Casetronic’s Travla C137 Mini ITX enclosure

Manufacturer Casetronic
Model Travla C137
Price (Street) $167
Availability Now

SIX MONTHS ago, VIA’s miniscule EPIA-M10000 sold me on the Mini-ITX platform. Since then, a dearth of appropriate Mini-ITX enclosures has forced small form factor enthusiasts to cram Mini-ITX boards into everything from old Nintendo consoles to mini beer kegs. Ok, so maybe all those wacky EPIA mods were driven more by creativity than a lack of available Mini-ITX enclosures, but the Mini-ITX cases are still pretty scarce. Considering the platform’s potential, that’s really a shame.

To give enthusiasts an alternative to enclosing their EPIA boards in discarded 1980s game consoles, Casetronic has come up with a full line of “Travla” Mini-ITX cases. Today we’ll be looking at the Travla C137, a sleek enclosure built for home theater PCs and stealthy desktops. Does the C137 fit the Mini-ITX platform like a glove, or are EPIA boards better off in beer kegs? Read on to find out.

From the outside
To get things started, here’s a glamor shot of our black C137 review sample. The case is also available in silver if that’s more your style.


Better aesthetics than a hacked up Nintendo. More ventilation, too.

Measuring just 2.7″ x 12.7″ x 10.5″, the C137 is 30% smaller than Shuttle’s tiny SV24 cube and can easily be tucked away in a home entertainment center. The C137’s anodized aluminum face plate should blend in nicely with DVD players, hi-fi stereo components, and other consumer electronics devices, too.


For optical drives on a diet

With such a slender profile, the C137 is really too small to accommodate a standard 5.25″ drive bay. Instead, the case is designed to work with the same slim optical drives found in laptop computers. Unfortunately, slim optical drives are quite a bit pricier than their 5.25″ desktop counterparts. Happily, though, slim optical drives are almost overwhelmingly available in black, which nicely matches our C137’s exterior. However, it looks like silver C137s are out of luck, because I’ve yet to see anyone selling silver slim optical drives online. The C137 doesn’t have a hinged or sliding door to camouflage clashing optical drives, either.


Sorry, Compact Flash only

The C137 doesn’t have an external 3.5″ drive bay, but it does have a handy slot for an optional Compact Flash memory card reader. Integrated memory card readers aren’t exactly “must have” features for home theater PCs, but it’s nice to be able to view digital camera pictures instantly on a TV. Just think of how many excruciating wedding, vacation, and birthday picture slide shows you can torment guests with.

Unfortunately, the C137’s optional card reader is Compact Flash-only, which is a little surprising since 6-in-1 card readers seem to be all the rage these days.


Bonus points for thumb screws

Around the back, the C137 has a couple of openings for PCI cards and a gaping hole for a motherboard’s port cluster. The case doesn’t actually ship with an I/O port shield, but since no one can seem to agree on a standard port configuration these days, motherboards tend to ship with their own port shields, anyway.

Let’s pop those thumb screws and see what the C137 has to offer under the hood.

 

Under the skirt

Despite its tiny internal volume, the C137 can accommodate a surprising number of internal devices. Sliding off the outer skin nicely opens up the case for component installation, and all the drive bays are easy to remove.

The C137’s hard drive tray supports full 3.5″ desktop hard drives in addition to 2.5″ hard disks. Using a 3.5″ hard drive will block one of the case’s two full PCI slots, though.

If an optical drive isn’t necessary, one can always squeeze a second 2.5″ hard drive into the C137 s slim media bay.

The C137 ships with a stack of PCI extensions and riser cards for expansion cards. Having two PCI slots seems a little excessive for a media box, but it’s really not. With one PCI slot reserved for a video capture/TV tuner card, a second PCI slot is free for a true 24-bit sound card.

Given the C137’s shorter length, PCI cards longer than 8.5″ won’t fit in the case. Using a standard 3.5″ hard drive drops the maximum PCI card length down to six inches.

Just enough power
The Mini-ITX world is dominated by VIA’s EPIA line, which doesn’t exactly require a lot of power. Still, Mini-ITX boards supporting Socket 478 Pentium 4 processors are slowly becoming available, so the C137 is equipped to power more than just a C3.

The C137 is available two power supply options: a 90-watt model is sufficient for EPIA boards, but there’s also a 120-watt model specifically designed for Socket 478 motherboards and Pentium 4 processors. Our sample’s 120-watt power supply DC converter resides inside the case, cooled by a single, near-silent fan. The rest of the power supply is enclosed in an external power brick.


The brick
 

Getting along with the EPIA
So far, the C137 looks pretty good, but how does the case get along with VIA’s EPIA-M10000 motherboard?


The C137 fits the EPIA like a glove

Perfectly, or at least nearly so.

Despite being tucked under the case’s optical drive tray, the EPIA-M10000’s processor fan isn’t stifled for air flow. The motherboard’s IDE ports are all but buried under the optical drive tray, but since the tray is removable, hooking up IDE cables is as easy as removing a few screws.

The C137’s unsheathed power supply cable is quickly fixed with a couple of zip ties, but it would be nice to see Casetronic sheath the power cable to keep things neat. With a tiny case like the C137, internal wiring can easily get messy fast, and a sheathed power cable would go a long way towards cleaning things up.

The EPIA-M10000’s port shield snaps smartly into place on the C137, with my only complaint being that VIA doesn’t offer the shield in black. Then again, that’s not Casetronic’s fault, and the silver shield should perfectly match a silver C137.

VIA’s EPIA line makes a couple of extra Firewire and USB ports available on a PCI back plate header, but you don’t have to sacrifice a PCI slot to get a little more Firewire of USB love with the C137. Casetronic puts a PCI card mounting bracket just above the C137’s port cluster, complete with Firewire and USB port cutouts to perfectly match the EPIA’s extra port header.

 

Conclusions
There are so few Mini-ITX cases on the market that the Travla C137 is really in a class all its own. Sure, there are a plethora of funky little cubes that will accept Mini-ITX motherboards, but the Travlas were designed specifically with Mini-ITX in mind. The C137 is also one of the few Mini-ITX cases that looks right at home in an entertainment center with hi-fi stereo gear.

At $167 online, the C137 definitely isn’t a cheap case option, but a power supply is included. Since the market isn’t teeming with cheaper, smaller, more feature-rich Mini-ITX cases, I can’t really complain. There isn’t much point to whining about the cost of slim hard disks or optical drives, either; there will always be a premium to pay for miniaturization. Inexpensive home theater PCs can easily be built with ATX motherboards and larger cases, but they won’t be as small as a C137.

As much as I like this case, the C137 still has a few loose ends I’d like to see tied up. A more versatile memory card reader should really be an option, as should front-mounted USB and Firewire ports, and at least a headphone jack. If Casetronic wants to get a little wild, they could also offer an integrated LCD display for the case’s front panel.

Even without those changes, the C137 is still a quiet, attractive Mini-ITX case with a tiny footprint. The slim case isn’t quite as cute as some of the other Mini-ITX cubes out there, but it blends in seamlessly with consumer electronics equipment, making it the perfect platform for a stealthy media PC. The C137 might even save a couple of old game consoles from being gutted for Mini-ITX projects, too. 

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