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 processingĀ  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.

Catalin Goilav

Reducing costs usually increases headaches

I just felt like sharing a small mishap that occurred during my last HTPC project. This one involved the Zotac H55ITX-A-E motherboard which, by all means, is a small powerhouse, worthy of attention from anyone looking into the mini ITX market. I won’t go into technical details as there are quite a few good reviews out there.

Basically what happened is that after installing and gluing together all components, I got inevitably to the driver installation. Chipset went well, video went well, Gigabit lan…not so well.

Running the Realtek driver package for Windows 7 was always throwing the “The RealTek Network Adapter/Controller was not found. If Deep Sleep Mode enabled Please Plug the Cable” error message. This was quite a deal-breaker for me since IĀ  heavily rely on the Gigabit LAN.

After doing some investigations in the Device Manager I concluded that there must be something wrong physically with the motherboard since Windows was also having trouble finding a suitable driver.

All this until, by chance, I looked on the driver CD that came with the board. Among other drivers and files there was this Intel Network.exe file that caught my eye. I didn’t notice it the first time since the Realtek Gb Lan Driver totally stole the spotlight when looking for the Ethernet card driver on the CD.

A few setup screens later, lo and behold, there was the shiny network icon in the system tray connected 1Gbps.

So my advice on anyone getting the Realtek treatment above, make sure you DO have a Realtek chip on board and not something else, like Intel in my case. Sometimes the board manufacturers are not very clear on which brand your chipset is, but throw lots of drivers on the CD that is shipped eventually with every component they make.