Inside the H971
Alright then, let's rip this thing apart and check out how the system is built and just exactly what is inside the H971 system.
Straight up you can see that there is not much room to spare inside the system but the design is quite good. Cooling of the CPU is taken care of by two fans which use heat pipe technology to extract the hot air outside of the case through one of the many cooling vents. The whole concept of the BTX form factor was to improve air flow inside cases and Gigabyte has done quite a good job here.
Take notice of all the SATA data cables, even the DVD burner is a newer type which uses SATA data and power cables. While SATA DVD drives don't really offer any performance increases over regular IDE optical drives, it's nice to see Gigabyte has spend some extra dollars and opted for a newer SATA optical drive which uses smaller cables and hence helps improve air flow inside the case. Under the optical drive the 250GB SATA drives sits securely in place and ideally we would have liked to see some type of cooling fan just for it as it is a small case and things will warm up but during our testing it didn't give us any concerns.
You cannot see it in the photo but as far as options for RAM upgrading go, there are a total of two slots with one spare. If you're building an H971 system which will use Windows XP, 1GB will be okay but if you're going to install Vista, you should really aim for 2GB and above where possible. As far as upgrading goes, the H971 was simply not designed for that. We tried removing various parts out of the system and it's not an easy job at all - in fact, we couldn't work out how to remove the graphics card without pulling everything to bits. This isn't much of an issue though as it's not like a normal PC where you will need to upgrade your graphics card or what not every six months to play the latest games at high detail - this system will likely sit in your lounge room for years untouched.
The system is powered by a 286 watt maximum output power supply from Delta Electronics and that should provide adequate power supply considering we're not working with a gaming system or one that is hugely overclocked with SLI or Crossfire dual graphics and all the bells and whistles. It's also nice and quiet which is a must for any HTPC. When it comes to the total level of noise produced by the H971, it's quite small. Even with your ear right up close to the unit, you can hardly hear anything - that's not to say it is silent - but it's at least three or four times quieter than the Xbox 360 console.
The pictures above display the front and back of the unit when the case cover is off. On the front you can see the VFD in the middle which displays information such as date and time, volume level, what TV channel you're on and more, programmable with the provided software. Over to the left you have the front cover of the DVD burner and below that you have the front panel access to a couple of USB 2.0 ports, audio ports, a single mini 1394 port and the 7-in-1 card reader that supports CF, MD, MS, SM, SD and MMC.
Now let's put the cover back on and take a closer look at the external parts of the H971 system.