Assembling the components

October 14, 2008

With all the parts on hand and after a lot measuring, I ordered a Zalman CNPS 7500 AlCu CPU cooler.  This cooler seemed to have the best reviews of anything that I could find that would fit into this case.  Given the low profile nature of the case, my choices were greatly limited.

Assembly went well without any major snags.  I decided to forgo any kind of cable management as I was more concerned about verifying all the components worked correctly in case I had to return something.  I will clean the cables up later once I know everything works properly.

The biggest challenge in assembling the system was figuring out how to hook up the VFD panel since there was no documentation present and the connectors were not clearly marked.  There are four different plugs on the VFD, some obvious like the USB plug, while others weren’t so obvious to me.  Luckily I tracked down the information and wiring schematic on Soundgraph’s website.  It then made perfect sense to connect the case’s power button connector to the VFD panel, and the VFD’s power connector to the motherboard’s power button header.  This allows the computer to be powered on via the remote control – a nice feature!  This left two more connectors on the VFD to deal with – the USB header connector (obvious) and a two pin power connector that draws power from an odd adapter that taps power from the PSU to motherboard’s large 24 pin power connector.

Internal IR receiver Imon connection diagram

Internal IR receiver Imon connection diagram

Though the Zalman cooler fits the case nicely, you loose two DIMM slots for the ram.  You could probably utilize the two front slots, but I think the top of the ram would probably just make contact with the radiator fins on the cooler.  Clearance would be very tight and might cause thermal issues.  I just moved the two sticks of ram to the outer two slots.  Aside from this, there are no other clearance issues with the Abit AN-M2HD board and the Zalman cooler.  The cooler comes with a three pin connector and does not use PWM but instead comes with a rheostat which allows you to dial the fan’s speed up or down depending on your needs.  The cooler also has a gimmicky blue LED.

Here are some pictures of the case with components assembled.  The beast comes to life:

Assembled system and a mess of cables to clean up

Assembled system and a rat's nest of cables to clean up

The Zalman CPU cooler

Zalman CPU cooler


Everything works so it’s on to cable management:

Cables better organized to increase airflow and appearance

Cables better organized to increase airflow and appearance.

Cables better organized to increase airflow and appearance

Extra PSU cables are hidden in the unused drive bay located under the optical drive. The Zalman fan control is shown between the PSU and optical drive.

Cables better organized to increase airflow and appearance

I need a short SATA cable for the hard drive but this works for now.

Cable routing turned out to be a huge challenge and took me the better part of a Saturday afternoon.  I was hoping for a little more clearance under the motherboard to hide some cables, but clearance is tight so I routed many of them on the outer edge of the motherboard.  The area located under the optical drive (the second hard drive bay) also conceals the PSU cables, including the large Molex cables.  By default, the case fan is used to exhaust stale air from the interior of the case but I suppose it could be reversed to blow cool air directly to the hard drive.  I may explore that later if thermal issues crop up.


Soundgraph support site

Moneual 301 First Impressions

October 12, 2008

The case has arrived, and with all the components on hand (minus the CPU cooler), at last it’s time to start this project!  Here are my first impressions of the case, complete with the prerequisite unboxing pictures.

The case was shipped double boxed with a generous amount of foam protection around the plastic bagged case.  The first thing noticed when unboxing the case is the black wireless keyboard box, which surprised me since this case wasn’t advertised as having a keyboard included.  Alas, when I removed the box it became apparent that this is just an empty box – a placeholder.  The same packaging is probably used for Moneual’s pre-built 301 HTPC which includes a wireless keyboard.  Another small box niched inside the foam packing includes the Imon pad remote control and batteries, Windows Imon driver CD, optical drive bezel plate, mounting screws, and a special power cable for the VFD.  Oddly, these parts were loose in the box, free to bump and bang around each other, and the drive bezel unprotected in any way from the other components in the parts box.  I expected there would be a booklet or simple instruction sheet, illustrating how to connect the case components to the motherboard, but oddly there was zero documentation included with this case.  There’s also no contents list which would tell me if I received everything I should have.  I don’t know if these negatives are the norm, or if it was simply forgotten about when my case was packaged.  Perhaps the contents were previously opened and returned and stuff misplaced.  I don’t know, but it is a bit discouraging given the fairly high cost of this case.

Aside from these distractions, the case arrived in great condition and looks very nice.  Luckily, the connections for the front panel card reader, firewire, etc. are well marked.  A couple of the connections for the VFD panel were a bit confusing.  I eventually deciphered the connections after a trip to the Soundgraph website.  More on that later…

The case is very well made and constructed from 16 gage steel with a matte black finish on both the interior and exterior surfaces.  The front panel has a brushed finish and the optical drive bezel has been made to match this finish.  While the brushed finish looks great, it’s prone to fingerprints.  There are several ventilation grills stamped in the case, two on each side, two on the top of the case and one on the underside to accommodate PSUs with 120mm fans.  Five flush mounted flat head screws secure the cover.  There are four slots in the rear to accommodate half-height expansion cards.  The front panel is minimalistic with only a lighted power button, the two line VFD display and the optical drive button.  A hidden door can be pressed in the upper right corner to reveal a combination memory card reader, firewire port, USB port, audio out jack and a microphone jack.  This combo reader is a removable standard 3½” sized drive.  The door drops down with a fluid motion when pressed, lending a high end feel to the atheistics of the case.  The smoked VFD window and optical recess are both beveled adding to the high end look.  The case sits on four plastic chromed finish round feet finished off with rubber dampening pads on each foot.

The interior of the case is equally impressive and features rounded corners and deburred edges.  I couldn’t find a sharp point inside the case anywhere.  The case comes fitted with one silent case fan, which exhausts hot air from the hard drive area.  Mounting holes exist on the opposite side of the case for another fan of the same size which would probably help in cooling the secondary hard drive area.  This fan is fitted with both a male and female Molex connector and is powered directly from the PSU.  I was a bit disappointed to learn that there are no noise dampening features built into the hard drive cages, a feature that I failed to evaluate when researching this case.

Despite the minor annoyances with the lack of documentation, I am very happy with the look and feel of the case.  It’s heavy, feels rock solid, and should serve my needs very well for many years to come.  Here are some pictures of the bare case showing construction, connector markings, etc.

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

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