Travla C158 – mini-ITX Case Review


Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £100.00

Broadly speaking there are two types of Small Form Factor (SFF) computers. On the one hand there are the stylish cubes made by the likes of Shuttle which use PC technology throughout, and on the other hand we have mini-ITX PCs which are built into cases such as the Travla C158.

A Shuttle SFF is ideal for LAN parties as it’s easy to transport, yet it has all of the gaming power that you need. You can, for instance, specify a Shuttle XPC with a 3.4GHz Pentium 4, a 160GB hard drive, 1GB of PC3200 memory and a ATI X600 Pro PCI-Express graphics card. That little lot will cost you £1139 without a monitor, and it is effectively a regular PC with a footprint of 320 x 210mm, and stands only 220mm tall.

Inside a Shuttle the emphasis is on cooling as you have all of the usual problems of heat production, yet the volume of the case is about one third that of a regular mid-tower ATX case so heat dissipation is more complicated than usual.

By contrast a mini-ITX PC is absolutely tiny. The Travla C158 case has a footprint that measures 305 x 279mm but it’s only 54mm tall, so its volume is about one third of a Shuttle or one tenth of a mid-tower PC. In fairness we should point out that the Travla C158 uses an external power supply, which is much the same size as a hefty notebook adapter, so you’ll have to make an allowance for it.

Apart from their size, mini-ITX computers also tend to be strange devices, with only 20 per cent of mini-ITX computers being used in the home to replace a regular ATX PC or notebook. The vast majority of this 20 percent will be used as a media PC in the living room of your house, leaving the other 80 percent of mini-ITX computers to be used in industrial applications.

You get a flavour for this when you see that the specification for the Travla C158 case boasts that it can accommodate three extra Serial ports, over and above those on the back plate of the motherboard, if you break out the appropriate blanking plates. Personally, this reviewer hasn’t used a Serial port on a PC since the dark days of Windows 95, but clearly someone, somewhere, has plenty of aging equipment that runs on COM ports and Travla is there to meet the demand.

Other mini-ITX PCs end up inside robots, or in 1U servers in Gateway House in Docklands where the Internet connects to the UK. A great many low-traffic websites have no need for high-powered servers so the ISPs pack their racks with loads of cheap boxes instead, which can be built into the Travla C146 and C147 1U chassis among others.

The power supply for the Travla C158 comes in a choice of three ratings, 60W, 90W and 120W, and if you want more power you pay a higher price, while at the business end – inside the case – you’ll have to make suitable allowances for cooling. An external power supply may sound a bit of a pain, but it means that mini-ITX is the ideal form for yet another type of computer application, the vehicle kit for cars. This is a growing market which caters for enthusiasts who want to build a computer into their car to handle DVD and GPS duties, and mini-ITX is well suited to the 12V electrical system of a car.

Getting back to the Travla C158 power supply, the 60W version is suitable for a system which uses an EPIA motherboard and passive VIA C3 processor, but if you install a Hauppauge PVR video card you’ll need another 20W of supply, so the 90W power supply will be more appropriate. The third approach is to install a mini-ITX motherboard with a Socket 478 Celeron or Pentium 4, which will definitely require the full 120W option, and that’s the route that we chose to go down.

We built a mini-ITX PC around an Insight P4-ITX motherboard (price £116.33), which uses a VIA P4N266A chipset, a 2.6GHz Pentium 4, a single 512MB module of PC3200 memory, a Seagate Barracuda V 40GB hard drive and a slim line Matsushita Combo drive. If we had also fitted a floppy drive we’d have had to use low-height memory, but as we left the floppy out we were able to install regular memory.

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