With relatively compact dimensions of 440mm (width) x 105mm (height) x 350mm (depth), the SilverStone ML04 still manages to include some interesting features. The exterior (or front panel, really) is what you’ll be staring at while the ML04 is sitting in an entertainment center, and SilverStone did a great job of dressing up that exterior from the previous ML03 – namely, by covering everything with a very nice brushed aluminum door. Far from “the easy way out,” I think this door is one of the ML04′s greatest strengths and allows for some of its better HTPC qualities.
One of the best features of the ML04 in my opinion is the lockable front panel. The power button itself can be locked, preventing any curious fingers from repeatedly powering on your HTPC (for a case that will probably sit in a living room, usually at a level right in front of a young child’s eyes, this becomes a must have feature that is immensely appreciated). The slight inconvenience of having to open a panel to swap a movie DVD or Blu-ray is more than offset by this feature. The solid aluminum brushed panel also conceals the I/O ports while allowing the case to blend in with any other equipment, and the power LED itself can be dimmed by a slider (or just turned off entirely). These are features that are very nice to have, and are usually only found on dedicated HTPC cases like the ML04 (these options are surprisingly more rare than they should be in this category).
The ML04′s 4.1″ (105mm) height means there’s only room for half-height expansion cards (unless you include the full-length slot above the motherboard’s rear I/O panel, which is designed more for fan controllers and CMOS switches). As a dedicated HTPC case, this is usually much more acceptable and a necessary tradeoff to get the case down to A/V equipment size. Most HTPC-class graphics cards come in a half height version, and TV tuner cards/audio expansion cards will as well. Besides, there’s the Grandia series from SilverStone if you need to accommodate more powerful hardware, the Milo series is designed for a different part of the market.
If you look closely you can pick out the mounting holes for four 80mm fans on this side panel. You’d probably want to select those fans carefully to keep noise down (and keeping the wiring clean would take some effort), but that’s a considerable amount of potential airflow for a half-height micro-ATX HTPC case. Even the open mesh panel ensures a decent amount of airflow, although it does provide an area for sound to easily escape (or dust to enter – but some of SilverStone’s FF81B‘s would fix that if it was a huge concern) . This may not be much of an issue, as the front door blocks most of the sound from the internals which is the “important” angle anyway. The type of cabinet you place the ML04 in will change how the sound escapes as well, so this will vary per user.
The left side contains some ventilation for the 3.5″ drive bay located under the optical drive, and should be sufficient to keep temperatures in check. SilverStone includes some rubber drive mounts for use in this location to help keep noise down, but your drive selection will be the determining factor here – and really, that’s true for any HTPC build (your component choices make the contributing factor to noise, the case itself can only do so much). The top cover includes this side (the right side / 80mm fan mounts stay attached to the base), so when removing or replacing the lid you’ll need to make sure this segment latches correctly – thankfully the smaller size makes this easier than some other cases that use this type of “wrap-around” panel.
The top of the ML04 is pretty uneventful barring the angled mesh vent for CPU cooling. An included magnetic filter provides some dust protection too and is easy to attach or remove for cleaning. The depth of the case (how far it would reach into a cabinet or shelf) is 13.78 inches (350mm), which is pretty shallow and should fit in nicely with other A/V equipment (the few other HTPC cases I’ve worked with have all been significantly longer in depth, making stacking other equipment on a shelf interesting or impossible).
The bottom of the ML04 highlights the locations for 2.5 and 3.5 inch drives, as well as the filtered power supply intake and the rubber feet (with the ones in front getting the “stereo” treatment). The hinged front panel should clear any equipment around the ML04, so if the heat produced stays within reasonable limits you could easily stack this case in among other home theater equipment.