I decided to build a new media centre PC to replace my MSI Media Live barebones kit, which is getting a bit long in the tooth now. (The onboard graphics chip is not able to drive a display at 1080p).
Having been bitten by the limitations of the MSI Media Live, such as the proprietary motherboard and PSU, and the lack of any PCIe slot for expansion, I wanted my replacement media PC to be modular, expandable and flexible in the future. Building it on a budget I also planned to reuse the old system’s CPU, RAM and disk.
So I settled upon an Antec Remove Fusion case, which takes a standard ATX PSU, a standard mATX motherboard, and has 4 expansion slots at the back which can take full-size expansion cards.
Of course all this makes the case quite large, but at least I can build whatever system I want in there. So let’s get down to my review.
Well, at 5.5″(H) x 17.5″ x 16.3″ (D) the case is a lot bigger than I had anticipated. It’s a little wider than your regular AV equipment, but this is no problem with today’s wide TV stands for today’s wide TVs.
It’s about the same height as some of the larger AV receivers. For example it’s exactly the same height as my Sony STR-KG800 receiver.
The snag is that it’s a lot deeper than you might expect. I can’t get it all the way back on my TV stand because of the rear poles so it overhangs the front of the shelf by an inch, but luckily the feet still fit on the glass.
In terms of looks, this case is great. The front is very plain and fitted with a black aluminium fascia that blends in perfectly with other AV equipment, like my Sony receiver. It feels heavy, solid and expensive which is a refreshing change from the cases you see all too often that are cheap, bendy and plasticky.
The DVD drive has a concealed panel that pops open when you eject the drive. This is nice, because I was slightly concerned that my plastic DVD drive might spoil the effect of the aluminium panel.
Inside the case
The case is split into three compartments. One holds the hard disks, one holds the PSU and DVD drive, and one holds the motherboard. There are adjustable holes in the dividers so you can pass cables through and then close the gap up.
The hard disks fit into a bracket and are secured by rubber grommets. I had a quiet hard disk in the first place, but in the rubberised bracket and with the lid of the case on, I can’t hear the disk at all.
It’s also easy to get the CD/DVD drive bolted into its bracket, which just slots into place.
I would strongly recommend buying a modular PSU (i.e., one where you can remove the unused cables). There isn’t a huge amount of room behind the power supply to tuck unwanted cables. Unfortunately I didn’t realise this until it was too late, and I bought a PSU renowned for quietness, which also happened to have about a million connectors. The entire space between the DVD drive and PSU is filled with a bundle of unused power cables.
My other gripe is about the number of unnecessary cables inside the case. The VFD/IR front panel has a regular, external USB connector and an adaptor that converts it to a motherboard USB connector. It also has a molex passthrough to take power. The two side fans also have molex connectors. This means you have to string a power cable from the PSU right around your tidy case.
As I already mentioned, the disk holders are very good at keeping noise down, especially if you choose quiet disks in the first place.
The case itself comes with two 120mm fans in the side. They are pretty quiet so I wouldn’t say it’s necessary to replace them unless you want to. They have standard molex power connectors (as opposed to the mini 3-pin motherboard fan connectors) and each has a switch to set the speed to low, medium or high. On low speed they shift plenty of air and my system is very cool running, so I will probably disconnect one of the fans to reduce noise even more.
Sitting on the sofa some 3m away from the TV, I can’t really hear the media PC at all, which is a definite improvement on the MSI Media Live, which looked the part but sounded like a computer.
VFD screen and IR remote
The Antec Remote Fusion, as its name implies, comes with a remote. The remote itself is cheap and not at all to my taste. I immediately discarded it and decided to use a much better Logitech Harmony 515.
On the MSI Media Live, the IR sensor “just worked” with Windows and so I was able to use the remote immediately. The VFD needed a driver from the CD and thereafter “just worked” with Windows Media Center.
Unfortunately, the same is not true of the Antec case. The VFD and IR receiver come as a unit, which happens to be a Soundgraph iMON. It does not natively work with Windows, and the driver CD that was supplied with my case was dated 2007 and didn’t work with Windows 7. I downloaded the latest version from Soundgraph’s website which seemed to install OK but still can’t get anything to appear on the screen. It doesn’t support Media Center anyway. I tried to install a program called Frontview, which is supposed to let iMON work with Media Center, but I had no luck with this either.
The software looks like it was written by a chimpanzee in Visual Basic and is a poor excuse for an application.
It also seems that the iMON IR receiver is only designed to work with the iMON remote, rather than a Microsoft remote. I set my Logitech Harmony to work as an iMON remote rather than a Microsoft remote, but pressing the arrow keys on the remote, rather than scrolling through menu items in Media Center, has the same effect as moving the mouse an inch. Yep – iMON remote is a substitute for moving my mouse.
Since I haven’t got the VFD to work (at all) or the remote to work (properly) I am thinking of simply disconnecting them, and replacing the IR receiver with a generic USB one that I can attach internally and install behind the window. This should let me use my Microsoft remote or my Logitech Harmony in Microsoft mode and forget the iMON nonsense.
Whoever at Soundgraph invented the iMON system and thought it was fit for sale is almost as cretinous as whoever at Antec picked iMON above its competitors and thought it would be a good way of ruining an otherwise decent case. I don’t know why they didn’t pick one that is more standards-compliant.
I will probably butcher the old MSI case and take its VFD and possibly IR, if I don’t have better luck with the generic USB receiver.
The case itself is fantastic. The quality, strength and finish of the panels is great. It’s a little on the large side, but so long as you measure your TV stand first you won’t be caught out.
Acoustically, it is very quiet indeed. Make sure you pick a quiet PSU with a 120mm fan, and a quiet hard disk and you won’t be disappointed.
In terms of fixtures and fittings – yuck. The iMON VFD lights up like a strip of burning magnesium, and wouldn’t work properly even if it worked as designed. The iMON IR receiver is also a huge disappointment.
Having owned it for a few days, I’ve got my Windows 7 Media Center set up and working nicely, but unfortunately the VFD and remote aren’t working, so we are having to change channel with the keyboard.
On the whole I would recommend this case if you are prepared to put in some effort, and are also prepared to possibly give up with the VFD.