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The Silverstone LC11 Micro-ATX HTPC Case
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Date: Mar 07, 2005
Section:Misc
Author: Jeff Bouton
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Introduction and Specifications

As the old saying goes, "Times are a changing".  When the personal computer first caught on, word processing and text based gaming was all the rage, and then there was this thing called the "Internet" on the rise.  Today, the Internet is at the center of the technological universe and the PC has become a powerful tool commonly used in everyday life.  Today's PCs have a myriad of uses from running the latest games to controlling all of the electrical components in our homes.  The possibilities available to the average consumer are now only limited by imagination and budget.

One of the more popular, and natural progressions for the PC is in the Home Theater.  With digital media being a major driving force in the industry, it only seems natural that the PC would evolve in this direction.  What started out as more of a hobby for some has now become a thriving industry, producing full fledged media centers that bring a host of new features to the media experience.

Building your own HTPC is not as hard as it once was.  Many can even pull together a good unit with spare components they have just lying around.  Once all of the components are collected, all you need is a case and software and you are ready to start building.  When choosing a case, however, there are several options to ponder.  For those not all that interested in appearances, a standard case or mini-PC will do the job just fine.  However, if you want to build a custom machine that blends into your current Home Theater setup, you're going to want a specialized case.  While these can be a bit more costly, the end result is far more impressive in appearance and functionality than your average computer case.

Today, we are going to review one of the more impressive offerings in the HTPC case market, as we take a look at the Silverstone LC11.  This unit aims to blend nicely with your home theater components, while employing a combination of cooling components and a custom layout to combat the biggest problem with HTPCs, heat.  Let's take a look and see what the LC11 from Silverstone is all about.

Specifications of the Silverstone LC11 Micro-ATX HTPC Case
Elegant

Material:
Aluminum front panel, 0.8mm SECC body

Color:
Silver or Black

Motherboard:
Micro ATX

Drive Bay:
External 5.25" x 1
internal 3.5" x 3

Cooling System:
Front 80mm intake, 2050rpm, 21dB
Rear 80mm exhaust, 2050rpm, 21dBA
Oversized mesh grill CPU air intake vent

Riser Cards:
1 AGP + 2 PCI
Expansion Slot: 3

Front I/O Port:
USB2.0 port x 4
1394 Firewire x 1
Earphone jack x 1
MIC x 1

Power Supply:
TFX 240W PFC

Net Weight:
7.2 kg

Dimension:
424 mm (W) x 96 mm (H) x 430 mm (D)

The main selling point for the LC11, aside from its good looks, is the innovative cooling design.  With heat being a major factor with any PC setup, it is even more important with these types of cases where good airflow can be a major problem due to size limitations.  With the LC11, Silverstone has come up with a relatively well thought out design that allows the case to breathe with ease without generating excessive noise from added case fans.

    

When we look at the basic design, we see that several strategically placed fans and case openings can make all the difference.  As the diagram shows, airflow is drawn in from the front of the case and is drawn across the motherboard assembly and exhausted through the PSU and a side fan.  The bottom of the unit also has a large screened opening above the CPU fan to also allow relatively unobstructed outside air to flow across the CPU.  As the imagery shows, it is a fluid design that is constantly exchanging air in the case, keeping temperatures in check.

    

The retail package seems a bit spartan at first, but Silverstone does provide a good collection of essential hardware.  A hardware box comes with more than enough screws to mount the motherboard, hard drives and CD/DVD-ROM and several nylon ties are also included to help tame excess wiring.  A custom riser card is included to orient the AGP and PCI slots so they are perpendicular to the motherboard, allowing full sized AGP and PCI cards to be used.  The unit ships with a static cling wrapper applied to the top to protect the finish of the LC11.  Aside from that, the rest of the components reside in the case, which is where we will turn our attention to next.

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Next Step - Breaking it Down
Quality and Setup Continued
Breaking it Down

On the outside, the LC11 comes with four USB ports on the front panel of the case.  From a HTPC perspective, where you typically would not have a mouse and keyboard connected at all times, the front panel USB ports come in handy.  On the left side of the case is a single FireWire port, along with microphone and headphone jacks.  The idea is easy access for connecting a video Camera, Digital Camera, Headphones and other peripherals without needing to snake cables to the rear of the unit.

    

Next, we flipped the unit over and observed the main access panel of the LC11.  Four large rubberized feet give the unit ample clearance under the case for good airflow into the oversized intake grill.  Removing the cover revealed two 80mm fans, one mounted in the front for intake and a side mounted model for exhaust.  Each fan runs at 2050 RPM and is rated for a quiet 21dB.  The unit also comes with a modest 240w Power Supply with enough leads to accommodate a fair amount of hardware.  The PSU is mounted in a manner where it too acts as an exhaust fan on the other side of the case, exhausting warm air out of the rear of the unit.

    

The case is designed to accept a micro-ATX motherboard and a fair amount of periphery as well.  Note that with the access at the bottom of the case, when everything is in place, PC components actually hang off the top of the unit.  The LC11 comes with room for a total of three hard drives and a single external 5.25" bay is provided for any type of CD/DVD-ROM combination.  Internal leads are provided to connect the front I/O ports to headers on the motherboard.

    

It seems that Silverstone has pulled together a very capable, well thought out HTPC case in the LC11.  However, we feel the true way to assess its features is to build a complete system to see how well the design works in practice.  Moving forward, we are going to continue our assessment of the LC11 by going through the steps of constructing a basic HTPC setup.  We've collected a few pieces of extra hardware including an ASUS A7N8X-VM/400 motherboard, AMD Sempron 2800 CPU, two sticks (2x256) of PC-2700 DDR memory, and an eVGA Personal Cinema 5700 TV/Video card.  With hardware in hand, we're ready to start building.

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Putting it Back Together - Drives
Installation
Installing the Drives

The first step in completing our build is the installation of the hard drive(s).  There is room for a total of three drives in the hard drive cage, although that might be optimistic.  In our case, we installed a single 80GB drive and welcomed the remaining space to help tuck some of the excess cables in the otherwise tight compartment.

    

Once the drive was in place, we removed the front CD faceplate of the case and inserted our DVD-ROM drive.  Once in place, the drive is secured with four screws and then the faceplate is reinstalled.  Silverstone uses flathead allen screws for the CD faceplate that can be removed with an allen key included in the package.

    

While it is understandable that when it comes to the front of the case, the allen screws would look more elegant than phillips head screws, we found the screws awkward to work with and had a lot of trouble getting one of them to catch when reapplying the face to the unit. 

  

Fortunately, the issue was not insurmountable and with a little patience, we got everything back in place.  Next, we're going to mount our Micro-ATX motherboard.

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Putting it Back Together - Motherboard and AGP/PCI Adapter
Installation - Continued
Motherboard and AGP/PCI Riser

Mounting the motherboard was the easiest of the tasks, with plenty of room being provided for the board.  Once secured into place, we connected the USB, FireWire and Audio connections to the board headers and then tamed the cabling as best as possible with the supplied zip ties.

     

    

The next step was to prepare to install the video card and AGP-PCI riser adapter.  First, we loosened a retention screw that released the three slot blanks.  Then we removed the bracket that gets mounted to the riser card, designed to hold the assembly securely in place when inserted into the motherboard.

  

    

The bracket lined up with the front edge of the card and is mounted with four screws.  Then the riser is inserted into the AGP and first PCI slot and a pig tail connects to a second PCI slot on the motherboard to drive the second PCI slot on the riser card.  Once in place, we secured the bracket to the case frame and everything was tightly secured.

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Putting it Back Together - Wrapping Up and Conclusion
Installation - Part Three
Completing the Process

In the final steps, we inserted our Personal Cinema 5700 video card into the AGP slot of the riser card and tightened the mounting screws.  The unit was now ready to be closed up and tested, which is where we encountered our first major problem.

When we mounted the cover back into place and powered up the unit, all we got was a black screen, no video.  We opened up the case and checked all of the connections and tried to power up the system again before closing it up.  Everything now booted, leading us to believe something was simply not seated properly.   So we shut the system off, replaced the cover, went to boot and we were back to the no video situation again.  After studying the mechanics of the case and components, we found that even with all of the hardware securely in place, the video card was precariously close to the cover of the unit.  Once we put the case in its upright position, the tail-end of the card settled just enough that the solder points on the back of the card made contact with the metal case cover, shorting the card and giving us the black screen.  It seems the weight of the power cable feeding the card was just enough to weigh the card down, making it contact the door.  Special attention must be paid to ensure that cabling is secured so this doesn't occur.  Fortunately, no harm was done to our hardware and we simply applied a piece of electrical tape to the section of the cover that was immediately opposite the video card as an insulating barrier for insurance. 

In the end, we consider ourselves fortunate that the shorting did not harm our hardware.  Silverstone would be wise to add a thin barrier or a simple rubber pad to the door to act as a spacer, preventing such a situation from occurring. Right now the tolerances are very close and can pose a serious problem for some.

    

Once we took care of the shorting issue, we managed to complete the job, installing InterVideo's Home Theater Software and Remote Control,  Additionally, we installed a wireless network card so we could link up with another machine containing a library of over 75GB of MP3s.  Once configured, we installed the unit into our home entertainment center, connected the necessary cabling to the receiver inputs and the job was completed.  Now, we had a fully functional HTPC for watching DVDs, recording live television and a music server component as well.

There is no arguing that Silverstone makes some of the most attractive cases available today.  Case in point, the LC11 Micro-ATX case is a true gem with an elegant aluminum design that is both handsome as well as functional.  Silverstone designed the LC11 in such a way to make sure there was ample room for various components, including three hard drives, a CD/DVD ROM drive, an AGP video card and two PCI cards.  We were also quite impressed with the LC11 cooling capabilities, which appeared to work quite well with a very low ambient noise level even under load.  Throughout the process of installing our components, the case seemed well suited to the task, until we encountered the problem with the video card.  We should also note that this was not an isolated incident with the Personal Cinema 5700.  To make sure it wasn't a fluke, we also installed a FX5900XT and encountered the same issue.  While the remedy for this was simple enough, we are concerned that some users may damage their hardware if they are not careful. 

In lieu of the shorting issue, we are going to give the LC11 a rating of a 7.5 and recommend that the buyer use caution before powering up the unit, making sure their video card does not make contact with the case.  Nonetheless, we still can't help but be impressed with the LC11 Micro-ATX case from Silverstone.  Weighing in at an average price of $160, the LC11 is quite affordable as far as specialized HTPC cases are concerned and will look right at home in any home theater setup.

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