Mini-ITX HTPC Case Final Thoughts
I had finished building an APU-based system in the ML05 right when Valve Software’s SteamOS was made available for download. AMD’s APU processors are a great foundation for a game-oriented PC without discrete graphics, and even though it wasn’t ready for an APU platform (EDIT: this has changed as of 1/8/14, if you’re running SteamOS you should now have AMD graphics support!) I couldn’t resist attempting my own “Steam Machine” build in the ML05. Standing upright next to an Xbox 360 Slim, it wasn’t hard to imagine the ML05 serving the role of living room/gaming PC. The install of SteamOS is definitely an alpha process (I wouldn’t recommend it quite yet with an APU…) but it was an experience that was made all the greater because of the ML05’s form factor. I can’t wait for cases to arrive in a similar form factor to the ML05 that allow for full-size graphics cards. The ML05 is a great step in that direction – and it isn’t even a gaming-oriented case!
SilverStone ML05 Conclusion
How do you rate a case like this for performance? I can’t imagine most users will bother with a discrete GPU, and it isn’t a gaming case (although it does a pretty good job of it when set up right). The open mesh side allows for sufficient airflow, and you can add some fans if you want even more performance. You’ll still need an aftermarket low-profile CPU cooler to get the best temperatures, but overall the ML05’s ability to stay cool with such a low internal volume is pretty remarkable. I was limited by AMD’s stock cooler so gaming with the APU quickly caused the fan to spin up to full speed, but with the right configuration the ML05 can handle a 100W APU in a very quiet manner.
The ML05’s main attraction comes from its petite size. The overall look is fairly attractive, but the mirrored acrylic front panel doesn’t do it any favors (although it looks like that was rapidly adjusted in an updated version). I’m not a fan of the different direction the ML05 takes, although perhaps others might like it – and there’s nothing wrong with having options. At least it probably keeps the cost down… I admire SilverStone’s willingness to try new things, but it’s hard to go wrong with brushed aluminum.
At least the ML05 doesn’t use acrylic for the rest of its construction. Instead, it sticks to typical SilverStone quality and fit/finish. There isn’t a lot of material here, but even the interior is painted black and everything fits together solidly and neatly. The structural cross-braces do their jobs well which is a good thing in a case that has the potential to be moved around a lot due to its size.
You can’t really rate the functionality of such a purpose-built case on the same criteria as every other PC case. It’s limited to SFX power supplies and half-height expansion cards, but that’s hardly a surprise given the miniature size. Accommodating an optical drive or 3.5″ drive (or 120mm + 2x80mm fans) along with four more 2.5″ drives (or six total using the multipurpose bracket) is pretty surprising, and impressive for such a small case. The ML05 resides in somewhat of a niche market, so it is hard to compare it to anything else – but I’d say the ML05 has above-average functionality for a case its size.
In January of 2014 when this article was written, the ML05 was available online for $39.99 (Newegg / Amazon). While there are HTPC cases that are available close to that price, most of them are substantially larger. You’ll probably need to add the cost of an SFX PSU to that, but for a total price of less than $100 you can have a tiny HTPC with some pretty incredible capabilities.
As always you’ll have tradeoffs with a case this small. Requiring an SFX power supply is a given, and thankfully SilverStone offers some great options to pair with the ML05. Overall, there just isn’t anything else available if you’re looking for this small of an HTPC – the ML05 is essentially one-of-a-kind. It’s great that SilverStone has addressed a market that no one else has really cared to. I get the feeling it’ll help them get a head start on some of these rumored “Steam Machines…” Time will ultimately tell of course, but we could see an entire new segment of cases pop up within a few weeks – cases like the ML05 may be a bigger market than anyone has yet realized. Even if that market never fully materializes, the ML05 will still fulfill a niche that few cases can. Although it stands alone in a relatively new and unique corner of the market, it’s a solid option.
+ Only 7 liters
+ Surprising amount of flexibility and performance (with the right components)
+ One of a kind – well, two of a kind now…
+ Subdued design blends in well
+ Amazing price for a unique, well made case
– Mirror, mirror…
– Installing larger components on the multi-purpose bracket impacts airflow substantially
– IR support missing – possibly easily hidden behind that mirror…