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Very Open-Ended Budget HTPC!

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September 30, 2009 5:49:50 PM

After building my new i7 powerhouse and cannibalizing two older computers for WHS, I've turned my sights toward my first HTPC. I've wanted to build one for years, but have never had a nice enough TV to justify it. I just inherited a 42-inch plasma (older, sadly, at only 1080i - but I'll get a new TV eventually), so it's time to begin! I also preordered a spare Windows 7 Home Premium at $50 for this exact project!

I'm having real trouble with some basic questions involving the case, and haven't found a great source for case reviews. I frequent SPCR, Toms, Green Button, Case4HTPC, etc., but none offers a comprehensive side-by-side kind of thing. My biggest questions are, ATX vs. microATX, and full size vs. low-profile. I'd like to spend a decent portion of my budget on the case, since I can always upgrade the internals.

So, here we go. I'm basically looking for you to answer this question: "if you could build your dream HTPC for just a few hundred bucks, how would you do it?"

Budget/Timeline: As low as possible. $600-800? $1000 is too high. I'd like to have it ready to go by the time my Win7 copies get here.

Case: VERY open to suggestions. I like the look of the Luxa2s, I've always been an Antec fan, and I hear good things about Moneual. I don't see the need for an LCD, but whatever. I think an included remote would be a good thing, as I'd like to have the receiver built into the case instead of sitting on top of it. (I've heard good things about iMon?) I need either a built-in card reader or an empty 3.5" bay to add one.

GPU: I put this first, because I'm still debating and open to suggestions. This HTPC will be my primary DVD/Blu-Ray machine, and I'm not sure about the article I read last week on Toms regarding the latest integrated GPU chipsets. Even that article still said an inexpensive discrete GPU would go a long way. I know a discrete GPU also plays into whether I get a full-size or low-profile case. NOT interested in gaming on this machine! It should probably also be noted that my TV has DVI input, but it's pre-HDMI. I'd like an HDMI TV eventually, but there you have it.

Audio: I'm concerned about pure Blu-Ray audio. I'm not an audiophile, but I'll definitely be getting a high-end receiver. I understand that there are currently two discrete cards available that won't downgrade blu-ray audio, as well as the latest GeForce integrated chipset, if I'm not mistaken.

TV card: I have an old Haupppauge that I'll use for now, but I'm excited about the prospect of receiving HD digital cable through a new card in the future via the new CableCard support in Media Center.

CPU/Mobo/RAM: I've thought about getting a three- or four-core AMD, but SPCR builds their HTPCs with a Core 2 Duo. My goal here is as much power I can get balanced against price, heat and noise. Obviously my AMD/Intel choice may also depend on if I choose an integrated GPU. There MUST be a sweet spot for me!

Cooler: Will obviously have to address this later based on CPU and case height.

HDD: I'm not quite sure how things are going to work yet - I'm thinking about DVRing locally and keeping archives, music and pics on the home server. At this point I'm really just wondering how the next version of WHS will integrate with Win7 and Media Center. Either way, I'm thinking about a 1TB or 1.5TB WD Green for now.

Optical Drive: Definitely a Blu-Ray drive that is also a DVD writer. Do brands make a difference here?

PSU: Enough juice for the system, but definitely focused on volume here. Modular would be cool, especially in a small case. Leaning towards Seasonic based on SPCR's rankings.

I know I'm probably missing something important, but this is all I can think of for now! So, what would your dream $600-800 HTPC look like? Thanks!

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September 30, 2009 7:33:20 PM
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drokkon said:
My biggest questions are, ATX vs. microATX, and full size vs. low-profile. I'd like to spend a decent portion of my budget on the case, since I can always upgrade the internals.

So, here we go. I'm basically looking for you to answer this question: "if you could build your dream HTPC for just a few hundred bucks, how would you do it?"
Instead of ATX vs microATX I should think you'd be wanting to look at microATX vs mini-ITX.

What did you think about the SPCR review of the Luxa2 LM100 Mini?
Keep in mind those comments about the screen display. I think its the iMon panel you're curious about.
The Zotac GeForce 9300-ITX board used means you don't need the ASUS Xonar HDAV1.3 HTPC PCI Interface Audio Card which is a boon to your case preferences and budget.

Otherwise why not follow the THG Blu-ray Done Right article.
September 30, 2009 9:45:54 PM

WR2 said:
Instead of ATX vs microATX I should think you'd be wanting to look at microATX vs mini-ITX.

What did you think about the SPCR review of the Luxa2 LM100 Mini?
Keep in mind those comments about the screen display. I think its the iMon panel you're curious about.
The Zotac GeForce 9300-ITX board used means you don't need the ASUS Xonar HDAV1.3 HTPC PCI Interface Audio Card which is a boon to your case preferences and budget.

Otherwise why not follow the THG Blu-ray Done Right article.

Thanks! That SPCR review is what turned me on to the look of Luxa2 products, but it also revealed several shortcomings with that particular Luxa2 case - namely, not being able to cool the northbridge sufficiently without removing the optical drive! I was actually more impressed with the Silverstone and Antec mini-ITX cases, but didn't care for the failure of both to really accomodate 3.5" drives. In any case, the mini-ITX form factor is very nice, but I'm really looking for a case that has a card reader and can accomodate at least one 3.5" HDD (since SSDs and 2.5" HDDs cost so much more).

The little I know about iMon, it looks to be a program that both allows for a remote slightly more versatile than your typical MCE remote and also feeds LCD displays on enclosures - is that a good assesment?

I'd definitely considered the boon of using the GeForce 9300 chipset for the audio reasons, and the THG Blu-Ray article you pointed to is the one I was referring to in my first post. After reading the entire thing for a second time, however, I realize that the 9300 platform is probably my best bet - without it I'd have to buy a mobo, discrete GPU and Xonar (or whatever) all separately!

So, with all that in mind, I'm narrowing down to a GeForce 9300 motherboard in Micro ATX form factor. Paired with the Intel Core 2 Duo E7500 w/ 4GB RAM, 1TB WD Green HDD, and a Blu-Ray drive leaves me at $475! That's a beautiful number, leaving me plenty of room to find a decent case!

So what do you all think of that combination? I'm still looking for recommendations for the case and mobo then:

Motherboard: Can anyone recommend any of these?

Case: Micro ATX form factor, room for at least one optical drive (I can switch to a slimline if necessary), one 3.5" HDD, and either built-in card reader or one external 3.5" bay for a card reader. A bundled remote (MCE or iMon) would be good if the IR receiver were built into the case - otherwise, I'd just use the MCE remote with USB receiver that I already have. Cool and quiet are priorities, quality and price are also important. If it comes with a PSU, great, otherwise I'll have to find one of those too.
After I pick the case, I can decide on a good CPU cooler that will fit it. Then find a nice, compact wireless keyboard, and eventually get a new CableCard TV card when they start coming out and...?
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September 30, 2009 11:22:59 PM

Hey drokkon, welcome to the HTPC crowd.

I like the 9300 build you've put together ^, could save a little by going with the E6500 @ the same 2.93GHz.

Not to add more to the pot, but if you can wait a bit the new 45W Athlon II's are coming out supposedly Oct 22nd. Two of them (600e and 605e) are 45W quad cores, in addition to X2 and X3 models... perfect for HTPC. Though you'd have to switch to a 8200/8300 AMD motherboard to go that route.

Save some room in your budget for good software too such as a full version of TMT3 Platinum or PowerDVD. AnyDVD is a nice one to have as well if you want to rip BD's.

For the case, maybe consider the Moncaso 301 or one of the Antec Fusions that come with a remote?

Be sure to post back with your build progress or any other ???'s
September 30, 2009 11:37:19 PM

drokkon said:
The little I know about iMon, it looks to be a program that both allows for a remote slightly more versatile than your typical MCE remote and also feeds LCD displays on enclosures - is that a good assesment?
You may actually know more about iMon that I do. But I'd guess its a more versatile remote and on TV screen displays - not the tiny washed out LCD. Yes you could use the LCD and leave the TV off but I think thats not how its mostly used. iMon seems to have fallen on hard times recently. I didn't find much in the way of retail supply options to check prices.
For a remote I like the Logitech Harmony 700
Personally, I'd rather work though the menus on the TV then get up and walk to where I can read a tiny LCD.

I like where rwpritchett is going. And I might nudge you even a step further in that direction.
More E7500s will end up in gaming systems than true HTPCs, is my guess. But maybe you're thinking of also making this more of a general purpose computer?
Some CPU alternatives: Celeron E3300 & Pentium E6300/E6500 or the E7200/E7500
Just as an eye opener look at this E3300 review @ XBitLabs

If it were my build I'd rather have the E3300 and Harmony 700 over the E7500 and iMon Pad & iMon software
October 1, 2009 3:02:43 PM

rwpritchett said:
Hey drokkon, welcome to the HTPC crowd.

I like the 9300 build you've put together ^, could save a little by going with the E6500 @ the same 2.93GHz.

Not to add more to the pot, but if you can wait a bit the new 45W Athlon II's are coming out supposedly Oct 22nd. Two of them (600e and 605e) are 45W quad cores, in addition to X2 and X3 models... perfect for HTPC. Though you'd have to switch to a 8200/8300 AMD motherboard to go that route.

Save some room in your budget for good software too such as a full version of TMT3 Platinum or PowerDVD. AnyDVD is a nice one to have as well if you want to rip BD's.

For the case, maybe consider the Moncaso 301 or one of the Antec Fusions that come with a remote?

Be sure to post back with your build progress or any other ???'s

Thanks for the warm welcome! Based on the THG article on integrated HD graphics last week, I think I'm going to stick with the 9300 chipset. But thanks for the heads up and CPU recommendation - it's not often I get people telling me how to spend LESS money on these boards! :)  I'll have a look at the Moncaso, and an Antec is definitely up there on my list. (Plus, the iMon remotes get high marks - do you have any experience with them?)

I'll definitely be back to ask software questions - I plan on using MCE 7 for as much as possible ("wife-friendly," as they say, and I'd like to avoid using the keyboard or mouse for typical entertainment purposes). One quick question though, is how do people back up their DVDs and have them playable through MCE? I suppose I should go ask this over at Green Button, but I thought that I'd ask you quick. I'd really rather spend $150 for a huge hard drive than for a bookcase to hold 350 DVDs!

WR2 said:
You may actually know more about iMon that I do. But I'd guess its a more versatile remote and on TV screen displays - not the tiny washed out LCD. Yes you could use the LCD and leave the TV off but I think thats not how its mostly used. iMon seems to have fallen on hard times recently. I didn't find much in the way of retail supply options to check prices.
For a remote I like the Logitech Harmony 700
Personally, I'd rather work though the menus on the TV then get up and walk to where I can read a tiny LCD.

I like where rwpritchett is going. And I might nudge you even a step further in that direction.
More E7500s will end up in gaming systems than true HTPCs, is my guess. But maybe you're thinking of also making this more of a general purpose computer?
Some CPU alternatives: Celeron E3300 & Pentium E6300/E6500 or the E7200/E7500
Just as an eye opener look at this E3300 review @ XBitLabs

If it were my build I'd rather have the E3300 and Harmony 700 over the E7500 and iMon Pad & iMon software

Strangely, it was your post that finally made me understand the giant LCDs these guys are putting in HTPC cases - what if you just wanted to listen to music without turning the TV on? Oh well - perhaps I can upgrade later, as I'm sure most of the decent LCD-bearing cases are cost-prohibitive for me. I'll certainly have a look at the remote you suggested.

As far as CPUs go, I'm NOT trying to make this general use - I might surf or e-mail, but I'm certainly not going to do my graphic design or gaming on this thing. As such, if I can save money on the processor, that would be ideal! Furthermore, if any of these ran any cooler (and thus quieter), that'd be great. Celeron has been a dirty word to me for the last 10 years...maybe they should have used a different name, because I've never even given them a sideways glance. That review is totally enlightening! I'm going to rethink my processor and get back to you all...
October 1, 2009 4:03:29 PM

I house my HTPC in a Moncaso 832P (great case, but dislike the display) which came with an iMon remote. I don't have any experience with other remotes so I can't compare, however I can say that the iMon remote works just fine for HTPC use. It has a whole lot of buttons on it that I never really use though and it would be nice if they simplified it a bit. My wife sometimes gets frustrated looking for a particular button or hits the wrong button because they squished so many buttons on the remote. I'd love to get a Harmony, which can use the built in iMon receiver, but it's hard to convince the better half that I need to buy a $100-200 remote control when we already have one that works.

For DVD's, most people in the HTPC crowd will tell you to just rip the entire discs to iso or folder format since hard drive space is so cheap and you don't lose any quality. You can use a media library program such as MyMovies or Media Browser to launch the movies from within WMC. Both programs are great, but I prefer the slick interface of Media Browser (until MyMovies3 comes out later this month maybe). If you go the iso route, you may need something like Daemon Tools to mount the virtual discs.

I personally re-encode all my DVD's using x264 codec and a mkv container to save on HDD space. A standard def movie comes to about ~1 GB using this method and I have a fast quad core PC to do the encoding. But I'm a HDD miser... if you have the space, full rips are easier to deal with.

Both MyMovies and Media Browser will launch mkv's and integrate with Windows Media Center nicely BTW. I haven't backed up BD's yet to my HTPC because they eat up so much HDD space, so I just play them off the discs for now.
October 1, 2009 9:50:55 PM

WR2 said:
I like where rwpritchett is going. And I might nudge you even a step further in that direction. More E7500s will end up in gaming systems than true HTPCs, is my guess. But maybe you're thinking of also making this more of a general purpose computer?
Some CPU alternatives: Celeron E3300 & Pentium E6300/E6500 or the E7200/E7500
Just as an eye opener look at this E3300 review @ XBitLabs

Thanks for the pointers. I'm just going for a capable HTPC - nothing more, so I will definitely take your advice and spend a little less on the CPU. That review, however, pitted the E3300 against a Pentium E5300, which beat it every time. Looking at newegg.com prices, I started wondering whether the $4 jump to an E5200 or a $6 jump to an E5300 were worth it. Similarly, would saving $10 on a Celeron E3200 be worth it? The Pentiums have twice the cache, and I wonder if the increased heat/noise would be negligible? Does anyone have any thoughts on this $20 spread?

rwpritchett said:
I house my HTPC in a Moncaso 832P (great case, but dislike the display) which came with an iMon remote. I don't have any experience with other remotes so I can't compare, however I can say that the iMon remote works just fine for HTPC use. It has a whole lot of buttons on it that I never really use though and it would be nice if they simplified it a bit. My wife sometimes gets frustrated looking for a particular button or hits the wrong button because they squished so many buttons on the remote. I'd love to get a Harmony, which can use the built in iMon receiver, but it's hard to convince the better half that I need to buy a $100-200 remote control when we already have one that works.

So I think I'm going to forgo the iMon solution - seems tedious to have an entire separate app for a cumbersome remote and LCD. I think I'll stick to a simple MCE remote paired with a compact wireless keyboard/mouse that I'll keep hidden.

I started realizing that aside from the receiver that I want to eventually build, I have no stereo equipment. So what's the point of having an HTPC case that resembles stereo equipment? Furthermore, most people use any of several consoles as "HTPC's" these days, and they don't look like stereo equipment.

Down that road, I started looking for unique cases - the only caveat being that an HTPC should be quiet (therefore cool). Tell me if this is completely off the wall: an acrylic case?

I've shied away from anything see-through (even just windows) before, because I go for big towers that go under a desk - but what a better place to show off a PC than an HTPC? I know my setup wouldn't have a lot to show off, but...I dunno. Any thoughts on acrylic? It has the added benefit of being able to put a IR receiver inside the case. ;) 

Thanks also for the DVD info - I'll be looking into that as soon as I get the HTPC up and running.
October 1, 2009 11:07:16 PM

drokkon said:
Celeron has been a dirty word to me for the last 10 years...maybe they should have used a different name, because I've never even given them a sideways glance. That review is totally enlightening! I'm going to rethink my processor and get back to you all...
I agree. If I had see Celeron before I looked the E3300 performance over I might not have chanced to read the article. But I'm interested in making my next project a mini-ITX and I was looking some something a bit more powerful than the dual core Atom333. Keep an open mind on the CPU until you finish your case selection.
All of the Wolfdale dual cores are still a bit of 'overkill' for a HTPC. If you need lower heat and noise solution the E3200 would work well. If your case is more open, airy and with good ventilation, take the more powerful CPU.

Case choice. Steel is usually quieter than aluminum but I don't know where plexi falls in acoustics dampening.
Style of the case - too highly individualized for me to offer any help there. Just pick something everyone can live with in the medial room. Or go with the SPCR recommendations.
I'd usually prefer something like this nMEDIAPC Red Wood Wood/Steel HTPC. But it's a fairly big case ATX/microATX and 14"x19"x11" in size.


October 2, 2009 3:52:51 PM

WR2 said:
I agree. If I had see Celeron before I looked the E3300 performance over I might not have chanced to read the article. But I'm interested in making my next project a mini-ITX and I was looking some something a bit more powerful than the dual core Atom333. Keep an open mind on the CPU until you finish your case selection.
All of the Wolfdale dual cores are still a bit of 'overkill' for a HTPC. If you need lower heat and noise solution the E3200 would work well. If your case is more open, airy and with good ventilation, take the more powerful CPU.

Case choice. Steel is usually quieter than aluminum but I don't know where plexi falls in acoustics dampening.
Style of the case - too highly individualized for me to offer any help there. Just pick something everyone can live with in the medial room. Or go with the SPCR recommendations.

Forgive me for waffling, but you just got me started thinking about miniITX again. I can hold all things constant except for the motherboard, which I'd be spending a few extra bucks on. The downside for me, of course, would be the lack of built-in IR (as most Mini ITX cases aren't specifically for HTPC) and lack of built-in card reader (as most Mini ITX cases won't have a 3.5" expansion bay). Both could be solved easily with external solutions.

I'd have to stay away from Mini ITX cases that have slimline drives (like the Silverstones) because slimline Blu-Ray drives cost $150 more. I'd also have to stay away from Mini ITX cases that don't support 3.5" HDDs (like the Antec) because an HTPC should have a lot of storage. Finally, in order to install a TV card, I'll need a Mini ITX cases that have one expansion slot in the back (which, heartbreakingly, the Sunbeam acrylic Mini ITX case does not).

The only unknown for me at this point is what the new Cable Card capable TV cards will be like - will they fit into a PCI-E 16x slot? Will they come in full size or low profile varieties? The Sunbeam might even be back on the table if they have an external digital TV solution...hmm...off to research...

So there are some trade-offs, but are they surmountable for a nice, compact case? Possibly! What case will you be using for your Mini ITX build?
October 2, 2009 6:47:01 PM

I've been keeping an eye on the Zotac Geforce 9300 Mini-Itx Wireless HTPC Motherboard over at AVSforum.
My plan is to network the HTPC (possibly a wired connection for HD content) and not have to worry about having a large local storage capacity on my HTPC. I have an old P4 2.0 Ghz & 1GB DDR RAM running as a home network server & internet gateway and it's worked out surprisingly well in that role. It needs replacing not because it lacks enough performance, just due to it's age.

Right now I'm leaning toward by-passing Blu-Ray entirely for streaming content (but this is one thing I'm waffling on).
And it's not entirely out of the question to have a Blu-Ray drive some where else on the network, something along these lines or a more advanced Blu-Ray network bridge. And then there are the stand-alone Blu-Ray player or external Blu-Ray/DVD burner options as well.
My den/office is back-to-back with the home theater so it wouldn't be an issue for me as it might be for some.

I think I may have more case options that most since I'd be able to hide the HTPC (mini-ITX or slim micro-ATC case) out of sight as long as I have the IR receiver in view, probably near the TV itself. I've been impressed with those picoPSU 12V DC-DC power supplies and think they would work well for me.
I'm watching CableCard developments too. That ATI external would work out OK for me. But you might be interested in this.
October 2, 2009 9:03:55 PM

WR2 said:
I've been keeping an eye on the Zotac Geforce 9300 Mini-Itx Wireless HTPC Motherboard over at AVSforum.
My plan is to network the HTPC (possibly a wired connection for HD content) and not have to worry about having a large local storage capacity on my HTPC. I have an old P4 2.0 Ghz & 1GB DDR RAM running as a home network server & internet gateway and it's worked out surprisingly well in that role. It needs replacing not because it lacks enough performance, just due to it's age.

Right now I'm leaning toward by-passing Blu-Ray entirely for streaming content (but this is one thing I'm waffling on).
And it's not entirely out of the question to have a Blu-Ray drive some where else on the network, something along these lines or a more advanced Blu-Ray network bridge. And then there are the stand-alone Blu-Ray player or external Blu-Ray/DVD burner options as well.
My den/office is back-to-back with the home theater so it wouldn't be an issue for me as it might be for some.

I think I may have more case options that most since I'd be able to hide the HTPC (mini-ITX or slim micro-ATC case) out of sight as long as I have the IR receiver in view, probably near the TV itself. I've been impressed with those picoPSU 12V DC-DC power supplies and think they would work well for me.
I'm watching CableCard developments too. That ATI external would work out OK for me. But you might be interested in this.


Good stuff. That's definitely the motherboard I'd be interested in too - of course, if you could hide it - why not save a little $$$ and make an easier build for yourself with a MicroATX? ;) 

Using external network storage had also occurred to me, but I haven't done too much home networking yet (although I'll have my WHS up within the week). I just thought that the sheer amount of data required by digital media would necessitate a large local drive. But, if streaming is truly viable over a 802.11g network, then...maybe?

I just found out about that external ATI solution as well. I didn't realize that there were external HD tuners - with an external IR receiver, external HD tuner, and external card reader, I could theoretically go the clear acrylic route in the Mini ITX form factor!

On the other hand...

...and I could be this way for days. :) 
October 2, 2009 11:37:50 PM

drokkon said:
...and I could be this way for days. :) 
You still have a couple weeks in your timeline.
Once I made the leap of having network storage the idea of leaving out the optical drive wasn't far behind.
Same for the card reader. They're available just around the corner from the TV.
If I could nail down the CableCard/Win7 MC implications I'd be ready to move forward. But I think it's looking pretty good.
Definitely don't want a repeat of this kind of thing.

For local storage all I need is enough space to timeshift some live programs. Im looking at the WD Scorpio Blue 320GB 2.5" drive.

A small micro ATX case would be the largest thing I'd want back behind the TV space. It's actually a pretty well ventiliated area so I dont think I need the extra cooling options the bigger case would give me. It it comes to having to save $$ to get the quiet DC-DC power supply - but with no optical drive, a smaller HDD, a budget CPU it's not looking like a deal breaker to go mini-itx.

Maybe something along these lines: JETWAY JC205S Mini-ITX Form Case & 120W PSU 2.55"H x 8.26"W x 10.11D
October 5, 2009 3:01:54 PM

My wife balked at the initial $600 estimate I gave her, so I brought my i7 powerhouse downstairs and plugged it into the TV. After a weekend of watching movies, listening to music while her photos were in a slideshow in MCE, and facebooking at 42", she's sold. :) 

Still looking for the perfect case, be it Mini ITX or Micro ATX...the Antec P180 that's plugged in at the moment just won't cut it... ;) 

The MonCaso 312 looked nearly perfect, but I don't want to spend an extra $150 on a slimline BR drive, and who the heck puts three 40mm fans in an HTPC enclosure?!?
October 5, 2009 4:52:59 PM

Double-check the Moncaso 312... it looks to me that it takes full size optical drives. The slot on the front is for the tray to slide out and the rest of the drive is hidden. 40mm fans do suck though.
October 6, 2009 6:29:27 PM

rwpritchett said:
Double-check the Moncaso 312... it looks to me that it takes full size optical drives. The slot on the front is for the tray to slide out and the rest of the drive is hidden. 40mm fans do suck though.


You're right about the Moncaso 312 - really close to what I was looking for. Now that I've settled on Micro ATX, and not sure what hardware will be required in the future for MCE and digital cable, these boxes are starting to look pretty good:

Thermaltake Lanbox Lite
Lian Li PC-V351
Bgears b-Envi
Apevia X-QPACK2

The last one in particular. Can anyone comment on these or suggest other similar cases?
October 8, 2009 9:26:21 PM

Update on the case saga, after much perusing of online reviews:

I ruled out the b-Envi pretty easily; I have no need for removable 2.5" storage, the touch buttons are cool but apparently they beep quite loudly, and the reviews are less-than-complimentary. I'll definitely miss the integrated card reader, however, because without it I have to find a case with a 3.5" expansion bay.

I discovered and then ruled out the NZXT Rogue, as the size and price were both too big, and who needs five 120mm fan mounts on an HTPC? I'll miss the eSATA port, however...why do all the other cases have Firewire? That's so five (ten?) years ago. :) 

I'm on the verge of ruling out the PC-V351; it's absolutely beautiful, but I just know the side mounted drives would be an issue.

Likewise, I'm on the verge of ruling out the Lanbox Lite. Beautiful finish, but I'm not sure how I feel about piano black. The top 7"/5.25" bay looks to be relatively useless unless you get their overpriced LCD, and two 60mm fans seems like it'd be loud. I've read both glowing reviews and poor reviews on this nice looking case, but it's basically being beaten back by the winner thus far.

Which brings me to the current leader, the X-QPACK2. While I think the design is a little too "out there" for an HTPC, I think I could live with the black on black version. I'd never buy a case based on windows, but this one has three, which is also fun (I usually avoid windows, but for some reason this is the first time I'm interested in showing something off). The handle might make it easier to bring my entire DVD collection with me and plug in at someone else's house, and while I could care less about the temperature gauge, I'm wondering if I can mod that area to house an IR receiver internally instead. I'd love for it to be cheaper without a PSU, so I could pick the quietest one I could find, but at this point, I think an included PSU might be a good thing for the budget.

I'm not going to purchase quite yet - am I making any mistakes? Am I missing any other Micro ATX "cube" cases like these? Thanks!
October 9, 2009 12:10:10 AM

If you are looking at cube cases, have you considered any of the Silverstone SUGO cases?






There's also a cube case from Aerocool:
October 12, 2009 7:09:35 PM

rwpritchett said:
If you are looking at cube cases, have you considered any of the Silverstone SUGO cases? There's also a cube case from Aerocool


Thanks! I had initially dismissed the SUGO cases as unattractive, but I took a closer look thanks to your post. Don't like the SG01 in black at all, but it looks decent in silver (I like the brushed aluminum); not sure how black drives would look in a silver case, especially since the SG01 doesn't have a card reader, so I'd have to find a 5.25->3.5 adapter. Hardly matters, as I quickly found that silver was at a $30 premium at newegg! Taking a look at the SG02 case, I really didn't like the look of it, but the black was better than white (although both might look okay with black drives). Again, I'd run into the same problem with no 3.5" bay. From what I could gather, reviews were VERY mixed on both of these models, and they couldn't quite topple my leader.

I took a look at the AeroCool M40 you suggested as well. Really liked it, and it had definite potential! I also found and researched the Raidmax Icecube. Loved the "fins" on the front panel, but this thing got relatively poor cooling reviews, devoid of an intake as it is (however, it does have cut outs for liquid cooling, so that might be who they're going for...). The only hesitation on both of these cases is their lack of acrylic windows, which in the past wouldn't have even given me pause. However, I ranked both the AeroCool and Raidmax up there with the X-QPACK2 as my top picks, until...

...the hilarious kicker that sealed the deal: I asked my wife, who knows next to zero about this stuff, which case she liked best based on looks alone (I figure she's going to have to look at it too). I showed her EVERY case I've considered, even the ones I've long since ruled out:

Thermaltake Lanbox Lite, Lian Li PC-V351, Bgears b-Envi, Apevia X-QPACK, Apevia X-QPACK2, NZXT Rogue, Silverstone SG1, Silverstone SG2, AeroCool M40, Raidmax Icecube

I totally expected her to go for one of the more sophisticated designs (I would have), but she liked the X-QPACK2 the best! We both laughed when I told her that I was leaning towards that case, so I guess we have a winner. Not MY first choice in the looks department, but it'll do. (Her second choice was the AeroCool, and she really didn't like the Lian Li, Silverstones, or Raidmax.)

I'll have to postpone my build longer than expected (just dropped a lot of money preparing for the upcoming ski season), but I'll report back.
!