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Silverstone ML05 mini-ITX HTPC case

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A sleek 7-liter mini-ITX case for home theater PC joins the Silverstone Milo series. The ML05 is a well-built looker, despite its modest price, but how does it perform?

Product
Milo ML05
mini-ITX Media Center Case
Manufacturer
Street Price
US$45~60

Silverstone remains one of the most active HTPC case makers, in spite of all
the competiton from inexpensive miniature multimedia streaming devices offering
HD video from multiple sources. The sheer number of horizontal desktop style
cases in the Silverstone range — around 24 by my count, from tiny half-litre
NUC chassis to huge 43-litre ATX multi-drive-bay desktops — is impressive.

The recently introduced Milo series ML05 is one of the smallest offered with
room for more than a drive or two. This mini-ITX desktop case is a slimmer miniature
facsimile of its larger brethren, like the GD07/08
reviewed earlier in the year
. The dimensions are such that without any visual
points of reference, it is easy to mistake the ML05 for something much larger.
And with its minimalist, mirror-acrylic facia, it is stylish enough to fit easily
into the Silverstone catalog.


The ML05 is a very small case, just 7 litres in volume. Note the slot
for optical disc loading.
SilverStone Milo ML05: Product Details
from the
product web page
Model No. SST-ML05B (black)
Material Acrylic and plastic front
panel, 0.8mm steel body
Motherboard Mini-ITX
Drive Bay External 9.5mm/12.7mm slim slot-loading
optical drive (replaceable with 3.5” HDD or 2.5” HDD x2 or 120mm
fan)
Internal 2.5” x 4
Cooling System Rear n/a
Side Right: 2 x 80mm fan slot
Top 120mm fan slot / oversized
PSU vents
Expansion Slot 1
Front I/O Port USB 3.0 x 2
audio x 1
MIC x 1
Power Supply 1 x Optional standard SFX
Expansion Card 1x low profile, width restriction-2.95"
Limitation of CPU cooler 37~70mm
Limitation of PSU 140mm
Net Weight 2.1kg
Dimension 350mm (W) x 99 mm (H) x
204 mm (D), 7 liters

Sturdy brown corrugated cardboard carton.


Internal packing consists of a plastic bag and a clamshell made of
closed-cell foam (much preferred over horrific styrofoam). Not much of
accessories: A dust filter, four rubber feet that could have been affixed
at the factory, bag of screws, and paper assembly manual.

The packaging is good enough for a case that weighs only 2 kg and the accessories
package reflects the modest $50 price.

PHYSICAL DETAILS

The light weight of the ML05 is immediately apparent, but it doesn’t feel feel
flimsy. A check of the cover panel with our micrometer showed it is 0.8mm thick,
confirmed by the thickness of the folded edges. This is thicker than usual partly
because of the small dimensions of the panels. The top cover has two vented
areas, one for PSU intake in the corner and another over the mainboard area,
which has multiple functions.


The back panel is dominated by the holes for the motherboard I/O panel
and SFX power supply. There is also a half-height PCI slot and a full
height slot over the I/O panel, though this looks suitable only for something
like a USB port expansion.


The bottom, after rubber feet were affixed. It has no vents, but the entire
side closest to the CPU is totally vented. Two USB 3.0 ports and audio
in/out ports are positioned at the front of that vented side panel.


With the cover is removed: Two rubber pads for support under the PSU,
a 4-bay 2.5" drive cage in front, a supporting crossbar, and the
multi-function bracket that can hold a slim slot-loading optical drive,
a 3.5” HDD, two 2.5” HDDs or a 120mm fan. Good news for the
DIY system builder: There are no obvious sharp edges inside.


Multi-purpose bracket removed. Note: When the bracket is in place and
the cover panel is on, the narrow crossbar really isn’t needed.


This drawing from the manual shows the various functions of the bracket.

ASSEMBLY

Assembling a system inside a case as small as the ML05 is always a bit tricky,
because there’s little room to move. Small hands help, as does practice runs
of fitting a part before actually bolting it into place.

There was some indecision about which CPU would be best for testing this little
case. Silverstone sets no guidelines about thermal capacity, but everyone knows
that smaller cases generally can’t dissipate as much heat as larger ones. On
the other hand, the side panel closest to the CPU location is completely vented,
and there’s the huge vent atop the motherboard area. The tossup was between
a 55W TDP Pentium G2120 and a 65W Core i5-3470S. Not much of a difference…
but the latter was chosen, the same as for the Streacom
FC8 Evo
review. It is about as powerful a CPU as any normal user would
want for a small HTPC.

The CPU heatsink/fan usually we usually choose to test small, low profile cases
like the ML05 is a Noctua NH-L9i,
because it fits on any board and case. But we wondered if the higher performance
and considerably larger Scythe
Big Shuriken 2
might fit. The Shuriken 2 has a height of 58mm, while
the ML05 is spec’d to fit coolers of 37~70mm height. The large extreme would
have to be with the multi-function bracket removed, which would limit storage
to 2.5" drives. It had to be tried.


A Scythe Big Shuriken 2 does fit, with about a centimeter to spare
when the multi-function bracket is removed.

Ultimately, the Big Shuriken 2 was not used, because we wanted to test the
effect of vibration from a 3.5" drive, which cannot be installed without
the multi-function bracket.

System Configuration:

Sharp readers will notice a power supply is not included in the above parts
list. The case calls for an SFX form factor power supply, about half the size
of the typical ATX PSU. We have a Seasonic or two to use, but Silverstone actually
sent us a pair of their own SFX power supplies to use with the ML05, so it was
only natural to use one of them.

The two PSU samples:

Both models are said to feature "Silent running 80mm fan with 18dBA minimum",
but the 450W model offers both modular output cables and higher efficiency,
so it was chosen for this build. This meant, of course, that we had to throw
it on to our PSU load test system for at least a quick snapshot of its noise,
heat and efficiency characteristics.


Silverstone 450W 80+ Gold SFX power supply is completely modular.

A condensed test was done of the ST45SF-G 450W SFX power supply, limiting the
power load to just 150W since the maximum power draw in our test system will
not reach even 100W, anyway. The noise of the PSU was very low; only at 90W
and higher did it become significantly audible. The overall character was benign,
not exactly silky smooth but not very tonal, either.

Silverstone ST45SF-G 450W SFX Condensed Test Results

DC Output (W)

AC Input
(W)
Heat loss
(W)

Efficiency %
Power Factor
Exhaust
SPL
(dBA@1m)
21.3
30
8.7
70.9
0.95
24°C
13.5
40.4
50
9.6
80.9
0.98
25°C
13.5
64.4
76
11.6
84.7
0.99
26°C
15
90.1
104
13.9
86.6
1.00
27°C
16
150.3
167
16.7
90.0
1.00
29°C
18
+12V Ripple: <15mV
+5V Ripple: <12mV
+3.3V Ripple: <12mV
AC Power in Standby: 0.3W
AC Power with No Load, PSU power On: 7.9W / 0.58PF
Ambient: 11 dBA, 21°C

The ST45SF-G PSU should not contribute significantly to either the acoustics
or heat in the system.


Completed assembly, cover off.

Assembly Notes

  • The front panel cables interfered quite a lot with motherboard installation.
    It was necessary to fold them back as far as possible to keep them from rubbing
    against the front edge of the motherboard.
  • The PSU cables are well sized, generally about the right lengths for a small
    mini-ITX case.
  • The 140mm maximum space cited for the PSU seems highly optimistic. The Silverstone
    SFX PSU has a depth of just 125mm, but its output cables had to be squeezed
    very tightly against the 2.5" drive cage. The modular cable connectors
    actually add perhaps a centimeter of stiffness to the cable; the non-modular
    PSU would probably have fit better into the alotted space, as the cables would
    be more flexible (where they terminate at the PSU).

HDD mounted on bracket.


Very little space for intake of CPU fan.


There is room on the side, but additional 80mm fans are best avoided due
to cable management issues.

  • Fitting just two drives, an SSD and a 3.5" HDD, would have been simpler
    if shorter than standard SATA cables were available. Typical SATA cables,
    even the ones supplied with mini-ITX boards, are 16~18" long. Cables
    roughly half that length would have been welcome for this case. It’s too bad
    neither the ML05 nor most mini-ITX motherboards include them.
  • Even the super low profile Noctual LH-9i heatsink was a tight fit under
    the 3 .5" hard drive. The space between the top of its fan and the edge
    of the hard drive above it was well under a cm. This could prove troublesome
    for cooling. An 80mm fan or two could be installed on the side vented panel,
    but with the cabling issues, this could be a tricky matter.
  • It would be a tight fit, but a half height PCIe card could be fitted without
    too much trouble — assuming the card isn’t very thick.

The dust filter is very fine and virtually see-through but it does inhibit
airflow quite a lot. Not recommended unless you have lots of thermal headroom.
It’s magnetic, so you can try it easily; just place it over the top vent
on the cover. It sticks in place. Removes just as easily.

TEST RESULTS

Measurement and Analysis Tools

For a case without any fans like the ML05, there can be no baseline noise.
It simply doesn’t make any noise without components inside. So we go straight
to noise, power and temperature measurements for the system installed.

Config 1

At idle load, the system can be easily cooled with the single CPU fan running
as low as 1000~1100 RPM, about the equivalent of 4V. The primary noise sources
are the hard drive, PSU fan and CPU cooler fan, with some resonance effects
from all of them being packed so closely together, and perhaps a touch of vibration
effcts adding to the measured SPL. The subjective noise is very low. Assuming
placement under or near a large screen TV with viewers seated no closer than
~5′ away, the system becomes essentially inaudible as soon as anything is playing
over the loudspeakers.

Pushing the CPU using Prime95 is merely a routine exercise, to keep this review
in line with other SPCR case reviews. In reality, it’s completely unnecessary,
as no real user would load a HTPC of this type with such a torture test. In
any case, with the CPU fan as jammed under the 3.5" hard drive as it is
in our test system, the CPU began throttling about 14 minutes into P95. It cycled
every 2 minutes or so: The CPU would cool off to around 70°C after about
90 seconds of throttling, then the CPU would go full load for about 30 seconds
before throttling kicked in again. All the other component temperatures also
rose, naturally. The hard drive, positioned directly over the CPU, reached 55°C,
compared to the SSD, which only got to 46°C.

Playing 1080P video for two hours provoked no change in acoustics and some
increases in temperature over the idle state. This is no surprise as total power
draw increased by only 10~12W. Still, both the PCH and the HDD ended up running
hotter than the CPU, a result of their closed-in position near the CPU.

Video encoding is about the most demanding thing most users will ask of a HTPC.
TMPGEnc pushed power demand enough that the CPU fan had to be increased in speed
considerably to keep the system from throttling. A reasonable thermal state
was reached at 2400 RPM, with the CPU temperature stable at 72°C. All the
other component temperatures were elevated but well within safe boundaries.
The 24 dBA@1m SPL isn’t super quiet by our standards, but it’s not bad, and
easy enough to take as you can simply walk away while the encoding is being
done.

Silverstone ML05
Test Results
State
CPU fan rpm
AC Power
CPU °C
PCH °C
HDD
°C
SSD
°C
SPL
Idle
1100
30W
30
41
38
30
17
HD Video
1100
40~42W
42
50
44
34
17
TMPGEnc
2100
66W
72
63
53
42
24
Prime95
2500
93W
84*
68
55
46
30
*FAIL: CPU throttling, every 2 minutes
SPL
= Sound pressure level in dB, A-weighted, mic positioned 1m at
diagonal angle left/front/top of case.
Ambient: 11 dBA, 21°C

It’s very clear that this system configuration is one of the worst for the
ML05. The 3.5" hard drive blocks the CPU cooler, traps heat between it
and the motherboard, and adds its own heat in that area. And even though we’ve
chosen a very quiet drive, its position hanging directly under the biggest opening
in the case is hardly helpful for overall noise. All this begs the question
of what happens if you don’t use the multi-function bracket at all? Now you’re
limited to the 2.5" drive cage, but there is room for 4 of them in total,
which can add up to at least 4TB. Besides, external or network storage is easy
to use for a HTPC anyway.

So, out with the WD Red drive, and on with a second round of load testing.

Config 2

Silverstone ML05
w/o Center Bracket or 3.5" HDD
State
CPU fan rpm
AC Power
CPU °C
PCH °C
SSD
°C
SPL
Idle
1100
25W
26
38
28
16
TMPGEnc
1300
59W
60
57
39
19
Prime95
1600
86W
60
55
39
22
SPL = Sound pressure level in dB, A-weighted,
mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle left/front/top of case.
Ambient: 11 dBA, 21°C

The minimum noise level for the system hardly changed. But there was a dramatic
change under load: In Prime95, the CPU ran a whopping 24°C cooler despite
the fan running at just 1600 RPM instead of full tilt, while the noise level
dropped 8 dBA to 22 dBA@1m. Curiously, at this load, slowing the CPU fan any
more — even stopping it altogether — made no difference to the overall
SPL, because of the PSU noise. It appears that inside the case, the PSU fan
actually runs considerably faster at this modest load (about 70W DC) than on
the open test bench, where it measured 16 dBA@1m. Still, this is not going cost
the system points in my book, because P95 is simply not a normal load. The TMPGEnc
load is about the highest load this system would see in real use, and there,
the CPU fan can be safely run as low as 1300 RPM, for a total SPL of just 19
dBA.

OTHER CONFIGURATIONS

We’ve firmly established that…

  1. blocking the vent over the motherboard/CPU area is bad for cooling,
  2. mounting a hard drive in the multi-function bracket traps heat and makes
    it more audible, and
  3. the Silverstone SFX PSU runs at a higher speed (under some load) inside
    the small case than on an open test bench; this seems directly related to
    internal case temperature.

What would happen if the multi-function bracket was used with the other options?
Those other options…

  • Two 2.5" drives: Hard to imagine why anyone would choose this
    option. There are 4 2.5" slots in the drive cage already. If you did,
    it would cause a bit of CPU and motherboard heatup, though nowhere near as
    much as with a 3.5" drive, because 2.5" drives hare generally less
    than half the 1" thickness of 3.5" drives and typically run at ~1W.
    There’d be some increase in noise if they were mechanical drives, as the big
    vent is right there.
  • Bluray drive: Only a slim short version will fit, so this should
    cause very little change in thermals.
  • 120mm fan: Obviously this would help with cooling, even if spun at
    very low speed forminimal noise.

Getting back to the 4-bay drive cage for 2.5" drives, examining it in
detail, I’d have to say it would be quite a chore to stuff four drives in there.
Spacing is very tight, and the cabling would be a nightmare. I’d limit myself
to just two drives maximum, personally, and use either NAS or eSATA/USB 3.0
external storage if I wanted more.

Another consideration is whether the Silverstone (or any other) SFX power supply
is the best option. I say this because if the PSU wasn’t there, you’d have much
more room and a big vent overhead as well as on the back panel. That extra room
might be used to position a 3.5" drive in some creative way, or a couple
more 2.5" drives, or simply leave empty for better passive cooling. This
means the use of a picoPSU
+ external power brick, of course. Mini-box offers combo deals, like the picoPSU-150XT
with 102W adapter for $59
, which would be perfectly adequate for systems
like we’ve configured here. (Caution: The power adapter in that kit does
have a fan which kicks in at high load) Yes, it means another adapter lolling
on the floor behind, but your system would certainly run cooler, and the PSU
would never become a source of noise.

Taking this line of thinking to its logical conclusion, opting for a thin mini-ITX
board like the Gigabyte GA-H77TN
would make a picoPSU unnecessary because such boards have all the VRM circuitry
required onboard and only need a 19V notebook adapter of adequate power. The
features on these boards are quite extensive, so you won’t miss anything. Both
the Gigabyte and the Intel DQ77KB boards
have a slot for an mSATA SSD, which come as big as 256GB, and they come with
a power harness that has 4 SATA power connectors, so you could fill up the 2.5"
drive cage if you really wanted. No chance of an addon VGA card with such boards,
but that’s not what you want for a small m-ITX system like this anyway.

Finally, if the center bracket is not used, then the Scythe Big Shuriken 2
heatsink could be used for better cooling of both the CPU and motherboard components.
The 120mm fan on the SBS2 would likely help lower overall internal temperatures.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Silverstone Milo series ML05 is one of the most attractive, really small
HTPC cases we’ve seen. The acrylic mirror finish and understated design of the
fascia fits in nicely with Silverstone’s generally cool, modern theme. Given
its modest price, the build quality is high, and the cooling approach is about
the only one you could adopt for such a small case: Wide open vents near the
heat sources to give them a decent chance of keeping cool without too much airflow.
The strategy works, too, as long as the vents are kept clear.

That leads us to the single big flaw of the ML05: The position and configuration
for a 3.5" drive is very far from ideal, blocking the center vent in the
top panel, and trapping heat over the motherboard. A side fan or two could help
alleviate the heat issue, but that is good money after bad, in my view. You’re
better off avoiding an internal 3.5" drive altogether and use eSATA, USB
3.0 or NAS storage instead.

The SFX power supplies offered by Silverstone are good fits for the ML05, and
as long as you’re not planning to floor a high TDP CPU for long periods, the
PSUs should not add much to the overall acoustics. Alternative power options
such as picoPSU or a Thin-ITX board with external AC/DC adapters can eliminate
the internal PSU altogether, making more room and reducing the heat.

Comparables are hard to come by at SPCR. Every other HTPC case of similar size
and function we’ve looked at in the past few years are passively cooled "heatsink
boxes" and way pricier, like HDPLEX
H5.TODD
, Streacom FC8
Evo
, or Akasa
Euler
. (The Euler hardly fits, because it fits only one drive, has no
expansion slots and no front panel feature at all.) About the only mini-ITX
case that’s close in price is the Cooler
Master Elite 120
, but this case is in a big breadbox form, and designed
specifically to house and cool a big gaming VGA card. Going further back, the
SEED MA-280B & Cooler
Master Elite 100
are reasonably close in size and intended use, but
neither look nor function as well as the ML05. The Antec
ISK-300-65
is somewhat competitive, but its included power adapter is
a bit underpowered, while the ISK-300-150 power supply is too noisy. Admittedly,
there are many small mini-ITX cases by brands rarely (if ever) reviewed by SPCR,
such as Morex, Jou Jye, and Travla, but they’ve generally been homely in appearance,
often equipped with little fans we know to be noisy, difficult to procure (at
least in Canada and the US) and surprisingly not inexpensive!

All in all, Silverstone has done a good job in making the ML05 an attractive,
functional HTPC mini-case to be worth of a recommendation. Seasoned system builders
should have no problem assembling a nicely balanced, very quiet system in this
case. Even first time builders will do fine as long as a 3.5" drive is
avoided.

Our thanks to SilverStone
for the Milo ML05 case sample.


SilverStone Milo ML05 is Recommended by SPCR

* * *

Articles of Related Interest
Cases: Basics & Recommendations

HDPLEX
H5.TODD Fanless HTPC Case

Streacom FC8 Evo
SEED MA-280B & Cooler Master
Elite 100
Antec ISK-300-65

* * *

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