Suggestion for SFF Case?

weinstropc

Efficiency Noob
Original poster
Sep 26, 2018
5
0
Hi,

My dream for a small form factor pc (music server + digital crossover) has become a bit more complicated since I'm likely to require a PCIE x1 slot to support a sound card.

Mini-ITX has basically zero expansion slots if I use the one PCIE 3.0 x16 slot for a GPU.
Micro-ATX audio codecs are inferior to those offered for Mini-ITX, ATX motherboards
So that leaves me with an ATX-sized motherboard

Configuration:
ATX motherboard with ALC1220 or similar audio codec
AMD Ryzen 2400 or 2600
Basic GPU board (if Ryzen 2600 is selected)
PCIE Audio Interface card
Blu-ray/DVD optical drive
1 3.5" internal drive
1 m.2 NVME solid state drive
Power supply, CPU cooler, etc. will depend on case

Nothing is purchased yet. No gaming, bit-coin mining, etc. PC will be for audio server, DSP, and light MS Office applications.

So, the question is what options are there for a small form factor case that can swallow the aforementioned parts?

The best I've done so far is something that is about 22 L in size. I'd prefer a case about half that size.

Suggestions welcome, please.

Thanks and regards,

Rob
 

owliwar

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Apr 7, 2017
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I don't really know how that works but
the soundcards don't have audio codecs in them?
like, would be possible to use a micro atx board with a sound card?

you have some interesting needs.
I've seem some slim atx cases which offers low profile cards only, but they don't have optical drive support.

if the audio codecs is somehow fullfiled by the motherboard, I'm thinking 2 options here

1- you could get a Ncase m1, that has support for 3 slots. in which you could put a small micro Atx like theses ones.
the ncase has support for optical drive and the 3.5" drive you needed. thats around 12L

if on top of the audio codec being supplied by the sound card you could go with an external bluray drive and 2.5" storage drives
you'll probably have more options

I actually think that the case I'm making, which will be launching next month, could suit you. Its 7L only, and Confusis did a review on a prototype a few weeks ago where he crammed a sound card, ethernet card and a single slot gpu in case broll video




But if you really need an ATX motherboard, I'm don't have more ideas at the moment but someone here might
 
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tinyitx

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Jan 25, 2018
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I have seen people here mentioning using an adapter card to convert an onboard M.2 socket into a PCIE slot.
Maybe something like this:- http://www.bplus.com.tw/ExtenderBoard/P4SM2.html
or, this:- https://www.overclockers.co.uk/kolink-m.2-to-pcie-x4-x1-mining-rendering-adapter-ca-032-kk.html

Then, there are some Mini-ITX motherboards that have two M.2 sockets onboard (one on top and second one on bottom).
So, you can use the bottom one for your NVME SSD (in PCIE x4 mode).
And, you can use the adapter on the top M.2 socket (in PCIE x4 mode) to accommodate a PCIE x1 audio card.

Motherboard example:- https://www.asus.com/hk/Motherboards/ROG-STRIX-B450-I-GAMING/specifications/

I think this approach might worth your time to further investigate.
If do-able, then you can look for a small nice ITX case.
 
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Thehack

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What DSP features do you need?

I cannot see the need for any sound card in this day and age.

Handling in and outs is better served by an audio interface.

Handling audio processing you're better off just letting the CPU do that, seeing as they're much more powerful and capable nowadays.

Handling DAC and headphone outs you're better with a multitrack audio interface or dedicated headphone amp.
 
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weinstropc

Efficiency Noob
Original poster
Sep 26, 2018
5
0
I should probably clarify some things.

I don't really know how that works but
the soundcards don't have audio codecs in them?
like, would be possible to use a micro atx board with a sound card?

you have some interesting needs.
I've seem some slim atx cases which offers low profile cards only, but they don't have optical drive support.

if the audio codecs is somehow fullfiled by the motherboard, I'm thinking 2 options here

My understanding is that the audio codecs are resident in the motherboards. And these codecs have become pretty good, relative to what is offered in an inexpensive audio interface or sound card. The limitation of on-board audio codecs is that there are only 8 output channels. That might provide enough to support some bass management, room correction, and perhaps a 2-way crossover for a center channel in a 5.1 system. If the need is for something like 3-way fronts and center, 2-way surrounds, and perhaps 2 subs then almost twice as many output channels are required.

That is what put me on the audio interface direction, and hence a reluctant re-evaluation of micro-ATX and ATX options. ASRock mentions that they support an expansion board (PCIE x16 to 2-PCIE x8 ), but darned if I could find a compatible expansion board/slot/device.

The reason I'd like to spec a top performing audio codec is then perhaps I don't need an audio interface at all, or at least for a while.

if the audio codecs is somehow fullfiled by the motherboard, I'm thinking 2 options here

1- you could get a Ncase m1, that has support for 3 slots. in which you could put a small micro Atx like theses ones.

the ncase has support for optical drive and the 3.5" drive you needed. thats around 12L

if on top of the audio codec being supplied by the sound card you could go with an external bluray drive and 2.5" storage drives
you'll probably have more options

I actually think that the case I'm making, which will be launching next month, could suit you. Its 7L only, and Confusis did a review on a prototype a few weeks ago where he crammed a sound card, ethernet card and a single slot gpu in case...

The N-Case was one of the favored cases when I thought a mini-ITX mobo would do it all.

I'm learning that although the AMD mATX mobo's are limited to ALC892 and ALC887 codecs, it is possible to get Intel (Socket 1151) mATX mobo's with ALC1150 or ALC1220 codecs. Fudge - now I have to rethink the processor, too.

I'll take a look at the 2.5" drive option.

What size motherboards will your case support?

What DSP features do you need?

I cannot see the need for any sound card in this day and age.

Handling in and outs is better served by an audio interface.

Handling audio processing you're better off just letting the CPU do that, seeing as they're much more powerful and capable nowadays.

Handling DAC and headphone outs you're better with a multitrack audio interface or dedicated headphone amp.

I'm perhaps conflating "sound card" and "audio interface". The salient features I'm looking for are PCIE interface and at least 10 output channels. I'll have to give these other points more thought.

Thanks,

Rob
 

weinstropc

Efficiency Noob
Original poster
Sep 26, 2018
5
0
I have seen people here mentioning using an adapter card to convert an onboard M.2 socket into a PCIE slot.
Maybe something like this:- http://www.bplus.com.tw/ExtenderBoard/P4SM2.html
or, this:- https://www.overclockers.co.uk/kolink-m.2-to-pcie-x4-x1-mining-rendering-adapter-ca-032-kk.html

Then, there are some Mini-ITX motherboards that have two M.2 sockets onboard (one on top and second one on bottom).
So, you can use the bottom one for your NVME SSD (in PCIE x4 mode).
And, you can use the adapter on the top M.2 socket (in PCIE x4 mode) to accommodate a PCIE x1 audio card.

Motherboard example:- https://www.asus.com/hk/Motherboards/ROG-STRIX-B450-I-GAMING/specifications/

I think this approach might worth your time to further investigate.
If do-able, then you can look for a small nice ITX case.

Hey, that could work!!

Thanks,

Rob
 

Thehack

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Mar 6, 2016
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I should probably clarify some things.



My understanding is that the audio codecs are resident in the motherboards. And these codecs have become pretty good, relative to what is offered in an inexpensive audio interface or sound card. The limitation of on-board audio codecs is that there are only 8 output channels. That might provide enough to support some bass management, room correction, and perhaps a 2-way crossover for a center channel in a 5.1 system. If the need is for something like 3-way fronts and center, 2-way surrounds, and perhaps 2 subs then almost twice as many output channels are required.

That is what put me on the audio interface direction, and hence a reluctant re-evaluation of micro-ATX and ATX options. ASRock mentions that they support an expansion board (PCIE x16 to 2-PCIE x8 ), but darned if I could find a compatible expansion board/slot/device.

The reason I'd like to spec a top performing audio codec is then perhaps I don't need an audio interface at all, or at least for a while.



The N-Case was one of the favored cases when I thought a mini-ITX mobo would do it all.

I'm learning that although the AMD mATX mobo's are limited to ALC892 and ALC887 codecs, it is possible to get Intel (Socket 1151) mATX mobo's with ALC1150 or ALC1220 codecs. Fudge - now I have to rethink the processor, too.

I'll take a look at the 2.5" drive option.

What size motherboards will your case support?



I'm perhaps conflating "sound card" and "audio interface". The salient features I'm looking for are PCIE interface and at least 10 output channels. I'll have to give these other points more thought.

Thanks,

Rob



I'm not aware of any pcie device that handles 10 outputs.

Further more, I think you are conflating way too many terms and actual usage. It seems you are confusing driven channels, and outputs. They are not the same thing. For example, you can have a single sub output, but two driven subwoofers, since subwoofers are largely non-directional. And when you say output, you generally mean signal stuff, at least for us.

Feel free to correct me, but you should not need multichannel for multiway speakers. Multiway speakers are largely passive controlled and tailored to the speaker, and take the full frequency range of that channel as the input. I don't think anyone individually drive each speaker.

Codecs are hardware decoding. CPU decoding has largely replaced it.

The chips you mention don't really matter for an on board audio. A high quality chip usually means the audio circuit is better implemented but may not necessarily be the case. A proper signal to noise ratio test is the final answer.

In critical application for signal to noise you don't rely on onboard sound anyways. Off board circuits are better designed and more robust.

It sounds like your actual use case is home theater, and you need driven channels, you should be looking into using a home theater receiver. It sounds like you want to tailor the driven sound in your room.

The issue is once you have enough outputs, you'd also need enough amps to drive all those outputs as well. You might as well get a quality receiver and drive them from there. How were you going to get those outputs, assuming you get 10 as you originally wanted, anyways?

I think you are starting at the wrong point. If your final destination is a home theater system, then you should be looking at sound systems and how to drive first, then build the PC tailored for that. My home theater experience is limited, but I've always used receivers matched with speakers, and then just plug a digital signal into the thing.
 
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owliwar

Master of Cramming
Lazer3D
Apr 7, 2017
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What size motherboards will your case support?

in width under 19,5cm recommended for best storage options, at full height (24,4cm) , with 20.5 x 23cm being maximum.

---

but what theHack said makes sense. sometimes an audio interface could be a better solution.

Most good mini itx motherboards have 5 to 6 audio ports, and every audio port outputs 2 channels. that's how boards with 3 audio ports can have 5.1 audio for ex:

1- front left and front right
2- back left and back right
3- central and subwoofer

so a motherboard with 5 to 6 audio ports usually have 7-1 channel support,
still, all that would require each speaker to be an active one.

not sure if they could do 10, an audio interface seems better suited for that.
 

weinstropc

Efficiency Noob
Original poster
Sep 26, 2018
5
0
Sorry to leave you all hanging. But, I do have some updates, finally.

I had to abandon the proposed idea of using the M.2 slot for PCIE slot expansion since the slots on all of the mini-ITX mobo's I looked at were keyed "type M", which means it's purposed for additional storage, and not for other things, i.e., audio. That would require a M.2 slot keyed as "type B" or "type B+M". Pity, this could have been a really cool solution to a vexing problem.

So, onto the micro ATX mobo's. Nearly all of the micro ATX mobo's ship with an ALC892 or similar quality audio codec which is OK but not stellar. But I wanted ALC1220 or perhaps ALC1150 codecs which have much better signal-noise ratios. My search turned up exactly two mobo's: Biostar B450GT3 with ALC1150 or Asus TUF B450M-PRO GAMING with ALC1220. I would have chosen the latter in a hot second, but this mobo is not sold in the US anywhere. Europe, yes; USA, no. The Biostar B450GT3 is a brand new offering, so there are zero reviews. Reviews of other Biostar AMD-based mobo's range from meh to pretty good. So, I decided to take a flyer and I purchased it.

Onto the case, which was my original query topic. I checked pretty much every case vendor I could think of and founds loads of nice cases with internal volumes of 20-40 liters. Great, but way too big and definitely not SFF. I finally went through In Win's website carefully and discovered the BL672. It looks fetching, supports an optical disc drive, includes a 300 watt power supply, and weighs in at 11.5 L -- just under my 12 L limit.

So, it seems to have worked out pretty well. There are a few outstanding items to address. I don't know about the quality of the In Win PSU. I think it's 80+ Bronze rated, but I'm more concerned about regulation, ripple, and transient response to load changes. And I need to figure out where to get an "HD audio header" that will make the SPDIF output externally available.

At this point, I still needed to pick memory. This mobo will support up to 64 GB of RAM. However, I had some major nits with Biostar's QVL for memory. This is a brand new board based on the B450 chipset and several makers are now offering memory modules "optimized" for AMD second gen Ryzen. So, I'm expecting recommendations for relatively new memory modules that will offer cracking performance. Biostar's QVL however, lists mostly memory modules that are at least 5 years old and can no longer be purchased. They show no options for 64 GB, and the only option listed for 32 GB is already obsolete and NLA. So that leaves me with the option of doubling the memory modules recommended for 16 GB, or taking a flyer on something not listed. I chose the latter. I'll find out if this was a waste of time and $$ in the next week or so as I build the machine. Biostar - I think you can do better than this.

Thanks to everyone that provided some input.

Regards,

Rob
 

Thehack

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Mar 6, 2016
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Sorry to leave you all hanging. But, I do have some updates, finally.

I had to abandon the proposed idea of using the M.2 slot for PCIE slot expansion since the slots on all of the mini-ITX mobo's I looked at were keyed "type M", which means it's purposed for additional storage, and not for other things, i.e., audio. That would require a M.2 slot keyed as "type B" or "type B+M". Pity, this could have been a really cool solution to a vexing problem.

So, onto the micro ATX mobo's. Nearly all of the micro ATX mobo's ship with an ALC892 or similar quality audio codec which is OK but not stellar. But I wanted ALC1220 or perhaps ALC1150 codecs which have much better signal-noise ratios. My search turned up exactly two mobo's: Biostar B450GT3 with ALC1150 or Asus TUF B450M-PRO GAMING with ALC1220. I would have chosen the latter in a hot second, but this mobo is not sold in the US anywhere. Europe, yes; USA, no. The Biostar B450GT3 is a brand new offering, so there are zero reviews. Reviews of other Biostar AMD-based mobo's range from meh to pretty good. So, I decided to take a flyer and I purchased it.

Onto the case, which was my original query topic. I checked pretty much every case vendor I could think of and founds loads of nice cases with internal volumes of 20-40 liters. Great, but way too big and definitely not SFF. I finally went through In Win's website carefully and discovered the BL672. It looks fetching, supports an optical disc drive, includes a 300 watt power supply, and weighs in at 11.5 L -- just under my 12 L limit.

So, it seems to have worked out pretty well. There are a few outstanding items to address. I don't know about the quality of the In Win PSU. I think it's 80+ Bronze rated, but I'm more concerned about regulation, ripple, and transient response to load changes. And I need to figure out where to get an "HD audio header" that will make the SPDIF output externally available.

At this point, I still needed to pick memory. This mobo will support up to 64 GB of RAM. However, I had some major nits with Biostar's QVL for memory. This is a brand new board based on the B450 chipset and several makers are now offering memory modules "optimized" for AMD second gen Ryzen. So, I'm expecting recommendations for relatively new memory modules that will offer cracking performance. Biostar's QVL however, lists mostly memory modules that are at least 5 years old and can no longer be purchased. They show no options for 64 GB, and the only option listed for 32 GB is already obsolete and NLA. So that leaves me with the option of doubling the memory modules recommended for 16 GB, or taking a flyer on something not listed. I chose the latter. I'll find out if this was a waste of time and $$ in the next week or so as I build the machine. Biostar - I think you can do better than this.

Thanks to everyone that provided some input.

Regards,

Rob

I can't help but reiterate this:

Do not choose the motherboard based on the chip for SNR. SNR also depends on implementation. You can have ALC1220 and still have shit SNR. Get an external DAC if you care about SNR.
 

dondan

SFF Guru
DAN Cases
Feb 23, 2015
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HTPC:



Board: ASRock Fatal1ty B450 Gaming-ITX/ac (Realtek ALC1220)
CPU: AMD Athlon 200GE
GPU: Integrated
RAM: G.Skill NT Series DIMM Kit 8GB
CPU Heatsink: Case included

Optical-Drive: TEAC BD-W26SS-BM3 schwarz
M.2 SSD: Samsung SSD 970 EVO 250GB
Case: Streacom FC8 Alpha Optical
PSU: Streacom Nano120 PSU, 120W extern
HDD 2.5": Seagate BarraCuda Compute 2TB, 2.5

~701€

Alternative:



Board: ASRock Fatal1ty B450 Gaming-ITX/ac (Realtek ALC1220)
CPU: AMD Athlon 200GE
GPU: Integrated
RAM: G.Skill NT Series DIMM Kit 8GB
CPU Heatsink: Noctua NH-L9a-AM4

Optical-Drive: TEAC BD-W26SS-BM3 schwarz
M.2 SSD: Samsung SSD 970 EVO 250GB
Case: MS-Tech MC-80BL
PSU: 120W Case included
HDD 2.5": Seagate BarraCuda Compute 2TB, 2.5

~568€
 
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