Review: VidaBox CubeCase Mini-ITX Server Case

by Alex Kuretz on October 15, 2010 · 17 comments

in Reviews

While our main focus around here is on the HP MediaSmart Server, we’re fans of all things Windows Home Server including DIY/homebuilt systems and massive storage servers. And since HP has been keeping quiet on their plans for the upcoming Windows Home Server Vail and Aurora releases, some of you may be considering building your own Home Server. So when VidaBox recently contacted me about a new case they were working on, I jumped at the chance to review a case designed to be a Home Server.

VidaBox has issued a $5 coupon good for MediaSmartServer.net readers, with coupon code: CubeCase-MSS that is valid through the end of 2010.

VidaBox, LLC is based in Garden City, New York, and produces a variety of digital entertainment and control systems such as media centers, audio servers, and home automation platforms and solutions. The VidaBox CubeCase is designed to be a DIY home server or mini Media Center case, and has been engineered to provide excellent storage, serviceability, and cooling performance in a small, attractive form factor.

The case supports mini-ITX motherboards, 3 hard drive bays, a full-size optical drive bay, a full-size expansion slot, and includes a 300 watt power supply.

Specifications

Here are the full specifications as provided by VidaBox.

Model CubeCase (Black Only)
Construction Material Plastic Front Face, Aluminum sides and shell, with Steel Chassis
Motherboards Mini iTX Compatible only
PSU Support SFX (Included)
PCI / AGP Card Support Full height / full size
Drive Bays (1) Full Sized External 5.25″ Bay
(2) Field-serviceable 3.5″ External HDD Bays
(1) 3.5″ Internal HDD Bays
Expansion Slots 1 (Full Size)
Left/Side I/O USB2.0 port x 2
Microphone Input
Headphones Output
Cooling System 120mm front intake fan (pre-installed)
- (Can be replaced w. different performance fan)
Rear PSU w. integrated fan
Net Weight 9 lbs., 14.5 ounces (4.5 kg) Net
Dimensions 7.8″(W) x 8.3″(H)(w/feet) x 13.5″(D)
200mm(W) x 210mm(H) x 340mm(D)
Warranty 1 year
Price Starting at $99.99

The CubeCase is currently only available from the VidaBox online store.

Overview and Initial Impressions

I was impressed with the CubeCase almost immediately after removing it from the packaging. The chassis feels sturdy, and the brushed aluminum top and side panels are very attractive. The front bezel and door is made of plastic with a metal grill, and includes a tinted translucent door that obscures a blue power LED and red HDD activity LED and opens to allow access to the optical drive should you choose to install one. A 120mm front cooling fan is installed in the door and blows back through the server across the hard drives and internal components. The door isn’t the most rigid but works well and closes securely.

The ability to easily access your storage hard drives can be important in a home server case, and the CubeCase includes two externally accessible hard drive bays with trays to hold the drives. The trays are not screwless in design which is a feature I always look for, but they are sturdy and slide easily in and out of their bays.

The rear of the server has an 80mm exhaust fan, the motherboard panel, expansion port, and power supply with it’s own built-in exhaust fan. The expansion port is an especially nice feature, with one possible use being the addition of a dual-port eSATA expansion card to allow you to add a storage enclosure.

To the left of the front door is the power switch, two USB ports for easy access, as well as headphone output and mic input. The audio ports are of questionable use in a home server build, but could prove useful when the case is used as a Media Center or general purpose computer case. The case includes a power cord and bag of screws for mounting the motherboard and drives in place.

The CubeCase is a bit larger than the MediaSmart Server, as shown in this comparison shot with the HP StorageWorks x510 Data Vault, but this should hardly be surprising when you consider the included features, especially the optical drive bay.

Building the Home Server

I’ve been wanting a dedicated box to run the Windows Home Server Vail and Aurora preview releases, so I visited my favorite shopping site and bought some components to put together a test server with the CubeCase. There are several Intel Core i3/i5 mini-ITX solutions such as Damian outlined in his proposed Vail build, but they are a bit more money than I was wanting to spend on a test system, so I went with an extremely economical yet good performance AMD solution utilizing the following components.

Since I already had the case, some spare hard drives, and would be running the free beta Windows Home Server Vail operating system, this entire package only cost me about $150. The one thing I didn’t order that I would recommend is some additional SATA cables to connect all the drives, since the motherboard has 4 SATA ports and only comes with a single SATA cable. VidaBox makes this easy by offering 4 SATA cables as an addition to the CubeCase for only a few dollars.

As with any small form factor computer, internal space is a premium and cleanly routing cables is always a challenge. I started the build by getting the CubeCase opened up, oriented the power connectors and other cables out of the way, and installed the motherboard bezel in the back of the case. Next I installed the CPU, heatsink, and RAM into the motherboard. I then connected the power switch, HDD LED, and power LED wires to the motherboard, and slid the motherboard into the case where it secured relatively easily with 4 screws. You’ll want a small screwdriver to most easily mount the motherboard in the small available space, this Stanley set has served me well for a couple years and can be found at your local Sears.

I then routed the rest of the cables as best I could, connecting the front USB and audio cables to the motherboard ports, feeding the optical drive SATA and power cables up to the optical drive bay, and attaching the SATA ports to the removable hard drive backplane. The backplane has a nice feature in the form of has two micro fan headers to connect both the front 120mm and rear 80mm fans.

Finally I installed the internal hard drive in its removable enclosure. The drive fits sideways in the case and gets cooling airflow from the front 120mm fan. With the two removable side panels it is a quick and easy operation to replace the internal drive, though obviously not as easy as the externally accessible drive bays.

As you can see there is a bit of a mess of wires, but I managed to route the vast majority of them off to the side where the expansion card would go if used and so keep the airflow path through the case largely unobstructed. With more time and some wire ties this could be improved even more. Be sure to review the VidaBox CubeCase Quick Product and Installation Guide for more installation tips.

Sound and Power Consumption

The CubeCase is not silent, it comes with three fans that provide a significant amount of cooling capacity. As VidaBox advises on their site, this can be mitigated if needed by installing quieter fans, or even disabling one of the fans if your cooling needs don’t demand it such as when only using a single hard drive or running the server in a cool basement.

To measure power consumption, I connected the CubeCase to my P3 Kill-A-Watt with 3 hard drives installed, and measured 54 watts consumed when the server was idle, and 70 watts under load. This would very likely be even lower if you used a different mini-ITX platform such as an Intel Atom based solution.

Summary

The VidaBox CubeCase is a very nice case that can serve a variety of uses. I found it to be attractive, well made, and easy to use even when installing the motherboard and cables inside the small form factor case. The 3 hard drive bays can accommodate moderate storage needs, with the expansion port allowing the addition of an eSATA card to provide further expansion via external storage enclosures if desired.

I would like to thank VidaBox for providing me with the CubeCase for the purposes of this review.

VidaBox has issued a $5 coupon good for MediaSmartServer.net readers, with coupon code: CubeCase-MSS that is valid through the end of 2010.




Article by

I'm Alex Kuretz, and I'm the founder of MediaSmartServer.net. I was the Lead Test and Integration Engineer at HP for the MediaSmart Server until April 2008 when I moved on to other opportunities outside HP. I've kept active in the Windows Home Server community, creating several add-ins and helping users make the most of their Home Servers.


{ 17 comments }

Cubanblood October 15, 2010 at 10:29 am

Great write up. Thanks for taking your time to review it. Could you comment on the temp of the hard drives?

Alex Kuretz October 15, 2010 at 10:38 am

Good question, I’ll try to pull some numbers this weekend and report back.

Cubanblood October 15, 2010 at 10:49 am

Ok.

Newbe October 15, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Just curious, the HP media server only allows for 1 eSata port in. If someone were to get a Quad controller card (like New Egg http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16816111069 ) … could they in theory have 4 separate hard drive enclosures? Looking for a way to increase my limited storage capacity …

Alex Kuretz October 15, 2010 at 1:53 pm

Yup, as Cubanblood mentions as long as the motherboard supports the card then it would fit in the case.

Cubanblood October 15, 2010 at 12:58 pm

I dont see why not

Cubanblood October 15, 2010 at 1:21 pm

Actually you will need a different mobo because the one mention above does not have an expansion slot for it.

Comp1962 October 16, 2010 at 12:13 pm

Alex thats a sweet case. I have one very similar to it which is made by CFI and I absolutely love the case. I am using mine to run Vail and call it my Vail MiniServer. I have been wanting to buy more of these for custom builds for others. I have to check your supplier out to see what if any price difference there is. The only issue I ran into was finding a low profile CPU cooler to fit in the case since the motherboard CPU placement placed the CPU partially under the drive bays.

The front cooling fan in your enclosure looks much bigger then the one in mine. I do like good airflow and am not as sensitive to fan noise as some are but the unit I have is fairly quiet and runs very cool.

Nice job finding the case and the price is about $10 lower then the one I have and the USB, Mic, and Headphone jacks on mine are on the front but yours are on the side but other then the differences I pointed out they look identical. I just love that case, its abit tight inside. I am also using the same Motherboard as you but I popped in a BE2300 because I have those here but I later acquired an AMD X2 250 for it but decided to use that CPU for the next build.

CFI does make a 4 bay case that can be purchased from a company that sells on eBay but its abit cost prohibitive in my opinion.

Comp1962 October 16, 2010 at 12:47 pm

I just ordered one of these. My primary interest is to compair the CFI Enclosure to the one Alex used. Of course I will put it to use in the next few weeks once I make up my mind on what to use it for but once I put my eyes on it and compair the two enclosures I will come back and write about what I find both here and in the froms.

Comp1962 October 20, 2010 at 3:38 pm

My Vidabox Cube Case arrived today. Its very similar to the CFI enclosure I used for a Vail MiniServer. The Vidabox unit is a tad longer as the front panels are larger to accomodate the larger fan and is also much more attractive then the CFI front. On the CFI enclosure there the two USB, Mic, Headphone and Power Buttons are on the front of the enclosure and the LEDs are in clear view but on the Vidabox they are hidden behind the Optical Drive Door Pannel which as Alex pointed out is translucent. Aside from what I have already mentioned the only difference between the two units are the internal drive tray on the Vidabox sticks out closer to the side and has one rear fan where as the CFI enclosure has 2 smaller fans, also the CFI enclosure has a front fan filter. I like both cases equally but am anxious to see what differences the fans make with the units. I did miss the $5 off coupon but its not the end of the world because the case is very nice indeed.

Alex Kuretz October 20, 2010 at 5:16 pm

Stephen, thanks for sharing your experience with the CubeCase, I’m glad you like it and I look forward to hearing how it works for you.

Cubanblood October 22, 2010 at 3:25 pm

Any comment on the temperatures of the HDD and Cpu? I think this is a great case and i have a use for it but i want to make sure heat is not a problem.

Alex Kuretz October 22, 2010 at 4:07 pm

Thanks for the reminder, I just did a quick, informal test, and the performance is very good. CPU temp is 34 degrees C, and the two hard drives (one internal, one in removable tray) are at 31 degrees C. The internal drive is a 750GB 7200rpm Seagate, the removable drive is a 750GB WD “Green” drive. These are low temperatures for these drives when compared to running in my MediaSmart Servers.

I’ll do an apples-to-apples comparison with the same drive in two enclosures and update the article with that info, but in my view this shows very good cooling performance though there is some noise to go along with it.

Cubanblood October 22, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Thanks for the reply Alex. The noise level is not a big deal because it will be stored on a close rack.

Comp1962 October 24, 2010 at 2:15 am

Today I populated my VidaBox for a new build. Now I do like the enclosure but the primary reason why I bought it in the first place was to compair it to the similar CFI enclosure I used for my Vail MiniServer. Both enclosers are indeed tight and its very difficult to neatly route your cables. I will post some pictures of my two builds in the forums for everyone to look at. Aside from what I have already posted the cable runs are more difficult in the VidaBox then the CFI enclosure which could be the differences in the rear fan configurations between the two but regardless the cable routing between the two units are tight. The other difference is the mounting of the optical drive. In the CFI enclosure you can mount the drive with the face plate almost flush to the enclosure but with the VidaBox you have to stick it out much further which no one will see when the door is closed but the reason is the large fan in the front of the unit. On the CFI enclosure the door is shaped to accomodate the fan so it looks funny so the trade off here is in astetics with the CFI having a funny look because of the way the fan is mounted in the door but also a smaller fan too vs the VidaBox with a much larger fan and more appealing look to the front of the enclosure but it requires you to move the optical drive out so you can operate the open/close button on the drive. The trade off here is when you open the door the drive sticking out the way it does looks funny or not so funny. The other differences has to do with the fan noise being higher in the VidaBox but thats in part due to the larger fans but neither is all that loud.

Both enclosure which I have mentioned are for the most part almost identical. I like both and recommend them equally and am fortunate to have both and the opertunity to share my comparisons.

Cubanblood October 24, 2010 at 6:35 am

Thanks for doing this. I cant way to see the pictures.

Comp1962 October 24, 2010 at 6:29 pm

I posted the pictures which can be viewed at the link below:

http://www.mediasmartserver.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=9393

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