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GMC shouldn't sound new to you since we have reviewed couple of GMC PC cases previously such as X7 (gaming), A-31K (entry), C7LCD (LCD) and R4 bulldozer (ultimate design). However GMC HTPC case is still missing in our lab and hence today we get a HTPC case from GMC; AVC-S7 which is an ideal HTPC case with elegant design and slim casing for home theater setup. If you are planning to build a HTPC system then this review should give you some ideas about HTPC setup.
GM Corporation Ltd is a manufacturer and distributor headquartered in Seoul, Korea and founded in 1996. The company offers a wide range of PC cases, power supplies, computer peripheral and service to customers worldwide. It is GMC's mission to be the best provider of the state-of-the-art products in the global market. By offering superior products and complete service, the company seeks to share the enjoyable computer life for worldwide end users.
GMC producys middle tower PC cases and HTPC cases (Home Theater PC) which supports mATX and ATX form factors. Our HTPC has a fantastic design and functions and supports up to MS Window VISTA and MCE (Media Center Edition).
Package & Content
As usual GMC AVC-S7 is packed with a simple packaging box which only comes with 4.5" x 16.5" x 19" (D x H x L) dimension but this time unbreakable foams are used for AVC-S7 which is better quality than those breakable foams that are used for previous GMC cases that we have reviewed before. However due to the heavy weight of this HTPC case, a stronger packaging is highly recommended for those are purchasing it through online else it will be fine. Anyway the case color (black & silver) and the bundled PSU (270W, 300W & 350W) are stated in the outer packaging for ensuring the right model is selected.
So far AVC-S7 is the most luxurious PC case that we have reviewed for GMC because it is bundled with plenty of interesting accessories such as iMon remote control (standard for HTPC case), 270W PSU, slim DVD combo drive and a high performance copper low profile. Besides that some common parts are included as well driver & software CD, power cord, user's manual and some installation screws.
Remote control is an important accessory for a HTPC setup so that mouse and keyboard involvement could be minimized. For GMC AVC-S7, a complete full size 58-key remote control is provided which is powered up by two AAA batteries. The navigation button (work as a mouse) of this remote control is quite sensitive so that instructed movement could be as precise as it is.
Besides that a low profile full copper cooler is included so that users can save their time to look for such low profile but high performance cooler. If you still remember when the first version of this cooler was launched; few years ago, it was gained worldwide high reputation with its great cooling performance and extreme silent operating so it is nice to see GMC bundles such nice cooler for AVC-S7 HTPC case.
A Closer Look - GMC AVC-S7 Exterior
Currently there are three active selling HTPC cases in GMC website; AVC-S1, AVC-M1 and AVC-S7. All of these GMC HTPC cases only support Micro ATX motherboard but due to different market needs, they were born with different hardware requirements; AVC-S1 supports 4 x low profile PCIs, AVC-S7 supports 1 x full profile PCI (with PCI riser) while AVC-M1 support 4 x full profile PCI cards. You may find it out at GMC website for better understanding.
It is obvious that GMC AVC-S7 is the slimmer HTPC case among the other two GMC HTPC cases due to limited supported PCI card. Most of the current motherboards are having integrated audio, network and video, so there shouldn't any additional PCI card is required for basic HTPC setup except for those add on I/O card (eSATA, IEEE 1394 and so on), modem or maybe TV turner card.
There are two colors available for GMC AVC-S7; black and silver which are the most common colors for home theatre setup as well as computer system. The overall dimension of GMC AVC-S7 is 430 x 340 x 67 mm which is pretty awesome in term of height as it is as slim as a home theatre DVD player and we believe most of the people may really mix up with them. One of the advantages for having such slim HTPC case is for avoiding space constraint issue since it doesn't consume much of the space.
On the most right corner of the GMC AVC-S7 front panel, there is a round power button which is surrounded with an attractive chrome blue LED lightning ring when the system is powered up. As we mentioned before, a DVD combo drive is bundled together with GMC AVC-S7 and due to its slim dimension, a slim slot type optical drive is chosen. Such slot type ODD drive is quite popular for most of the slim notebook nowadays since it looks more professional but bear in mind that mini disc is not supported for this type of ODD.
The front panel of GMC AVC-S7 is quite simple and plain but something is hiding underneath the bottom half of the faceplate. Basically the whole black acryl panel is a door which is secured by a push-in button. This push-in button is needed to be pressed inward quite deeply in order to open up the black acryl door and same for closing up the panel; this is not a problem at all but maybe GMC can chance a more sensitive push-in button so that it can be opened up easily.
Multimedia cardreader is included for GMC AVC-S7 which is quite standard or we should say it is a must for PC nowadays especial HTPC setup since most of the multimedia files are stored by these storage cards; MS/PRO, CF/MD, SD/MMC and MSC. Two USB ports, one IEEE 1394 firewire port and two mic/audio jacks are available as the front I/O for faster accessing compare with back I/O. Besides these front I/O ports, some important HTPC keys are available on the front panel too which are reset, AV center, back and the navigation buttons.
One of the most significant features for HTPC case is the VFD (Vacuum Fluorescent Display) and 16x2 characters green VFD is chosen for GMC AVC-S7. Those displayed information can be programmed via system software; iMON and most of the information can be setup to display virtually through this VFD panel; date, time, new e-mail alert, weather forecast, system information and even a graphic equalizer during audio playing.
Here is the top panel of GMC AVC-S7 and to open up this panel, it is required to push the top panel backwardly. The top panel and both left/right panels are a single piece panel so that the overall design is more elegant by reducing the edges. All these top and sides panels are equipped with plenty of ventilation holes and this is quite important for a HTPC system because such case is limited with active cooling and GMC AVC-S7 doesn't equipped with any active cooling fan at all.
Since GMC AVC-S7 is a slim and small HTPC case, only Micro ATX PSU is suitable and thanks to GMC as a Micro ATX PSU is included else users will have a hard time to look for such rare Micro ATX PSU. As we mentioned before, GMC AVC-S7 only supports single full profile PCI card and if you wonder how could a slim HTPC case like GMC AVC-S7 is able to support a full profile card, then the answer is the integrated PCI riser. Let us talk about this PCI riser card in next few paragraphs.
A Closer Look - GMC AVC-S7 Interior
After gone through the exterior view of GMC AVC-S7, let us proceed with its interior view and this is important especially for newbie as patience is required for setup such HTPC system where the cable management is one of the major required skills here. As you can see the overall structure of GMC AVC-S7 is pretty simple and straightforward which is made by solid structuring and built material. The removable steel bar at the middle of the case is used to strengthen its overall structuring.
Here is the Micro ATX PSU of GMC AVC-S7 which is made by "SIRTEC"; this PSU brand sounds new to us or maybe they are OEM PSU maker. Our GMC AVC-S7 sample is equipped with 270W PSU and surprisingly this PSU comes with dual +12V rails (8A and 15A) which are pretty important when choosing a reliable PSU nowadays. 270W PSU is pretty enough for a HTPC system because most of the components are integrated and not many drives can be supported. If you running a quad core CPU on your HTPC system, then you may choose higher PSUs as there are two more PSU models available; 300W and 350W.
A slotted type slim optical drive is included for GMC AVC-S7 which is a Panasonic DVD combo drive but in future we hope to see a DVD RW rather than a DVD combo although not many people are going to use a HTPC system to burn/write a DVD/CD DISC but just in case someone need it and the price gap between these 2 drives are not really significant. The bundled DVD combo is installed on a drive cage so that it get better support especially against shock and vibration.
Here is the drive cage for 3.5" HDD installation and only single 3.5" HDD can be supported which shouldn't a big problem for HTPC setup. Furthermore 1.5TB HDD is widely available now which is just cost less than 150USD and if such high capacity HDD is really needed. Anyway for improvement or upgrade purpose, maybe GMC can provide a 2.5" HDD conversion bracket so that the single 3.5" HDD can be converted to dual 2.5" HDD since certain of people may really need it for special applications like RAID setup.
After removing the ODD, HDD cages and PSU, the interior portion of GMC AVC-S7 looks more spacious but the cabling management is really a problem here as you can see there are plenty of cables so a proper cable routing is really important for such slim HTPC system. 20+4-pin and 4-pin ATX cable extensions are provided as the bundled PSU only comes with short cables. The rest of the cables are front USB/IEEE1394/audio, power button & LED, front panel MOLEX power connector and so on.
Here are the closer look on the front panel peripheral PCB boards; green PCB for navigation buttons, HTPC keys, front I/O panels and VFD while yellow PCB for the multimedia card reader which is installed horizontally. All the cables of these PCB boards are not soldered permanently on the PCB which is great as it helps during cable routing as well as system maintenance.
This simple PCB board with IDE cable is the PCI riser card that we mentioned previously. Most of the time, such PCI riser is being sold separately and thanks to GMC as this is bundled together with AVC-S7 at default and so far this is the most simplest PCI riser that we have seen so far. If you are not familiar with PCI riser card, basically it is just a conversion card so that the full profile PCI card can be installed inside the case (horizontally instead of vertically).
Installation, Testing & Performance
For the GMC AVC-S7 installation, let us start with the HDD installation. Basically we have removed out the HDD cage from GMC AVC-S7 (four screws) so that we can install the HDD on it in more convenience way as four screws are needed to secure the HDD on the HDD cage. Next we have installed the motherboard back plate on the GMC AVC-S7 and so far we still didn't encounter any real problem with GMC AVC-S7 since everything is pretty standard and straightforward.
Next step will be motherboard installation and it is quite easy to install the motherboard after those cages and PSU are removed out from the case so that blocking will be minimized. If you are planning to build a HTPC with an Intel ATOM setup then GMC AVC-S7 will be much spacious since such motherboard is much smaller than Micro ATX motherboard and no giant active cooler is required. If any add on PCI card is required then just install the moveable PCB on the motherboard PCI slot; mostly TV turner card for such HTPC setup.
For our setup, we have installed a full profile eSATA card rather than a physical PCI card. Basically we didn't encounter any problem with this PCI riser installation and the PCI card is fitted pretty well on the case. However we would like to highlight something here as the USB & audio internal connectors (located at the bottom of the motherboard) are blocking with the moveable riser card hence if the riser card is needed then a proper cable routing is required.
Next step will be the heatsink installation and the bundled CPU cooler has a very simple and easy installation method where the socket can be mounted on the motherboard straightaway without any supporting back bracket and this mounting is secured by four push pins. Installing the CPU cooler on the mounting bracket is not hard as well, just align the heatsink with the mounting bracket then fasten the heatsink clip on both of the knobs of the mounting bracket.
So far everything is still prefect but when come to cable installation and routing especially the PSU cables, then it gave us a real headache. This is worst at the HDD and PSU areas because the room isn't much at this location so user needs to pay full attention here so that everything is connected and installed properly unless you are willing to pay little bit of time to troubleshoot the system if some devices are not working correctly or no post. Anyway we managed to route all the cable nicely within the case although it is not really tidy. If you look closely on our complete setup on GMC AVC-S7 then you will notice that basically the top left corner is quite spacious since nothing can be installed here so maybe an additional 3.5"/2.5" HDD can be installed here or maybe a case fan so that the system ventilation can be further improved.
After all the hard work, it is time to power up the our system with GMC AVC-S7. During the first attempt, our test bed didn't able to boot up and after some investigations then we found out that the installed CPU is not supported so we quickly changed to another CPU and finally it was boot up. Once the system is boot up, the power button is lighten up with a bright blue LED right but the VFD will not function until the software is installed and setup accordingly in operating system.
Once the iMON software is installed then the VFD LCD will display the information accordingly; some information is pre set but it can be modified through iMON software such as time and date, new e-mails, the weather forecast, your system data, even a graphic equalizer when playing audio files. The green VFD display is quite clear for both dim and lit environment although lit environment is a bit softer than dim environment but it is still acceptable unless you are placing this HTPC system direct under the sunlight then you may have a hard time to read its displayed information.
In term of the software setup, basically there are two software which are bundled with GMC AVC-S7; iMON and iMEDIAN. Both of these software are only having around 50MB file size so it won't take up much space of your HDD and the software installation process is pretty fast; less than 10minutes then everything will be readied to work for you.
iMEDIAN is a media which is designed for playing movie, music, picture, internet radio and other medias that are connected with the GMC AVC-S7 such as digital camera, digital camcorder, TV, DVD and etc through remote control. Besides that features like news, weather, and webcasting can be played through iMEDIAN which is pretty amazing when comparing with other similar HTPC case.
Another software is the iMON where it is used to configure how the VFD works and what VFD is going to display. Besides that custom/macro command can be setup for fast accessing on those frequent applications and the virtual keyboard is another great stuff here where it allows user to type something through the remote control from a far distance where keyboard involvement is eliminated.
iMON is a complicated and rich featured software so it will take some time for us to explain it in detail and since this is not the first time we reviewed such HTPC case so we would like to skip it here. Anyway some of the useful and unique features of this iMON are e-mail alert, application launch, virtual keyboard, macro/custom command, remote control, windows/program command, news, webcasting and so on.
Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo E8300 @ 2.83GHz
Motherboard: Gigabyte G31M-ES2L
Heatsink: Noctua NH-C12P
Memory: Kingston HyperX DDR2 8500
Hard Drive: 250GB 7200RPM 8MB Seagate
Graphic Card: Galaxy GeForce GTX260+
PSU: In Win Commander 750W
Router: TRENDnet TEW-639GR
Optical Drive: DVD RW
Monitor: Dell 22" Wide Screen LCD
Speaker: Edifier R501
Mouse: SteelSeries Ikari Laser
Mouse Pad: SteelSeries QcK+
HeadSet: SteelSeries 3H
Operating System: Microsoft XP Pro SP2/Vista Home Premium
Ambient Temperature: 27 Degree Celsius
Here are some temperature performance results between GMC AVC-S7 and X7 during normal load since most of the HTPC system will be operated at such similar stress level. For the system and HDD temperatures, it is obvious that GMC AVC-S7 isn't as good as standard ATX case because there isn't anyn active cooling fan to blow toward the HDD directly and this is same for the system temperature. However in term of CPU, GMC AVC-S7 is performing better than standard ATX case and this could probably due to the full copper cooler as well as the nearby air vents where the cooling will be more efficiency.
Besides the temperature performance, we would like to talk about the noise as well. Overall GMC AVC-S7 is operating quite silently but some audible noise is still there and after some investigation, we found out that the noise was generated by the PSU; induced by its dual 40mm fans. If you are sitting far away; maybe 3-5 feet then it will be alright since HTPC system is designed to be setup in such way. Another loud noise is generated by the mechanism of the optical drive during disc loading or ejecting. The mechanism noise is pretty loud and sometime the disc will get stuck inside and we have to press the front panel downward a bit so that the disc can be ejected successfully; this should be single case issue because our sample is a bit bent at the middle which should be caused by the courier services.
GMC AVC-S7 is one of the highest quality products that we have reviewed for GMC PC cases at this moment where it is constructed with solid material. Besides that we are really impressed with its overall case dimension because this is the slimmest HTPC case that we have seen so far and it also comes with elegant design. VFD LCD display is one of the common commodities for HTPC case but this is not compulsory item as it will increase the product cost eventually its retail price will be increased. MSRP for GMC AVC-S7 is around 330USD which is quite expensive but it is still acceptable because it is not only come with great software but also hardware like slim slotted type DVD combo, micro ATX 270W PSU and a full copper high performance CPU cooler. Overall we are quite satified with GMC AVC-S7 as it comes with plenty of great features and advantages that we can't simply list all of them here but we highly recommend this HTPC case for those are planning to setup a HTPC system if budget is not a problem here.
+ Impressive slim HTPC case
+ iMON VFD 16x2 LCD display
+ Customized information to be configured via VFD
+ iMEDIAN media player software
+ Decent CPU cooling performance
+ Full size remote control
+ 1 x full profile PCI card is supported
+ PSU, slotted type DVD Combo, cooler are included
+ Card reader, front I/O are available
+ Comes with PCI riser
- DVD RW should be used to replace DVD combo
- Cable management is not easy for such small case
- Only single 3.5" HDD is supported
- Noisy mechanism ODD drive
- Not really cheap
Thanks to GMC for providing this sample for us to review.
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