Trends are everything to manufacturers and just how well they break into the market. Consider me "old school" but I still use a huge chassis for my daily use PC. But now the question comes up as laptops are slowly taking over for daily use. What role does a PC play in a home once games and benchmarks are taken out of the equation? The market says HTPC's, nettops, laptops, and any other SFF chassis is the way to go these days. Seems hiding the PC is as important these days as what the PC is capable of.
The company supplying the product today is SEED. SEED is an acronym for Saving Energy Efficiency Directly. With that in mind one would only assume they are trying to keep in mind the power usage of a net browser or HTPC that can stream from another PC such as a laptop. Taking the overuse of daily fuels is of major concern to SEED, and we are about to see what such a plan of attack brings consumers in chassis design.
This isn't the only chassis in SEED's m-ITX line up. Browsing their site leads me to believe this is just one of the three available. Today we take a look at the M-A280. This is the all black version with special plating on the exterior and accent trim on the face. I'm already giving away too much, let's get down to the task and get a good look at what SEED has to offer.
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
The MA-280 is made mostly of 0.8mm SECC steel that has been approved to keep EMI at bay. This will help to allow the MA-280 to sit in harmony close to other devices that may get messed with by interference from the signals let out of a PC while in use. Just to give you a better idea of the overall size of this chassis all you need to do its stretch your hand as big as you can open it, that's about the size of this chassis, there isn't a whole lot more space taken up than the size of a mITX motherboard.
Aesthetically the MA-280 is very appealing to look at. It has an all black plastic, front panel with a brushed aluminum trim piece, and a blackened, nickel looking, electroplating on the exterior of the body of the chassis. Found all around the steel body are cut outs for venting. The MA-280 is based off of more of a convection of airflow aided by only a 40mm exhaust fan located at the end of the included power supply. Even with the small nature of the MA-280, there is still room to house two 2.5" hard drives and one slim style optical drive of choice. Not too shabby! There are even optional power supply options for these chassis. You may choose as much or as little power is needed to run the rig inside the MA-280.
The MA-280 from SEED is not currently available in the US, and from what I can tell, isn't anywhere, yet. SEED does plan to release this chassis on the masses at an MSRP of $70, which makes it a very budget friendly choice as well. Do good things really come in small packages? Let's get a closer look at the MA-280 and see if we can answer that.
SEED chooses to package up the MA-280 in a bold contrast of black and white. Sad to see that there aren't any product images, you will have to wait for the unboxing.
The SEED logo of the power button icon wraps around the side, and again there isn't much more to be seen as both other panels mirror their opposing sides.
Looking near the handle of the package is your only indication of what is included, and even here it only refers to the included power supply wattage.
Opening up the top of the box to slide out the MA-280, I was pleased to find how well it is supported. Even in such a small package, I really feel this could have arrived in the same condition after a few downs of football with it over at UPS.
Out of the box you can see how well the high density foam surrounds and centers the MA-280 for shipping. Even more surprising to me was to see the actual size of the chassis; and I thought the box was small. Pulling off the foam protection, you still have the inner padded envelope that keeps anything from scratching the chassis. This even keeps the foam caps from jiggling scratches in the plating which you are about to see.
Just in case all of the previous shipping implementations aren't enough, SEED adds one more layer. The entire chassis is also coated in these plastic sheets.
The SEED MA-280 Mini-ITX Case
Now we get an unblocked view of the MA-280 chassis. The front bezel is black plastic accented with a wide brushed aluminum piece in the middle. There is a door at the top left to hide your optical drive, the dual USB 2.0 ports and microphone and audio jacks. The leaves us with the three LED's that show reset, access (or HDD activity) and power just to the left of the combination power and reset button.
The lighting was a bit off from how the accent stripe appears normally. This angle shows how much better the blending of colors and materials really is.
Moving around to the side you get a feel for how SEED vents everywhere it can benefit. You see six holes on this side that aren't on the other side, these are there to utilize the "upright" position this chassis can stand in, not unlike a PS2.
The rear of the MA-280 really shows its size. All there is here is room enough for the mITX's rear I/O panel and the 40mm fan to the right. That's it! The two thumb screws, one at the top and the one to the right, once removed allow for the top to easily slide out and off.
Since the door panel doesn't affect the structure of this side as it does the other, SEED adds a lot of venting to allow as much air to get into the chassis. For reference, this is located nearest the CPU once the motherboard is installed.
The bottom of the chassis is plated as well. The main reason is because if you use the stand to put this chassis upright, it then becomes the side. SEED has marked this side with grooves in a V shape. These are marks for the placement of the rubber feet you will see in the hardware section.
That leaves us with this well ventilated top side. Most of the venting is shifted to one side due to how things are installed inside. You will soon see that the CPU and the hard drives are located under here, and this allows for some convection cooling of said parts.
Inside The SEED MA-280 Mini-ITX Case
Even the budget minded like nice looking features, and SEED takes it to the inside as well. I removed the top panel, and was pleasantly surprised to see the whole of the interior is finished in black paint as this is.
Turning the attention back into the chassis things are a bit cramped on first take of what I am seeing. We need to get the drive plates out of the way so we can get a better look inside. Removing these only takes removing six Phillip's head screws of various sizes, try to keep the sorted, or it may take some trial and error trying to get them back together.
Getting the plates out of the way was a breeze, and here they are. The smaller plate on the left is used to hold a 2.5" hard drive, which mounts with supplied screws to the bottom of the drive by aligning the four holes. The larger plate on the right holds another 2.5" hard drive if you'd like, as well as supporting the slim type optical drive too.
As you can see the entire inside is black, and there is even a plastic liner behind the motherboard to guard against any accidental shorts to the back of the motherboard. At the top you see the included power unit, this is the 90 watt version. Just to the right of the PSU is the 40mm fan that not only cools the chassis, but pulls air directly off the power unit, hopefully prolonging its life.
SEED includes plenty of length with their wiring. The front panel wiring containing the power and reset switch, and the LED activity connections can reach to any corner of the chassis. Same thing goes for the USB 2.0 and HD Audio connectors. The power unit has a 4-pin CPU power connection as well as a 20+4 pin motherboard connection. From the 24-pin stems all the other power leads. These consist of 2 SATA power connections, a micro SATA style power connection, as well as a FDD type power plug.
Accessories and Documentation
I've been mentioning there is a way to stands the chassis upright, and this bit of black plastic does the trick, The baggie at the bottom is so you can mount it directly to the chassis if needed, but if there isn't cats and kids involved, the tray does just as well without the screws.
The instructions are pretty simple, as there really isn't much to the chassis, and for the wiring, you need to refer to the motherboard manual anyways. I didn't really find a need to use these, and they aren't in English, but the pictures were enough in my opinion to get you through the build if you get stuck along the line.
In one side of that high density foam that supports the chassis while it was still in the box, there was a long box that you could see. This contains the external half of the power unit as well as a few extras. The box designates the specs for the unit, and this one shows it is the 90 watt model and is checked for Japan type of plug.
Getting everything out of the box so we could get a better look shows the extra goodies packed inside the box. There is a baggie full of assorted screws for mounting the drives to the trays, to the right there are the four, textured, rubber feet. That block breaks up into four equal parts and is backed with double sided tape to secure them to the chassis. The power brick and cords are nice and lengthy and should make finding a power source easy. The end of this plus is a two pronged plug with a grounding strap, instead of a more typical 3-prong plug we are used to seeing on power units.
The Build and Finished Product
I had informed SEED that I didn't have an Atom system, which this case is more designed for. This is why I received the 90 watt model as well. Through a few emails and some in house testing, SEED informed me that I should be fine to test my 35 watt Celeron on my LGA775 mITX system. While I know ahead of time things are going to be warm due to my system specs, I'm not detracting SEED for my choices. Even with the rig I chose, the MA-280 is fully accommodating, aside from the fact that there isn't enough room for my SilverStone low profile cooler, so I pulled the fan and tested things passively. Now all I have left is to add the drives to the plates and get them installed.
Here we have the MA-280 ready to fire, well almost. I had to do a bit of pulling apart, as I seemed to have forgotten a SATA connection. Putting the trays back in with the drives installed was relatively easy, aside from possible cooler clearances in my case. Also be sure to remove the wires from that bottom right corner, the 40mm fan sitting there should have all the room it can to breathe.
Since the rest of the exterior gets no real changes, I thought I should drop the front door and give you a peek inside at the optical drive. Lifting on a tab at the front will allow you to raise the door and stealth the drive when not in use. Although, in my sample the door seemed very loose, and it tended to bind quite a bit when I tried to raise and lower it.
The MA-280 in all its powered glory! I say this with a bit of sarcasm, as I seemed to have hit another snag at this point. Not one of my front panel's LED's functioned. I could hear it running, and by hooking it up to a monitor I found the PS was functional, and even after redoing the wiring to the motherboard I still came up empty. This prompted me to test out the rest of the front panel components, and I am pleased to say they all do indeed function. In all honesty, I would have been happy with just a power LED, just to verify later on that it is still running at a glance.
There are quite a few upsides to this chassis. The MA-280 is sleek, small, and very nice to look at. Their use of space is superb, as I was able to pack quite a bit of equipment inside of it. The cooling while small in its 40mm fan as the only source of flow, I was still able to keep a LGA775 processor at levels I would have expected in a mATX chassis using passive means of cooling. So all that venting must do a good job of allowing enough cool air into the chassis, even with the small nature of the source. Under Intel Atom builds this chassis would handle its duties to protect and cool just fine.
The build went smooth, and even with non-English written instructions, I was able to get most of the build to function properly. There are a few points I must address here, though. The front panel, while having an attractive look, feels flimsy during the build and the slightly dysfunctional front door that "stealths" the optical drive just adds to that. Then on top of that, my LED's didn't function properly. I'm not sure if it is a quality control issue, or a need for a deeper look into the manufacturing process, but I feel if I buy a chassis it should fully function out of the box.
I have read other reviews of this chassis where similar issues are being addressed with the front panel as I had, so it isn't exactly isolated. Objectively I look at the MA-280, and even with its slight dysfunction, I really love the concept. Efficient uses of both space and power are top of the list, with a really sleek look fighting for either spot. Honestly, even in the condition it's in as I have it now, I would still have it next to my TV in my living room, if I had an Atom setup that is. I can always listen for the whir of the 40mm fan to see if it's functioning. With a price of around $70 USD when it finally gets released in the states, it is a great budget builder's solution to a nettop PC, as well as an attractive one to those who aren't. Let's just hope they get the panel issues solved before they do hit the shelves.
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