Whilst everything looks all pretty and gorgeous, here is where the problems start. Picking hardware to go in this box is something of a nightmare: whilst you can accommodate a standard ATX board, there are problems with other components.
First up is the heatsink. Forget about using anything much bigger than the stock cooler. As you can see, the PSU butts right up against the side of the board, which means that any heatsink that comes close to the edge of the board won't fit in. As you can see, the monstrous 120mm Zalman cooler that I specifically picked for its low-noise doesn't fit. Instead, I'm stuck with the stock cooler for now.
Next up, the graphics card. Anything longer than a 6600 and you're stuck. The problem is that the optical drive juts back out over the graphics slot. If you're looking for a heatpipe cooler, you're also going to need a bit of modding, because the molex connector will land smack on the heatpipe. I ended up substituting a low-profile 6200 for the sake of gaining some room back.
As you can see, the case gets pretty cramped when everything is in. I've found that an Arctic Cooling Freezer will fit in with about 1mm to spare at the top. One of the big plus points about this case is that with the optical drive and the hard drive mounted so high up, there's plenty of room to stuff cables underneath.
However, with all that hardware cramped in, it gets incredibly hot. In fact, the Pentium 4 3.6 that I installed in this case runs continuously at over 70 degrees C, which is stable, if a little unhealthy. Adding an 80mm fan to the back of the case has taken that down to about 65, which still isn't ideal. However, with no more ventilation, it doesn't get any better than that.
The case comes with a custom fascia for you to fit onto your optical drive - this is an awesome idea, and really makes the whole thing look a lot more like a proper piece of home theatre kit, rather than a PC case. The fascia doesn't fit all drives, however: I've used an NEC 3500 here, which works fine.
OK, here's the bad things. The case is cramped when it's fully loaded, and the lack of room around the CPU socket means that installing a bigger, quieter cooler is very hard. This rather defeats the point of a home theatre kit, but the situation isn't fatal.
To install and remove the motherboard almost always requires you to remove the optical drive first. Now, the optical drive is an absolute pain in the butt to screw in and out, because you need a very long screwdriver or very thin hands to get at the screws at the bottom of the case.
The lack of case ventilation is a very serious problem. To be honest, the whole sides should be ventilated, not just a small section at the bottom. I also think that cutting some holes in the top of the case would be beneficial, and is a mod that I have planned for this.
The good stuff, however, outweighs it. First off, the case looks great, there's no denying it. It just looks the part. The fact that it takes full-size ATX is a good thing, because it means that you can put a real powerhouse of a PC in it. I'll be talking more about the hardware required for a Media Center PC in a future article, but suffice to say that, despite the cramped conditions, you can
cram everything you need in here.
The LCD / VFD housing is thoughtful, and the inclusion of an infra-red receiver is a good idea, although we haven't yet divined if it works with Media Center - we suspect that it doesn't.
Mounting the PSU vertically is a great idea to cut down on the dimensions of the case, and the DVD fascia really puts the finishing touches to the product.
It's expensive, no doubt about it - it's been a long time since we've been able to recommend a case that costs £200 / $300. But this is definitely it. If you're prepared to spend time researching which components will fit, the effort will be worthwhile.