling, we should not feel noise and in most applications it should be quiet.
The FC8 case is the bigger brother of the FC1 Evo. It allows mounting more disks and has a passive cooling processor.
Akasa also offers passive enclosures in the mITX segment, models Euler MX and M.
Interesting solutions can also be found among traditional steel cases. Quite a new trend are Cube cases. Can be mounted on them a mITX board, but you can often install a dual-slot graphics card and ATX power supply. An example of such a case, for example, Cooler Master ELITE 110
Nice look case is the Nanoxia Project S Mini. It has 500 mm wide, but it will only fit mini ITX format boards, but it is possible to install a two-slot graphics card, ATX power supply and several disks.
4. The borderland of Mini ITX and mATX
The next segment is actually the borderline between the mini ITX and micro ATX segments. Such cases fit mITX boards and mATX boards with smaller dimensions, e.g. 185×226. Traditional 244×244 mATX boards will not fit here. Examples are Kolink Satellite and Satellite plus cases. They fit 185×226 mATX boards and cost less than 50$. They also fit a two-slot graphics card, and its length depends on the length of the power supply.
The Actina AVANCE L8 is an interesting and inexpensive case. I currently have this case myself because of the dimensions.
5. Micro ATX segment
As the name suggests, these are cases for mATX motherboard.
An example of such a nice and interesting case for HTPC is the Streacom proposition in the form of the FC9 Alpha model. The case allows installation of a mATX board, optical drive and several HDD / SSD disks. Due to the height of the expansion cards must be low profile.
6. ATX segment
The largest cases that can fit “full” motherboards in ATX format. The offer includes models with LCD display, passive cases made of aluminum as well as with tempered glass panels.
Nanoxia is a case with a top panel made of tempered glass that allows you to show the beautiful interior of our computer. Due to the large dimensions, it will allow freedom in the choice of components.
FC10 ALPHA from streacom is a passive case that allows passively cool processors up to TDP 65W, and in favorable conditions even 95W. This means that we can passively cool even the Intel Core i9 9900 processor. You can install an optical drive, several HDD / SDD disks and expansion cards.
The CW03 model from Silverstone is already a very large case that can accommodate all standard PC components. This model is also equipped with an LCD display. it is quite an expensive housing and is difficult to access.
An example of an absolutely top HTPC case model is Origen AE S21T. It is an aluminum case with a 12 “Full HD touch screen. It fit motherboards up to the ATX standard and can accommodate up to 10 3.5” drives. The case is already difficult to access and its price is very high, around 1000$
7. Own project
The solution for high prices of some cases is own design and implementation. Unfortunately, this is not so easy and the effects may not be as spectacular as professional companies. You can make a design and outsource the housing or its components to an external company. .
Still another solution is to use the case after an old DVD / blu-ray player or receiver.
The article was intended to give a brief overview of the cases market and show what to follow and what to look for. Cases Thermaltake and Origen are currently unavailable. You can easily buy Streacom products for these, but they are not cheap. Not everyone needs an aluminum casing, and a steel casing with plastic elements will also look good and will not drain our pockets.