Andrew Robinson began his career as an art director in entertainment advertising in 2003, after graduating from Art Center College of Design. In 2006, he became a creative director at Crew Creative Advertising, and oversaw the agency's Television Division, where he worked for clients such as TNT, TBS, History, FX, and Bravo to name a few. He now has one of the most popular AV-related channels on YouTube.
I know it isn't customary for Home Theater Review to dive into the world of home computing. However, with topics like convergence becoming more and more commonplace, rest assured this won't be the last time. In fact, this review is the first of what will be a long line of reviews delving into the topic of not only convergence, but also home theater computing, ripping, storing, serving and much, much more. I chose to make the SilverStone LC20 HTPC case my first stop, because it will be responsible for housing your creations now as well as in the future - and when it comes to dealing with the latest computer and HTPC trends, your "house" is just as important as what fills it.
I hesitate to call the LC20 one of SilverStone's entry-level HTPC cases, but it is among their more affordable offerings, priced at $124.99. Take my word for it that, despite the LC20's low price tag, there is nothing cheap about its construction, starting with its outward appearance. The LC20 can be had in your choice of silver or black, and features aluminum and steel construction throughout, including a thick, rounded aluminum façade that looks every bit as high-end as many of the home theater and audiophile components that grace my rack on a regular basis. The LC20 measures 17 inches wide by 17 inches deep and seven inches tall. Out of the box, it weighs a substantial 15-and-a-half pounds. Keep in mind that its 15-plus pounds is the LC20's raw weight and, as you add items such as power supplies, hard drives, etc., you should expect that number to increase, maybe even substantially. The front panel plays host to two push-button doors, one that conceals the LC20's dual external 5.25-inch drive bays and the second hiding its four USB 2.0 inputs, IEEE 1394 input and audio and mic inputs. There is also a single 3.5-inch drive bay just to the right of the LC20's front-mounted audio input/outputs. A large aluminum power button rounds out the LC20's list of front-mounted features.
Moving around the outside edges and back panel, you'll discover openings and mounting points for three fans, two 80-millimeter slots along the rear and one along the side near where the power supply would otherwise be located. There are two 92/80-millimeter slots behind the thick aluminum front panel, but they are not visible to the naked eye without first removing said panel. The total number of fans supported within the LC20 is six, though none come as standard already installed. Inside, the LC20 can play host to both standard ATX and Micro-ATX motherboards, as well as six additional 3.5-inch devices, presumably hard drives. You can purchase 3TB hard drives nowadays that can bring the LC20's storage capabilities up to a whopping 18TBs if one were so inclined, though, again, none of this is included in the 20's asking price. There are also seven expansion slots located at the back to facilitate additional graphics, sound or peripheral cards, provided your motherboard and chosen CPU can accommodate such excess. As for compatible power supplies, the LC20 should play nice with any PS2 or ATX branded power supply - just be sure to get one powerful enough to drive whatever it is you choose to put inside the LC20.
For the purposes of this review, the LC20 was used to house Home Theater Review's first-ever HTPC build. Now, I know many of you may already be on the HTPC bandwagon and look at our foray into the space as late to the party. However, with Kaleidescape's recent legal woes, and with more and more products being network-capable, I have a feeling those who would have otherwise shied away from the topic - i.e. me - are now giving it a good second look. And hey, if the party is still good, who cares what time you show up, so long as you show up. For the initial build, I limited the budget to no more than $1,000, which in turn afforded me the following items: SilverStone's LC20 HTPC case, an Asus M5A88-V EVO ATX AM3+ motherboard, an AMD FX-4100 3.60GHz quad core processor, 8GB of Kingston DDR3-1333MHz memory, a Lite-On Blu-ray burner/reader, 1.5TB Seagate HDD and a Coolmax VL-600B power supply. All in all, I ended up spending only $634.91 with all of the above-mentioned components.
Since the LC20 does little to enhance the system's overall performance, I'll save any and all benchmarks for future articles. In terms of the build itself, with the LC20 playing a large role, it couldn't have gone smoother. The LC20 housed the full-sized Asus ATX motherboard with room to spare, as well as offering up ample room for the AMD's sizable heat sink and fan apparatus. The power supply, even when mounted upside down (a build-time decision) still managed to keep three of the four points of contact intact, which speaks volumes about the LC20's versatility. The Blu-ray drive fit perfectly, as did the internal 1.5TB hard drive. Cable routing was easily dealt with and, thanks to spaces cleverly concealed throughout the LC20's internal construction, the "guts" of my HTPC build didn't look at all gory. Despite not adding any additional fans during the initial build process, the LC20's natural air flow capabilities never allowed the inside components or the chassis itself to get more than lukewarm to the touch at best.
Another nice surprise is how the front-mounted doors, which conceal the optical drive bays, do a remarkable job of muffling the system's overall sound, making it virtually inaudible from my listening position a mere eight feet away. To make a comparison, my primary computer, a Mac Pro tower, also sits eight feet away from my main listening position, and I have to turn it off when doing critical listening tests, for its muffled drone and whirring are more than a little audible.
Read about the high points and low points of the SilverStone LC20 case on Page 2.
• The LC20's build quality is first-rate and every bit as good as what you've come to expect from other home theater manufacturers such as Integra, Denon and the like.
• The LC20's front panel looks right at home amidst a rack of home theater electronics and, thanks to its two trapdoors, you don't always have to be reminded of all the working parts inside - something I wish more companies would bear in mind.
• The LC20's dual trapdoors or plates do a remarkable job of muffling system noise. This included my 12x Blu-ray reader/burner, which was noticeable from 10-plus feet away with the door open, but virtually inaudible with it closed.
• Thanks to its many fan locations, the LC20 does a good enough job staying cool on its own under light stress, though those looking to house a system a bit beefier inside the 20's walls will probably want to add a f
an or two.
• The LC20's insides are cavernous and spacious enough to accommodate full-size components, such as motherboards, hard drives, power supplies and graphics cards.
• The LC20 in the configuration reviewed here doesn't come with a whole lot of ancillary goodies, such as a remote control or air filters, two items which you can get as standard if you step up to the LC20B-M, whih retails for $169.99. I added such luxuries later and saved money, so don't think you have to pop for the more expensive case if your budget won't allow for it.
• The front status LEDs, despite being located behind a smoky black plastic window, are bright as all hell and, in a completely darkened environment, can become more than a little distracting. I found a well-placed Sharpie dot does the trick in taming the LC20's blue SOS beacon.
Competition and Comparison
Since this is the first review of its kind for HTR, I don't have a lot of experience with other HTPC cases. The only others I can direct you to are the cases I was considering for this project, two of which happen to also come from SilverStone in the form of their GD08 and LC13-E HTPC cases. Truth be told, while there are other manufacturers of HTPC cases, I knew I was going to go with SilverStone fairly early on, despite not having a great deal of knowledge or experience with building HTPCs myself, for they offered the most comprehensive range of products that I could find. The cherry on top for me was the fact that SilverStone is the OEM for many of the commercially available HTPCs (at least when it comes to their cases) that you can buy today.
In ten years of writing audio/video reviews, I've never asked myself this question: how much is a product's case worth to me? You rarely take into consideration a component's housing (except its physical appearance) when evaluating its performance, and yet it plays a big role, as I found out by building my very first HTPC. The truth of the matter is that the LC20 from SilverStone is a wonderful platform from which to build your dream HTPC, because it affords you the ability to grow and modify as technology and your needs change.
While it seems as if I'm only using a small percentage of its capacity and capability, I feel good knowing that the LC20 is going to be there for me long-term, as its build quality is superb and its sheer internal volume among the best I've seen. If you're looking to build a HTPC of your own and are looking to keep things on budget, I strongly urge you to check out SilverStone's LC20 HTPC case.