Bgears b-Envi HTPC Enclosure

Mike checks out a SFF HTPC chassis from Bgears who look like they've really done their homework in this market segment.
| May 26, 2008 at 11:00 pm CDT
Rating: 89%Manufacturer: Bgears

Introduction

IntroductionBgears is a name that many may not be familiar with. Formerly known as Bluegears Incorporated, Bgears changed their name in July of 2007 to address issues of name association. What did not change, though, is the company's goal of being a forerunner of innovative products related to consumer electronics and PC peripherals.What does all this mean? Simply put, Bgears is a relatively new company that is creating some cool items that are being aimed at specialist areas of the PC market. An example of this is the HTPC enclosure being looked at today, the b-Envi. We plan on seeing if Bgears can come up with something that is different from the crowd, but at the same time we will check out the feature set to see if it is worthy of our hard-earned dollars.So kick up your heels for a bit and join me as we dig into the b-Envi. Can these folks come up with something special or is this just another SFF case?

Exterior

Exterior
The first thing you notice about the b-Envi is the small stature. While this isn't uncommon in an HTPC case, most manufacturers have gone the route of making the box look like a piece of stereo equipment. Bgears has turned a different direction and have opted for an appearance like the old SFF cases, which actually had enough room inside to do something with.The enclosure itself is aluminum with a very glossy plastic front bezel. Again, not unusual in itself, but the fact that you can even make out carpet fibers in the above photograph shows that they have taken "glossy" a step further than normal and have allowed their bezel to truly shine.Another added feature is that you can fit two optical devices in this box. One has become the norm anymore, so it is good that you can do your own ripping with this design. We're not finished with the front, though.
Toward the bottom of the front bezel is the expected I/O ports, but with an unexpected surprise. Yes, we have the headphone and microphone ports we planned on seeing as well as three USB 2.0 ports, but positioned just to the left of these you also get a built in media card panel. It covers all current standards and should suit all of your needs with regards to importing data from your cameras, thumb drives and media cards. The only thing missing is a IEEE1394 Firewire port so you will need to resort to a motherboard connection if you have need of this type of connectivity.
Moving around to the side panel shows a nice sized window for showing off your gear. Those with a keen eye will note than you can see the floor from inside the enclosure. This is because both sides of the b-Envi are windowed. Uh-oh, guess you're going to have to work on your cable management now, but just think of the end result!
The back panel is pretty standard, except that it is taller than most HTPC type cases. This added height not only gives you enough room for added components, it also allows the use of a full sized power supply and a large 120mm fan. These are unexpected but pleasant features in a box of this size.Though the b-Envi comes with a backplate for your motherboard's rear connections, it easily pops out so you can use the plate that came with your motherboard. Speaking of which, this enclosure is obviously of a small size so you will be limited in your choice of motherboards to mATX or Baby ATX formats. Either of these boards will fit easily into the case with minimal fuss. Oh, and to make that motherboard installation even easier...
The b-Envi comes with a removable motherboard tray! You know, I find it kind of sad that a manufacturer will create a HTPC box with this feature but it is a crap shoot to find one that will include this in a mid-tower or larger sized box. Kudos to Bgears for a bit of common sense.

Interior

Interior
Removing the two thumb screws on the back of the enclosure allows you to remove the entire cover, which gives you full access to the internals. There are support struts that go from front to back in three different locations so the case will have plenty of stability. After all, a good looking box like this would be perfect for those LAN parties, so the added strength is a nice addition. These struts also help support the peripherals that will be added when you build your system, such as the PSU, optical drives and hard drive.
Centered in the top portion of the front panel you will see the optical drive bays. You will need to remove the front bezel to install your drives, but this isn't too difficult and you simply need to push in a couple of tabs to pull it off. Once you have installed the drive(s), they will be hidden behind a full sized hinged door to not only prevent dust from entering your system, but also to keep it looking sharp.
A little different positioning for the hard drive is noted with the b-Envi. Instead of tucking it behind the power supply, you will mount it sideways along the left side of the case. With the cover off, mounting the drive is very easy.
Well, it is time for another one of those "innovation" things, this time in the form of something I did not expect to see. From this angle it is difficult to see what we are dealing with, so let's see if we can get a better look at this feature.
Well, that didn't help much. Still looks like nothing more than a little black box with a USB port on the back. I guess it is time to get the screwdriver out again.
Well now, this is interesting. Once you remove the end caps you have a circuit board that allows you to install a 2.5" hard drive. The default configuration is set to receive an IDE device, but Bgears also makes an optional circuit board to allow for the use of a SATA drive. Once installed into this box, it slides into the front of the enclosure then attaches with a wire that connects to one of your motherboard's USB headers. This gives you instant access to any standard 2.5" drive in the same manner as you would use an external device.
Above is the 120mm fan that comes with the b-Envi in its default setup. Since this is the windowed version, the fan includes blue LED lighting. This enclosure is also available without windows and that model comes with a standard fan without lighting effects. Though the fan speed is not controlled, I noted it was very quiet in its normal operation. To help in the overall cooling scheme, there are vents along the side behind the front bezel. Though not filtered, they do allow for ample air to move through the box. I did not have any issues with heat when running a system in the b-Envi.

Installation Notes

Installation Notes
Installation of a system into this product was pretty straightforward. The removable motherboard tray made it a snap to get this mATX board in place. If only all of the HTPC cases were this easy. Even with the larger of the supported boards installed, there is no lack of space. The taller design of the b-Envi makes it easy to give all of your components enough room to be happy.
This little contraption is an adapter for your 24-pin power supply connector. No, it isn't a way to make this a proprietary device, it simply adds a special connector that needs to be attached to the appropriate cable that comes from the front of the case. It allows a small amount of power to flow even when the system is off.What is it for? Oh, I guess I forgot to mention another one of those "innovative" features, didn't I?
This photo was taken when the system was off. The manufacturer's logo is lit by a hidden display panel that sits behind the translucent plastic covering. The red circle above that logo is your power button. Simply press it and the system powers up normally. Once the system is active, there are lit icons to allow for powering the system down again, resetting the system, locking the buttons and an icon that shows hard drive activity. All of these are blue except for the HDD activity, which burns red.This does not work like a LCD touch screen, but more like a soft touch button that sits behind a thin layer of plastic. You will be able to feel the depression of the button so you should not have any problems knowing whether or not you have activated the button you are trying to push.Overall, a little feature that adds to the "Cool Factor" of this box.

Final Thoughts

Final ThoughtsWhen it comes to HTPC, most manufacturers have made the decision to have your PC look like a piece of your stereo. While this isn't necessarily a bad thing, some of us want something that has a little more pizzazz. Alternatively, some of us want our HTPC to be able to do more than just watch movies, but those sleek stereo lookalikes usually have very poor ventilation, so we find ourselves quite limited in what we can install into the system.Enter Bgears and the b-Envi enclosure. It has managed to take the features of a quality built HTPC case and add in some of the best features of the older SFF boxes and have created an enclosure that meets the needs of both of these market segments. With a taller design and extra ventilation, you won't have to feel afraid to add in those extra goodies that will give you the power you crave. At the same time, you can have the convenience of a mATX board with many of your peripherals built in for ease of use. Your choices are nearly limitless.Add in the innovative features like touch panel front buttons, dual windowed design, internal 2.5" hard drive connectivity and the ability to use a full fledged power supply and you add even more usefulness to an already cool product. The aluminum build will help keep weight down and the mirror finish on the front bezel will help set your system apart from the crowd.While filtration of the side vent that allow incoming air would have been nice, the overall appearance and feature set included with the b-Envi make it very worthy of your consideration. While not found online everywhere, it is readily available from a large number of online stores for about $95US. While not the cheapest case on the, market, this price point falls toward the lower-middle portion of the price range. This gives you a lot of features for the money.
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