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Media center boards and cases

Question : I plan to build a Media Center computer with an AMD processor and am looking for a PC case suitable for use in a stereo/TV rack. Should I go with an ATX or microATX main board? Priorities are performance, looks, and quiet operation.

Because microATX boards have limited slots, l would need one that has Fire Wire, LAN, USB, media, audio, and video features built in. Giga-Byte makes an appropriate micro board. The ATX board offers more growth options, but it's likely that they will not be needed, as the computer is slated to be used solely as a media center. The ATX case I would choose has a slight advantage, as it looks more like a stereo component. Then again, the micro case is much smaller. l am sure there are some advantages (cooling, quietness, and the like) to each. Which would be the better choice?

Answer : Finding the right case for a home-theater PC or Media Center PC can be a challenge. Every A/V rack differs slightly, depending on the rack and component mix. You should decide, for example, if you need a low-profile case or a standard-height PC case before you settle on a motherboard format.

A standard-height PC case allows all expansion cards to be installed normally, whereas low-profile cases may require some cards to be mounted horizontally. In addition, a number of low-profile cases require that you use either integrated (on the motherboard) graphics or a low-profile graphics card. Low-profile cases are more difficult to work with because tolerances are much tighter.

If you can accommodate a full-size ATX case, that's the most versatile solution. It's easy to work inside one, and there's lots of expansion room. The SilverStonetek LaScala LC17 (www.silverstonetek.com) is a good example of a full-size desktop-format ATX case that looks good in a home-theater rack.

If you really want a microATX case, you'll have to sacrifice some expansion possibilities. You typically get three slots, plus the graphics card slot. Figure one for an analog TV tuner card, one for a high-definition tuner card, and one for a sound card. Adding a second high-definition card is now problematic. Still, if you're content with the limited expansion, these cases often look more like purely consumer electronics gear than do their full-size counterparts. The HTPC 200 from nMedia System (www.nmediapc.com) is a good example of a microATX chassis that should have all the features you want.

When shopping for a home-theater PC case, be sure it can accept standard or microATX power supplies. Some come with proprietary power supplies, which cannot be easily replaced or upgraded.



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