Antec Micro Fusion Remote HTPC Case Review
Antec’s Fusion PC case is a micro-ATX pc case designed to match your existing home theater equipment, allowing you to use your TV and sound system for more than just DVDs and Monday night football. With
a PC in your system, you can easily playback high-definition video, for example, without paying $1000+ for a Blu-ray player and media. A big plus I’ve personally seen in using PCs on TV is the ability to play almost ANY PC game in high definition, any resolution you want. For instance, when the Xbox 360 came out, everyone was excited about its ability to play Halo 2 at 720p (1280×720). But since 2003 I’d been playing Halo online AND in HD with my PC! A PC hooked up to your television is the ultimate backward-compatible game system.
Hardware-wise, the Fusion is well-equipped, sporting an Antec 12V 430 watt power supply. With that much power you can easily run a high-powered graphics card like an Nvidia 7900 or ATI X1900 with no problem, which is a big plus for a micro-ATX case. One downside to this PSU, however, is its lack of the cable management of the Neo HE supplies from Antec, which really would have been helpful in the cramped spaces of this case. Fusion is divided into three sections, known by Antec as “chambers”. These chambers are the PSU chamber, motherboard chamber, and hard drive chamber. The idea behind this design was to allow most efficient airflow around the inside of the case, as most home theater components are inside cabinets or tucked under the TV, stacked one on the other. The PSU chamber has no means of circulation other than the outside 80mm power supply fan. It does, however, have some holes on the side so that the air inside doesn’t overheat, as this chamber is shared with the optical drive. The motherboard chamber has TWO 120mm fans mounted on the side as well as a large perforated grating on the back. According to Antec, the reason there are two such large fans is to “cool the hottest CPU on the market”. Even so, they recommend that you keep the fans on “low” for maximum quiet computing. Also included is a plastic blocker you can put in place of one of the fans if you do not need as much circulation. The hard drive chamber is surprisingly devoid of ANY means of air circulation, and only sees any light through its almost totally perforated bottom side. Another way Antec designed this chamber to stay cool was by separating the 3.5” drives more than most cases, so that air between your drives will not act as insulation.
This case has two 3.5” drive bays complete with rubber grommets for noise reduction, and ONE 5.25” bay with a flush front bezel, meaning that this bay can ONLY be used for optical drives, no sound card bezels or card readers up here. This does add to the overall look of the case, though, and I would much rather have a nice looking “optical-only” bay than an ugly looking “universal” bay (most consumers would be more interested in an optical drive anyway). The only major downfall of this case, however, could have been solved by allowing the removal of this bezel, as Fusion does not ship with a remote control. I know for a fact, however, that Creative Labs sells the X-Fi series of sound cards which have a 5.25” bezel WITH an infrared remote receiver. Without allowing this, Antec has doomed us in the days of the past, getting up and turning the knob for a volume change.
Also on the front, you’ll find 2 USB 2.0 ports, a Firewire port, microphone, and headphone ports, as well as the power button and reset button. The things that make this case different, though, are the other front features; the volume knob and Vacuum Fluorescent Display (VFD). The volume knob is large, about the size that you’d expect to see on a home theater amplifier. It’s movement is smooth, yet you can feel individual clicks as you scroll, indicating an increment of 5% volume in Windows. You can also lightly press on the volume knob to MUTE all sounds from Windows, which is a nice touch. The VFD plug into your motherboard via USB and uses drivers from an included Antec CD to allow Windows XP Media Center Edition to display anything from system information, media information, email check, daily news, weather reports, or a graphic equalizer. A VFD driver is also available for Linux, for those bold enough to give it a shot.
As far as PC cases designed for home theater use go, there’s not a whole lot of choice. You could get a horizontal workstation case and slap it in there, or you could hide your tower back there somewhere, but Antec has started what I believe to be a revolution in how consumers use their PCs. The Fusion is not beautiful, (in fact, it’s rather flat and industrial-looking) but it gets the job done. This case will definitely match with your existing home theater hardware and will provide for you a multitude of new things to do on your TV, from games to HD video to video production via its front-mounted IEEE 1394 port. The only real downsides to this case are its lack of a remote control (or even infrared receiver), and of course the compatibility issues you can expect from using a micro-ATX motherboard. If you ask me, though, it’s worth it. If you’re looking to take your home theater to the next level, take a good look at the future; Fusion.