The Casetronic C137 is certainly small, slim, and sexy, but how well designed and functional is it? Summary: High quality, sleek, sexy mini-itx case that'll be right at home in your entertainment center. If you go for the C137, get some rounded IDE cables, a quieter system fan, and slim line drives and you'll be styling and profiling while taping “Futurama” and “Jeopardy".
Casetronic was nice enough to provide us with a loaner version of their C137 mini-itx case for this review (thank you!). The supplied unit was outfitted with a PCI riser card, PCI riser extension, instructions, 90 watt external "laptop brick" style power supply, DC-DC converter and of course the case itself.
The case measures (WxHxD) 12.7" x 2.7" x 10" and accepts mini-itx form factor and some flex-atx motherboards.I tested the C137 using a VIA EPIA M10000 mini-itx board (thanks to VIA for providing the M10000! You can read our Review of the VIA EPIA M10000), a Crucial 256MB stick of DDR, a full sized Maxtor 120GB 7200RPM HD, and of course the ubiquitous Hauppauge Win-TV PVR350 encoder/tuner card.
The C137 is made out of aluminum and cold rolled steel. The anodized aluminum on the front panel looks slick, but what I really appreciated about the C137 is that it doesn't have any sharp or rough edges. I've never built a PC where I didn't maul myself on some jagged unfinished edge. Having everything either rolled over or cleanly/smoothly ‘machined' meant a lot to me (and my delicate hands).
The C137 has a few different internal mounting configurations available depending on if you want to make use of the front compact flash reader slot, or use 2 PCI slots with a laptop hard drive. As the BYOPVR test bench is currently thin on parts and because it's more cost effective, I used a full sized 3.5” hard disk. This limited my options somewhat, but was glad the case has the ability to accept a full hard disk (while only sacrificing one PCI slot/back plane). If you are going to put in an optical drive (CD or DVD) in this case it has to be a slim line one (and don't forget to pickup a slim line drive to IDE adapter).
Installation was a snap. The case directions were a little sparse, but I'm not sure why'd you need them (except to see the different drive/slot configurations). The M10000 dropped right in and the mounting holes lined up perfectly. I did need to remove the optical drive shelf first (3 screws and it came right out). I liked how they designed slots for screwdriver shafts for common screw access. I can't stand when I have to go at a screw at an angle and potential damage/strip it. (It's the small things that make me happy and conversely drive me nuts about a product).
To install the hard disk it was just one screw to remove the hard disk bay. I then screwed the hard disk to the drive bay. I attached the IDE cables and power molex connector before putting the drive bay back in place. It only took a little maneuvering to get the drive bay to slide in to place. If you use a laptop drive, or opted to move the DC-DC converter to the alternate location you would probably have an easier time with this step.
I would suggest if you were going to get a nice case like this for your project, that you invest in round drive cables. It will look much nicer, be easier to route your wiring in the compact space, and help with airflow (which is important and I'll get to that later). That doesn't have anything to do with the case, its just a little tip from me to you =)
Next I started to install the Hauppauge WinTV PVR-350. This did require a little maneuvering on my part. It's possible that there's an easy “preferred” way to install this full sized card into the PCI riser and PCI extension, but I opted for more an “angle the couch through the doorway” approach. I simultaneously pushed the card with riser extension already on it into the PCI card riser while pressing down to seat the PCI riser in to the PCI slot on the motherboard. Next I screwed in the back plane, and reaffixed the optical drive shelf on the other side of the case and was ready for PVR nerdvana.
I had seen threads in other forums and reviews of other mini-itx cases that indicated there are sometimes challenges when working in such tight space constraints. I thought there would be more effort involved on my end to shoe horn the parts in. I didn't even get to break out the dremel to get it all to fit (which is a good thing)!
Let's fire this puppy up. Ooooh the power button and power light is backlit with the very geek chic blue LEDs and an orange LED for HD activity. Here's where I did find my one quibble with the C137. The system fan is a little noisy. A HTPC / PC PVR will probably be running 24/7 and cooling is very important for stability and hardware component life. You don't want your operating system bombing out while taping the “Frasier” finale, would you? With a lower power/heat motherboard like the VIA M10000 you might be able to get away with NOT using the system fan (the case has plenty of perforations for air to escape/flow on it's own). I'd rather not chance overheating the DC-DC converter or the Maxtor drive (which runs a little hot to begin with).
A HTPC needs to be both quiet AND cool, so if you are going to use this case in your entertainment center, I suggest picking up a small and “quiet” fan to replace the stock one. Another idea is to use a fan speed control like a Zalman's Fan Mate to slow down the rpm's and find a sweet spot between case temperature and noise level. It's a difficult proposition as the smaller you make a fan; the faster it has to spin to move enough air. There's some physics principle involved (or so I've read) Note: according to the T. website the C137 is “Tested for fanless operation - fan required for certain applications” You can do without it, but I'd suggest that you still use a system fan to err on the side of caution, but recommend getting a quieter fan to replace the stock fan.
UPDATE: Casetronic informs me that due to user complaints they will be shipping future C137 units with a quieter fan.
Now we move on to the most important test in the whole evaluation: “The Wife Living Room Appliance Aesthetic Test” ™. It passed TWLRAAT with flying colors (although to be fair my wife is very understanding of my "hobbies", witness this monstrosity in our living room) The C137 certainly looked the part of an entertainment center component and actually has a slightly smaller footprint than my Tivo unit.
Summary: High quality, sleek, sexy mini-itx case that'll be right at home in your entertainment center. If you go for the C137, get some rounded IDE cables, a quieter system fan, and slim line drives and you'll be styling and profiling while taping “Futurama” and “Jeopardy”
Score: 8 out of 10
What I liked:
*Sleek, Sexy, fit right in with a Home Entertainment center look
*Compact, yet not impossibly hard to fit components in
*Well made, no sharp edges!
*Wife approved for living room use
What I didn't like:
*The system fan is a little noisy for my taste