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HTPC 2003 - Design Goals and Enclosure

By Rob Dykens

When building a HTPC there are a few points to keep in mind:

  • Low Noise Floor: There is no need for a screaming PC to overtake an audio system's fidelity. 35 dB maximum at the source would be my goal. This can include case fans, cpu and graphic card fans, hard drives and CD or DVD rom drives. One will most likely have more success with a lesser number of fans in the case.
  • Aesthetics: An old junky case or tower takes away from the look of the other home theater hardware. Ideally, it should look just like another piece of the home theater. Personally, I accomplish this by opting for a desktop case, preferably matching the colors of the existing equipment.
  • Stability Over Speed: A HTPC is intended for function, not fashion. Overclocking an HTPC can be beneficial, but is not within the scope of this article. Furthermore, the more the PC is overclocked, the more heat is generated into the case, which then requires more rigorous cooling methods ultimately leading to excess noise. Leave all hardware speed settings at stock. I personally would not like to have to rip apart my whole rack to reset the BIOS after the PC crashes out in the middle of an important scene in a great movie.

These suggestions are merely my opinion and are not carved in stone. Experiment as you wish.

The Case - Antec Overture
This component will serve as the foundation for this whole project. It will be the first item touched, the last part to be handled, and will be the only part visible in the end. Try to find a case that suits the decor, functionality needs, and space requirements. On a more technical note, the case should also provide good airflow pathways, fan slots, and lots of room for hardware and upgrades. I personally find that a larger case versus a smaller case is a better investment. No one likes to work in a small cramped case, not to mention it just looks better. Larger cases also provide lots of room to hide wires, promotes better airflow, and basically keeps options for hardware upgrades open.

For the purposes of this article, we will be going with the Antec Overture desktop case. It is a nice looking unit with piano black finish, finished chrome face and a blue LED accent circling the power switch.

case1.jpg case3-rear.jpg

The rear of the case is well laid out, nice and clean. Note the top panel thumbscrews, a very nice addition for tool-free access. Thumbs up! This case was actually designed by Antec to be part of a home Theater and it shows with its very valuable features. Truly the small things make this product what it is.

Here are a few handy features this case comes with:

  • Packaged with an Antec Truepower 380 watt power supply unit. This is a very nice PSU and is well-suited for this case. The smart fan technology will keep the sound floor down to a minimum by reducing fan speed when ambient temperatures are low. This unit is also P4 and AMD friendly (the power supply is P4 rated with the appropriate connector).
  • The case rests on molded rubber feet to minimize noise causing vibration from high RPM hard drives and to prevent scratching the audio rack with the metal surfaces of the case.
  • Accomodates up to a standard ATX motherboard which provides plenty of configuration options.
  • Small footprint: measurements are 5.25" (H) X 17" (W) X 19.25" (D)
  • Vibration cancelling mounts for hard drives

This particular case is a great choice for an addition to any home theater. It is sleek, stylish and looks like it belongs in an audio rack with the rest of your components. I prefer to use desktop cases as they generally fit right in line with the audio rack - much better than having a large bulky tower stuck somewhere that it doesn't belong. This also helps to manage wiring and cabling coming from the PC as well. Another reason that this case is a great choice for an HTPC is the addition of 2 front mounted USB ports and 2 audio jacks. It is not desirable to fumble blindly behind the case trying to push a plug in somewhere it isn't designed to go. This is also a great feature for plugging in a USB game pad / joystick, camera, or for using a set of headphones.


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