Coolermaster's Fanless TC-100 mini-ITX case

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Coolermaster TC-100

April 20, 2009 by Mike Chin with Lawrence Lee

Product
TC-100 Fanless Chassis
For Mini-ITX
Manufacturer
Suggested Price
US $250 - Case with 60W AC/DC adapter, DC/DC module and one thermal kit

Mini-ITX was a thriving if small sector of the computing industry for many years before Intel came on to the scene with their first embedded Celeron m-ITX board in mid-2007. VIA, which established the m-ITX form factor specification in 2002, and a handful of small manufacturers had been offering a variety of m-ITX products for the embedded computing market, mostly in industrial and commercial applications such as running Linux-based touch-screen kiosks, web access machines, and other such situations where high reliability with low or no maintenance, resistance to dust and heat, and low energy consumption are paramount. The latest and greatest feature set was not necessary, but long production life was. All this meant prices were way higher than what you'd pay for similarly equipped consumer level micro-ATX boards, even if you factored in the value of the embedded CPU.

Most of these boards were installed in custom made cases designed specifically for the the application. They were often invisible, embedded on the back of a monitor flush-mounted into a wall or kiosk.

Retail cases for mini-ITX boards generally reflected the utilitarian purpose the boards were meant to carry out. Not highly imaginative or stylish, but workable. Many featured small fans which can only provide decent cooling by spinning at high speed — and making a noisy racket in the process. Ditto the power supplies these cases were equipped with: Low power devices with small high speed fans. Most PC enthusiasts interested in mini-ITX either accepted the mediocre retail cases or modified them. A few fabricated their own, modelled on the handful of brands who offered often pricey mini-ITX systems in fanless, sleek, cases such as Hush Technologies, and Tranquil PC.

Now that Intel has arrived on the scene with low cost Atom-CPU embedded boards, and with many new full-featured socket 775 and AM2 board from major brands at prices much closer to their micro-ATX counterparts, you'd think the selection of cases for these boards would have grown and improved as well. Think again. The reality is that the mini-ITX case scene does not seem to have changed much. Yes, there are a few new products such as the inexpensive Apex MI-008 case we reviewed recently, and the new breadbox style SG05 recently introduced by Silverstone.

The real promise of mini-ITX is a small, effective and silent computer... like the mCubed HFX Micro Atom 330 system we reviewed in December last year. But the case, power supply and heatpipes package of the HFX Micro are priced at nearly $500 at mCubed's resellers; it is a price that's difficult to swallow. We could hope that the $198 e-Otonashi fanless EPIA-M cooling case introduced by Scythe back in 2004 is revived with fittings for newer motherboards, but Scythe's web site simply marks it discontinued.

When I ran across this Coolermaster TC-100 at a trade show last year, I was delighted to see a big brand name on this class of fanless mini-ITX cases. Perhaps it would be an affordable fanless mini-ITX case for do-it-yourself. At the time, I was distracted by another Coolermaster case which had been made waterproof and shown ruinning in a water-filled aquarium.


First glimpse of the Coolermaster TC-100 at a trade show last year.



A Coolermaster PC submerged in water was running the display to the left.

It turns out that the TC-100 and some other fanless mini-ITX cases are marketed by the industrial/OEM branch of Coolermaster, a very different entity than the retail-oriented company most consumers (and hardware reviewers) are familiar with. The process of getting a sample for SPCR took many months, partly because the appropriate heatpipe cooling kits were not available initially. It all finally came together in the past month or so, and here, finally, is our review of the Coolermaster TC-100.


It came in a decidedly non-retail cardboard carton. Contents included a 60W AC/DC adapter, but no heatpipe kit. That was in a separate package.


This box contained the cooling kit for either of the two embedded Atom Intel boards.


6mm diameter h eatpipes, condensor and evaporater blocks, clamps, wire springs, screws, and thermal interface material.


A 60W 100~240VAC adapter with 12VDC output was included.

Coolermaster TC-100 Specifications
Dimensions
(W x H x L)
261 x 236 x 85 mm with desktop feet
300 x 86 x 240 mm wall mount
Weight 2.74 kg
System TDP (Ref. only) 35W
Motherboard Mini-ITX, ECX 3.5", EPIC 5.25", Nano-ITX,
Pico-ITX
Front Panel Power button, LED power indicator
Rear Panel Standard ATX size reserved
Optical Device Slim Type x 1
Hard Disk Device 2.5” Type x 1
CF card support 10mm bottom side of the board
Available Space 2.5" HDD, Slim type optical drive device, DC/DC converter
Operating Temperature Up to 50 °C ambient
Optional Assessories Universal thermal kit and Heat pipe
Certifications CE / RoHS / EMI

The most interesting of the specifications are the 35W system TDP rating, and the provision of mounting options only for a 2.5" hard drive and a slim optical drive, both of which are traditionally mobile computing parts. The drive options are related to the low 35W Thermal Dissipation Power rating. Keeping the total heat in the case to 35W would be a bigger challenged with a typical 3.5" desktop drive that pulls 7~10W at idle and another 30% or more in seek/write. Ditto the optical drive.

The 35W TDP seems quite low for this box, considering the size of its heatsinks. However, keep in mind that the heatsinks are not directly connected to the heat producing elements, but via heat transfer blocks and heatpipes on both the hot and cool sides of the heatpipes. Perhaps Coolermaster is deliberately being conservative here to avoid unrealistic customer expectations. On the other hand, the operating ambient temperature is given as "Up to 50 °C ambient", which might apply in some industrial applications but not any home of office settings. At that high a temperature, keeping 35W in the box cool would probably be quite a challenge.



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