One of the things you must consider when building a Home Theater PC (HTPC) is where you want to put it. I think most people will try and put it next to their TV, but there are other options. If you happen to own an Xbox 360, PS3, or a media extender of some sort, it is possible to use one of those to stream the media to a TV. If that is the case it would be possible to put the HTPC anywhere and use any kind of case. If you are in this situation, you may want to consider a rackmountable case like the Norco RPC-230.
- 2U rackmount design, meets EIARS-310C standard
- 1 x 5.25″ drive bay, 4 x 3.5 ” drive bays (maximum 5)
- Support Micro-ATX (9.6″x9.6″) motherboard
- 2x80mm ball bearing fans for better ventilation
- Front accessible USB port
- Smooth border prevent lacerating your skin
A small rackmountable case is a great place to put an HTPC because it can be put out of the way and it will not take up very much space. The RPC-230 is a small 2U server case with dimensions of 16.9″ x 15.25″ x 3.5″.
Even though the RPC-230 is very small it has space for quite a few things. Most notable is the 4 – 3.5″ drive bays. The system specs mention that it is possible to fit 5 drives, but that means you must give up the 5.25″ bay. The 5.25″ bay has a special adapter installed that makes it into a 3.5″ bay. To install a DVD drive this adapter will have to be removed. This can by done by removing a few screws from the bottom of the RPC-230 case.
The size of the RPC-230 also has its limitations; for example, it only supports a Micro-ATX motherboard. A small motherboard isn’t a big deal unless you need features like SLI and Crossfire. These are definitely not needed with an HTPC, especially since the RPC-230 will be keept in a closet or a rack.
The front accessible USB slot makes giving up the 5.25″ bay a little bit easier, because it’s possible to plug in an external DVD drive. I recently bought a Samsung SE-S084B Slim External DVD Writer and it easily runs off a single USB slot. This DVD drive would be perfect for use with a rack, because it could easily be moved between any number of different machines without any trouble.
The RPC-230 also comes with 2 – 80mm intake fans. There aren’t any exhaust fans, but if you install a power supply then that fan would be as close to an exhaust fan as you are going to get in this case. The case does not have room for any other fans, so this is all the circulation you are going to get in the RPC-230.
The last feature I’m going to mention is one that you normally don’t think about, unless you build a lot of computers. Norco has gone to great lengths to roll all the edges in the RPC-230 so that you will not cut your skin. This is a big deal and can really catch you off guard if you are not careful. I will sometimes walk away with a few cuts on my hands, especially when working in small cases like this one. Despite rolling all the edges on the case, Norco seems to have forgotten to roll the edges on the hard drive bays and they are very sharp; fortunately, the hard drive bays are removable, so you don’t have to maneuver around them while installing the various parts.
The front of the case keeps things very simple and only has a few controls, lights and a single USB port. The controls that are on the front are the power and reset buttons. The lights are for power, hard drive activity, and two network activity lights. I am not quite sure why anyone would need two network cards in an HTPC, but the lights are there if you need them.
The right side of the front is just a big vent, behind the vent are two 80mm fans which provide all the air circulation for the RPC-230.
The rest of the case is bare except for the back. It is also bare, but there are holes for the motherboard, power supply, and several low profile PCI cards.
The top is really easy to remove. There are two small screws on either side of the case that have to be removed. Once the screws are removed the top slides towards the back and then lifts off.
The inside of the case is quite cramped and the only notable thing is the 4 hard drive bays. These hard drive bays are removable and I highly recommend that they be removed before anything is installed.
The other interesting piece is the 5.25″ drive. As I mentioned above it is possible for this bay to fit either a 3.5″ or a 5.25″ drive. This is made possible with an included and pre-installed adapter. This adapter is fairly easy to remove, but if you are going to remove it, then it must be done before any other pieces are installed.
The first thing that needs to be done is to remove the top of the case. Doing this gives you full access to the inside of the case.
The next thing to do is to remove all the hard drive bays. This opens up a lot of space and makes it much easier to install the motherboard and all the cables from the power supply. There is another benefit from removing the hard drive cages. These cages have very sharp edges and if you try and install things without removing them it would be very easy to get cut.
Once the hard drive bays are removed there is quite a bit more space to work with and installing the motherboard is a lot easier. The RPC-230 does not come with a back panel so it is important that you use the one that comes with the motherboard. This keeps the case looking as professional as possible.
I installed the power supply second, but I recommend that you do it first because I ran into problems. I will talk about the problems I ran into in the next two paragraphs.
The first problem is that I had a lot of cables that I was not going to use and I had no where to put them. The case is not really big enough to stash them off to the side. The only thing I could think to do at this point is use the 5.25″ drive to hold the extra cables, instead of using it for a DVD drive. I would recommend you get a power supply with removable cables, this won’t fix all the space problems, but it will reduce some of the clutter.
The second problem is that I found it difficult to install the main power cable because it sits right under the hard drive bays. So I had to remove the motherboard and install the main power cable first and then put the motherboard back. I also took the opportunity of putting the 4 pin ATX 12V CPU power cable under the motherboard so it would not be in the way. Luckily, the cable was long enough to reach all the way to the plug next to the CPU.
After the cables were installed I installed the CPU, Heat sink, and RAM. This was very easy because there is nothing that would block access to these pieces.
Now that everything on the motherboard is installed, I put the hard drive bays back. It is easier to install the hard drives if you put the drives in the bays before you put the bays back in the case. Also, because the drives are side by side the power connectors were just a little too far apart. So, I chose to flip one of them upside down so that one power cable would reach between both drives.
After I got everything put together it all looked and worked great. Here is an image of my finished build. As you can see things are a bit tight, but other than that, everything fit nicely and there is plenty of circulation for all the parts.
Here is an image from the Norco website that shows how a professional company would put together this case. It looks a lot better than mine.
Warranty and Support
The RPC-230 comes with a 1 year warranty which covers parts and labor. This really bothered me at first, but then I thought what could possibly go wrong with a case? Either it is in good condition when you get it, or it’s not. I really don’t think anyone is going to have problems with this case.
To get support for the case, Norco provides only an E-mail address. This is not my favorite form of contact because you don’t know if the E-mail was received or how long you need to wait for a response.
This is a good case and even though the warranty and support are among the worst I have seen I think the low price of $59.99 easily makes up for it. If this were any other part, like a CPU, power supply, or hard drive, I would say run away as fast as you can. Since this is a case, with almost no moving parts, and a very solid build I am not as concerned. I really like the rolled edges and the removable hard drive bays. Norco has really done its best to make a small case easy to work with.
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