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micro atx queries

Discussion in 'Desktop & Laptop Computers Forum' started by philsparks, Feb 2, 2004.

  1. philsparks

    philsparks
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    We currently have a SonyHS10 and a very dodgy ancient 15" portable TV. There's a cheapo Cyberhome DVD and a JVC s-VHS vid too.

    The plan is to get a smallish LCD tv and a HTPC that can live in a cupboard under the telly. This PC will be networked to the main one in our office meaning that we can check emails and so on from the lounge. Therefore it's important that the LCD telly had a VGA or DVI plug. the HTPC will take over DVD duties and with a Nebula card TV recording duties too. I'll prob keep the existing DVD and vid for kiddie use though. The current front runners for the TV are either the Phillips 23" or the JVC 22" - both seem to be around £1200 - £1300 - just waiting for the JVC to be released.

    Where I start to get lost is with the PC. The cupboard under the TV is quite small, and in particular is only just over 40cm deep - almost all the full size ATX cases I've seen are 45cm deep or more - even the smart HTPC cases that look like a big amp are similarly deep. I don't really care what the pc case looks like as it'll be in the cupboard. Therefore I think I may have to go for a micro-atx based machine. There are some nice small cases around such as the Casetek CK-1007-2B (see: http://tcs24.co.uk/tcs/product_info.php/cPath/21_89/products_id/74 ) but I'm a bit worried that it's only got a 230W PSU. If I want to get a reasonable spec machine (P4 2.4 or 2.6 GHz will this be up to the job?). I can't really go for a shuttle or similar as they only have max 2 expansion slots and I need 3 - (video card, M-audio card and nebula).

    i) can anyone recommend a small full ATX case (it's the 40cm depth that's critical) so I don't have to compromise
    ii) if I go the micro ATX route can anyone recommend a decent P4 mobo. I've had hassles with Athlons, esp with digi vid editing, and P4s seem to more stable and also run a bit cooler which will help if it's stuffed in a cupboard. If it's micro ATX with only limited expansion slots having onboard LAN and firewire would help.
    iii) if I go micro ATX do I have to be careful with the size of expansion cards? My intention was to get a non-pro9600 video card, Nebula for freeview and a decent sound card for surround duties (M-Audio or similar). I've heard about half height cards.

    Now onto details:
    A. output, if I want to be able to watch DVDs and freeview on either the HS10 or the LCD telly, then presumably I need a video card with a DVI out for the projector AND a VGA for the LCD TV. I then need to buy theatretec or power DVD and also powerstrip. Does this sound right? Anyone recommend a decent but not hugely expensive suitable video card. Once I've got this all set up will it be easy to simply swich between the 2 displays?

    B. For audio out I (and more importantly the missus) really don't want speakers all over our nice Victorian lounge. My main hi-fi is pretty decent (Naim 82, naxo, 2 x 250 & kans) and the speakers are at the bottom corners of the projector screen. My intention was to simply route the front speakers output to the main hi-fi. and set the audio to a phantom centre. then I was going to just get two very small rear speakers (Anthony Gallio (although HiFi guys I've spoken to say these are pretty crummy for the money, but they are small) or maybe the smallest B&W ones). To be honest at the mo the audio isn't my priority, I know for the full effect I should be buying another Linn Kan for centre duties, getting a big sub, and getting something proper for rears - but it ain't gonna happen!) Now if I buy something like the M-Audio £70 card, will this do passable DTS/DD/whatever it's all called decoding? I could then just buy a small integrated amp (old Creek 4040 or similar) to power the 2 rear speakers. Can I tell the decoding software that I want a front phantom centre? the cupboard where the PC will live isn't really big enough to buy a big decoder/amp - no matter how cheap I could find it for. If I've got the audio card doing this will it 'suck' resource from the video processing?

    Thanks in advance for any help
    Phil
     
  2. KraGorn

    KraGorn
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    I'm not at all sure putting any sort of PC in a closed cupboard it a good idea, heat generation is a problem even in an HCPC ... at the very least IMO you'd need an open-back one and even then air flow will be a problem.

    Yes, P4s are cooler than AMDs but not by much, the 9600 will generate heat as will your WiFi transmitter ... personally I wouldn't consider this.
     
  3. philsparks

    philsparks
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    Hmm, thanks for the reply. I've got a friend who has a PC in the understairs cupboard and that seems OK. I was anticipating drilling a few holes in the top of the cupboard (behind the LCD TV), and as the bottom is just floorboards with the gaps between them hoping that I'd get a bit of a draught through. I guess If I actuall mounted a fan under these holes on the top of the cupboard (quiet one of course) then this would help pull the hot air away.

    Phil
     
  4. KraGorn

    KraGorn
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    Okay, from your description it wasn't clear what if any ventilation you were thinking of, something like a 120mm case fan, which can be as near silent as makes no odds, would greatly improve things .. an understairs cupboard is not my idea of a good environment either, especially in summer unless in an air-conditioned environment.

    QuietPC have some cases which are intended for HCPC use, not cheap but they may be the sort of size you need .. IMO you need to leave at least 2 cms above the top of the case for air to flow.
     
  5. philsparks

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    ta for the link - blimey £165 for a case - it is though almost the only full ATX size case that may just fit in my 40cm deep cupboard.

    Think I'd be spending a lot for it to look "shiny and smart" when to be honest I don't care if it's dull and brown as it'll be in the cupboard most of the time. Maybe I should give them a call and see if they've got any scuffed or dented ones they're happy to sell off.

    I keep on thinking that I'd almost be better just screwing the MoBo and the other bits to the inside of my cupboard and then putting a plastic grill in the way to keep out prying fingers. then it'd definitely fit and there'd be no ventilation probs.

    My cupboard is about 1m high by about 80cm wide by about 40cm deep, at the mo it's just got the DVD and vid in there, and the HS10 gets stowed in there when not used. so there'd be plenty of space around any pc, it's just the shallow size I'm struggling with. I keep on thinking I wish I'd built it bigger, but to be honest I couldn't have made it much bigger anyway given the surrounding walls.
    cheers
    Phil
     
  6. KraGorn

    KraGorn
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    Actually, people do build PCs into desk drawers :) .. you could look to getting just a metal sheet and punching holes in to mount the mobo on together with the PSU .. RF interference is something you may need to shield against later, but certainly 'losing' the case sides will make air movement a non-issue if you do install a quiet 120mm fan.


    There is one other issue though as you mention: PCI cards. Half-heights are not IMX too common so I don't know where you'd get one from, mobos these days carry everthing else you'd need except for a decent graphics card for DVD playback .. to be honest I've never found a half-height 9600, not that I've looked extensively as it's not something I've ever needed, also some 'half-heights' are still 'full-height' when it comes to the backplate, but I guess some strong fingers could cure that. :D
     
  7. eviljohn2

    eviljohn2
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    I was about to suggest cobbling a frame together yourself.

    You can screw the mobo to any form of bracket you can find, and drive mounting brackets aren't too hard to come by.

    As it's going into a cupboard you could even consider using a few large fans and some tubing to guide the area around inside. It could be as big or as small a project as you're confident about!
     
  8. Big Adam

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    I might be being a bit thick here, but why don't you just put the case in SIDEWAYS???

    That way you can fit in the biggest of ATX towers if you really want with a couple of slow running 120mm fans to keep things chilly.

    Ok, so the CD/DVD drive will eject sideways, but it's not the end of the world.

    That way you'll not be restricting yourself to half-height expansion cards either.

    Big A
     
  9. Big Adam

    Big Adam
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    For a cheap easy peasy build-your own project base, just look here
     
  10. philsparks

    philsparks
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    Now this is starting to get interesting. I guess the easiest thing to do would be to ge the cheapest case I can and then get out the hacksaw!. If I chopped the case In half I could still use the front as a mount for the DVD, HDD and an on/off button. Then use the base to screw the mo-bo too and carry the PSU. then whatever is left of the case I could punch full of holes and use as a shield.
     
  11. philsparks

    philsparks
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    "Sideways" you're right it would fit sideways, but then I couldn't fit anything else in the cupboard (if the cupboard is 80cm wide, and a rgualar tower is say 45 - 50cm deep plus plugs etc, I end up with a narrow 20cm wide slot for the HS10 to live in).

    The deal I had with the missus was I got a big telly (i.e. the projector) as long as I can hide it away.

    Phil
     
  12. Big Adam

    Big Adam
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    Why is a Shuttle no good?

    You can fit in a decent passive Radeon (e.g. 9600SE?) which will give you your DVI, with your Nebula beside it.

    As long as you go for a model with SPDIF out (like the SB51G), assuming you are connecting to a receiver, then Robert's your uncle!!
     
  13. philsparks

    philsparks
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    re Shuttle

    Like I said in my original post (long and wandering I know, I was trying to get all my queries down in one post, prob a bad idea!) I'm not really that fussed about getting the huge cinema sound, so had hoped to buy a passable sound card to do the decoding in the pc then a small amp to power the rear speakers (something like a 2nd hand creek 4040, or maybe even a pair of warfedale active diamonds).

    The cupboard has space for a reaasonable size PC tower (if I can solve the depth prob) and a little amp, but not really for one of those huge AV amp jobbies (most of their space seems to be required for the millions of plugs on the back rather than gubbins inside the box!)

    If I go this way I need a video card, Nebula card, and decent (M-Audio) sound card. Most of the shuttles seem to have one AGP and one PCI slot only.

    Phil
     
  14. dean randle

    dean randle
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    Have you considered the idea of putting a laptop in the cupboard? I currently use a Panasonic laptop to drive my Sanyo Z2 Projector, and it gives a great improvement over the progressive component of my cheapo Compacks DVD player. Admittedly I can only use a VGA connection (due to the limitation of my laptop), but I have also got a SPDIF out to my surround system and find the experience superb! I would recommend Zoomplayer as a player tool too. I'm not a pc expert, but I assume you should be able to network a laptop to any other pc you may already have too?

    Just a thought, hope it helps,

    Dean.

    ps, I am also looking at the idea of building a small htpc, but with the ongoing development of WMV HD and whether or not they can deliver Dolby Digital through a SPDIF, it really is worth waiting a short while to see what happens. (If you get the chance download some of the HD clips from the windows site and connect to a HS10, I'm sure you'll be blown away by the image!!You'll need a 2.4+ processor to get smooth playback though.)

    On a personal note, I really think you should not dismiss the idea of full surround sound. The difference it makes to the movie experience is amazing. Especially with a Sony HS10!!! If it's the size of the speakers, you can even get the 'NXT' range that hang on the wall the size of a picture frame if you so desire. But regular kits now have speakers the size of a teacup! I guess where there's a will, there's a way!

    Sorry if I'm now rambling too, but I just wanted to share some of my experiences.
    Regards.
     
  15. philsparks

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    Thanks for the laptop suggestion. I did a bit of measuring last night and think I have two alternatives:

    1. try and squeeze a full size ATX box into my cupboard. the depth is 42cm and I've found a couple of towers that are exactly 42cm deep. I may struggle with the cables on the back but I think it might juuuuust be possible. I had a look inside my normal tower aswell and there's so much fresh air in there, I'm amazed there aren't more compact options.

    2. Go for the shuttle option. Having had another look, they do seem very cute, and with the clever cooling and compact size are starting to appeal. The downside though is deciding which internal board to go for. I could either go for the M-Audio sound card inside and then get the external Nebula box that connects with USB2 - anybody know if this is as good as the inernal PCI option? Alternatively I could go for the nebula card inside and take the audio out using the optical spdif connection to an external amp decoder. The downside of this is that most decoding boxes are huge and expensive (and then I'm back to my small cupboad issue). what I'd ideally like is a decoder in a small box, that allows me to select front phantom/centre option, maybe add a bit of delay if I need to (I know that the Nebula software can delay the audio, can Power DVD or Theatretec do this as well?). Ideally it would have a small amp to power the rear speakers and phono-outs to connect to the main HiFi. Unfortunatly most of the £150 decoders I've seen in RS don't have these facilities and are huge!

    thanks also for the plug for the big sound option. I'm all for good quality audio (my active Naim amps would be worth c. £10k, and when the recording is good my LP12 can still leave me open mouthed). Even just feeding the stereo output from TV/DVDs through these speakers really enhances the watching experience. What I don't get on with is the huge overblown mess of sound that most cinemas pump out. I know that for really decent sound I should be getting another Linn Kan speaker for centre duties, another pair for rear duties, and a comparable sub (Linn or REL are the only one's that seem to not get panned in most HiFi circles). However I just don't want all this clutter in my lounge. In addition to be comparable to the main HiFi sound I'd be looking at a £2k Naim AV2 decoder, and at least £2k more on power amps.

    My alternative is to feed both the front and centre to the main hi-fi speakers (they're at the bottom corners of the screen). then simply to add the smallest 'reasonable' speakers for rear duties. Like I said, The Anthony Gallios are small, although they get panned for their sound quality in most credible forums. Alternatively there's a small pair of B&Ws or I could try and pick up a 2nd hand pair of active diamonds.

    Phew!
    Phil
     

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