Introduction: The HTPC Slims Down
We check out an incredibly thin aluminum HTPC enclosure
There are many reasons to consider a home theater PC (HTPC) these days, and aside from the full functionality of a personal computer an HTPC can provide unlimited access to digital content from various sources. “Cord-cutting”, the term adopted for cancelling one’s cable or satellite TV service in favor of streaming content online, is gaining steam. Of course there are great self-contained solutions for streaming like the Roku and Apple TV, and one doesn't have to be a cord-cutter to use an HTPC for TV content, as CableCard users will probably tell you. But for those of us who want more control over our entertainment experience the limitless options provided by a custom build makes HTPC compelling. Small form-factor (SFF) computing is easier than ever with the maturation of the Mini-ITX form factor and decreasing component costs.
The Case for HTPC
For many prospective HTPC builders the case is a major consideration rather than an afterthought (it certainly is for me, anyway). This computer build is not only going into the most visible room in many homes, but the level of noise generated by the system is of concern as well. Clearly, searching for the perfect enclosure for the living room can be a major undertaking depending on your needs and personal style. And as SFF computing has gained popularity in the marketplace there are a growing number of enclosures being introduced by various manufacturers, which can only help in the search for the perfect case.
A manufacturer new on the HTPC enclosure scene is a company called Perfect Home Theater, a distributor of high-end home theater components. The enclosures from P.H.T. are slick looking aluminum designs supporting the gamut of form-factors from ATX all the way down to thin mini-ITX. The owner of Perfect Home Theater, Zygmunt Wojewoda, is also the designer of the ultra low-profile enclosure we’re looking at today, the T-ITX-6.
As you can see it is a wide enclosure, built to match the width of standard components. And it’s really thin. Only 40mm tall, or 48mm total including the feet. Naturally this introduces more tradeoffs for the end user, as the build is strictly limited to thin mini-ITX motherboards. Though the enclosure is wide enough to theoretically house an ATX motherboard, the extremely low height would prevent it.
The “Thin” Mini-ITX Problem
I like to think of the “thin” mini-ITX variant as essentially the platform Apple has been using for years with the Mac mini. And while this reviewer thinks that thin mini-ITX is great, since users can create their own Mac mini-like Windows (or Linux) PC to their own specifications – and for less money – there are naturally those who might be against the thin form-factor. The height of the slimmest enclosures limit cooling choices severely, and usually prevent the use of full-size expansion cards (though this enclosure does not, but more on that later).
First we'll take a look at the full specs from Perfect Home Theater (there are two versions of this enclosure; the T-ITX-5, and this T-ITX-6 which adds slim ODD capability):
Our thanks to Perfect Home Theater for providing the case for our review!
Material: 100% Aluminum
Available color: Black / Silver
Accepted MBs: Thin-Mini ITX
HDD: 1×2.5' and 2x 3.5'' standard hard drive mounts
Cooling Devices: One 60x60x15mm ultra-quiet fan – installed
Extension Slot: One half size slot
Front Interface: None
Dimension: 435mm×310mm×48mm (LxWxH) [17.125"x12.25"x1.875"]
Net Weight: 2.2 kg (4.85 lbs)
Maximum height of CPU cooler = 23mm. (Recomended: PHT HSF or Akasa AK-CC7129BP01)
Cost: $200. Available direct from Perfect Home Theater
The enclosure arrives in what looks like a laptop computer box, right down to the handle on top.
Inside the enclosure is extremely well protected with dense foam, and wrapped in a soft material to prevent scratches.
This case is light. There is a very attractive milled appearance to the black aluminum, and I was immediately impressed with how solid this wide enclosure feels. No hint of wobble.
The front view showcases the extremely low profile of this enclosure. There is a slot on the right side for an optical disc drive, and note the IR window for an optional internal receiver next to the power button.
The top panel has rounded edges and the fit to the lower chassis is excellent.
The rear of the enclosure contains an opening for the thin mini-ITX motherboard IO, and a single half-height expansion card (installation requires an optional 90-degree PCIe adapter).
The bottom of the enclosure is vented beneath the motherboard for better cooling, and we also see three 60mm fan mounts (one fan comes factory installed). The feet are sturdy and the enclosure sat level on every tested surface. The feet also have a rubber-like material on the base to help with vibration isolation.
Next we'll look at the build process!
I build something similair,
I build something similair, but then fanless, and with a FM2 mobo and APU, and its completely silent.
Streacom FC5 Evo Fanless black
MSI A88XI AC
AMD A10-7850K Black Edition
And the Streacom case look real good, at least as good as the one from the article.
How do you put the heat sink
How do you put the heat sink on your CPU in this thing?
It has heatpipe connections
It has heatpipe connections to the finned parts of the case. Basically, the case is the heatsink.
Every time I look into
Every time I look into something like this, the slim optical drives are what lose me. Given the average cost of an internal one, its easier to go external (or set top) with a NUC type box or build a bigger machine that can hold a 5.25 drive.
There is a version without
There is a version without ODD drive and without slot as Sebastian mentioned in his review – T-ITX-5
What a horrific use of
What a horrific use of limited space. 3.5″ hard disks? Full-size (as opposed to slim) optical drive? Really?
They could’ve removed those, put in (or at least left space for) a full-size graphics card, used 2.5″ HDDs and a slim ODD instead.
The Steam Machine beta prototype that Valve shipped is still by far the best ultra-compact, single-card system.
This case only supports a
This case only supports a slim optical drive. It's a standard slot-load notebook drive (I'm using a DVD-RW drive from a Dell laptop for this build). Full-size ODD wouldn't fit.
Also, the Intel thin mini-ITX format doesn't support full-size graphics cards. You'd need a little more height to support regular mini-ITX and a dual-slot video card.
I think thin mini-ITX boards
I think thin mini-ITX boards do support GPUs (of course with a bandwidth cap of only x4 instead of x16) but their slot doesn’t provide 75w of power (only 25w instead), which means that an aux PCIe power is required fo the card. Granted, all this kind of defeats the purpose of sff, but I’m just saying…
I also agree about the lost internal space for the HDDs. Maybe they also could remove the optical altogether (who uses disks anymore?) and make the power supply internal as well). And perhaps leave some room for say a 2.5″ drive.
Htpc with optical is very
Htpc with optical is very common, specialy for audio-heads. Blue ray is dieing but it ain’t dead yet
While I don’t see the need
While I don’t see the need for 2 (or 3) HDDs in an HTPC, it is because of noise and extra heat, more so than the loss of space. They had the space, since they wanted to make it the same width/depth dimensions of typical home theatre hardware, so they put it to use.
Arguably, moving the power supply out was extremely wise, since now it can be passively cooled, instead of forcing the chassis fans to go into overdrive venting the excess heat. Looking at the temps of a Pentium, without the addition of a graphics card or power supply, they really didn’t have the headroom to put any other heat producer inside the chassis.
The extra cost for 2.5″
The extra cost for 2.5″ storage drives is ridiculous. For a Media Center PC, getting some 3.5″ 2, 3, 4 TB drives or two is a much better use of space.
I agree, but it’s not just
I agree, but it’s not just the cost – it is also the capacity, power, and suitability for video recording. Low-power, video/surveillance 3.5″ drives are available up to 6TB now, while 2.5″ drives tend to max out at 2TB. If you are building a DVR which can record 6 or more programs at once, supporting 1 or 2 3.5″ hard drives (as the reviewer showed) makes a lot more sense than using four 2.5″ drives.
Hellooooooo, Nurse! I built a
Hellooooooo, Nurse! I built a cheap mini-ITX HTPC recently with an embedded Celeron motherboard, but this would be so much more responsive. And look a lot better. (I have a CableCard setup, so I’d never, ever use Windows 8 in an HTPC, though. 7 only.) I’m bookmarking their site for any future builds.
This is not perfect, not even
This is not perfect, not even close, but a good start.
HTPC should be silent. Fans are not acceptable. There are plenty of examples of good fanless design which would give similar thermal performance.
I know not everyone uses an ODD – I still do mostly to rip blu rays down to my NAS. It would be a good idea to have the ODD fixing incorporate some form of anti-vibration/noise dampening as the ODD is the biggest noise in my system.
Like the IR option.
Since this chassis is clearly
Since this chassis is clearly not intended for hard core gaming, but rather as a media player, cable settop/DVR, or streaming video box, the workloads typically do not stress the CPU as heavily and do not require high RPM to cool adequately. There are plenty of super quiet fans on the market which cannot be heard at a distance of 3-4 feet. The optical/hard drive(s) should set the lower threshold for audibility. For this type of application, a fanless design would be overkill and a waste of money.
Placing the motherboard in
Placing the motherboard in the center was a mistake as it severely limits what PCIe boards you can install alongside. Too bad.
Thin mITX tends not to have
Thin mITX tends not to have anything more than a half-width pci-e slot, so you are pretty limited right out of the gate.
For Thin-Mini ITX, the power
For Thin-Mini ITX, the power supply is built into the motherboard and is not sized to power high-end graphics cards. External AC/DC converters are available for Thin-Mini ITX up to 160W. The half-height slot is adequate for low-end graphics cards or TV/cable tuners.
I’d recommend that you guys
I’d recommend that you guys check out the HDhomerun prime for your next htpc article. It takes a cable card and rebroadcasts the channels over your network to WMC devices. It was a little bit of a pain to set up with Time Warner, since you need the fancier Cisco Digital Tuning Adapter that the techs don’t have on hand. The upside is that you don’t need a cable card for every device and you can use relatively thin clients to view or record the channels.
I didn’t know that review has
I didn’t know that review has been published already until now, so this is a reason for delayed corrections and comments.
Sebastian, thank you for nice review and award.
My corrections and comments:
1. Price $200.00 was set for few units taken from factory by air (expensive). Actual price for chassis arrived by sea is $160.00.
2. I designed these series of ultra slim chassis, but final technical project was done by Zhiyang (engineer/designer) in China and he deserves recognition as well.
3. We have several platforms good for HTPC application, starting with Raspberry PI. Let’s focus on Intel CPU platforms only.
As far as I know the smallest Intel CPU motherboard is a NUC, then there is Thin-Mini ITX, then Mini ITX and up. Thin-Mini ITX has been designed to fill the gap between NUC and Mini ITX. Some of Thin-Mini ITX don’t have PCIe at all, some of them, have only PCIe x1 and some PCIe x4 like presented here. They are starting with only one SATA port up to four SATA ports. Max CPU TDP is 65W and max power on PCIe is 25W by design.
There is plenty of NUC chassis and a lot of chassis based on Mini-ITX and up, but very few based on Thin-Mini-ITX, so I decided to fill this gap and I designed full width, ultra slim T-ITX 5÷8 series.
4. These chassis have been design for three applications only: Music servers, HTPCs and TV Enthusiasts. With limits mentioned above – this is not for gaming for sure.
5. As a music server chassis can accommodate SOtM tX-USBexp Audiophile PCIe to USB Audio Card and there is a space for SOtM In-Line SATA Power Noise Filter as well.
6. As HTPC or TV Enthusiast this chassis can accommodate Ceton InfiniTV 6 PCIe and up to three 3.5” HDDs.
7. We offer HQ 19V, 150W AC/DC converter made by Mini-Box. This adapter is covered by 12 months warranty.
Reviewer mentioned noise from 60mm chassis fan when he put system to the limit.
From this review I assume that he didn’t use Fan-Xpert to control fans. It is easy to read fans specs and then set up speed properly and safe for CPU and motherboard. Information: http://techsupport.perfecthometheater.com/Slim%20HSFs.htm
I built system around exactly the same motherboard but I set Fan-xpert to control fans speed.
Recently I installed Cave-Tec software and started CaveTec Center. I was recording four and playing four HD programs simultaneously. My HPTPC is ~7 feet from me. I muted sound several times and didn’t hear any noise from HTPC. I will repeat this with CPUID HD Monitor ON and report here after then.
I’m curious as to whether or
I’m curious as to whether or not the Intel BXHTS1155LP reference Thin-Mini-ITX cooler would work with / fit in this case. It appears that there is sufficient room to the front or left side of the board, but I can’t tell if the chassis has been predrilled for the fan. While I commend the manufacturer for providing a fan solution, I would think that the Intel cooler would provide better heat dissipation (given the overall surface area is larger) at a slightly lower dB level.
What “Celcius” degrees are?
What “Celcius” degrees are? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celcius_%28disambiguation%29 It’s a mispelling acceptable (barely) when coming by a forum poster, not on a PcPer review graph. Thanks in advance for the necessary correction.