Case Review: nMedia Red Wood HTPC 8000

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Ever since I read a review of the nMedia Red Wood HTPC 8000 case (http://www.nmediapc.com/htpc8000.htm), I knew that I would have to give it a try.

I love the 1930s-style look and it works perfectly with my living room media center. I’d been planning to rebuild my HTPC for some time with these components (upgrading the CPU, memory, graphics cooling, and storage from my previous build):

CPU: Intel E3110 3 GHz
Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-P31-S3G
RAM: 2x2Gb A-Data DDR2-800
VGA: BFG 9600GT + Thermalright HR-03-GT
PSU: Corsair VX450
TV tuners: 2xAver M780 PCI-e
HDD: Samsung Spinpoint T 300Gb, WD Caviar Green 1 Tb
DVD: NEC 3500A (PATA)
Audio: TurtleBeach Audio Advantage Micro
WLAN: D-Link DWA-140
OS: Windows 7 Professional x64 RTM

 

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

This case is HEAVY.  Thankfully the case also has handles on the sides.  It is solid wood with a steel motherboard tray and back panel (not removable).  The case was well packaged in styrofoam with a protective plastic bag.  Inside the case is a baggie filled with screws, some zip ties, a couple of adhesive cable clips and an utterly worthless manual.  The wood is stained to give it a reddish tint.  The stain is uniform and there are no blemishes.

The front panel is plastic molded to look like brass.  There is a little window where you can add the additional LED display (for another $30) or leave it covered.   I decided that being able to peek into the innards is my kind of cool so I left it uncovered.  Overall, the case’s exterior is beautiful and striking. 

There are three reviews of this case from major sites, none of which provided any practical guidance in rebuilding my HTPC and one even contained a poor suggestion.  For those reasons I decided to write my own review. There are a few “gotcha” moments with this case that turned a two-hour project into an all day affair.  I am still pleased with the results, mind you. 

The bad piece of advice referred to above: The reviewer suggested to remove the plastic front panel before installing the DVD drive.  To do this, the user must remove six screws from the case’s inside front, which are impossible to get out (or back on) with a motherboard installed.  Just leave it in place and you’ll be fine.

As it happened, I had to remove it to fiddle with the DVD drive door in the front panel.  The problem was that the bottom of the door was a tiny bit uneven and would catch when opening and closing.  While this was annoying at first, rubbing the uneven spot a few times with my fingernail quickly resolved the issue.

THE INSTALL EXPERIENCE

The inside of the case is very roomy and easily accommodates ATX motherboards as well as full size power supplies.  In fact, it is so spacious that the user does not face significant spacing issues when utilizing a regular PSU, like my Corsair VX450, as opposed to a modular power supply.  Warning: good lighting and patience are essential when assembling an HTPC in this case.  Once everything is inside this case, it is not easy to make minor adjustments.

There is a giant 140mm fan mounted on the inside and two sets of ventilation holes in the front.  The fan’s label only says nMedia so I am unsure of the make.  Unfortunately it makes a soft but audible clicking/humming noise that gets annoying very quickly.  The fan’s cord is very short as well, and only has 4-pin power connectors.  I immediately replaced it with a 140mm Yate Loon.  As you can see in the above picture, the hole in the case for the exhaust fan actually seems fit for a 120mm fan as it is just a bit smaller than the 140mm fan.  The fan is held in place by thick steel wood screws, meaning no vibration dampening (silicon mounts will not work here, either).

The biggest problem with the fan is its placement.  I’m using a skinny ATX motherboard (Gigabyte GA-P31-S3G) which means that everything is a little closer to the edge than a normal ATX motherboard.  Once I installed my Ninja Mini heatsink and placed the motherboard in the case for sizing, I found that the 140mm fan was in the way of the heatsink.

You could potentially use a tower heatsink and I briefly considered using an OCZ Vendetta 2.  A quick eyeball inspection suggested that the 120mm fan on the tower would bump into the hard drive/DVD tray which sits in the top portion of the case.  My solution was simply to move the 140mm fan outside the case, reversing the mounting screws and using some spare fan screws to install the finger guard.

Once the fan problem was resolved, installing everything else was a breeze.  Owing to its size, this case is great for cable management.  I particularly liked how the shelf for the DVD/HDD tray is flush with the PSU so that you can loop the spare PSU cables behind it to keep them out of the way.

The only issue with installing the graphics card and TV tuner was the absence of thumb screws.  I have never seen a case that did not include them, but I soon understood why; they bump up against the small removable plate that fits above the slots.  I do not have a picture here, but you can see what I am referring to in this review: http://pcper.com/article.php?aid=770&type=expert&pid=5
No big deal, though, as regular case screws work fine.

The DVD/HDD tray is ingeniously designed…mostly.  The tray is held in place by a couple of wood screws so there will be some wood dust the first couple of times you install and remove the case.  In fact, this goes for the whole case: it is a wood case and you will get wood particles in the case as you install your system.  Keep some compressed air handy to blow it out periodically as you work.

The DVD is held in place by screws from below the drive while the HDDs are mounted using rubber grommets in the top compartments.  You can only mount the HDDs upside down, however; which I suspect increases noise somewhat.  While they are out of the way of other components, the HDDs do not benefit from air flow in the case.  They are directly beneath the wooden lid so they have nowhere to vent and can get a bit hot (my drives hover around 40-41C).

One word about the DVD:  In other HTPC cases, I always had to remove the front plate from the drive to fit with the case’s drive door.  I thought this would also be the case when I saw that the drive’s front plate was bumping up against the edge of the recessed area for the case’s front panel.

As it turned out, this was not a problem—in fact, you need the drive’s front plate.  If you remove it, the button in the case’s front panel won’t make contact with the drive’s button.  Leave it on and you won’t have to worry about using a spacer between them. 

A great thing about the DVD/HDD tray is the spare compartments on either side of the DVD, which are great for tucking away spare cables to keep things nice and tidy inside the case.  Here I have everything installed and there is no clutter to impede air flowing from the front vents to the rear exhaust.

With everything installed, I fired up the case and started to tinker with configurations.  The large button on the front glowed a soft blue around the edges, but to my dismay the HDD LED in the front panel did not work.  I tried flipping the motherboard jumper around a couple times but to no avail.  It did not really bother me, but sometimes you want to know if your computer’s frozen up or if it is just thinking very hard.

Also, the HDDs were louder than I expected—again, probably a combination of them being mounted upside down and so close to the lid.  Aside from that, however, the case with just the Yate Loon 140mm fan (~1400 rpm) is very quiet.  I couldn’t get away with running my 9600gt fanless so I mounted a 92mm fan on the heatsink and slowed it down with a fanmate (I used Velcro to stick it to the side of the case).  The air flow through the Ninja Mini is excellent with the exhaust, PSU, and graphics card fans all pulling air through it.  Adding another fan to the heatsink only made 3°C difference for my E3110 core temps:

CPU with 80mm Fan (ºC)

CPU Fanless (°C)

Idle

Load

Idle

Load

Chipset

31

40

32

44

Core 0

34

45

35

48

Core 1

41

53

42

56

GPU

45

51

42

52

 

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

Make sure to measure your space to ensure there is enough room for this monster.  Installing the case in a recessed media center is not painful as long as you can connect everything (USB, DVI or HDMI, TV cables, etc) before sliding it into place.  Once in position, however, reaching behind or inside the case to make minor adjustments is very frustrating.  If you are prone to digging inside your case a lot, this probably is not your cup of tea.  Make sure you have everything exactly as you want it before you put it in its final resting spot in your living room.

Once all is said and done, this thing looks fantastic and tops the “wife approval factor” ratings. It is large enough to accommodate a decent gaming system (I love having Fallout 3 on a large TV screen) and/or a home theater setup.  Just be prepared to invest in a new exhaust fan and you might want to think about additional hard drive cooling.  Get everything you want to go into the case prepared in advance because you will not want to have to open this thing up again later to CPU or exhaust fans. In the end, it is well worth the effort.   

nMedia Red Wood HTPC 8000 case can be found at Newegg (http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811204039) or Directron (http://www.directron.com/htpc8000.html). Considering the quality and features of this case, the price tag is rather low.

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