Well I've finally completed the HTPC build. It was definitely harder to put together than a normal PC. The hardest part was the hours and hours of research involved in finding just the right components for it.
Unlike a regular PC build which revolves around the motherboard as the central component, a HTPC revolves around the power supply. The PSU that came with this case is 300 watts and was specifically made for the case. You'll find most HTPC's are that way because of the different way they must fit the PSU into the case design. Because the PSU is only 300 watts you have to find low power consuming items to use in it like the CPU, HD, and any possible PCI cards.
Vista Experience Total: 3.2
Gaming Graphics: 3.2
Primary HD: 5.9
(total is always the lowest common denominator)
4GB A-DATA DDR2 800
AMDSempron LE-1300 Sparta 2.2GHZ 45w
1TB WD10EADS Green Caviar
Here is a perspective shot showing how small the HTPC is compared to a regular mid-tower case.
You can see here how much room you have to work with. Pretty much none. This particular case comes with a PCI slot cooler powered by a molex connector. The fan on it is near dead silent and is actually unneeded because the system produces next to no heat when on full load thanks to the 45w CPU I decided to put in there. The slot fan as you can see will accommodate a full sized graphics card if I ever want to add one. I would have to remove the slot fan though. You can find a handful of "low profile" graphics cards which are meant for HTPC's though they rarely produce the quality and features of a better "gamer" card. You have to do a lot of research to find the right quality vs heat and performance for such a tight space.
Cable management is also essential in order to maximize airflow and airflow is certainly a priority in this type of case.
With optical drive tray:
The CPU is a 45w Sempron. It does the job of running Windows Vista Home Premium but barely. For running movies, images, and music it does a good job and can recommend the processor.
The motherboard on the other hand... is a Foxconn and comes with a shitty ATI HD 3200 video chip which cannot handle the Aero Interface within Media Center. Everything else works just fine but the on-board chokes horribly in Media Center because of the background animations and flashy transitions. I've turned them off since and now it runs great and is HD capable. The system has 4GB of the cheapest RAM I could find. It's A-DATA ram and the system barely goes above 25% load on RAM. Works for me.
CPU cooler height constraint:
This is the DVD and HD storage tray. It comes out so that initial building is much easier. It fits up with the front plate so the DVD eject button is perfectly placed. Excellent precision tooling there. In this shot you can see the back of the DVD and Hard Drive. This case is a little weird because it can fit 3 HD's in such a small area. In case you were wondering, the other 2 HD's are mounted vertically on either side of the DVD player. Space is at a premium and this case goes with a wild concept of vertical mounting. When it comes time to expand more HD's in the case I'll only have to lift up the tray, install them, and sit it back in.
Optical Drive Tray:
Here's what the finished HTPC looks like. When side by side with a beige case it just blows it away.
When side by side with the rest of my home theater components like stereo tuner, DVD player, VCR player, etc... the HTPC is the one that looks out of place. Simply because of the cheap ass Guatemalan-esque paint job. The paint job is extremely cheap and rough, it's like they painted it outdoors with matted black Krylon. For the $120 I paid for the case I expected a lot more from the paint. The sides of the case are very cheap plastic and painted silver. I haven't scratched it yet but if it gets a scratch it's going to be so obvious a blind man could see it.
Overall quality is cheap but the interior design is magnificent. I wouldn't buy the case again if I had the choice. To me it's not even worth $50. It doesn't have the amount of metal inside like a regular case or the paint job. So with all the lesser amount of materials and paint you'd think the case would be extremely cheap. Nope it was expensive. I feel I did not get my money's worth when it came to the case. The interior is nice but whatever... no one is going to ever see that. It's the outside that counts especially if you want to display it with a home theater system. That's about the only disappointing thing about the whole build was the paint job and material of the side pieces.