The right full size ATX case for a HTPC build can be hard to find. Many people will tell you that the future is in Micro or Mini ITX and full ATX is for noobs. People will trot out high priced euro-design boxes that can barely handle a 250W PSU and SSD. In truth, a lot of the small form factor cases are gorgeous and offer new HTPC builders some amazing customization options. But, what about the people building HTPC with full size parts? What about the guy who wants to run a pair of GTX780’s? Better yet…and what is more likely to be common in the next few years, what about the guy who has got loads of ATX parts laying around…
Think about it. Everybody is going HTPC these days, in some form or fashion. Most of that cord cutters or people adding “other boxes” to the living room. In addition to that, a lot of people are choosing to build their own: PC-builders, hobbyists, nerds, basements dwellers, trolls. There’s a lot of people in that category, actually. These people all have one thing in common: they go through upgrade cycles on their PC’s – replacing parts every 3, 4, 5 years or so. A new motherboard and CPU, better GPU, more HDD, a SSD – you know the drill. This whole group then winds up with last years hardware laying around looking for a home. It’s obvious where the hardware is going from the sales and the forums…it’s going into full size HTPC’s in their living rooms! People are using their older full size components to build some pretty screaming HTPC’s these days. Older Core2Duo and Quads, as well as even the early i3/i5 are all being used.
Our hypothesis is that no, micro HTPC is not the only future. There is actually going to be greater demand in full size HTPC cases. Something that will look great in a rack, on a shelf, in the living room. It won’t have an Intel Atom processor in it. It will more likely have a multi-core desktop processor with high end GPU in desperate need of some efficient cooling. In addition it will need some internal 2.5in/3.5in bays. Considering the typical 17″/440m width, that should mean something in the neighborhood of 2-4 bays. Hopefully. Considering that 4TB can now be acquired for a reasonable price – I think you can see where this is going….the full size ATX case and this HTPC are now a super-powerhouse in the living room. These builds are increasingly more attractive because they offer the ability to easily stream high def content, play the latest games, and even function as an entire digital media library. When you consider all that can be had with minimal investment using mostly prior gen parts in the ATX form factor, you can see why sales of full size ATX HTPC cases are an important part of the market.
You would think this would be easy. Just take a tall ATX tower and turn it’s side! Yes, we thought of that too! And it appears a number of companies have as well…and that’s all they’ve thought about! Long story short, the perfect full size ATX case for a solid HTPC build is a mythical dragon that lives beyond the hills. It doesn’t exist. There’s too many limiting factors that often create a difficult comparison of the products. A certain case might fit a full size GPU, but it might not fit a CPU cooler. Another case might limit the internal bays, or only support a slim-line optical disk drive (ODD). Then you have the PSU to consider. Typically the depth is the issue (whereas GPU is length and CPU is height). What.the.hell. Just turn the goddamn case on it’s side and lets be done already! Well we tried that, it didn’t work.
So here is an up-to-date comparison chart of the major products in stores now (or coming soon). These are all full size ATX cases designed for HTPC builds. This means they typically are more at home under your TV than under your desk, hence the styling. Pay careful attention to the dimensions and features to see what’s right for you. Since the HTPC ties so closely with both VPN and Usenet, we figure something like this might just help a few of our readers…and feel free to comment! All information is taken from current manufacturer listings . *note Silverstone GD09 and GD10 are set to be released now, Q1 2014
Although the comparison list is not exhaustive, we do have all your top sellers at Newegg and Amazon basically in this list. Fractal Design is one of the most well known and reputable case builders. Their Node 605 has done very well for itself in sales and reviews online. Silverstone is also very popular, with the Grandia “GD” series of HTPC cases. The GD08 being one of the most widely used, and the upcoming GD09 and GD10 are due out anytime now. NMediaPC has also been a strong contender in the HTPC market with a variety of case offerings. The 2800B is one of their latest releases and contains a number of improvements.
A reference architecture is listed in the first column to provide some context to the dimensions in the listing. The reference architecture is just for illustration purposes, an Intel Quadcore Q6600 with Arctic Freezer Pro 7 and XFX 8800GT 512MB. PSU is Corsair, HX620. A typical build like this would be about 5-6 years old at this time. The Q6600 and AC7 combine to form a tall reference, typical for air cooling. Height restriction in the ATX HTPC case is important. The 8800GT, although quite outdated, is no slouch and is not a short card. At around 9 inches (286mm) it also requires extra power and its dimensions are typical of a medium range GPU. The Corsair 620 is fairly typical as well and is neither especially shallow or long in depth. Quickly you can see how any one of the three: CPU, GPU, or PSU can become a pain point.
The GD08 comes in the largest, in terms of raw dimensions and clearances. But it’s not cheap. Fractal is similarly priced but the reduction in depth translates into reduced space for lengthy GPU’s. NMediaPC limitation on the PSU depth in the 2800B is a concern. Their website clearly states depth limit of 140mm, so builders beware when pairing a PSU with this case. The 6000B should not suffer this problem since it is a larger case overall, although we could not find any documented depth limitation. As for the form and functions, it’s a mixed bag. All the cases bring a similar “AV Receiver” styling, but the materials vary. It should be noted that the new plastic fronts on the GD09 and GD10 do look very nice on video camera (at least). Aluminum front panels on the rest provide a nice metallic finish. Front panels all contain at least one USB 3.0 and Audio In/Out, thankfully. Media card readers and support for ODD varies. As does the available number of 3.5in/2.5in bays. Forewarning, we have done our best possible to put them on an evening playing field, but cage configurations can get tough when space gets tight! If you’re planning on maxing out all 3 (CPU, GPU, and PSU) in terms of size…then you will likely find it very cramped and could wind up sacrificing a bay or two. Like we said, we tried turning the case on it’s side…apparently that doesn’t work.