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Aug 09

Chenbro ES34169 Mini-ITX case meets Zotac H55ITX-A-E board

So far I’ve been happily using my Popcorn Hour A-110 media player for the daily media playing needs. Movies, usually play just fine with slight artifacts but mostly good quality except those seldom times when the Media Tank has a hard time understanding what on Earth I’m feeding it . I guess one of those times was a few weeks back when I was really anxious about watching a good movie when the PCH decided that it won’t play it. Period. It was one frustration too many for me. I decided to look into alternatives and mainly HTPCs.

I’ve had some experience in building a small factor PC before, so the terrain was familiar enough to start doing some research. I finally settled on a Chenbro ES34169 case mated with Zotac’s H55ITX-A-E motherboard which in turn carried Intel’s new Core i3-530 2.9 Ghz processor.

I am not going to review the parts as there are extensive reviews on the web, good reviews I might say, but instead focus a bit on the CPU cooling in conjunction with the case.

The Chenbro case appealed to my sense of beauty as it is very small, stylish, compact enough to fit in a tight media cabinet and also generous enough to fit 4 regular (3.5) hard drives plus a small 2.5 drive. That really says a lot about interior space in a case just 260 x 140 x 260 (mm). I personally like simple and efficient design out of which the Chenbro has both.

There was a problem however. One that bugged me even before placing the order for the case and all other parts: CPU cooler clearance. I knew that the new 32nm Core i3 chips run much cooler than their 45nm counterparts so this was already some good news. After a few hours of asking around and crunching numbers from various websites, the conclusion was that the stock CPU cooler would not fit in this case.

Fast forward to building time, surely enough, I was right.

The heatsink fan was standing approximately 2 mm taller than the case. I have to say that even if it was lower than the case I still wouldn’t have used it as the airflow above the fan was totally inadequate.

My choices at the time of ordering the parts were the following:

Out of these three the last one seemed like the most decent and was also recommended by some very helpful people at MissingRemote.com. Having reached this conclusion before ordering the parts, I included the Slim X3 in my order, and here it is:

At only 36mm in height with this cooler I still had little clearance for air flow above the fan, but decided to go ahead with the build. I need to mention that even if the case side panel has an air vent, exactly above the CPU heatsink, it’s not very efficient since the guys at Chenbro obviously did not give too much thought to this aspect or maybe they just considered design being more important than efficiency.

The problem with the panel is that it’s made out of two panels stitched together. The inner side is aluminum and the outer side is plastic with quite a nice finish. Unfortunately I don’t have a picture with the panel but the problem can be seen clearly in this picture looking at the top and bottom panels (note that the case is on it’s side):

The main problem is that the holes on the outside, being very narrow, do not line up with the square shaped holes in the inner aluminum case resulting in the airflow being mostly obstructed by this design feature.

Another significant concern in this small project was the heatsink clearance, bellow. I have to say here that, right now, after having built this HTPC, I am still not 100% sure that the heatsink is not touching the small capacitors around the CPU socket. After spending some 30 minutes with a powerful flashlight and lots of paper shreds looking to find any point of contact I had to take a decision and go ahead and tighten the heatsink screws. I was literally praying that I don’t hear a crack. Here’s what it looks like:

Thermaltake Slim X3 on Zotac H55ITX-A-E

Whew! No crack.

Here are some pictures with the final assembly:

HTPC - Chenbro 34169 Case with Zotac H55ITX-A-E

HTPC - Chenbro 34169 Case with Zotac H55ITX-A-E

HTPC - Chenbro 34169 Case with Zotac H55ITX-A-E

Note that the two fans on the back of the case only send air throughout the lower deck of the case where the PSU and the 4 hot-swap drive bays are located. For the upper deck there is no fan by default, but the case has the option of installing a 60mm case fan on the front panel. In the image bellow, in the lower right part there is a square air intake. Behind this intake there are mounts for the 60mm fan.

HTPC - Chenbro 34169 Case with Zotac H55ITX-A-E

As with any newborn these days I started checking the temperature once it started making it’s first noises. Here are the readings in an ambient room temperature of approx. 26C (I know, we’ve had a few unusually hot days in Vancouver this summer). For stressing the CPU I used Pime95:

Closed case, no case fan: 49C idle, 75C full throttle

Open case, no case fan: 36C idle, 69C full throttle

Closed case with 60mm case fan: 39C idle, 70C full throttle

Based on these temperature readings, my conclusion is that the Thermaltake HSF is doing it’s job pretty well for a 36mm low profile HSF, but on the downside it has to cope with an inadequate supply of fresh cool air to function at it’s peak. Personally I think the temperatures are OK for the non-intensive processing¬† chores of an HTPC.

If you have any questions related to this project, feel free to leave me a comment and I’ll try to assist in any way I can.

Following, some more pictures [Use FULL SCREEN (FS) for better quality].

Catalin Goilav

——————————
Live in Vancouver with kids? Try www.LittleTots.ca. Best source for Vancouver Kids Activities and Attractions!

About the author

Stefan Goilav

38 comments

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  1. Ezra

    Hello, great review!

    I was hoping you could answer some questions for me. Do you have any numbers on how much power the machine is using on idle and at load? I’m not sure if the 120W PSU is enough with an i3 in there and 4 HDDs.

    Also, did you have to buy a case fan separately (if so, link please) or did it come with the Chenbro?

    Finally, what OS did you settle with (any special raid config)? How’s the read/write performance?

    1. Stefan Goilav

      Sorry but right now I don’t have any way of telling how much power this rig is consuming. Power consumption was not one of my main concerns, as I have plenty of heavy consumers around the house that will dwarf the htpc. I know, I’ll burn in hell. At least the guys at Green Peace say that ;)

      In my current config I have 3 hard drives with no optical drive. The PSU seems to be handling it quite well.

      The two HDD cage fans that you can see on the back of the case came with the package. Unfortunately there was no case fan for the upper deck where the motherboard is located. I had to pick up a 60 mm fan from a friend and add it to the case.

      As for the OS I am using Windows 7 x64 with no RAID config. I keep my backups on separate drives that most of the times are not powered.

      RW performance, with the 2 TB drives from western digital is between 80 and 100 Mb/s (copying from one drive to another)

  2. Lorenzo

    Has this case an internal psu or external? I mean, do you need a laptop adapter?

    1. Stefan Goilav

      ES34169 has an internal PSU behind the hot swap drive bays. The ES34069 does not have that but instead it has an external brick PSU that comes in 120W and 180W flavors.

      http://www.chenbro.eu/corporatesite/products_cat.php?pos=2

      Other difference between the two seems to be the lack of the PCI slot on the back of the ES34069

      I am not sure how they used the free space in the ES34069 as the overall case dimensions look the same.

  3. Ezra

    Hi Stefan, I’m really curious about this Zotac board and its support with OpenSolaris (I’m planning on using ZFS). Could you do me a huge favor and check if all the parts are supported?

    You’ll have to boot into an opensolaris livecd (http://www.genunix.org/dist/indiana/osol-dev-134-x86.iso). The livecd should boot you into gnome, and then you’ll have to go into Applications > System Tools > Device Driver Utility and it’ll show you if anything is missing.

    1. Stefan Goilav

      I’ll try to find some time this week for that. I’ll let you know.

  4. Nils

    I’m also curious regarding OpenSolaris. :)

    1. Stefan Goilav

      I did some tests, but they were not conclusive. It always hanged during boot up. I don’t think it was the motherboard but something related to the AHCI configuration. Unfortunately I don’t have an optical drive in that pc so it’s quite difficult for me to try fiddling with Open Solaris again.

  5. ornic

    Hi, Stefan!

    I am planning to make HTPC/torrent server with this case and some atom+ion m/b. My main concern is the noise and HDD temp. Could you please share your experience with it?

  6. Stefan Goilav

    I will measure the sound level next to the case, tonight. I will do it with the iPhone, so it might not be extremely accurate. With regards to temperatures, I don’t have a temp sensor next to the drives, but you should bear in mind that the HDD compartment is completely separate from the MB+CPU compartment and it has it’s own two fans on the back of the case. These two fans blow air directly onto the PSU and then on the sides in the HDD compartment.

    1. ornic

      Temperatures can be easy monitored by some utility that shows HDDs S.M.A.R.T. data. I prefer SpeedFan, but there are some more.

  7. Stefan Goilav

    Noise level in a completely silent room otherwise, is around 40dB. Measured a few inches away from the case with “Decibels” app on the iPhone.

    Temperatures for the drive bay are quite low as, usually, there’s only one drive ON, the others being in stand by. SMART tab in speed fan does not give any info, in fact it doesn’t even show hard drives. Didn’t have time to look into it.

  8. Andrew Ensley

    Hi Stefan, Thank you for this detailed review. I’m looking
    into building a very similar machine (chenbro case, zotac board,
    core i3). I just have one quick question: How long were the SATA
    data cables you used? I’ve been trying to judge the length I’ll
    need from pictures and measurements, and it seems like 12 inch /
    30cm cables should reach, but I wasn’t sure if they were too long.
    Andrew

  9. Stefan Goilav

    The sata cables are the usual length. It’s more than enough. Unfortunately I can’t measure them without dismantling the pc, but suffice it it say that I was left with some unwanted slack after connecting the drives.

  10. Tobi

    Hi Stefan,

    Thanks for this detailed build guide. Do you know if the Thermaltake cpu cooler you are using blows air down onto the heatsink and cpu or if it draws air away from it upwards. Thanks.

    Cheers,

    Tobi

    1. Stefan Goilav

      I am pretty sure it blows air onto the cooler. It doesn’t make too much sense to draw the air up since the air close to the pcb is much warmer than the air on top of the CPU cooler. I think this us how most if the CPU cooler fans work. On many cases there are air vents exactly on top of the cooler do the cool air can get in. But again, I might be wrong.

  11. Artem

    Hi!

    The PSU has active or passive cooling? I really intrested in absolutely silent system.

    And one more thing. Is there really no front panel cardreader in the default shipping?

    1. Stefan Goilav

      The psu itself is not self contained. It’s an open component inside the case. However the two fans on the back of the case blow air directly onto it and past it towards the drive cages. The fans are pretty silent.

      That’s correct about the card reader. It’s not included with the case.

  12. Markus

    Hi Stefan,
    thak you for this great article. Could you tell me something about the noiselevel of the 70mm fans at the back? Would it technically be possible to replace them? What are the specifications (70*70*15, or 70*70*25)?

    Thanks in advance,

    kind regards

    1. Stefan Goilav

      As stated in a previous comment, the noise level is around 40db measured with an iPhone right next to the case. They are definitely replaceable, however I can’t give you exact measurements right now. As soon as I open the case I will get back to you.

      1. Andrew Ensley

        I just built a home storage server using this case. The rear fans that came with mine are 70 x 70 x 25. Hope that helps.

  13. Markus

    hi, thanks for your replies.
    @ Andrew, are you sure? I found a review here
    http://arstechnica.com/civis/viewtopic.php?f=7&t=1126862
    which says, they are 70*15.
    Could someone tell me the name of the fans, or confirm the specs so I can be sure? (green letters)

    Second question. The sata cable are a little bit too long for my taste. Would it technically possible to replace them with shorter ones?

    Ok that was my last question,

    thank you very much guys

    1. Stefan Goilav

      Not only technically but it’s also physically possible to replace them. Absolutely.

    2. Howdy

      You’ve maganed a first class post

  14. Carles

    Hi.

    I’ve the chenbro case paired with an atom motherboard. I’m going to replace it with Zotac H67-ITX-C-E and an i3-2100t.

    For your information the stock HSF is about 30mm height.

    Markus, I’ve connected the rear 2 fans to 5V line and there’s no noise from them, obviously they’re running at low speed.

  15. Witya

    hey

    I am currently building a system on h67.
    I wonder if Scythe Kozuti is a good enough choice for the cpu cooler? (it is 40mm thick, should not be a problem right?)

    1. Stefan Goilav

      There shouldn’t be any problem on clearance. Also, I have all but praise for Scythe. They do an awesome job in coolers, especially with this type of fan sandwiched between the plate and the cooler.

  16. Witya

    hey again :),

    Where did you connect the LAN led’s and error led. I wonder if it is possible somehow

    1. Stefan Goilav

      I didn’t. You need the corresponding connectors on the motherboard for that.

  17. Jochen

    Hi,

    thanks for this post. I am currently running a Supermicro X7SPA-HF (with Atom D510) inside a Chenbro ES34069 (with external 180W PSU) and am thinking about upgrading the board and CPU.

    My question is: would you be comfortable to batch-encode videos on this machine? I am a bit unsure whether the cooling is really sufficient.

    Thanks,
    Jochen.

    1. Stefan Goilav

      Well, I guess it largely depends on the CPU you choose. The i3s for example tend to stay cooler than other CPUs so I would say low profile fans in this case should provide adequate cooling. In my tests, if I remember correctly, I used Prime95 which generated reasonable temperatures.

  18. Tima

    Hello!

    That wasn’t easy to me to find such a good guide! But I have a question, tell me please how did you manage to separate the rear fan plate from the case? Cuz I’ve got the same Chenbro and yesterday I followed the guide http://www.mini-itx.com/store/information/es34069-manual.pdf, released the secure screws on the M/B cage and released the two screws around the rear fans but the small compartment wasn’t going out, even if I tried very hard, nothing helped, it stayed sealed as if I’ve done nothing. It seems that there is something that keep it at the place. Could you please give me a clue? Thanks in advance!

    1. Stefan Goilav

      This happened to me too. You need to also remove the two little screws on each side of the power connector. It’s a bit counter intuitive since you may think it releases the connector, but that’s not the case. the only visible screws that should be left on the back plate are the 4 holding the fans (two each). Also, in case you didn’t notice already, the back plate comes off together with the horizontal plate that holds the motherboard. They’re one piece.

      1. Tima

        Thanks a lot! I did like you said and it worked out. My idea was to change the included fan to the better one. So, I swapped it, but unfortunately it didn’t help. It’s still noisy, have you tried to solve that problem?

        1. Stefan Goilav

          I did not need to change that fan, however, due to the CPU sink and fan being low profile, there was not adequate air flow on the upper section where the motherboard is, so I added a puny little fan inside that compartment at the front of the case that pulls air through the front panel. But yeah, it may be a bit noisy.

          1. Tima

            Got it. Decided to decrease the speed by plugging the fan to motherboard and then to turn it a bit down in bios, that’s gotta help.

            Thanks to you anyway! Hi from Moscow :)

  19. Stefan Goilav

    Maybe the Chenbro PSU was defective. Some PSUs are known to fry partially and only able to power up at low loads. I can say that in my setup, the Chenbro PSU works just fine with the Zotac MB and the i3.

  20. Carles

    Hi.

    In my configuration I’ve 4 3.5″ SATA disks (RAID5), 1 2.5″ SATA (boot) and one ODD, there’s no power issue booting this configuration with the 120W Power suply.

    Try to delay the HDD spinup in BIOS configuration, there’s an option to do this.

    Regards.

  1. FreeNAS i3 setup | Base Six

    […] A review appeared to confirm that the ES34169 would work nicely with the Zotac motherboard and an i3. When all the parts finally arrived and I built the system, unfortunately it would not boot. Some swapping of PSUs eventually confirmed that the Chenbro PSU was fine (it would boot a lower wattage system) as was the Zotac board, CPU and RAM (it would boot on another PSU), so the only conclusion was that 120W was not enough for the system. […]

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