2003 Winter Case Review Part 1: MicroATX Case Madness

Conclusion: Nice Things DO Come In Small Boxes!

While it is clear that case manufacturers offer a variety of design ideas and concepts as to the construction of MicroATX chassis, MicroATX purchasers need to pay extra attention to their goals and purposes for selecting a MicroATX case. The problem with the MicroATX solution, when compared to the "Shuttle type cube" barebones boxes, is obvious to see when you look at the size differential between these types of cases. Every case in this review will fit in a typical stereo/home theatre component rack with little trouble. While this may not be an important feature to some, those who are seeking to build PCs for DVR/home theatre applications will continue to seek a case that meets all of their needs in the smallest form factor possible. Is it the impossible dream ? Maybe. But, at least three of these MicroATX cases distinguished themselves over the others in this review.

However, the problem remains that, depending on the application, you might not be satisfied with our choices and prefer to deviate and continue to seek a case that better suits your needs.

Our Editors’ Choice for this MicroATX review definitely goes to the Superflower/TTGI TT-101. The TT-101 is the largest of the small form factor cases that we reviewed, but it also offered the most flexibility in both cooling and drive/bay configuration over the competition. While the TT-101 is only about half the size of a typical mid-tower ATX case, it offered more features than the others and had an attractive stance that can be used in either a desktop or tower configuration. A close second and Honorable Mention goes to the Yeong Yang YY-A204. Unfortunately, the YY-A204 does not offer support for a second internal drive, which limits its use in DVR applications due to the fact that DVR applications are where storage is paramount.

If you are looking for a unique case that is targeted primarily at tower configurations for gamers and LAN party goers, the Chenbro Hornet receives an Honorable Mention, as well. The biggest problem with the Hornet in our opinion is the lack of a second fan to draw heat out of the case. While the Hornet probably is not as well suited for home theatre applications, it will find a home among gamers who are looking for highly transportable solutions that have an "edge." (This case provides an excellent looking platform for LAN party servers for example !) No other case in this review offered as much cutting edge, gamer oriented styling in a MicroATX case as the Chenbro Hornet.

Last but not least, we also felt compelled to recognize the Antec Minuet. With the best paint finish of all of the cases that we reviewed, the Minuet offers a look that is far beyond what one can hope to reasonably find in most MicroATX cases. Still, the Minuet’s highly restrictive nature of a more low powered cooling solution and lack of support for full-height PCI/AGP cards will definitely turn away many potential purchasers that are looking to use something other than integrated graphics.

Is there any clear winning compact solution that can compete with the flood of "cube type" barebones systems ? The answer is a surprising "yes" AND "no." Yes, there are some MicroATX solutions that can be built and configured to compete with these high-end, "cube type" barebones boxes ; however, MicroATX is relegated for the moment to an intermediate step between the "cube type" barebones systems and the typical mid-tower ATX case. For our own personal DVR/home theatre applications, the additional configuration flexibility of the Superflower/TTGI TT-101 was clearly an advantage over the majority of these "cube type" solutions. We do not believe that the MicroATX form factor will be departing any time soon ; but we do believe that the continued evolution of MicroATX cases is still in flux. Restrictions dictated by full-height PCI/AGP devices and MicroATX motherboards in general will continue to cause unique configurations in the design of MicroATX cases.

Those settling on the MicroATX form factor should be prepared to spend a significant amount of time evaluating both their MicroATX case options as well as the available MicroATX motherboard solutions before committing to purchasing and building a MicroATX solution.

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