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No 6 Date 2008-01-28 Title [NEWS] Mini ITX's little black dress

[NEWS] Mini ITX's little black dress

Casetronic's C137 Mini ITX enclosure
Mini ITX's little black dress
by Geoff Gasior — 12:00 AM on December 2, 2003

SIX MONTHS ago, VIA's miniscule EPIA-M10000 sold me on the Mini-ITX platform. Since then, a dearth of appropriate Mini-ITX enclosures has forced small form factor enthusiasts to cram Mini-ITX boards into everything from old Nintendo consoles to mini beer kegs. Ok, so maybe all those wacky EPIA mods were driven more by creativity than a lack of available Mini-ITX enclosures, but the Mini-ITX cases are still pretty scarce. Considering the platform's potential, that's really a shame.

To give enthusiasts an alternative to enclosing their EPIA boards in discarded 1980s game consoles, Casetronic has come up with a full line of "T." Mini-ITX cases. Today we'll be looking at the C137, a sleek enclosure built for home theater PCs and stealthy desktops. Does the C137 fit the Mini-ITX platform like a glove, or are EPIA boards better off in beer kegs? Read on to find out.

From the outside
To get things started, here's a glamor shot of our black C137 review sample. The case is also available in silver if that's more your style.

Measuring just 2.7" x 12.7" x 10.5", the C137 is 30% smaller than Shuttle's tiny SV24 cube and can easily be tucked away in a home entertainment center. The C137's anodized aluminum face plate should blend in nicely with DVD players, hi-fi stereo components, and other consumer electronics devices, too.

With such a slender profile, the C137 is really too small to accommodate a standard 5.25" drive bay. Instead, the case is designed to work with the same slim optical drives found in laptop computers. Unfortunately, slim optical drives are quite a bit pricier than their 5.25" desktop counterparts. Happily, though, slim optical drives are almost overwhelmingly available in black, which nicely matches our C137's exterior. However, it looks like silver C137s are out of luck, because I've yet to see anyone selling silver slim optical drives online. The C137 doesn't have a hinged or sliding door to camouflage clashing optical drives, either.

The C137 doesn't have an external 3.5" drive bay, but it does have a handy slot for an optional Compact Flash memory card reader. Integrated memory card readers aren't exactly "must have" features for home theater PCs, but it's nice to be able to view digital camera pictures instantly on a TV. Just think of how many excruciating wedding, vacation, and birthday picture slide shows you can torment guests with.

Unfortunately, the C137's optional card reader is Compact Flash-only, which is a little surprising since 6-in-1 card readers seem to be all the rage these days.

Around the back, the C137 has a couple of openings for PCI cards and a gaping hole for a motherboard's port cluster. The case doesn't actually ship with an I/O port shield, but since no one can seem to agree on a standard port configuration these days, motherboards tend to ship with their own port shields, anyway.

Let's pop those thumb screws and see what the C137 has to offer under the hood.

Despite its tiny internal volume, the C137 can accommodate a surprising number of internal devices. Sliding off the outer skin nicely opens up the case for component installation, and all the drive bays are easy to remove.

The C137's hard drive tray supports full 3.5" desktop hard drives in addition to 2.5" hard disks. Using a 3.5" hard drive will block one of the case's two full PCI slots, though.

If an optical drive isn't necessary, one can always squeeze a second 2.5" hard drive into the C137 s slim media bay.

The C137 ships with a stack of PCI extensions and riser cards for expansion cards. Having two PCI slots seems a little excessive for a media box, but it's really not. With one PCI slot reserved for a video capture/TV tuner card, a second PCI slot is free for a true 24-bit sound card.

Given the C137's shorter length, PCI cards longer than 8.5" won't fit in the case. Using a standard 3.5" hard drive drops the maximum PCI card length down to six inches.

Just enough power
The Mini-ITX world is dominated by VIA's EPIA line, which doesn't exactly require a lot of power. Still, Mini-ITX boards supporting Socket 478 Pentium 4 processors are slowly becoming available, so the C137 is equipped to power more than just a C3.

The C137 is available two power supply options: a 90-watt model is sufficient for EPIA boards, but there's also a 120-watt model specifically designed for Socket 478 motherboards and Pentium 4 processors. Our sample's 120-watt power supply DC converter resides inside the case, cooled by a single, near-silent fan. The rest of the power supply is enclosed in an external power brick.

Getting along with the EPIA
So far, the C137 looks pretty good, but how does the case get along with VIA's EPIA-M10000 motherboard?

Despite being tucked under the case's optical drive tray, the EPIA-M10000's processor fan isn't stifled for air flow. The motherboard's IDE ports are all but buried under the optical drive tray, but since the tray is removable, hooking up IDE cables is as easy as removing a few screws.

The C137's unsheathed power supply cable is quickly fixed with a couple of zip ties, but it would be nice to see Casetronic sheath the power cable to keep things neat. With a tiny case like the C137, internal wiring can easily get messy fast, and a sheathed power cable would go a long way towards cleaning things up.

The EPIA-M10000's port shield snaps smartly into place on the C137, with my only complaint being that VIA doesn't offer the shield in black. Then again, that's not Casetronic's fault, and the silver shield should perfectly match a silver C137.

VIA's EPIA line makes a couple of extra Firewire and USB ports available on a PCI back plate header, but you don't have to sacrifice a PCI slot to get a little more Firewire of USB love with the C137. Casetronic puts a PCI card mounting bracket just above the C137's port cluster, complete with Firewire and USB port cutouts to perfectly match the EPIA's extra port header.

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