SilverStone HTPC mATX Case Final Thoughts
You have to temper your expectations a bit when building a system in a dedicated HTPC case. Sure, you could just take an old ATX tower and set it next to a TV, but most living rooms aren’t designed to accommodate full-tower PC cases. Giving up the extra airflow and expand-ability for a dedicated HTPC enclosure gives you access to specific features like a subdued front panel and compact dimensions while still including necessary features like an optical drive and a full-size power supply (I have previously preferred standard ATX power supplies as their larger fans are generally quieter – with the recent focus on small form factors, this has started to change). While it’s still likely a niche market, the ML04 provides a very elegant option for a dedicated home theater PC.
SilverStone ML04 Conclusion
Performance for HTPC cases means something a little different than a typical enthusiast oriented case, in my opinion. Without room for multiple huge fans, airflow usually takes a back seat to compact dimensions and appearance. Still, in stock form the ML04 provided enough room to allow a 100W APU to do some light gaming (although the stock cooler limited any overclocks), and the fan noise of the stock AMD cooler stayed unnoticeable while watching movies or browsing the web. This is really all you could ask for in a slim HTPC enclosure like this, and the ML04 manages it well. If you really wanted to keep things cool, you could take advantage of the four 80mm fan mounting points on the side. It’s too bad there isn’t room to add a closed loop liquid cooler to allow for some extra performance out of the APU, but that’s a very niche feature better suited to gaming-oriented cases or larger HTPC enclosures (optimized for more airflow like the Grandia series from SilverStone or the Node 605 from Fractal Design); hardly something to expect from an HTPC case in the first place.
Appearance is where SilverStone excels with the ML04. Using their customary brushed aluminum and minimalist approach, the ML04 should blend in nicely to whatever equipment you have. The dimmable power LED is subtle enough to do its job without blinding you, and can be turned off as well. Overall, the ML04 is one of the best looking slim HTPC cases I’ve had the chance to work with and a clear cosmetic improvement over the previous ML03 (which wasn’t hurting either) – I’d recommend it for anyone that wants to add a touch of class to their home theater setup.
Being a SilverStone case, the ML04 is constructed well. It needs the cross braces to keep it from flexing, but these aren’t much of a problem to work around (and they contribute immensely to the stability of the case). It’s a better option than losing a lot of space in the corners of the case anyway. The steel used is more than adequate, and the brushed aluminum front cover is very solid and swings open smoothly. Most of the attention was spent on the outside of the case, as the interior is unpainted and left a little more “rough,” but that’s very standard among HTPC cases on the market and barely worth a mention.
With the ability to fit four low-profile expansion cards, an optical drive and micro-ATX components the ML04 can accommodate a decent amount of functionality. All of the HTPC-oriented features are there, with the possible exception of some more noise isolation (the solid aluminum front door does a great job of redirecting any noise from drives and internal components, but your component choice is going to make the most difference). There’s even room to add additional airflow if you are willing to wire up four 80mm fans. The adjustable power LED is perfect for a living room environment, and the lockable front power button (and the panel itself) is a great feature that is very welcome on an HTPC case. It’d be nice to have some more tool-less features, but those types of conveniences are rarely found in this category anyway – I’d settle for a little re-engineering of the plastic 2.5″/3.5″ combo drive mount so they’re even easier to install. The included magnetic fan filter is a nice addition, but I’d almost prefer a custom 80 x 320mm dust filter for use with the side fan intakes.
In January of 2014, the SilverStone ML04B was selling online for $74.99 (Newegg / Amazon). That’s a little on the expensive side for an enclosure that fits only half-height cards and arrives without a PSU, but the HTPC specific features and compact dimensions ensure the ML04 remains one of the only options to pick from if you truly want a dedicated home theater PC case. I had trouble finding a case that had the shorter depth to fit in among other A/V components and still fit an ATX PSU and an optical drive – the ML04 does that in one of the best looking HTPC cases I’ve worked with.
While you can certainly spend (a lot) more on an HTPC case with even more features, if you want a compact enclosure that can provide the foundation for a dedicated living room entertainment PC the ML04 is a solid choice.
+ One of the best looking HTPC cases available in this size, brushed aluminum finish on front cover
+ HTPC-specific features, designed for the living room
+ Dimmable power LED
+ Lockable front power button
+ Shorter depth, should fit nicely with A/V components
+ mATX, optical drive and full size ATX PSU in a relatively compact case
– Half-height expansion cards only (one full-size “utility” slot)
– Magnet could be a little stronger to keep door closed when unlocked
– No included fans for airflow
– No “window” for IR remotes in front panel
Final Score: 8.55 out of 10.
Recommended: Benchmark Reviews Seal of Approval.
COMMENT QUESTION: Which HTPC enclosure to you prefer most?