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m-ITX Cases: SEED MA-280B and Cooler Master Elite 100

m-ITX Cases: Cooler Master Elite 100 & SEED MA-280B

October 19, 2009 by Lawrence Lee

Product
MA-280B

mini-ITX Case
Elite 100

mini-ITX/microATX Case
Manufacturer
SEED
Market Price
~US$70
~US$70

In the current environment, small and thin
PCs and PC cases are increasingly popular, mirroring the growth in compact/slim netbooks
and ultra-portable laptops. We've already seen big case brands like Thermaltake
and Antec join the fray
looking to carve themselves a piece of what was once was a niche market. Today
we'll be looking at a pair of small form factor cases from Cooler Master, and
a lesser known entity known as SEED.

From an acoustic/thermal standpoint, these slim cases are really only suitable for
integrated Atom
and ION-powered systems, rather than those with "proper" desktop processors.
The limited height makes the use of conventional quiet CPU coolers impossible.
Some cases in this class also have rather small power supplies — an AMD
X2 or Intel Core 2 system's energy requirements may come close to or exceed
what is available. As such, our test board will be the Zotac
IONITX-A
.

The two cases examined in this review differ somewhat in approach and size. The Cooler Master Elite 100 is designed to accommodate both mini-ITX and micro-ATX motherboards, and thus has a much larger footprint than the SEED MA-280, which is only for a low power mini-ITX board. A quick comparison of the relative size of cases and systems we've reviewed is worthwhile.

Case
Volume
Asus Eee Box 202
1.0 liter
SEED MA-280
2.8 liters
mCubed HFX Micro
4.1 liters
Lenovo M58p Eco USFF
5.2 liters
Cooler Master TC-100
5.5 liters
Cooler Master Elite 100
5.8 liters
Antec ISK 300
6.7 liters
Apex MI-008
8.5 liters
Luxa2 LM100
9.3 liters
Silverstone SU 05/06
10.8 liters

For reference, the popular Antec Solo mid-tower ATX case measures about 42 liters.

SEED MA-280

SEED is a brand backed by Lutec
Co., Ltd
, a major Taiwanese hardware distributor. SEED stands for their
four mottos: "Saving Environment, Energy Efficiency, Eco-friendly
and Direct Client Service." Not only does the acronym shorten their verboseness,
it also evokes a green, organic sentiment. At the moment, SEED offers a small
handful of cases, power supplies and other accessories.


The MA-280B box is plain and compact.


The MA-280B.

The SEED MA-280B is just 2.8 liters, and looks it, with a tiny footprint and
an elegant appearance. As the size comparison table above shows, it's about the smallest retail case available today. The panels are sturdy, composed of 0.8mm SECC steel that is nickel-plated for a nice shine. To save space and reduce noise, power
is delivered with a DC-to-DC unit with a 60W external AC power brick. The front
bezel looks modest but attractive with a glossy black panel and a silver belt
running around the middle.


The accessories also include a PCI riser adapter, rubber case feet
and a plastic stand for vertical placement.


SEED MA-280B: Specifications
Model SEED
MA-280B
Chassis
Material
0.8mm SECC + ABS
Dimensions 227(W) x 215(D) x 64(H) mm = 3.1l
Surface
Coating
Hair-line surface by nickle-electroplating
Main
board Size
Compatible with Mini ITX motherboard (17x17cm)
Front
Panel Access
USB x 2 MIC x 2 AUDIO x 1
ODD
Device
SLIM Type ODD x 1
HDD
Device
2.5" SATA HDD x 2
Rear
System Fan
40 x 40 x 10mm smart noiseless fan (13.8
dB)
Power
Supply
External 60W/80W/100W Power Supply
Capacity 2.8L
Net
Weight
1.08 kg (w/o power supply)
Accessory AC power cord / Screw bag / Stand
Power
Solution
DC to DC board + External AC Adapter

SEED MA-280 - Physical Details

Without any visual references for comparison, the MA-280 could be mistaken for a much larger case. An old style VCR comes to mind.



The main intake air vent is directly above
the CPU area. There are only a few small air slits on the left side.





The optical drive bay cover is of the pull-down variety — it
is not properly stealthed.



The cutout at the back for the I/O shield is nonstandard — the
stock back plate is designed to fit Intel's Atom boards only. There
is a 40mm fan on the right side for cooling the DC-to-DC power board.






Under the cover. The product literature mentions an adapter to mount
a second hard drive above the CPU area, but it was missing from our
package. The power supply provides one floppy, one slimline SATA, and
two full-sized SATA connectors.






Interior layout.

SEED MA-280 - Power Supply & System Assembly

Because it's so small, there aren't many options, and "assembly" is a relatively simple process.



The only fan in the case is a small 40mm unit directly behind the
power adapter. Its size and location prevents it from having any effect
on the rest of the system — it seems to be designed to cool the
power supply alone.





The included AC power brick is rated for 60W.





The drive tray attaches to the case with three screws. Drives mount
on the underside and hang underneath.





While the case seems designed for Intel's Atom-driven boards, we
opted to use an ION board, the Zotac IONITX-A to give it more of a challenge.The
board has its own power supply as well as an optional fan for the CPU/chipset
heatsink, but unfortunately the hard drive pushes against it, preventing
it from spinning. We'll see if this setup can run passively.






As we mentioned before the MA-280B has a nonstandard backplate cutout
as pictured above.




This was a curious move as it discourages use of non-Atom boards, even
though it can physically accept any mini-ITX motherboard.

TESTING

System Configuration:

Measurement and Analysis Tools

  • CPU-Z
    to monitor CPU frequency and voltage.
  • Prime95
    processor stress software.
  • FurMark
    stability test to stress the integrated GPU.
  • SpeedFan
    to monitor temperatures and fan speeds.
  • Seasonic
    Power Angel
    for measuring AC power at the wall to ensure that the
    heat output remains consistent.
  • Custom-built, four-channel variable DC power supply, used to regulate
    the fan speed during the test.
  • Various other tools for testing fans, as documented in our
    standard fan testing methodology
    .

Primary Audio Test Tools

System temperatures and noise levels were recorded with SpeedFan at load using
Prime95 to stress the CPU and FurMark with the Xtreme Burn option (if possible)
to stress the GPU.

Stock Power Supply Test Results

We found it curious that the case would have a 40mm fan to cool the power supply,
as typically DC-to-DC boards do not require active cooling. This implies that
the power supply's efficiency may be poor. As such, we thought it would be fitting
to put it through a quick run on our power
supply testing rig
.

Stock PSU: Output & Efficiency
DC Output Voltage
DC output
AC Input
Efficiency
+12V
+5.5V
+3.3V
11.83V
4.90V
3.24V
20.5W
28W
73.1%
11.10V
4.83V
3.21V
55.8W
74W
75.4%
picoPSU + 80W Power Brick
12.12V
5.03V
3.32V
21.5W
27.1W
79.4%
11.73V
4.99V
3.32V
65.0W
76.6W
84.8%
11.61V
4.98V
3.32V
80.6W
95.3W
84.6%

Our testing shows that the unit's efficiency is definitely lower than expected,
about 73% at 21W load and 75% at 56W load. By comparison, a picoPSU with
an 80W AC power brick runs almost 80% efficient at 22W and 85%
at 65W and above. Not only is the stock power supply less efficient,
the +12V rail took a steep nose dive to 11.10V on high load. The PCB components
did get a little hot during testing, so it seems the inclusion of a fan was
an apt move on SEED's part, though it would have been smarter to simply use
a more efficient PSU.

Noise

SEED claims an SPL of 14 [email protected] for the included fan. We did not test the fan by itself in open air, but found that it was fairly smooth sounding, and it has a benign acoustic character, lacking
the tonality of the majority of fans in its class.


Fanless.

Fan @ 12V/1m.


SEED MA-280B

Measuring mic positioned at diagonal angle top/left of case.
Fan
SPL @1m

SPL @0.6m

Off
17 dBA
20~21 dBA
10V
20 dBA
26 dBA
12V
23~24 dBA
28 dBA

At one meter distance, with only the hard drive generating noise,
the SPL measured 17 dBA. With the fan on running at 10V, the SPL increased by 3 dBA.
At full speed, the noise increase was an additional 3~4 dBA.

COOLING & POWER

The MA-280B had no problems cooling our Zotac ION board when idle with CPU/GPU
temperatures in the low 70's. When a CPU load was applied using Prime95, the
Core temperature leveled off at just under 100°C while the GPU was a balmy
87°C. However the system remained stable with Prime95 plugging away for
20+ minutes.

System Measurements: SEED MA-280B
Test State
Avg. Core
GPU
HDD
AC Power
Idle
73°C
73°C
49°C
22W
CPU Load
99°C
87°C
55°C
27W
CPU + GPU Load
100°C+
94°C+
60°C
38W
Ambient temperature: 21°C

The system was stable initially when we added FurMark as a GPU load, but after
15 minutes the GPU overheated after reaching 94°C, causing the application
to crash. The processor remained stable as far as we could tell but the Core
temperature sensors went haywire after it exceeded 100°C. FurMark pushes
GPUs further than most games, but it's clear that if ION is truly pushed with
3D applications, a fan of some sort is highly recommended.

The IONITX-A does come with an optional fan for the CPU/chipset heatsink, but
we could not use it due to lack of vertical clearance. The hard drive is directly
above the cooler and it presses down on the fan, preventing it from spinning.
The case's only fan didn't make any difference due to its size, speed, and location
— turning it on did not help, it only generated more noise. A fan on the right
side next to the vent may help, but it would be hard to find a quiet one that
would fit.

We can't recommend using this case with an ION system, unless it was strictly
for 2D use. Intel's Atom boards have chipset fans so they will be right at home
inside the MA-280B, but at the cost of extra noise.

COOLER MASTER ELITE 100

Cooler Master requires no introduction. The massive manufacturer out of Taiwan
has a significant presence in various markets such as cases, power supplies,
and cooling products. They don't just sell retail products either — they are
a major OEM for various companies.


The Cooler Master Elite 100.

Their Elite 100 case is a slim enclosure with an utilitarian aesthetic, as
evidenced by the ugly metal plate sitting on top which is designed to hook the
case onto a VESA mount. Even with the mounting piece removed, it still has a
rather plain appearance thanks to the exterior matte finish and the lack of
a stealthed optical drive bay cover. While thin , its footprint is rather large
as it supports both mini-ITX and microATX motherboards and it's quite deep due
to the presence of an internal FlexATX power supply. Such PSUs usually offer
plenty of power, but are also poor when it comes to acoustics. When you add
all these details up, it seems the Elite 100 is suited more for an office environment
rather than at home.

The Elite 100's low 70mm profile gives it a volume of just 5.8 liters, which is substantially smaller than the Luxa2 LM100 (9.3l), the Silverstone SG05/06 (10.8l) and even the Antec ISK300 (6.7l).


Accessories include padded case feet, a slimline SATA adapter, and
a power cord.


Coolermaster Elite 100: Specifications
(from the product
web page
)
Available Color Black
Dimension (W / H / D) (W) 262 x (H)69.6 x (D) 318 mm = 5.8l

(W) 10.3 x (H) 2.7 x (D) 12.5 inch
Weight Net Weight: 2.6 kg / 5.6 lb

Gross Weight 3 kg / 6.5 lb
Material Steel Body ; Plastic Bezel
Motherboards Micro ATX / Mini ITX
Device Space With Micro ATX board: Slim ODD x 1 , 2.5”
HDD x 2 /

With Mini ITX board: Slim ODD x 1 , 2.5” HDD x 1 , 3.5” HDD x
1 /

With Mini ITX board: Slim ODD x 1 , 2.5” HDD x 3
I/O Panel USB 2.0 x 2 , SPK x 1 , Audio x 1
Power Flex ATX 150W , Active PFC
Optional Component SD / MS card reader

4 pin to 4 pin power supply Y cable

Cooler Master Elite 100 - Physical Details

No matter what angle you approach it from, the Elite 100 simply can't be described as handsome. It looks and feels pedestrian.



There is a series of slits at the center of each side,
while a much larger honeycomb style grill is located at the top.





At the rear we can see the back of the FlexATX power supply. While
the case accepts microATX boards, all of the expansion slots are blocked,
making cost the only advantage of going that route.





The power supply adds a great deal of depth to the case and is equipped
with a small, and probably noisy fan.





Interior layout. The case is tall enough to just barely accommodate
an Intel low profile stock cooler (46 mm) on a desktop Intel processor
and motherboard with 1-2 mm to spare.






Underneath the front bezel. The panel needs to be removed to access
the drive tray.




The tray allows for a single slim optical drive and both 2.5" and
3.5" hard drives in varying combinations.

Cooler Master Elite 100 - Power
Supply & Baseline Noise



The included power supply has one floppy, two 4-pin molex, and two
SATA power connectors.





Rated for 150W.

As the power supply had a fan, we powered it on inside the case to get a baseline
noise measurement. Over the years, we've generally found FlexATX form factor power supplies to be noisy beasts. The PSU in the Elite 100 did not disappoint; it greeted us with one of the most annoying noises we've
encountered in recent memory.


The measured noise level was 24 [email protected] and 28 [email protected]

The fan had severe tonal properties, with multiple peaks through the audible
range as seen in our spectral analysis. After being on for 10 minutes
without a load, the noise level measured 24 [email protected] and 28 [email protected] These measurements
do not do the power supply fan justice — subjectively it was a lot worse than
the measured SPL would indicate, droning like nobody's business. Ultimately
we decided the Elite 100 was simply not worth testing any further. Its baseline noise level
is terrible even without a load — with a system that actually requires power,
it could only get worse.

AUDIO RECORDINGS

These recordings were made with a high resolution, lab quality, digital recording
system inside SPCR's own 11 dBA ambient anechoic chamber, then converted to
LAME 128kbps encoded MP3s. We've listened long and hard to ensure there is no
audible degradation from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent
a quick snapshot of what we heard during the review.

Each recording starts with ambient noise, then 10 second segments of product
at various states. For the most realistic results,
set the volume so that the starting ambient level is just barely audible, then
don't change the volume setting again while comparing all the sound files.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The SEED MA-280B is well-built and its sleek appearance makes it an attractive
addition to a home theater. However, it seems to be designed specifically for
the Atom boards produced by Intel. The I/O shield cutout is tailored for the
Intel D945GCLF/2, although 60W of power is much more than what Atom requires. The Intel Atom boards
have loud fans but they can be tempered with fan control, so a reasonably quiet
system is definitely possible with such a configuration. Unfortunately, they
don't make great HTPCs due to their underperforming hardware and lack of features.

Our attempt to use a Zotac IONITX
board with the MA-280B ultimately failed due to the lack of a fan which seems
to be a necessity to keep the GPU cool when under heavy stress. The fan for
the CPU/chipset heatsink could not be installed due to interference from the
hard drive and the case has no fan option aside from the 40mm one for the power
supply (which has no impact on system temperatures). Using an ION configuration
would heat up the box quite a lot and you would have to restrict yourself to
2D operation unless the case were modified to improve cooling.

SEED MA-280B
PROS



* Attractive

* Solid construction

* PCI riser included
CONS



* Subpar power supply

* Insufficient cooling for ION systems

* nonstandard I/O shield

The Cooler Master Elite 100 seems to be an industrial product — it is well-constructed,
but its appearance is underwhelming and it has a large footprint. Its much bigger footprint is
a direct result of support for microATX boards and to accommodate the included
FlexATX power supply, which single-handedly tanked the product in our view.
The noise from the power supply fan, even without a load, was just plain nasty
— bad enough to forgo testing altogether. FlexATX power supplies are typically
not the greatest acoustically, but this one was particularly bad. Replacing
it with a picoPSU is obviously an option, but you could just as easily purchase
a different, smaller case and save yourself the trouble.

The Elite 100's microATX support is a curious choice — it extends the
footprint of case significantly and given the power supply's location, none
of the extra expansion slots afforded by the microATX form factor can be utilized.
That leaves the microATX option only one advantage: price. Comparable mini-ITX
boards are much more expensive than their microATX brethren. That would mean
you would have to use a desktop processor though, which would be difficult to
cool quietly in the Elite 100 due to the height restriction — the case
is just tall enough for a low profile Intel stock cooler. However, if you use
the stock power supply, a loud stock CPU cooler would be your second worse problem.

Cooler Master Elite 100
PROS



* Solid construction

* Supports mITX & mATX
CONS



* Loud power supply

* PSU blocks mATX expansion slots

* Large footprint

Our thanks to SEED
and Cooler
Master
for the MA-280B and Elite 100 case samples.

* * *

Articles of Related Interest

Cases: Basics & Recommendations


Luxa2
LM100 Mini: "Exquisite & Desirable" m-ITX HTPC Case


Silverstone Sugo SG05 and SG06:
Gaming mini-ITX cases?


Antec ISK 300-65 mini-ITX case

Moneual MonCaso 301 Desktop HTPC Case

Coolermaster's
Fanless TC-100 mini-ITX case


Zotac IONITX-A: An ION / dual-core Atom
Mini-ITX Board


* * *

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