Desktop Minis: Five Mini-ITX System Cases Reviewed

Our today’s roundup will be covering five miniature system cases designed to accommodate mini-ITX mainboards. We will discuss the products from such well-known manufacturers as Antec and Thermaltake as well as a few products from not very familiar brands.

by Aleksey Meyev
10/20/2010 | 10:34 AM

The last couple of years have brought about a shift in the paradigm of computing. Instead of the traditional “faster, higher, stronger” motto that was pushing the manufacturers towards delivering as many gigahertz and terabytes in their products as possible, the miniaturization trend has been gathering momentum. Somewhat surprisingly, computers have become so fast and powerful that a small system case can now accommodate every component necessary to solve everyday computing tasks. The impressive intrusion of netbooks into the mobile computer market has been a consequence of that trend and people have come to be very fond of such compact and light devices which are most handy for browsing the Web or watching a movie while travelling. Another consequence is the spreading out of the netbook's desktop counterpart which is called a nettop.

 

In fact, compact desktop systems have been around for a long time, but they used to be only popular as thin clients, i.e. networked computers connected to a single server. The server performed all computations and ran all applications while a thin client was nothing more but a small local device to connect user interfaces to for data input (keyboard, barcode scanner) or output (monitor, printer). There was also a rather popular Apple MacMini computer. It was fast and versatile, yet also expensive since the manufacturer had to use notebook components.

It was the arrival of the Intel Atom processor series that changed the situation dramatically. Such processors are sufficiently fast for everyday computing. They are also very inexpensive and have such a low level of heat dissipation that they can do well with just passive cooling. Other common components have also improved in terms of using them in compact computers. Slim optical drives have become much cheaper while 2.5-inch hard disk drives have got larger storage capacities, higher speeds and a lower cost of storage per gigabyte. Mainboard manufacturers, in their turn, have been actively developing new products in the mini-ITX form-factor. If you are not familiar with it, we can remind you that in this form-factor all the necessary electronic chips and connectors are placed on a square piece of textolite whose side is but 170 millimeters long.

It does not mean that compact computers can only accommodate low-performance configurations. In our previous roundup about compact system cases we told you how to use a mini-ITX mainboard (Zotac GeForce 9300-ITX WiFi) to build a small, yet rather fast gaming computer with a quad-core Socket 775 processor. Want something better and up-to-date? Not a problem at all. Similar mainboards for Socket 1156 processors are available already.

This time around we are going to be modest and limit ourselves to building compact computers based on the Atom processor. To be specific, it is the Pine Trail platform represented by an Intel D510MO mainboard. If you are not satisfied with the humble capabilities of Intel's integrated graphics, yet do not need a more expensive CPU either, you can go for the Nvidia ION 2 platform.

So, we need a good system case for our mini-ITX mainboard. We’ve got as many as five options for us to choose from.


Click to enlarge

Antec ISK300-150

Being frequent guests in our test labs, Antec’s full-size system cases have always enjoyed positive reviews from us. We can recall the NSK1380 model for example. It is quite a cute cubic case for microATX mainboards. Now let’s see what the company can offer us in the super-compact segment where they have just issued the new ISK300 series.

When you take this system case out of its box and into your hands, you find it hard to believe that this is going to be a full-featured computer. It is so small that you can easily mistake it for an external optical drive or an enclosure for a couple of 3.5-inch hard disk drives. There is nothing exceptional about the exterior design of this box, though. It is just a black-painted metallic brick with a glossy face panel. A mini-ITX platform is likely to come with passive CPU cooling which calls for proper ventilation and you can see it on the sides of the case.

 

If your desk space is precious, you will appreciate the opportunity to put this system case upright using the included stand. We even guess it looks better when oriented vertically.  Overall, the ISK300 seems to have the charm typical of many Antec products. It looks simple, restrained, yet attractive. There is some design magic about it, we guess.

The plastic stand is not fastened to the case, by the way. The case keeps firm on it using the force of friction and the small jutting parts. The stand has soft pads to avoid scratching the case. Even though the assembled computer is going to be light, it won't slide on your desk as the stand has feet to prevent such sliding as well as vibrations (if a mini-ITX system can produce any vibrations at all). It is also difficult to topple the case because the stand is rather wide (it is wider on one side than on the other for some reason).

All the system case controls can be found on the face panel. The square Power button is easy to see but it’s hard to guess that the thin line nearby is a Reset button. Although protected against an accidental touch (unless you've got small children eager to poke their nails into every slit they can find), but we wouldn’t call that button handy.

There is a good selection of connectors here: two USB ports, two audio connectors and one eSATA. Funnily enough, we don’t have a mainboard connector to connect the external SATA port to. The system case can accommodate up to three optical/hard drives and we are going to install two. However, our mainboard has only two SATA connectors, so we don’t have any of them left for the front-panel port. Many mini-ITX mainboards have four SATA connectors, though. Or you can install a low-profile expansion card with two SATA ports (a full-size one won't fit in).

Another way to free one SATA connector is to give up an optical drive. Its tray is hidden behind the flip-down cover, so the exterior design of the system case won’t suffer at all if the optical drive is missing. By the way, the cover opens up when you press it but the optical drive itself cannot open it. We guess the developer has implemented this solution because slim optical drives have the eject button on the tray and various lever-based mechanisms would be useless with them.

A large part of the back panel is a cutout for the mainboard's connectors. The system case being so small, they take more than half the space at its back. Nearby you can also see a slot for a low-profile expansion card, a power connector (with no trace of a power supply), a switch, and a hole.

This hole must have been meant for a button. We guess they must have planned to put the Reset button in there, like in Silverstone cases.

The 3-way switch should be familiar to everyone who has ever dealt with Antec products. They use such fans in the TriCool fan series to control the speed of the fan. And it looks like the developers of this model just took a ready-made block for two switches from a senior system case. Otherwise, we can't explain why it has two seats but only one switch.

Before examining the interior, let’s take a look at the elegant mechanism of expansion card fastening implemented in the ISK300-150. There is a flip-back lever at the edge of the chassis for that. Despite its simplicity, it copes with its job just fine. The expansion slot bracket is reusable, which is rather unusual for such a plain system case.

After taking the U-shaped cover off, we can examine the interior. Not much of it really because the drive mounting plate block the view. Well, let’s just take them away by unfastening their screws and have a look at the empty chassis.

There is not much to look at, actually. The chassis consists of a minimum of elements and doesn’t even have a solid top frame: the U-shaped cover rests right on the front and back panels that have small stiffening ribs. These panels are only fastened together by the drive mounting rack we have just removed. On the other hand, we cannot say that the chassis lacks rigidity. Being made from 0.7mm steel, it is rigid enough due to its small dimensions. And when you put on the top cover, which is 0.7mm steel as well, the system case becomes quite a neat and solid brick.

The power supply is located in an unusual place if you are accustomed to standard chassis design. It is right behind the front panel and below the optical drive compartment. A power cord is stretched through the entire interior towards it from the back panel. As is often the case with such small chassis, the bundled power supply is not standard. It has a curious L-shaped design with the fan residing in the protruding part. Only one half of that fan is really utilized for cooling purposes as the result. We guess Antec employed this solution to avoid too small fans which are generally far from comfortable in terms of noisiness. This PSU is called Antec FP-150-8. It is capable of delivering up to 150 watts of power (as our small investigation showed, this is more than enough for compact computers with integrated graphics). It offers the following cables and connectors:

This is quite a generous selection of connectors to choose from. The cables are sufficiently long and, running a little ahead, we can even say some of them are too long. There is not much space inside the chassis for excess cabling, after all. On the other hand, we didn’t have any problems laying the cables out in a neat manner.

By the way, we’ve got two varieties of power connectors here: the left one is a standard SATA power connector while the right one is the so-called mini-SATA power connector. The latter is smaller and only has a 5V line. Such mini-SATA connectors can be found in all modern slim optical drives which are used in notebooks due to their traditional size constraints. The 12V line is not used anywhere outside the notebook’s mainboard, so the reduction of the connector is indeed appropriate. We can just note that Antec took this feature into consideration when developing their ISK300-150.

The photo above shows a special frame the TriCool fan is installed into. The speed of the 80mm fan employed in this system case is selected from three values: 1500, 2000 and 2600 RPM. The TriCool series is usually very quiet at minimum speed but rather loud at maximum one. This particular fan is no exception. Interestingly, there are two fan seats in the frame, so you can add a second fan or move the existing one to the other seat. In either case you will have to take the frame out of the chassis, which is quite a problem because you have to shift it and lift it up from small hooks but the power supply gets in the way. Thus, you have to take off the power supply first and this is much easier: the PSU is fastened with a few screws and with hooks positioned across the chassis.

Moving the fan to the neighboring seat proved to be useful for our test configuration. On our mainboard the CPU with heatsink was located farther from the edge than usual, and the fan in its default seat wouldn’t blow directly at the CPU.

The last thing you should do when assembling a computer in this system case is install your drives. First you put your optical drive down on the large frame. By the way, you need a cross-point screwdriver with a very small tip for that because slim optical drives are fastened by means of very, very small screws. HDDs are installed onto a separate frame which is then mounted on the large frame and fastened to the front panel above the optical drive. Take note that the ISK300-150 can only accommodate standard-height HDDs. 3-platter models with a height of 12.5 millimeters just won’t fit in.

The assembly process is easy overall. We didn’t have any troubles laying the extra cables out neatly. We can only add that if you are going to use a mainboard with a faster CPU, you will not be able to install a CPU cooler taller than 80 millimeters. And if your cooler is as broad as to get under the drives’ mounting frames (or the CPU socket is located in such an unlucky way), it will have to be no taller than 50 millimeters.

Delux DLC-MS126

A system case from Delux continues our review. This manufacturer is rather obscure but you may have already come across inexpensive products selling under this brand.

 

Like the previous system case, this one is obviously designed for both vertical and horizontal installation. Judging by the labels on its face panel, we can even surmise that vertical orientation was meant by its developers as the primary one. The DLC-MS126 really looks better standing upright thanks to the silvery inserts in its face panel. Despite its rather obscure brand, this product has a very nice appearance. Its designer has a taste, obviously, even though this taste is somewhat spoiled by the obvious predisposition towards shiny things and elements, which is a plague of many products nowadays.

We can also see a large cover of a 5.25-inch bay accompanied with a characteristic button. Unlike many of its competitors, this system case accommodates a full-size optical drive.

There is a single Power button nearby. The developer must have thought a Reset button unnecessary. We don’t like this Power button as you have to sink it down by about a centimeter into the case to get the desired action from it. This may be inconvenient for people with big fingers.

We can find I/O connectors under a cover at the edge of the front panel. These are two USB ports and two audio connectors.

The back panel makes it clear that this system case is equipped with a power supply of the traditional rectangular shape. Its 40mm fan looks rather alarming since such fans are prone to produce a lot of noise. This power supply is called Delux DLP-260IP4. As is often the case with bundled PSUs, you shouldn’t trust its name: the mentioned 260 watts is its peak output power whereas its continuous output power is only 200 watts. Well, this should be quite enough for configurations this system case is meant for.

The power supply has the following cables and connectors:

Take note that this system case has not one but two expansion card brackets which are fastened using a small bar with screw that protrudes behind the back panel. This is a very clear indication of the fact that this system case was originally designed for the little-known DTX form-factor developed by AMD. A DTX mainboard measures 203x170 millimeters and may have up to two expansion slots. Since we have a mini-ITX mainboard, we will just have some more free room inside.

Removing the top panel, we can see a rather ascetic interior. The chassis is made from 0.6mm steel which has a tin luster typical of inexpensive products. Chassis of this kind are usually poor in terms of rigidity, but this particular system case is good in this respect thanks to its small dimensions. We didn’t observe it bend or anything.

A full-size optical drive is installed into the DLC-MS126 by means of special rails which are fastened with screws to the metallic part of the front panel above the detachable plastic piece. You have to take the rails out to access the HDD bay or get some elbowroom for installing your mainboard: the rails and the optical drive would get in the way otherwise.

As for hard disk drives, the DLC-MS126 allows installing only one, but this can be a large, 3.5-inch drive. The HDD rack is most simple, yet you can see a few vibration-absorbing rubber pads in the spots where the HDD is fastened to it.

That’s about all the interesting facts we can find about this system case. Let’s assemble our PC configuration in it.

Our configuration can be assembled quickly and easily. First, we put down the mainboard with memory, then we connect the cables (it’s better to do this now while everything is in open view), then we install the hard and optical drives. That’s all. Now we only have to lay the cables out neatly, which is not a problem. We can just put them next to the side panels whereas the unneeded cables can be tucked away into the nook behind the power supply. Just make sure you don’t block all the vent holes in the PSU case. If you want to use a mainboard with a faster CPU, you will have quite a lot of room for a CPU cooler which can be as tall as 85 millimeters. There shouldn’t be any problems with cooling then.

HKC 003

Now let’s take a look at a product from HKC but you can actually meet it under another name, e.g. Morex Cubid 3388. Frankly speaking, we didn’t take the trouble of finding out which version is the original one. Perhaps the real manufacturer is some obscure third party, which is often the case with China-made products. If you place a large enough order at a factory, they will make you a computer case with any marking you want.

The unknown manufacturer must be given credit for producing a really nice-looking system case despite all its simplicity. Well, if you prefer high-tech design with a lot of polished aluminum, you may not like this model, yet its cute front is going to fit any other home interior perfectly. Even the commonplace vent holes are shaped not as a dull square but as a wavy pattern resembling the logo of one well-known operating system.

Alas, the front panel made from glossy black plastic with a cute pattern is somewhat spoiled by the unconcealed I/O connectors. The chrome strip around the Power button is rather inappropriate, too.

The front connectors (two USB ports and two audio sockets) are placed in a recession in the bottom right of the panel. Above them there is a large Power button surrounded with two LED indicators. There is no Reset button again.

The back panel is quite a boring view. The only thing that may catch the eye is the three characteristically shaped depressions that are obviously meant for COM ports (legacy ports if you can’t recall them). This interface is still employed in some industrial equipment but it’s hard to imagine this cute system case somewhere in a manufacturing facility. This must be just a relic of old times.

Although the system case has no fans, it seems to have some sort of air circulation inside thanks to the small 60mm fan located on the side panel of its 150W power supply MGP MX-150. This bundled power supply offers a standard selection of cables:

You can see a large interior when you remove the top frame (which you will use to fasten your drives). We guess a microATX mainboard would fit in here if the chassis were just a little longer. The chassis is made from steel which is a mere 0.5 millimeters thick. This doesn’t affect the rigidity of the case much, especially as it has a desktop orientation, but you can feel the thinness of the metal when you take the top panel into your hands.

As we’ve said above, optical and hard drives are fastened to a detachable frame which also helps make the chassis stiffer. First we attach one 2.5-inch hard disk drive to the bottom of the frame. And then a slim optical drive goes on top of it.

When discussing the first product in this review, we mentioned the mini variety of a SATA power connector which is used by slim optical drives. The Antec system offers such a connector with its bundled power supply whereas HKC includes a special adapter into the box for that purpose.

Quite impressively, there is a lot of free space next to the mainboard. Yes, there are an HDD and an optical drive above, yet this space is still not utilized properly. It might be used for a whole array of 2.5-inch hard disk drives, for example!

Laying out the cables in this chassis was not very easy. Although there is quite a lot of room, the cables have to be hidden somewhere below the massive frame which gets in the way.

If you prefer a faster CPU, you can take a broad cooler for it, but its height is limited to only 55 millimeters in this system case.

HKC 007

Here is another system case from HKC. Like its cousin we’ve discussed above, it can be found under other names and brands. For example, it may be called Morex Cubid T-3320.

 

This is one of the smallest computer cases possible. It lacks any 5.25-inch bays (i.e. it doesn’t support optical drives) and has an external power adapter all for the sake of compactness! Thus, the dimensions of this system case are virtually limited to the dimensions of the mainboard installed into it. It is not unlike a thin client we mentioned in the Introduction. A computer assembled in the HKC 007 would look appropriate standing next to a monitor at an office or shop or other such place, especially as it has an inconspicuous design with a mix of gray and black plastic and smooth curves.

It can be positioned vertically (on a stand) as well as horizontally, yet we guess the upright orientation is better. Take note that its side panels are in fact a vent grid. This is a proper solution because the external power adapter not only allows making the system case smaller and lowers the temperature inside it, but also deprives the components of active cooling. Everything inside this system case is going to be cooled passively by means of convection.

Now let’s take a look at the stand included with this system case. It looks very simple, just a single-piece plastic thing. However, do you know many stands for computer cases that are not only fastened to them with a screw but also become a seamless element of their exterior? Indeed, the silvery part of the front panel smoothly transitions into the stand if the system case is used with it.

Besides the stand, there is one more external component to the HKC 007. We mean its external power supply Seasonic SSA-0651-1 that has an output power rating of 60 watts and delivers only 12 volts into the system case. Further conversions of voltage are performed by a small card inside the HKC 007. That card has two output cables: a CPU cable (22 cm long) and a rather odd-looking cable with a 20+4-pin mainboard power connector, a PATA power connector, a SATA power connector and a floppy-drive plug. The latter cable is 22+9+9+9 centimeters long.

Now let’s get back to the system case. Its front panel offers a standard selection of I/O interfaces: two USB ports and two audio connectors. An inconspicuous but rather large Power button can be found at the edge.

The HKC 007 hasn’t got a proper back panel: the edges of the side panels curve in to surround the large opening for the mainboard’s connectors. The remaining space is occupied by a power connector. By the way, it is not a good thing that the power connector is at the top of the case if you position the latter upright. The power cord may try to topple the system case down.

Consisting mostly of vent holes, the side panels are made from plastic attached to a metallic wafer. This solution must have proved to be cheaper than all-metal panels, but maintains the required rigidity. The system case is rigid indeed. The small amount of metal is made up for by the small dimensions and the use of 0.7mm steel.

The chassis is virtually empty inside. Besides the HDD mounting plate, there is but a small card with voltage converters. Well, it should be empty considering its tiny dimensions!

The HDD mounting plate is quite a mystery for us. There are a lot of holes in it but we couldn't place more than one drive onto it. So what are the rest of the holes for? Perhaps the manufacturer intends them for HDDs other than 2.5-inch ones?

For all its simplicity and minimum of steps, the assembly process presented one funny problem to us. The chassis is so small that the wires from the front-panel connectors get in the way when you are trying to put the mainboard inside. The problem is easily solved, though. You just have to take the wires out of the holes through which they go inside and then install the mainboard. After that, you can insert the wires back into the holes.

It was easy to put the few cables neatly into the corners and out of sight.

If you fancy installing a mainboard/CPU combo with a separate CPU cooler, you must make sure the latter is no taller than 45 millimeters. Yes, it must be less than 5 centimeters! Therefore you may consider mainboards with an integrated CPU and passive cooling in the first place.

Thermaltake RSI H SD100

The final product to be discussed in this review is the RSI H SD100 model from Thermaltake, a famous brand on this market. Thermaltake is mostly known for its large system cases, though.

Thermaltake has always excelled in making its products look splendid through a clever design of the front panel. Thermaltake system cases are often questionable in terms of interior design and price, but their appearance is generally beyond competition. The SD100 looks excellent, for example. Although the individual elements (solid black paint, glossy metal, a glossy plastic front panel, neat round silvery buttons and a silvery strip crossing the front panel) are quite trivial and can be found in other system cases, they are so well matched here that produce a most harmonious and attractive exterior.

The front interfaces and buttons are located in the corners of the front panel. Two audio connectors and two USB ports are on the left while the Power and Reset buttons (these two differ in size) are on the right together with a single LED indicator.

 

You can use the pair of plastic supports to orient the system case upright but we wouldn’t recommend doing so. The SD100 doesn’t look good then, mostly because the right panel (which performs the duties of a bottom panel if the system case is positioned horizontally) shows its four soft feet. The feet are not ugly, but spoil the overall charm of a glossy device.

The top and right panels of the system case (if it is positioned horizontally) have vent holes. The panels that can be bottom ones are blank.

The back panel suggests that this system case is meant for fully integrated mini-ITX mainboards as there are no expansion-slot brackets here. The Thermaltake TT-120AL5NH power supply indicates a possibly high level of noise, sporting a 40mm fan. The PSU has a power rating of 120 watts and the following cables and connectors:

There are two things you can see in the photo. There is a 60mm fan next to the right side panel. Active cooling is always welcome but why is this fan installed opposite to the drives rather than to the mainboard where it would cool the CPU heatsink?

We can also see that the interior is not utilized properly: there is a large unused part of it in front of the power supply.

Prior to installing the mainboard, you should take off the intricately shaped HDD mounting frame. Besides carrying disk drives, it makes the system case more robust by connecting the front and back panels. This is quite important for the SD100 because its chassis is made from 0.6mm steel.

There is a strict order as to the installation of drives. First you fasten a 3.5-inch HDD using small vibration-absorbing pads. Next you install your optical drive which will block the access to the mounting screws of the HDD.

The assembly process is quite easy overall and doesn’t need much commenting upon. You may only have some difficulty laying the cables out in a neat way. Try tucking them into the unused space in front of the power supply.

If you are going to use a separate cooler, we can inform you that this system case leaves but 55 millimeters of height for it.

Test Methods

The assembled system cases were tested at an ambient temperature of 29°C (the weather was hot, making the test conditions even more difficult). The PC configuration included the following components:

The temperatures of the CPU (the hottest one of its cores) and integrated graphics core were read with the SpeedFan utility. The temperature of the HDDs was measured with HDD Thermometer. The speed of the fans was measured with an optical tachometer Velleman DTO2234. There were the following test modes:

We didn’t run 3DMark because the mainboard's integrated graphics core is not meant for 3D games.

Each temperature was read after the system had worked for half an hour in the specific test mode. The noise level was evaluated subjectively.

The following table shows the temperatures of the components if the system was assembled without an enclosure.

Open stand

This table shows the temperature of the 2.5-inch HDD. The 3.5-inch model was somewhat hotter: from 38°C in the Idle mode to 45°C under load.

Test Results

We want to say it right away that every system case (with only one exception we will talk about specifically) coped easily with cooling our components even at an ambient temperature of 29°. This is largely due to the amazingly economical Atom processor and its thin manufacturing process. We weren’t surprised that every case coped with our 2.5-inch HDD because such drives do not consume too much power. The system cases with 3.5-inch HDD did well, too, and that was kind of surprising for us.

So, we will show you the exact temperatures of the CPU and HDD, but will focus on the noise factor in our comments.

Antec ISK300-150

The Antec case is very quiet. Unfortunately, we can't call it absolutely silent because we could hear some noise from the power supply's fan, but it wasn't oppressive. It was just a small addition to the ambient noise (we must confess such quiet noise sources are usually hard to hear at all in our test lab because there are always louder sources all around). The TriCool fan was expectedly very quiet at minimum speed while keeping the system case properly ventilated. Overall, this system case is very good if not perfect.

Delux DLC-MS126

The Delux didn’t please us after the previous model. It is not because of the 3.5-inch hard disk drive which was louder than its smaller cousin, especially when seeking for data actively. As expected, the main source of noise was the power supply’s fan. It produced the annoying buzz typical of small high-speed fans, making us more and more disappointed with each minute of our test.

HKC 003

The HKC 003 is cooled by a rather large fan, so we had expected it to be rather quiet. Unfortunately, it was not so and we suspect that its fan was of inferior quality. The fan would rattle rather loudly when we turned the system case on. This rattling would subside after a while, but then the temperature inside would grow up, making the fan accelerate to cope with the heat. The fan would get loud then, just about as loud as a cheap 120mm fan rotating at 1200-1400 RPM. It’s sad but this noise spoils our impression from this cute system case.

HKC 007

Next goes the HKC 007. We guess only very sensitive people may realize without some visual clues that a computer assembled in this fan-less system case is really working because it is very hard to hear a 2.5-inch HDD, especially in idle mode. However, we were quite alarmed when we read the temperature data or touched the top vent grid. When the CPU was under serious load, its temperature grew up quickly to 80°C and more. This is not a catastrophe, yet quite a problem and the system case cannot solve this problem on its own.

Following our experimental urge, we tried to organize some kind of cooling in this system case, but that was not easy. The HKC 007 is so small that there is hardly any room in it left for a fan. Finally we found an old cooler for Socket 370 and took a 60mm fan with a height of 13 millimeters from it. We then attached this fan right to the CPU heatsink and put the cover down with some difficulty and performed another round of tests.

HKC 007 + fan

Now that’s a completely different story! The temperatures are excellent. Unfortunately, even the 60mm fan was far from quiet when rotating at a speed of 3000 RPM.

Well, this system case can work in its default mode, too. You should just take a very energy-efficient processor and avoid putting your HKC 007 into a high-temperature environment. If you do so, it will serve you for years and you will be able to warm up your hands on its top panel in cold winters. Otherwise, you may want to find a slim (10mm) and quiet fan to mount on the CPU heatsink.

Thermaltake RSI H SD100

Unfortunately, the small and high-speed fan in the power supply of the Thermaltake system case spoiled the overall picture, too. The 60mm system fan proved to be nearly silent whereas the small beast in the PSU would produce a characteristic and irritating noise with lots of high frequencies.

The final diagram compares the cooling efficiency of the tested system cases:

So, we’ve got a winner and a loser in each test mode. The Antec wins our tests thanks to its 80mm fan which can be most effectively set opposite to the CPU heatsink. The loser is the passively cooled HKC 007: the 2.5-inch HDD was hotter in it than the 3.5-inch drive in the other system cases.

Conclusion

Maintaining the high reputation of its manufacturer, the Antec ISK300-150 is the favorite of this test session. It is both the quietest and coldest among the tested products. If you are not taken aback at its compatibility with only 2.5-inch HDDs and slim optical drives, you may put it on your shopping list. It won't disappoint you.

The HKC 003 and Thermaltake RSI H SD100 are desktop system cases of similar quality. The former is perhaps quieter if you are lucky to have a good fan in its power supply, but the latter features a more attractive design and supports cheaper and higher-capacity 3.5-inch hard disk drives.

The HKC 007 is quite an ambiguous product due to its very nature. On one hand, it cannot keep the components cool because of its all-passive cooling. But on the other hand, it is the smallest system case of all! If you install an SSD into it, you will have a perfectly silent computer with no moving parts.

The Delux DLC-MS126 doesn't have anything extraordinary to offer in comparison with its competitors. However, it may be appreciated by corporate users as it allows building a very inexpensive (with ordinary, rather than compact, components) yet small nettop.