Moneual / Ahanix / D-Vine 300 Series Cases

October 12, 2008

As mentioned in my last post, I’m favoring the Moneual 301 low profile case and just bought one.  Here is some more information that might benefit others interested in this case.

A company called Moneual has an attractive low profile case called the Moncaso 301, available in both black and platinum.

Moneual 301 B HTPC Case

Moneual 301 B HTPC Case

Moneual 301 B HTPC Case

Another view of the Moneual 301 B HTPC Case

This case is currently selling for around $250 USD (Newegg & elsewhere) – costly but much cheaper than the OrigenAE case I’ve been looking at.  Locating any reviews or build logs concerning the Moneual case has proved impossible for me to find, unfortunately.  During the course of endless google searching, I came across the Ahanix D-Vine MCE-302.  The Ahanix is nearly identical in appearance and interior layout but has also been discontinued for some time now.  The Ahanix requires a PSU with a fan mounted at the rear as there are no ventilation holes in the bottom of this case to accommodate PSUs with larger 120mm top (or bottom) mounted fans.  The Ahanix also utilizes a VFD which requires a kludgy exterior cable connection to the parallel port (yes, a parallel port!) on your motherboard.  The VFD on the new Moneual is USB driven and is connected internally to the USB header on your motherboard – no ugly jumper cable sticking out from the back of the case.  The card reader in the Ahanix case also differs in that it doesn’t contain USB/Firewire/Audio connections behind the hidden door on the front panel as the Moneual case does – another nice subtle change that Moneual has done.

Ahanix D-Vine MCE-302, circa 2005

Yet another version of this case exists – the D-Vine (Ahanix) MCE-303 – and it’s apparently only available (or was available) from a seller on eBay name “colorcase”.  This said, it’s not as widely available as the Moneual case is, but it’s nearly half the cost (when available on eBay).  I’ve seen prices range from $60-$130 USD for the MCE-303 on eBay – seems like a great deal!  So what’s different about this case?  The front panel is identical to the more expensive Moneual with rounded edges on the VFD window and optical drive slot.  The VFD on the D-Vine is connected to the motherboard via the USB header as on the Moneual.  Like the old Ahanix 302 case, the newer D-Vine MCE-303 also requires a PSU with a rear mounted fan as described above and it shares a similar card reader (if not the same?) as the old 302 which lacks front USB/Firewire/Audio connectivity.
I don’t know how Ahanix and Moneual are related but I find the similarities interesting.  Below are some reference links that I found useful when learning the differences of these HTPC cases.

 


 

Quiet PC’s mini review, pictures, etc. on the Moneual 301
Custom PC’s review of the Moneual 301
Commercial vendor’s page with description of components used in this case- may be useful.
Nice user review and build log of the Ahanix MCE-303 case
Lots of good pictures and additional info on the Ahanix MCE-303
Linux Drivers for Soundgraph iMON USB IR/VFD devices
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Shopping nearly complete

September 29, 2008

Well, I couldn’t wait any longer.  I grew impatient waiting for the OrigenAE cases to become available again.  I found another HTPC case that caught my eye, and cheaper.  The Monauel 301 is a low profile case that supports a full size PSU and micro ATX motherboard.  It has a vacuum fluorescent display and a sleek attractive design.  It should work out nice for my needs.  I’ve ordered all parts for the build now with the exception of the CPU cooler.  This will be determined after the components are assembled in the case when I can see how much (or little) clearance there is.  Here’s the final parts list, minus the cooler:

 

Motherboard: Abit AN-M2HD

CPU:              AMD Athlon 64 X2 5400 2.8Ghz Black Edition

RAM:             Corsair, 2GB (two sticks of CM2X1024-6400C4)

PSU:              Seasonic SS-330GB 330w        

Hard Drive:   Samsung HD103UJ 1TB

Optical:         LG GH20NS15 black DVD burner

Case:             Moneual Moncaso 301B

 

 

Moneual 301 B HTPC Case

Moneual 301 B HTPC Case


Waiting

September 13, 2008

After spending way too much time researching HTPC cases, I’m almost certainly going with an OrigenAE case – either the black S10V or the slightly taller S14V.  Unfortunately there’s only one distributor for OrigenAE in the US – pcalchemy.com – and they are currently sold out of the black cases until November according to the site.  It looks like I’ll be waiting a while before proceeding with my build.

In the meantime I have already ordered the Abit AN-M2HD micro ATX motherboard along with two 1GB sticks of Corsair memory.  I’m looking at the AMD X2 5400+ black edition chip, a 2.8GHz dual core 65w processor for the motherboard since it should easily overclock without much effort and it’s cheap.  Some people are successfully using hotter quad core Phenom socket AM+ processors with this board, but it currently requires a tricky bios flash.  It doesn’t seem like a good option for a small HTPC so I’ll probably give the low wattage 5400+ a try and think about upgrading later if it struggles with HD content.


HTPC Cases: the good, bad & ugly

September 5, 2008

I guess I’m too picky.  After spending countless online hours trying to locate an attractive case I have found only a few that satisfy my taste.  Don’t get me wrong, there are hundreds of HTPC cases to choose from, ranging from the cheap and downright ugly to those that incorporate nifty touch screens and a lot of other features that I really don’t need.  My requirements are a smallish low profile case with a nice clean look with good build quality.  Here are some cases that caught my eye:

 

Omaura TF8

Omaura TF8

The Omaura TF8 has a nice clean simply look but further research shows quality problems with this case and distribution problems.  Dell was selling Omaura cases for a short time but apparently they no longer handle them, presumably because of all the problems users have reported.  I couldn’t find the case available from any other US distributors, but I think I’ll pass anyway based on what I’ve read so far.  Too bad…


 

 

Here’s an interesting case made by A-Tech Fabrication.  It’s a passively cooled Mini ITX case made from CNC machined aluminum and features a proprietary CPU/GPU cooling solution which directs heat to the finned case.  I love the clean minimalistic look and high build quality, but high quality comes with a high price tag.  Nice case, but expensive…


 

 

OrigenAE S10V

I keep gravitating towards the OrigenAE S10V slimline case.  I think it’s the best looking Micro ATX case in this group and is highly regarded among enthusiasts for it’s exceptional build quality.  While I don’t need a VFD, the display on this case is larger than normal and should actually be readable from a distance.  I also understand that the display is compatible with Linux.  Things that concern me are cooling and the high price – around $390.00 US

Reviews:
http://www.techpowerup.com/reviews/Origen_ae/S10V/


 

 

MCubed HFX-519

MCubed HFX-519

The MCubed HFX-519 is another passively cooled case with a similar minimalistic look as the A-Tech Fab case.  Though cheaper than the A-Tech case, it’s still expensive at around $340.00 US and I was unable to locate a US distributor for the case.  More info here.


 

 

Thermaltake VC7001SNS

Thermaltake VC7001SNS

Here’s another interesting slimline case that caught my eye made by Thermaltake.  The Mozart Sx VC7001SNS features an attractive front with VFD display and numerous control buttons.  The VC7000SNS is also available and excludes the buttons, which I probably wouldn’t use anyway.  See Thermaltake’s site for more details on these cases.  Newegg is currently selling the case for about $200.00 US, unfortunately reviews concerning this case are not encouraging.  Users are reporting problems getting the 2nd generation VFDs to work under Linux and there are some problems using PCI tuner cards in this case.  While I don’t plan on using a tuner card, I like to leave my options open.  I’ll probably stay away from this case, but I do like the look and the price isn’t bad compared to some of the others here.

Reviews:
http://www.futurelooks.com/378-Thermaltake-Mozart-SX–VC7001SNS–Slim-Home-Theatre-PC-Enclosure-Review.html


 

 

Lian Li PC-C37B

Lian Li PC-C37B

I recently came across photos of this case by Lian Li.  I am not familiar with Lian Li but the case gets fairly decent reviews at newegg.  This case currently retails for around $155 and looks decent, but I’m not getting the warm fuzzies over it.  I haven’t had a chance to pull up any reviews on the case yet.  Perhaps I could be persuaded by some glorifying reviews.


 

 

Silverston LC19B

Silverstone LC19B

The Silverstone LC19B is yet another slimline Micro ATX case that looks stylish and simplistic.  It retails for around $200.00 US.  I haven’t had a chance to research this case but intend on finding out more about it.  It might be a strong contender.


Pre Build 3: Looking at Micro ATX mobos

September 2, 2008

After spending some time researching Micro ATX motherboards and narrowing them down to the features that I require (most notably IEEE 1394 support with an Nvidia chipset & Gigabit LAN), I’m leaning towards an Abit AN-M2HD, available for under $100 at most online retailers.  Here are the specs:

Model
Brand ABIT
Model AN-M2HD (LE)
Supported CPU
CPU Socket Type AM2+/AM2
CPU Type Athlon 64 X2 / Athlon 64 FX / Athlon 64
FSB 1000MHz Hyper Transport (2000 MT/s)
Chipsets
North Bridge GeForce7050PV/ nForce630a
Memory
Number of Memory Slots 4×240pin
Memory Standard DDR2 800
Maximum Memory Supported 8GB
Dual Channel Supported Yes
Expansion Slots
PCI Express x16 1
PCI Express x1 1
PCI Slots 2
Storage Devices
PATA 1 x ATA100 2 Dev. Max
SATA 3Gb/s 4
SATA RAID 0/1/0+1/5/JBOD
Onboard Video
Onboard Video Chipset NVIDIA GeForce 7050PV
Onboard Audio
Audio Channels 8 Channels
Onboard LAN
Max LAN Speed 10/100/1000Mbps
Rear Panel Ports
PS/2 2
Video Ports D-Sub
HDMI 1 x HDMI
USB 4 x USB 2.0
IEEE 1394 1 x IEEE 1394a
S/PDIF Out 1x Optical
Audio Ports 6 Ports
Onboard USB
Onboard USB 8 x USB 2.0
Onboard 1394
Onboard 1394 1x 1394a
Physical Spec
Form Factor Micro ATX
Dimensions 9.6″ x 9.6″
Power Pin 24 Pin

Some other candidates in the same price range include the MSI K9N2GM-FIH (AMD) and the MSI P6NGM-FIH (Intel).  An attractive feature of all of these boards is the onboard video.  I should not need a discrete video card with the use of these motherboards and this will be one less aspect to deal with during the build.

Before buying any board, it’s a good idea to check linux compatibility and see if the board is being used by any other MythTV users.  Aside from Google, some other good sources of information is the MythTV mailing list archive and the Knoppmyth forum.  There are probably other good sources, but I seem to gravitate towards these two.

Abit AN-M2HD

Abit AN-M2HD

Some searching reveals MythTV users successfully using the AN-M2HD and getting 1080p out of the GeForce 7050PV.  The latest Nvidia driver supports XvMC with the 7050PV which might prove nice depending upon the chosen CPU.  Whether or not the board and chosen CPU can actually decode 1080p without dropped frames is another story.  More research to do…

Resources:

http://www.overclockersclub.com/reviews/abit_m2hd/2.htm
http://wiki.linuxmce.org/index.php/ABIT_AN-M2HD


Pre Build 2: Verify firewire connectivity & 1080p

August 31, 2008

Before ordering any parts for the build, there are two small but important details to verify and work out that will help solidify my decision to go on with the build.  Some of these potential stumbling blocks can be worked out prior to the build and will provide me with a better comfort level.

I’ll call this the “testing phase” and will be using my trusty old Shuttle SN85G4.  This is an attractive small form factor PC with a now outdated Athlon 64 3200+ processor with a gig of memory and Windows XP Pro loaded on it. 

Shuttle SN85G4

Shuttle SN85G4

The first order of business is to determine whether or not the firewire output on the Motorola DCT-6200 cable box is active or blocked.  The Shuttle has a firewire port and I’ll use it to test connectivity with the 6200.  A unique Windows driver must first be downloaded and installed in order for Windows to recognize the 6200 correctly.  I will not detail these steps but will provide the references that I used to get this up and running with WinXP.  Once the driver is installed, VLC media player can be used to watch the stream by setting VLC to open a capture device and selecting the Direct Show option (File>Open Capture Device>DirectShow>OK).  The good news is that I confirmed that the firewire port on my 6200 was enabled and could be used to capture live video streams.  As I understand, encrypted pay channels are not available through the firewire connection.  Since I don’t subscribe to any upper tier pay channels this does not concern me.  HD channels were able to be captured over firewire but with the sacrifice of lost frames and general choppiness.  This is probably a result of the Athlon 3200 as I noted the CPU usage was pegged out when streaming HD content from the cable box.   Standard definition performed fine but VLC crashed every time when performing a channel change.  Though this wasn’t a perfect outcome I feel it’s a viable option that I can make work down the road when it’s time to interface the 6200 with Linux and Mythtv.

Another “must have” for my HTPC is 1080p display output to the Sony 55″ HDTV.  The card I chose for the Shuttle some time ago was an Nvidia FX5200 AGP low profile fanless card with DVI out – a $10 ebay special.  I don’t game and the card has performed fine for me.  It also happens to be one of the most common cards used by MythTV people.  If I can get this older card to handle 1080p then I’m fairly confident that I’ll be able to get 1080p from whichever Nvidia card I chose for the new HTPC (perhaps I’ll just reuse this old 5200). 

FX5200

FX5200

I’ll test this by downloading the latest Windows Nvidia driver for the card and purchasing a DVI to HDMI cable from monoprice.com (the cheapest source for such cables).  Through the Nvidia control panel, the Sony was correctly identified and a resolution of 1920×1080 was selected and the television accepted the signal without complaining.  However, when displaying the input signal information using Sony’s “display” command, the television confirmed 1080i and not 1080p.  There was also noticeable overscan that would have to be corrected, but I was more concerned about getting a progressive signal.  After fiddling with more Nvidia control panel settings and menus, I found the option needed to get a 1080p signal: Video & Television > Change the Signal or HDTV Format > 3. Select the Signal Format You Would Like to Use > 1080p.  Once set correctly, I had a beautiful 1080p display coming from the computer with overscan that I corrected using the built-in Nvidia tool.  The resulting resolution was 1824×1020 with no overscan.  Confirming that the 5200 will display 1080p, I feel confident that I won’t have any problems on the Linux side getting a 5200 or later card to handle 1080p.  Decoding 1080p is an entirely different circumstance and will be explored more later.  So far so good…

Motorola DCT-6200 Firewire Windows driver:
http://tehmatt.com/STB/

Motorola DCT-6200 Firewire resources:
http://www.htpcnews.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=10499
http://forums.freytechnologies.com/forums/showthread.php?t=9288&page=1
http://home.comcast.net/~exdeus/stbfirewire/

Motorola DCT-6200 Manual:
http://broadband.motorola.com/consumers/products/DCT6200/downloads/DCT6200_User_Guide.pdf


Pre Build 1: HTPC Expectations

August 31, 2008

Let’s outline some expectations before jumping in and lay a proper foundation for this home theater PC build.

HTPC Function:

By basic definition, the HTPC is the central hub of a media entertainment system and it should be able to perform a number of tasks such as music and video streaming, PVR functionality, CD/DVD playback, provide on-screen data such as weather conditions, RSS feeds, etc.  Additionally, our HTPC should be able to stream live and recorded television to low cost satellite front-end machines scattered around the home via hardwired Ethernet (which I installed last year throughout our home).

Software Considerations:

I experimented with MythTV briefly three years ago and was impressed by the functionality that it offered.  At that time I didn’t have a spare machine to dedicate to MythTV and my involvement with the software was rather short.  Though that install was short-lived, it made some lasting impressions and desires to create a permanent MythTV box which I now intend to do.  At that time I used the Knoppmyth distro for a fairly painless installation.  Since I’m not familiar with anything outside of Debian based distros I intend on using Knoppmyth again or perhaps Mythbuntu to get a base system up and running.

Hardware Considerations:

DVI / HDMI Output

This system will be connected to a Sony HDTV which accepts 1080p over HDMI, so ideally the HTPC should be 1080p display capable and capable of playing high definition content.  Decoding 1080p will be a big challenge and perhaps won’t even be possible with the hardware I select.  I will explore this more thoroughly later.  The HTPC must have DVI or HDMI video output.  Though the KDS-55A2000 has a VGA input, the display’s resolution is greatly limited when connected via VGA.  Simply put, VGA isn’t an option for me.

IEEE 1394 Firewire

My high def cable box is the Motorola DCT-6200 which has two firewire out ports.  It would be ideal for the HTPC to communicate with the 6200, so the next prerequisite is that the HTPC have a firewire port to interface with the cable box to provide the tuner functionality.

Motorola DCT-6200 Cable Box

Motorola DCT-6200 Cable Box

Gigabit LAN

Gigabit connectivity is desired since my home LAN is already equipped to handle it and it surely can’t hurt when we start streaming video across the LAN.  Since most new motherboards support it these days, it should not be a problem.

Graphics Chipset

The HTPC will be Linux powered, and Nvidia is very well supported with Linux and Mythtv so this is an important requirement for the build. 

Case & Motherboard

Simply put, the case needs to look great and have good build quality.  An HTPC case is a must for my personal taste and I prefer the look of a low profile case.  I’m fully aware of the constraints this will put on the build.  The case design will probably limit my motherboard choices to Micro ATX, which should work out fine in the end assuming I can find one with the prerequisite features above.  I anticipate the case will be the most costly part of this build.