Ultimate media PC case?
The Mini-ITX PC standard has been around for a good few years now, but it’s become more important with the increase of media focused PCs’s in the home.
The premise is simple; a 17cm square motherboard with all the power of a full sized PC. Shove in a laptop sized hard disk and attach to an HDTV and you’ve got all the makings of a media centre.
The ISK110 from Antec is designed to house a Mini-ITX board and have it look inconspicuous in amongst your other media devices, either laid flat, stood up, or out of site entirely.
On it’s own, the ISK110 is not a bad looking case. Although the outer layers are mostly composed of plastics, they feel well made and look the part as well. The front of the casing is a brushed silver finish, featuring the Antec logo, 4 USB ports and the usual array of buttons and status LEDs.
The two sides are formed of vented black plastic which should help keep good airflow no matter what orientation the case is sited in. That being said, the “bottom” side is broken up by mounting grooves for the base, which looks a little odd when the case is laid flat.
The top and bottom panels (assuming the case is laid flat) are also both vented, with the “top” featuring a large steel grill, painted black. The bottom panel is plastic and made to look like it’s vented using a similar grill, though in reality it only has slits at either end. Still, it’s better than nothing, and could prove useful when you consider that it’s under this panel the hard disk will be mounted.
To the rear of the case you’ll find space for the IO panel of a Mini-ITX motherboard, as well as the power jack for the case’s built in power supply.
Inside the case
The ISK110 is designed to be as compact as possible, and with that in mind there isn’t a great deal of space inside. To one end of the case you’ll find the built in DC-DC regulator board, which is used to power a Mini-ITX board and hard disks. Most of the rest of the case is devoted to housing a 17cm squared Mini-ITX motherboard.
On the underside of the case you’ll find a mounting plate for two laptop style hard disks, with just enough space to squeeze the necessary data and power cables around to the top side of the case, so that they can be connected to the motherboard.
That’s pretty much it. There’s no space for an optical drive in the case, or space for any expansion cards. This does bring the size of the case right down, but it also limits what you might be able to do with your new PC.
Living with it
As touched on before, the ISK110 can be laid flat, stood upright, or be hidden completely. To accommodate the latter two, Antec provide a couple of adapters with the case. The first is a simple stand which locks in to the case, allowing it to be stood up. The second is a metal mounting plate which allows the case to be attached to any monitor with a standard VESA mounting system. Given the case’s small stature, it should be completely hidden by any moderately sized monitor, which is excellent if you’re after a minimalist solution but still want a fully fledged PC at your disposal.
In use, I found that the case gave adequate ventilation to a modest AMD based board and two hard disks. It was a little bit tight in there, with the provided wiring looms being stretched to connect to my specific board, but the large vents on the sides and top meant that air was still able to flow quite freely. Unfortunately, because of the openess of the case, there’s very little noise isolation, meaning that the PC was clearly audible when under heavy load.
That being said, it was no louder than a modern games console, and certainly a lot quieter than a full PC solution would be.
The ISK110 will only ever really be useful for those with a very specific role for their PCs. The lack of space for any expansion cards or even an optical drive will certainly put off buyers who are looking for a full desktop PC in a smaller form factor.
What the ISK110 does provide, is an ultra small enclosure for those of us who only want their Mini-ITX PC for a specific task. If you’re looking for a media centre or an Internet PC for use in the living room, then this is definitely one way to go. The ability to choose between hiding your PC away or keeping it on display (and having it actually look reasonable) is a definite plus, and you’d be hard pushed to find a case that combines such a compact form factor with a quality feel.
If you can accept the limitations when it comes to expandability, then the ISK110 should definitely make your short list. However, if you’re looking to be able to expand your PC later on then you should consider a larger case instead.