Building an HTPC with the ML03
So how easy is it to build a home theatre PC with the ML03? To find out, and to unashamedly show off our access to the latest kit, we put together an Intel Sandy Bridge machine using an H67-based motherboard. We can't give you the performance figures yet, but you can at least get an idea of how much space a micro-ATX motherboard occupies inside the case. All we'll say at the moment is that a 'fast' Sandy Bridge CPU had no problems inside the case, even with a small stock LGA1156/5 cooler, thanks to the case's ventilation.
Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-H67MA-UD2H mini-ITX
CPU: Intel Sandy Bridge 'K' Series
RAM: 4GB OCZ PC3 10666 1.35V DDR3 RAM
Hard Drives: Western Digital 500GB Green and Samsung Spinpoint 1TB F1
Power Supply: Silverstone Strider Plus 500W (fully modular)
Optical drive: Sony-NEC standard 5.25in SATA DVD
We'll get straight to the point here; the ML03 is a difficult case in which to construct a PC. Installing the optical drive is particularly frustrating because it presses right up against the PSU. We even used Silverstone's own 500W fully-modular PSU in out test, and anything even slightly longer simply wouldn't fit.
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Still, despite the wrestling competition between the optical drive and PSU cables (both are representative of their maximum supported lengths of 170mm and 140mm respectively), the rest of our test PC easily fitted inside the case, and the motherboard can be kept relatively free from clutter with some careful planning. Basically, you just need to find the odd nook and cranny in which to stuff the cables.
The optical drive mounting also needs to be removed if you want to install the hard drive in the bay underneath it. Thankfully, the drive mounting here has rubber isolation so it doesn't vibrate the whole case. Interestingly, there aren't any rubber mounts for the other hard drive bay opposite this, but thankfully this didn't result in the plastic case vibrating in our tests.
In terms of noise output, the ML03 has a huge amount of open ventilation holes, so it's only as loud or quiet as the hardware inside it. The noise isolation for the hard drive bay under the optical drive works well, but the same can't be said for the optical drive above it when it starts spinning. Thankfully, we're currently spoilt for choice when it comes to low-power, low noise technology with which to fill the ML03. However, it won't stay quiet for long if you start putting in more powerful hardware and additional 80mmm fans.
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The plus side to all those vents, of course, is that they help to keep the motherboard and CPU cool when using a heatsink that pushes the air downwards. After all, you can't fit a tower cooler in there anyway. Despite the vents, however, both the hard drive slots get quite toasty, particularly the one under the optical drive as it's exposed to very little airflow. Our Samsung test hard drive operated at around 45°C in this bay, while the Samsung Green drive in the other bay was slightly less toasty at 40°C.
Basically, if you're not going to add any more fans, then we recommend installing 'Green/Eco' models of hard drives. We understand that Silverstone's choice not to bundle any extra fans results in more space and choice for the CPU cooler, but we would have liked to see at least one included, just to provide some airflow for the hard drives.