Tips for HTPC Case Selection with a Case Finder Tool

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Aug 25th, 2012
Tips for HTPC Case Selection with a Case Finder Tool

Selecting a HTPC case may be trickier than you might think. You need to know whether or not the case fits the dimensions of your TV cabinet and if the CPU cooler, PSU, graphics card, and TV tuner card will fit inside the enclosure.

In order to help you with this problem, I have developed a useful Case Finder Tool that will help you to find a suitable case based on your criteria.

In this article, I will share tips with you for HTPC case selection. You will also learn how to use my new Case Finder Tool.

Selection Criteria

The common HTPC case selection criteria are as follows:

  • Form factor (What size motherboard do you want to use?)
  • Height of the case (Will it fit into the TV cabinet?)
  • Cooling fans (Does the case have a good airflow?)
  • External drive bays (How many optical drives do you want to install?)
  • Internal drive bays (How many HDDs can the case hold?)
  • Expansion slots (Do you need space for a graphics card?)
  • Supported power supply size (Will a standard ATX PSU fit inside?)
  • Price (How much does it cost?)

Introducing the HTPC Case Finder Tool

The Case Finder Tool development started when one of My Media Experience readers sent me a question about a problem he was experiencing. His problem related to the search for a suitable case.

There were two issues: First, finding data on component sizes to ensure a proper fit. Second, finding a tool for sorting through all the cases based on his needs.

I realized that there was no such tool available on the Internet, so I started developing one by myself.

How does it work?

The Case Finder Tool allows you to filter the database based on various criteria such as form factor. You can also use numeric values with >=, >, <=, <, =, and != operators to filter data. This is useful if you want to see, e.g., cases with a height of less than 100 mm.

Before entering the tool, let’s have a look at each criteria in detail.

Form factor

A form factor means the physical dimensions of a system. In practice, the motherboard form factor defines the overall size of the case you can use. The most popular form factors among home theater PC users are ATX, Micro ATX, and Mini ITX. The following image illustrates the different form factor sizes.

  • ATX: 305mm x 244mm (12.00 x 9.60)
  • Micro ATX: 244mm x 244mm (9.60 x 9.60)
  • Mini ITX: 170mm x 170mm (6.70 x 6.70)

Height of the case

The height can be important if you have limited space in your TV cabinet. For example, if you have about 5 inches of shelf height to work with, an enclosure height of 4 inches would be best. Width isn’t often a problem, while the depth can be a limiting factor depending on the measurement of your TV cabinet.

The height of the enclosure will also determine whether or not you can use full-height or half-height graphics or TV tuner cards.

Half-height (low profile) cards will be often listed as “low profile,” “low profile ready,” or “low profile bracket included.” “Low profile ready” and “bracket included” are the same thing.

The “low profile compatibility” means that the metal bracket that the card is screwed onto is removable, and that a standard and low-profile bracket are included.

The PCI organization has defined a standard for “low-profile” cards, which basically fall into the following ranges:

  • Height: 36.07mm (1.42 inches) to 64.41mm (2.536 inches)
  • Depth: 119.91 mm (4.721 inches) to 167.64mm (6.6 inches)

Cooling fans

The exhaust fan at the rear or side of the enclosure helps to cool all the components of the computer, including the CPU.

The case fan is often used together with a CPU cooler to improve the airflow.

The bigger 120 mm fans often produce better airflow while generating less noise compared to smaller 80 mm fans, so it is better to go with a larger fan size if possible.

External drive bays

You will need an external drive bay if you plan to have an optical Blu-ray or DVD drive.

The number of external drive bays you will require depends on whether you want to have additional bays for HDD hot swapping, an infrared receiver panel, or other such accessories.

Internal drive bays

An ATX case can usually hold more hard drives than a micro ATX case.

On the other hand, a micro ATX case can hold more storage drives than a mini ITX case.

So, if you want to have a front-end media center and a back-end media server in the same computer, you will need a larger enclosure to have enough space for all the hard drives.

Expansion slots

Expansion slots are needed if you plan to insert a discrete graphics card or TV tuner card into the motherboard.

The mini ITX provides the least expandability (0 or 1 expansion slot), and the cooling performance is often limited due to the small size. The micro ATX supports up to 4 expansion slots, and the ATX supports up to 7 expansion slots.

Supported power supply size

Be sure to choose a power supply that fits into the enclosure.

For example, when I bought the Seasonic X-400 for my Silverstone GD06, I did not check whether the length of the PSU was compatible with the Silverstone GD06.

In the end, I needed to remove the hot swap HDD cage in order to fit the Seasonic X-400 PSU into the case.

Price

Last but not least, the price is an important criteria when comparing different alternatives. The price often depends on the brand, build quality, and any additional accessories such as a front panel display.

Do not use price as the main criteria as you will be using the HTPC case for many years, so it is important that it looks elegant and is of good quality.

What are you waiting for? Go find your own favorite case!

 

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