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Glacial Altair A381 (iMon)

The GlacialTech A381 is an unique case because it is slim design that is capable of accomidating an ATX motherboard, two hard drives, and comes with 2 60mm fans, a media reader, and the iMon module. It is not often you will find an HTPC of this size with its ample of space and expansion option. The question remains, would this be your HTPC case choice? We’ll see…..

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INTRODUCTION

With high definition digital entertainment gaining popularity, having an HTPC setup is almost becoming a standard nowadays. It is easy to purchase a pre-built system for recording and playback HD contents. TiVo and Apple TV are a couple of example. Users can even add a TV tuner card to an existing system to convert it to an HTPC setup. For many computer enthusiasts, building their own system tailored to their needs is half the fun. Choosing the right case, one which offers ample expansion slots and good cooling, is essential for any HTPC. Of course, if the system can run at near silence, that would be a great plus when you immerse yourself in that digital enjoyment.

Today, we’ve got another HTPC case review courtesy of the good folks at Glacial Tech. We have previously looked at the Antec’s grand daddy of HTPC cases, the Fusion Remote Max. Despite its excellent craftsmanship and ample of expansion possibilities, some folks may prefer having a smaller case to fit into their home entertainment décor. If you are one of them, then the Glacial A 381 may just be the case for you.

GLACIAL TECH

GlacialPower Inc. was established in April 2006 by a talent engineering team from the Switch Mode Power Supply (SMPS) Industry . The team members of GlacialPower has averagely 12 years rich experience in designing, quality controlling and manufacturing SMPS products. During past years the team designed for A brand companies of Acer, Asus, Cisco, Dell, Fujitsu-Siemens, Gateway, HPQ, IBM, LG Electronics, Microsoft, Samsung, Sony, Toshiba and Wistron. The team also invented the solid quality control manufacturing process approved by companies of Dell, HPQ, IBM, etc.

The company goal is to be one of the leading SMPS solution provider in the world and will use solid design to deliver quality products that possess the features of innovation and usability for customers. We will work closely together with our customer and our slogan is Power Your Idea.

FEATURES AND SPECIFICATION

The unit we have received was shipped directly from China. As you can see, all of the openings have been taped down. All around the box, there is various marketing information for any potential buyer. You will find the case’s specification, features, and model types.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Open up the packaging and you can see that the case is packaged very well to endure the long journey from overseas. Two large plastic cutouts of the case hold the case in place so it will not move around during shipping. Also, plastic padding is used to absorb any shocks during shipping. On the top of the case, you will find that Glacial Tech includes a handy handle.

A few options are available for the Altair A381. You can choose between silver or black in color. In addition, there are different types of remote controls and front panel display modules available for user selection. You can select the VFD version that supports Windows Vista, the iMon version which comes with iMon module, and the LCD version which includes a 4.3’’ touch screen LCD. In addition, you have the option of Bluetooth and wireless receiver. The unit we received is the black iMon version which comes with the remote control and iMon module.

  • Home theater appearance
  • Aluminum chassis design
  • Low down inside temperature with best airflow design
  • Remote controller support Microsoft Vista or iMON software
  • IR receiver support remote controller, wireless keyboard, and wireless mouse
  • Front I/O port for easy access
  • System information display with VFD (option)
  • EMI clip of top cover for grounding
  • iMON modules (option)
  • 4.3” LCD (option)
  • Bluetooth and wireless inside (option) 

CLOSER LOOK AT GLACIAL TECH ALTAIR A381

The Altair A381 is a low profile case that will accommodate ATX motherboards. The case is fairly small with dimension of 430mm X 100mm X 405mm (WxHxD). It is built primarily with 6063 Aluminum and SECC with the plastic material for the front bezel.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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On the front, there is an opening for the 5.25’’ drive and right underneath it is the media reader. The media reader has a metal cover to prevent any dust build up. The card reader supports CF/MD/MS flash memory. Next to the card reader is where the mic and headphone jacks are located and two USB ports can be found next to them.

 
 
 

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Glacial Tech uses a metal plate that covers the 5.25 drive’s tray opening to give it a uniformed look. You simply tape the metal tray cover over your regular 5.25’’ drive with two-sided sticky tape. Although I appreciate the color coordination, I would still prefer having what Antec has done with their Fusion Remote case, where the cover opens with the eject button and the drive bay simply hides behind the cover.

A big round volume knob is also located on the right side. If you check Glacial Tech’s website, you would be thinking that the volume knob also functions as the on/off switch. However, after checking with the folks at Glacial Tech, it is confirmed that this case does not have any external on/off button, but rather it uses the remote control as the sole method of turning the system on.

On the left side of the front is where you will find the iMon LCD panel. This is the same one as what we have seen with the Antec Remote Fusion case. The panel will work in conjunction with the iMedian to display various system hardware information, email, news, and others. Combining it with the remote control, the system haves full multimedia capability. Sitting below the LCD panel is where you would find various buttons.

There are plenty of ventilation holes on the top of the case. In addition, two 60mm fans are included on the left and right side of the case. More ventilation holes can be found on the back of the case just above the expansion slots. The case comes with very nice feet. The feet are what you normally would find in many home theater systems. The feet have padding on them so they won’t be scratching any surfaces.

A CLOSER LOOK ALTAIR A831 – INTERNAL

The inside of the A381 is pretty roomy. In fact, as you can see, this case will house micro-ATX, ATX, and E-ATX motherboards. There are spaces for one external 5.25’’ slot and two internal  3.5’’ hard drives. Up to four low profiles expansion cards and two PCI riser cards can be installed.

 
 
 

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Despite roomy space, the 3.5’’ drive cage can pose some problem for larger motherboards. The 3.5’’ hard drive cage will block the ports on the lower left corner where you will usually find the SATA or IDE connector. I tried two different motherboards, and both of them are having issue due to the location of the ports. Many motherboard manufactures also place the ports so close to the edge of the board and angle them at 90 degrees. As a result, the cable will not be able to fit into the space.

The 5.25’’ cage may also pose a small issue if you have a DVD drive that is a 20cm long. Regardless of which motherboard you choose, the 5.25’’ drive will extend over the right bottom portion of the motherboard. Therefore, anything that is overly tall around this area can pose a small problem. This area is where usually you will find the memory slots and the main ATX power connectors. I do not foresee any major issue unless your memory has a tall heatsink like the OCZ Reaper or you are using a rather wide CPU heatsink.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Luckily, both the 3.5 and 5.25 drive bays are removable for easy installation. In fact, I would suggest that you remove them before the installation of the motherboard. Once all the cables are connected to the motherboard, then install them on to the case. The 3.5’’ hard drive cage does come a bit close to the front of the case which, with all of the cables coming off the iMon, can be somewhat a hassle to remove.

We can see that the cage has sponge grommets to help reduce noises. Unfortunately, the grommet is only found at the cage, but not on the hard drive screws. So, it won’t help too much in the HDD’s noise reduction. I did encounter a rather unusual problem with the hard drive installation. The hard drive cage appears to be slightly uneven, with one end a bit too narrow, so that hard drive may not be able to be completely pushed into the cage without applying a bit of force.

Two 60mm fans are placed on the left and right side of the case. The fans will illuminate blue in color while in operation. They are rated with maximum 1,500 rpm and 19dba noise level, although in my subjective testing, it is a bit noisier than what I would have liked. The fans come with both the 4-pin Molex connector and the 3-pin fan header for power.

As for the cable management, the case does not have anything pre-configured like what we have seen with the Antec case, but there are some spaces below the 5.25 drive for cable management. This is where you can hide all of the cables, including the USB cables that are hanging off the PCB board from the media reader, the front panel connectors, and the iMon module.

To be honest, due to the size of the case, I think it would a good idea for Glacial Tech to include an adapter that allows customers to use a slim DVD drive that is found in laptop systems. Also, it may be a good idea to also include a converter or some kind of space for 2.5’’ hard drives. With the price of the 2.5’’ hard drives dropping in price, and the storage capacity getting up to 500GB, they would be a good candidate for media PC storage, saving both space while also yielding a lower noise level. These smaller drives would solve the issue with the 3.5’’ hard drive’s clearance.

THE PSU

 

Since this is a slim design case that accommodates low profile components, Glacial Tech has included a 270W flex power supply. The power supply is manufactured by HEC, model HEC-270FN-2RX. The 270W power is being divided among different rails with two +12V rails rated for 7A and 13A. Although 270W should be plenty for any components that you wish to install in the system, the combined 20A for the +12V is a tad weak in my opinion. Also, the power supply is not 80 Plus Certified, which may indicate lower efficiency.

Here are the included cables:

  • 24-pin ATX power
  • 4-pin auxiliary ATX power
  • one cable with two 4-pin Molex
  • one cable with one 4-pin Molex, two SATA connectors, and a floppy connector

I was a bit disappointed to see a 4-pin auxiliary ATX power connector instead of an 8-pin or the 4+4 pin design. Also, the number of connectors can be a bit scarce. The three 4-pin Molex connectors may not be enough, because when you hook up the two fans using the 4-pin connectors, you are left with just a single Molex for your DVD or hard drives. Also, two SATA connectors can be problematic if you plan on using two SATA hard drives and a SATA DVD.

The power supply does not include a PCIE connector for the graphic card but that should not be much of an issue as many low profile PCIE graphic cards probably won’t need any additional power (with the exception of the 9600 GT from Galaxy).

Glacial Tech apparently forgot to change the input voltage switch from 230V (use in China) to 115V (use in the US). Be sure to check your PSU if you have purchased the case. An auto-switch version of the power supply would have been appreciated.

A fan is on the bottom of the power supply to keep it running cool. The power supply is being held onto the case by three screws on the back. Since there is no support for it, it does wobble slightly. Luckily, it is not too heavy and due to its size, and it is probably not going to be any major issue.

ACCESSORIES

The case comes with screws, a power supply cable, a driver CD, and a quick guide. In addition, a remote is included with two AAA batteries. Glacial Tech has also included a power switch header. The header sure will come in handy during installation.

 

On the picture above, you can see the metal 5.25” tray cover (left). Glacial Tech has labeled each screw bag so it would be easier to know which screw is for what. Kudos to them for being so thoughtful.

iMon and iMedia

 

The remote that is included with the case is exactly the same model as the one we have received with the Antec Remote Fusion. Although the remote works well it is not as intuitive as some remotes, such as Microsoft’s Media Center remote or Logitech’s Harmony. Just as we have mentioned in our previous experience with the same remote, the big round button in the center can be somewhat temperamental. Sometimes it can be imprecise and, at times, it can be overly sensitive.
 
 
 
With the remote and the iMedian software, users will be able to turn any system into a home entertainment. Unfortunately, this software may not be as user friendly as Windows Media Center. Also, it is somewhat buggy. I have encountered the occasional freeze with the program and it sometimes will play a media file in a loop. This is not really Glacial Tech’s fault, as they simply includes the third party software from SoundGraph.

COOLING

We installed the following components to the Glacial Tech A381 case:

  • CPU: AMD Phenom X3 8750
  • Motherboard: Asus M3N78 Pro
  • Memory: 2 x 2GB Super Talent
  • HD: 250 GB Western Digital
  • GPU: Onboard

 

The two 60mm fans that are included do not seem be too effective in lowering the operation temperature but do add a little bit of extra noise. They are able to keep the hard drive running at 5°C cooler, but unable to have any effect with other components’ temperature. In fact, we see a slight temperature increase for the MCP and GPU with the two fans turned on. Maybe with more strategic fan placement, the two 60mm fans can be more effective in cooling. Luckily you have the option of turning them off if you wish to do so.

CONCLUSION

The Glacial Tech Altair A381 does meet a few of the requirement for any HTPC setup. It has plenty of expansions. Two 3.5’’ hard drive slots, four expansion slots, and two PCI riser slots, should be plenty for a decent HTPC setup. In addition, can accommodate mATX, ATX, and e-ATX motherboards, and the included 270W should be plenty to power any components as well.

Unfortunately, this system is not without flaws. The biggest issue I believe would be the 3.5’’ hard drive cage blocks the ports on the lower left corner of the motherboard. Anyone who is planning to purchase this case should consider the location of the SATA/IDE ports on the motherboard if you are planning to use an ATX motherboard. As we mentioned earlier, any ports that lie on the edge of the lower left corner of the board would potentially be blocked by the 3.5’’ hard drive cage. In addition, although we do appreciate the 270W power supply that is included, we feel that it should come with the 8-pin ATX auxiliary power connector. We can overlook the lack of the PCIE connector(s), but not the 8-pin auxiliary connector. Also, a few extra SATA and/or IDE power connectors would have been nice.

We appreciate the iMon module, the front panel connector, and the media reader. The remote control that is included works fairly well but it can be hard to get used to with its buttons. We like the media reader, though we do wish to see an eSATA port was included, especially considering there is only space for two hard drives.

One thing which I think Glacial Tech absolutely overlooked is the ability to turn on the system with a button. It appears that the case has this feature, but somehow Glacial Tech does not route the cable to allow the system to be turned on with the volume button.

Anyone who wishes to use an ATX motherboard for their HTPC setup should give the Glacial Tech’s A831 a look. Despite its flaws, it is one of the few slim design cases that is capable of accommodating an ATX motherboard. You just would have to be careful with your component selection.

We are trying out a new addition to our scoring system to provide additional feedback beyond a flat score. Please note that the final score isn’t an aggregate average of the new rating system.

  • Performance 7
  • Value 6
  • Quality 8
  • Warranty 9
  • Features 8
  • Innovation 7

 Pros:

+  Supports wide range of motherboards
+  iMon module
+  Slim design
+  Media reader
+  Remote and HTPC software included

Cons:

-  +12V is a bit on the low side
-  HDD installation is a hassle
-  No 8-pin ATX auxiliary power connector included
-  A bit short on the numbers of SATA and IDE power connector
-  A bit pricy at 229USD

Final Score: 7 out of 10 (Good).

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