This is a double review of sorts. Before I get into the review, a little back story. I previously owned a Logitech Transporter. I had upgraded within the Slim Devices family from the Squeezebox 3 to the Logitech Touch after the Logitech buyout. Then, I made the move to the Transporter. The Transporter still is a great network computer audio device. Unfortunately, Logitech decided to effectively kill the brand so I unloaded the Transporter for fear of having a $1000+ paperweight.
It was at that point, I decided to stop trying to look for an off the shelf solution and just build a computer which could stream audio from my networked server. I’m using J River Media Center for playback and use the iPhone app, J Remote, for control. I figure this setup will should future proof me (ie....5-6 years of use).
So, the hunt was on! I wanted a computer case that would be 100% silent and fit in somewhat with all my other components. You know. Not look like I have a loud, cheesy computer sitting next to my multi-thousand dollar stereo.
I knew of A-Tech Fabrication (A-Tech Fabrication Home Page) and had heard good things about the quality of their cases but DAYUM at the price! Then, I read an article on Computeraudiophile.com which mentioned the HD-Plex cases. I looked up the site and decided that this was the case for me. Attractive and affordable!
I decided that I really wanted an black H5.S case for my build, but it was out of stock. Being the impatient person I am, on September 12, 2012, I ordered a black H3.S case with fanless 80 watt power supply, internal IR receiver, and MCE remote. The case arrived promptly and well packaged. The instructions were relatively clear and I had no problem with the build.
This was also my first experience with mini ITX motherboards. I built the computer from a Biostar TH61 motherboard with an Intel G630T processor. The G630T is a dual core 2.3 GHz CPU with only 35 watt of TDP. Plenty low for a completely fanless, passive system. I installed 8GB of Kingston DDR3 RAM and installed Windows 7 Ultimate on a 64GB Crucial M4 SSD.
The system was almost exactly what I wanted. Silent, stable, and fast. Then, I got the email that the H5.S was back in stock. DAMMIT!! I ended up selling the H3.S build and purchased a black H5.S case with fanless 80 watt power supply, internal IR receiver, and MCE remote. Just like the previous H3.S, the H5.S arrived arrived promptly and well packaged.
I already had an Intel DH67BL motherboard lying around for another computer build so I just pulled it into duty for my new build. I purchased an Intel G640T processor which I found for the same price as the previous G630T. The G640T is a dual core 2.4 GHz CPU with the same 35 watt TDP. I followed the same recipe for success with 8GB of Kingston DDR3 RAM and Windows 7 Ultimate on a 64GB Crucial M4 SSD.
Comparing the H3.S to the H5.S, they both had a few faults and areas where I felt improvements could be made. Most of these should be considered nit-picky and I feel they do not detract from the overall quality of the cases.
The H3.S grooves were powder-coated which likely minimizes heat transfer from the heat pipes to the case/external heat sinks.The H5.S grooves were raw aluminum. I found on both the H3.S and H5.S that the front USB cable has to be cut down for the screws to fit into the case. Providing longer screws would prevent the need for having to cut the cable down. The H3.S case came with only a front USB 3.0 cable while the H5.S came with both front USB 2.0 & 3.0 cables.
One problem I did encounter on both the H3.S and H5.S was that the +5V Stand By Input from DC-ATX blade was configured wrong. The male end of the blade was only plugged into the female end at the ATX plug so that when it was removed both the ATX and IR cables had female ends. I had to cut off one of the female connectors then cut, strip, and crimp the male connector in order to connect the IR receiver to the PSU.
My H5.S case came with an Allen tool while the H3.S case did not. The H5.S case also came with new small bottom holder included with the heatsink system. According to HD-Plex, some motherboards have small components around the back of the heat sink installation hole. The original bottom holder would need cutting/trimming to prevent it from damaging the small components. With new additional smaller bottom holder, you don't have to worry about this anymore. However, I used the original bottom holders because neither of my motherboards had any small components around the installation hole.
On both the H3.S and H5.S case, the space between the front USB cable and the bottom of case is too tight to allow for the installation of a HD/SSD. You might get a drive in there, but you’ll really have to force it. Also, and this is nit-picking, the included cables for power, LED, and +5V stand-by are too long. There is probably 4-5 inches of space between the power switch and the motherboard so there is no need for 18+ inches of cable. Just bear in mind that when you've got everything built and tested to 100%, you've got a bit of wire management to do.
Also, the heat sink system comes with only 4 hex screws to attach the heat sink to the copper plate, yet there are 8 holes. Sure the 4 screws will work, but including the 4 extra hex screws would be better in my opinion.
The remote IR opening on both cases seem to be drilled straight into the face plate. I feel that if the opening was beveled or countersunk that a wider IR angle could be achieved. I noticed this to be an issue on my H3.S case.
One thing that would be nice would be the option for no front panel USB. This would give the case a cleaner look in my opinion, but I imagine it would only add to the cost. Finally, I would’ve liked for the case to be anodized black rather than powder-coated, but again, the cost.
Wrapping up, the HD-Plex H3.S and H5.S cases are really great cases for a media/music server build. I wouldn't recommend them to the novice builder who has never built a computer before. I feel the H5.S is overall a better case and gives you most options due to the ability to use mATX and mini ITX boards as well as add a PCI-e card (whether it be sound card, video card, or some other card). Like I mentioned earlier, HD-Plex’s closest competitor appears to be A-Tech Fabrication.
In comparing the H3.S case to the A-Tech Fabrication case, the closest option they had was the HeatSync 300 Micro-Client. Without a power supply, the the HeatSync 300 Micro-Client costs $609.00 vs. $302.00 for the H3.S. In comparing the H5.S case to the A-Tech Fabrication case, the closest option they had was the HeatSync 2800 Mini-Client. Without a power supply, the the HeatSync 2800 Miini-Client costs $884.00 vs. $341.00 for the H5.S. Another reason why I feel the H5.S is the sweet spot in the HD-Plex lineup. Also, the A-Tech Fabrication cases are severely limited to the motherboards you’re allowed to use. HD-Plex has a wide variety of motherboards which will work with their cases.