Silverstone ML05 mini-ITX HTPC case

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OTHER CONFIGURATIONS

We've firmly established that...

  1. blocking the vent over the motherboard/CPU area is bad for cooling,
  2. mounting a hard drive in the multi-function bracket traps heat and makes it more audible, and
  3. the Silverstone SFX PSU runs at a higher speed (under some load) inside the small case than on an open test bench; this seems directly related to internal case temperature.

What would happen if the multi-function bracket was used with the other options? Those other options...

  • Two 2.5" drives: Hard to imagine why anyone would choose this option. There are 4 2.5" slots in the drive cage already. If you did, it would cause a bit of CPU and motherboard heatup, though nowhere near as much as with a 3.5" drive, because 2.5" drives hare generally less than half the 1" thickness of 3.5" drives and typically run at ~1W. There'd be some increase in noise if they were mechanical drives, as the big vent is right there.
  • Bluray drive: Only a slim short version will fit, so this should cause very little change in thermals.
  • 120mm fan: Obviously this would help with cooling, even if spun at very low speed forminimal noise.

Getting back to the 4-bay drive cage for 2.5" drives, examining it in detail, I'd have to say it would be quite a chore to stuff four drives in there. Spacing is very tight, and the cabling would be a nightmare. I'd limit myself to just two drives maximum, personally, and use either NAS or eSATA/USB 3.0 external storage if I wanted more.

Another consideration is whether the Silverstone (or any other) SFX power supply is the best option. I say this because if the PSU wasn't there, you'd have much more room and a big vent overhead as well as on the back panel. That extra room might be used to position a 3.5" drive in some creative way, or a couple more 2.5" drives, or simply leave empty for better passive cooling. This means the use of a picoPSU + external power brick, of course. Mini-box offers combo deals, like the picoPSU-150XT with 102W adapter for $59, which would be perfectly adequate for systems like we've configured here. (Caution: The power adapter in that kit does have a fan which kicks in at high load) Yes, it means another adapter lolling on the floor behind, but your system would certainly run cooler, and the PSU would never become a source of noise.

Taking this line of thinking to its logical conclusion, opting for a thin mini-ITX board like the Gigabyte GA-H77TN would make a picoPSU unnecessary because such boards have all the VRM circuitry required onboard and only need a 19V notebook adapter of adequate power. The features on these boards are quite extensive, so you won't miss anything. Both the Gigabyte and the Intel DQ77KB boards have a slot for an mSATA SSD, which come as big as 256GB, and they come with a power harness that has 4 SATA power connectors, so you could fill up the 2.5" drive cage if you really wanted. No chance of an addon VGA card with such boards, but that's not what you want for a small m-ITX system like this anyway.

Finally, if the center bracket is not used, then the Scythe Big Shuriken 2 heatsink could be used for better cooling of both the CPU and motherboard components. The 120mm fan on the SBS2 would likely help lower overall internal temperatures.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Silverstone Milo series ML05 is one of the most attractive, really small HTPC cases we've seen. The acrylic mirror finish and understated design of the fascia fits in nicely with Silverstone's generally cool, modern theme. Given its modest price, the build quality is high, and the cooling approach is about the only one you could adopt for such a small case: Wide open vents near the heat sources to give them a decent chance of keeping cool without too much airflow. The strategy works, too, as long as the vents are kept clear.

That leads us to the single big flaw of the ML05: The position and configuration for a 3.5" drive is very far from ideal, blocking the center vent in the top panel, and trapping heat over the motherboard. A side fan or two could help alleviate the heat issue, but that is good money after bad, in my view. You're better off avoiding an internal 3.5" drive altogether and use eSATA, USB 3.0 or NAS storage instead.

The SFX power supplies offered by Silverstone are good fits for the ML05, and as long as you're not planning to floor a high TDP CPU for long periods, the PSUs should not add much to the overall acoustics. Alternative power options such as picoPSU or a Thin-ITX board with external AC/DC adapters can eliminate the internal PSU altogether, making more room and reducing the heat.

Comparables are hard to come by at SPCR. Every other HTPC case of similar size and function we've looked at in the past few years are passively cooled "heatsink boxes" and way pricier, like HDPLEX H5.TODD, Streacom FC8 Evo, or Akasa Euler. (The Euler hardly fits, because it fits only one drive, has no expansion slots and no front panel feature at all.) About the only mini-ITX case that's close in price is the Cooler Master Elite 120, but this case is in a big breadbox form, and designed specifically to house and cool a big gaming VGA card. Going further back, the SEED MA-280B & Cooler Master Elite 100 are reasonably close in size and intended use, but neither look nor function as well as the ML05. The Antec ISK-300-65 is somewhat competitive, but its included power adapter is a bit underpowered, while the ISK-300-150 power supply is too noisy. Admittedly, there are many small mini-ITX cases by brands rarely (if ever) reviewed by SPCR, such as Morex, Jou Jye, and Travla, but they've generally been homely in appearance, often equipped with little fans we know to be noisy, difficult to procure (at least in Canada and the US) and surprisingly not inexpensive!

All in all, Silverstone has done a good job in making the ML05 an attractive, functional HTPC mini-case to be worth of a recommendation. Seasoned system builders should have no problem assembling a nicely balanced, very quiet system in this case. Even first time builders will do fine as long as a 3.5" drive is avoided.

Our thanks to SilverStone for the Milo ML05 case sample.


SilverStone Milo ML05 is Recommended by SPCR

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Articles of Related Interest
Cases: Basics & Recommendations
HDPLEX H5.TODD Fanless HTPC Case
Streacom FC8 Evo
SEED MA-280B & Cooler Master Elite 100
Antec ISK-300-65

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