The most versatile HTPC case we’ve ever seen
Despite the advent of smart TVs, media streamers and consoles, there are still plenty of reasons to own an HTPC. Unlike smart TVs and media streamers, PCs work with all on-demand video streaming services, rather than a mere selection, plus they can easily record and play back any video or music files too. With the addition of TV tuner cards and discrete sound cards, they offer the ability to twilight as TV recorders and bases for high quality sound systems, while also eliminating the need for a NAS box or server.
One task has eluded them in many cases, though, and that’s gaming. We’re not talking about easy-torun games such as TrackMania – even Intel’s latest HD graphics can cope with such low-powered games. Dealing with the likes of Crysis 3 and Battlefield 4 is no mean feat, however, as is bettering consoles in the living room. However, US-based Steiger Dynamics offers the most extreme HTPCs we’ve seen, sporting SLI graphics and even water-cooled LGA2011 systems.
These are built into its own customised HTPC case called the LEET Reference, which is available separately. The company even offers an interesting contraption called the Couchmaster, which enables you to use a keyboard and mouse on your sofa. As the company ships its case and its systems worldwide, we were keen to take a look.
The LEET may certainly look familiar to HTPC fans, as it appears to be a modified Origen AE case. For an HTPC case, it’s one of the largest we’ve seen, mainly due to its height. At 22cm, it’s as tall as many micro-ATX cases. The exterior is sublime, with a huge, single piece aluminium shell and a hefty top panel, which has a window option too. The use of 5mm aluminium all round means the case weighs in at over 15kg too, so with hardware installed, you’ll need a sturdy TV cabinet
to give it a home.
The front panel sports a 7in Samsung Soundgraph FingerVU 700M touch-screen, which has been customised to show various system status displays, but will also be great for displaying and controlling music playback software without switching on your TV or reaching for the mouse, meaning your HTPC could be used as a standalone, lossless audio jukebox too. Above the screen sits a standard 5.25in slot, rather than a slimline or slot-loading bay. The hole is exposed as standard, but a tight-fitting fascia is included to attach to your optical drive. Meanwhile, at the bottom you’ll find two mini-jacks, two USB 3 ports and an SD card reader, hidden by a flip-down cover.
There’s just one 92mm intake fan included as standard, with Steiger Dynamics offering dual radiator cooling options, and claiming many customers will simply choose their own fans anyway. However, this means that cooling isn’t amazing out of the box. Thankfully, there are plenty of vents in the case to allow cool air to be drawn inside. In a bid to reduce noise and
vibration, there’s a lot of noise-absorbing foam lining the inside of the case and top panel too, while the panel itself rests on neoprene-lined slats.
As you’d expect in a case this size, there’s plenty of room for hardware, and installation is made simpler with the addition of a removable motherboard tray. The LEET supports up to E-ATX-sized motherboards, full sized PSUs and it has room for seven expansion slots too. It can also house three SSDs, plus a further four 3.5in hard disks via two separate mounts, which are tucked away at the front of the case.
Graphics cards up to 280mm in length are supported too, and with so many expansion slots supported, dual or triple-slot coolers are an option too. Interestingly, Steiger Dynamics suggests the best option for CPU cooling is an all-in-one liquid cooler, with space for both a single 120mm-fan radiator in the rear and a dual 120mm-fan radiator in the side fan mounts. With an optical drive installed, there isn’t otherwise a lot of space for CPU coolers, although there’s 170mm of available, so our standard case test cooler, the Gelid Tranquillo, fitted fine.
The 92mm fan was exceptionally quiet, yet still shifted plenty of air. The lacklustre out-of-the-box cooling didn’t yield terrible results either, with the CPU delta T of 59°C being a long way from the worst we’ve seen, despite the low noise. However, a decent air-cooled case, such as the Corsair Obsidian 750D, knocks another 10°C off this temperature, by comparison.
The GPU delta T of 54°C was again not a dire result either, probably helped by the large vent in the side panel next to the graphics card. Again, some of the best cases we’ve seen perform much better, but with the addition of a couple more fans, the situation would probably improve considerably.
Besides, these temperatures are still fine, despite being comparatively high, if you’re not overclocking, and you prioritise low noise over performance, which is highly likely if you’re building an HTPC.
The LEET Reference is a difficult case to classify, in that it has all the hallmarks of an HTPC case but is touted as a high-end gaming chassis. As such, out-of-thebox cooling is comparatively disappointing, but you can easily follow Steiger Dynamics’ recommendation of using an all-in-one liquid cooler or even full-on custom water cooling, which it can offer as part of the
case package. It’s remarkably quiet in operation too, and has an incredible amount of expansion room compared to other HTPC cases.
You could easily add a high-end TV tuner card and sound card, and still have room for a full-height, dual slot graphics card, several hard disks and SSDs, and even an all-in-one liquid cooler. These features are very rare in the world of HTPCs, but the LEET Reference offers all of them, and still looks awesome enough to look at home in a premium TV cabinet.
It’s undoubtedly for those with lots of space, and a fair amount of cash to spend on adding all the extras. However, the possibilities have us drooling like Homer Simpson over a doughnut.