HDPlex H1.S review: Premium silence

One of the best ways to start any holiday is with the sight of this:

HDPlex H1.S, Asus Q87T, i5-4440S, Kingston SODIMMs
HDPlex H1.S, Asus Q87T, i5-4440S, Kingston SODIMMs

Prior to this, I was already on an ITX build, using the Realan E-Q6, which is actually a more compact case than the H1.S. But in many ways it is an inferior product: poor fit, inadequate tolerances, and a poorly located DC jack. I was also pushed along by a few other motivations: a desire to try a thin-ITX build, and to get a new motherboard that properly supports 1440p (it seems that these days the only way to ensure this is to get a high-end motherboard that has Displayport). But those are stories for another post.

In the box #

The HDPlex H1.S comes with a hefty price tag ($179), but is physically as dense as that price suggests, for a thin-ITX case. It comes with assembly required, so be prepared to spend the better part of an afternoon on this.

Front plate, panels, heatpipes
Front plate, panels, heatpipes

The various options, mounting plates and screws come in a velvet accessory bag. Classy. That double-stranded USB short cable looks like it could be a lot of trouble though …

Accessory bag and contents
Accessory bag and contents

The HDPlex comes with some optionals: for power, one can opt to go with an external 19V AC adapter for thin-ITX, or an internal 120W open-frame adapter that plugs in to the 2-pin power socket on thin-ITX boards. I went with the latter, and also bundled in a PCIe ×1 riser card.

Internal 120W power supply, PCIe ×1 riser card
Internal 120W power supply, PCIe ×1 riser card

Assembly #

Bundled instructions for assembling the H1.S are skimpy at best. It starts out recommending the “M4×6 flat head HEX screws” for attaching the rubber feet to the bottom, and subsequently fails to mention what screws to use (“install the motherboard to the H1.S chassis bottom plate”), until finally deigning to mention that the aluminium top plate should be attached with M3×6 screws. Some experience with PC assembly is definitely required, and even then expect to be spending time in Google Images looking up pictures of screws. This is definitely not a product for first-time small-form-factor builders.

[Edit] There is a pictorial installation screw guide over at HDPlex forums, which should help new builders.

USB3 ports on left, power button on right. There is little clue how to orient the asymmetric side plates, and I had to flip them later on.
USB3 ports on left, power button on right. There is little clue how to orient the asymmetric side plates, and I had to flip them later on.

Got a misshapen screw on the 3-pin power socket. Not important enough for returns so I didn’t send it back.

Misshapen philips-head screw
Misshapen philips-head screw

Installing the heatpipes is possibly the most arduous part of the assembly. Quite a lot of thermal paste is needed for lining the grooves into which the heatpipes will fit. I recommend putting everything in place first and checking for blockage before locking the layout in.

Testing for fit. On the right side, had to fit the heatpipes between the internal USB3 and front panel pins.
Testing for fit—no thermal grease applied yet. On the right side, had to fit the heatpipes between the internal USB3 and front panel pins.

Locking it in. The heatpipes are secured to the side panels by flat aluminium plates, and to the CPU cooling block by a grooved aluminium top plate. Bend those heat pipes carefully.
Locking it in. The heatpipes are secured to the side panels by flat aluminium plates, and to the CPU cooling block by a grooved aluminium top plate. Bend those heat pipes carefully.

Now the USB3 cable begins to look painful. Because of the way it puts two cables side by side, there is no easy way to bend it if your motherboard’s USB3 header is not placed just right. I ended up curling them later on (next pic).

I also had to cut off two pins on the power cable to fit it into the input jack, which was right next to one of the rear panel ports.

4-pin 19V input. Lopped off 2 pins to fit the DC-in receptacle.
4-pin 19V input. Lopped off 2 pins to fit the 2-pin receptacle.

Fitting the 2-pin receptacle. DC 19V input jack is right behind.
Fitting the 2-pin receptacle. DC 19V input jack is right behind.

A 2.5″ disk mounting plate is provided. Fits 2 disks. This cannot be used simultaneously with a full-length PCIe card. I’m using it with a 2.5″ SSD temporarily while waiting for my mSATA disk to arrive.

SSD mounting plate attached
SSD mounting plate attached

Once the case starts coming together, all the little abovementioned oversights start to melt away. The case is beautifully machined, and things fit just right. The cables are as long as they need to be (excepting the USB3 header cable), and there is a heft to the whole assembly that feels really premium.

HDPlex H1.S, without top cover
HDPlex H1.S, without top cover

Sandisk X110 256GB SSD
Sandisk X110 256GB SSD

With the mSATA disk in place, this becomes a truly minimalist build. Would have been nice with some cable management grooves in those thick aluminium plates, but I’m really asking for the stars at this point.

Complete build, minus PCIe card and wifi antennae
Complete build, minus PCIe card and wifi antennae

First Impressions #

It looks right at home on the desk, below the home-built 27″ monitor shelf.

HDPlex H1.S
HDPlex H1.S

I’m still getting used to the complete silence that ensues when I press the power button. The usual whooosh of fans spinning up is no longer there.

The power LED on the HDPlex H1.S is on the left, hidden between the frontplate and one of the fins. It’s only noticeable when looking at it from the left, or if something reflects that LED light. Very pleasing, understated styling for a self-built system; physical buttons only need to be obvious for off-the-shelf systems that can’t expect users to know where everything is.

Thermal performance is pretty impressive. On the website, Larry claims the H1.S supports “TDP up to 55W CPU”. In my testing with the i5-4440S (65W), the system idles at 47°C, and at load (x264 encoding) it goes up to 65°C. Pretty impressive considering ambient temperatures here are about 29°C.

The mSATA disk is a different issue though. It idles at around 50°C, and at load I have seen it go up to 75°C! This is not the H1.S’s fault; the X110 apparently consumes up to 5.2W on disk load. I would recommend getting an mSATA disk with lower power consumption, so that it won’t heat up too much. Intel’s 530 mSATA disk is the leader in this area, with a load power of up to 2.6W.

[Edit] The Sandisk X110 died, after a short run of 6 months. I’ve replaced it with a Samsung 840 EVO mSATA, and hddtemp tells me it does not have a temperature sensor so I’m afraid I can’t get any software temperature readings. Still, at idle, the skin temperature is hot enough to scald if one keeps one’s fingers pressed on the SSD, so it’s definitely too hot to touch. It looks like mSATA SSDs might not do too well in hot environments without assisted ventilation.

Upon request, I’ve taken some power measurements with a Kill-A-Watt. Idle is around 20W, with transient spikes if I have a web browser open. Under moderate load (x264 transcoding) it goes up to 57W, and under gaming load (on HD4600, playing Assault Android Cactus) it runs around 52W. I’m afraid I can’t run the battery of tests that most hardware review sites do, since I’m on Linux and don’t intend to go dual-booting.

If this seems incredible, keep in mind that this rig is running on a 120W adapter, and not a 500W ATX PSU. PSU Efficiency at these power ranges will be much better at the 20–80W range compared to a 500W PSU, and I have a blog post to show this too.

Conclusion #

I don’t have any Editor Awards to give out, but here’s a big thank you to Larry for such a fantastic product. If he has any plans for NUC/BRIX cases, my eyes are definitely peeled.

Photo Gallery on G+

15 thoughts on “HDPlex H1.S review: Premium silence”

  1. Thanks for posting this. Very informative series.

    Couple of questions:
    1) Does the Q87T and 4440S stream HD content from Amazon/Netflix/Hulu without stuttering?
    2) What’s the temp of the 4440s while streaming HD content for lets say 30 minutes?
    3) “Kingston SODIMMs”. I’m assuming you went with the 1.35V LowVoltage module from the ASUS QVL for RAM which is KVR16LS11/4 CL11 PC3-12800 (DDR3-1600)?
    4) If heat is an issue would it make sense to use 1.35V PC3-10600 (DDR3-1333) or even slower 1.35V PC3-8500 (DDR3-1066)?
    5) mSATA correction. The specsheet for the Intel 525 series shows the lowest TDP is the 30GB with a mere 2.6W Thermal Power while the Intel 530 series lowest TDP is the 80GB with 2.7W. Nonetheless it’s good info you provided there in the first that Intel is ahead of the game other SSD makers. Now if everybody else would also have as detailed specsheets like Intel does, a further and more detailed comparison would be possible.
    6) Why did you decide for the ASUS CSM model? Besides that the mobo has better support and will be available on the market for at least 1 year are there any other advantages you see?
    7) Why not the ASUS H87I-PLUS or ASUS H81I-PLUS?
    8) Why not one of the plenty MSI mobos ( http://www.msi.com/product/mb/#/?sk=Mini-ITX-Intel ) or even Gigabyte’s Stable Models (GSM). They have 3 thin (no PCI-E 3.0 slot) mini-ITX too: http://www.gigabyte.us/WebPage/-54/images/GSM_model.html
    9) MSI released BIOS updates for _all_ their Intel 8 series mobos to support the new Broadwell CPUs that come out in Q2/June 2014: http://www.msi.com/news/1664.html
    ASUS did so too ( http://www.dvhardware.net/article60270.html ) but interestingly enough the Q87T is missing :(

    The missing Q87T BIOS update to support Broadwell/’Haswell Refresh’ is a real bummer since the new Broadwell/Haswell Refresh would be an even better candidate for the HD.Plex H1.S due to the smaller manufacturing process (shrink from 22nm to 14nm) and therefore even better TDP. What’s your take on this?

    1. Thanks for your comment and questions. I’ll try to answer what I can.

      1&2) I’m not US-based, and those are not available in my region, so I can’t really test performance on that. Do they use hardware decoding? Mplayer2 plays my 8Mbps TV streams fine, temps are about 5°C above idle after half an hour.

      3) I didn’t actually; went with regular KVR16S11/8. I don’t have sensors on those so all I can say is they feel warm to the touch, about the same temperature as the heatpipes (which are surprisingly cool), definitely far cooler than the toasty mSATA SSD.

      4) I don’t have temperature sensors on the mobo voltage regulators, which are really the only parts I’m worried about (aside from the SSD). I would venture to say that I’m not worried about CPU and memory temps with this build, my main heat concerns are with the voltage regulators (due to lack of info) and the mSATA SSD. The memory modules are situated well away from the Southbridge heatsink, which is probably the only other significant source of heat.

      The top of the case feels like a warm bath, I could stick some sensors to log and measure but I’m not concerned enough to invest the time and effort.

      5) Yeah, the 525 is probably lower-power-consumption. I mentioned the 530 because it was one of the 3 candidates I was looking at, alongside the Plextor M5M. Went with the X110 for cost reasons (based on shipping availability and cost).

      6) I didn’t really decide on CSM specifically, it was just what’s available :) Didn’t see any significant advantage to a non-business owner like me.

      7) Those didn’t have Displayport, and I just bought a U2713HM. The Intel NIC is also a noticeable improvement over the usual Realtek stuff.

      I normally wait two generations before upgrading, but decided to jump for this Haswell build because my previous 3770+H77 ITX build didn’t have Displayport, and I was sick of running 1920×1080 on this screen (DVI-I seems to be the best that’s available on mid-range mobos …)

      8) Didnt have good experiences with MSI. Had an H55M-E32 (home server) and currently an H61i-E35 (family desktop), and had to RMA them for various reasons: bad RAM slots, dead SATA ports, etc. They’re cheap, but unless they have some really special features I’m avoiding them for my future builds.

      Didn’t notice the Gigabyte GSM models, I stuck with ASUS mainly because I’ve had good experiences with them (this is my 3rd ASUS board), didn’t want to rock the boat. It’s interesting that the GSM H87 models have Displayport, perhaps I’ll consider them in the future. Hard to tell if there are driver issues with such new boards in Linux though, which is what I’m using. There are so few reports on forums. I’m glad that the important things worked right out of the box. Haven’t checked for full ASPM compatibility yet.

      9) That’s good to know, although Broadwell is now delayed to Q4. Not sure if ASUS plans to follow suit, but these days I don’t upgrade for performance much anymore (this build technically has less raw performance than my previous). I move for featuresets: With this build I moved to thin-ITX for cabling simplicity and lower noise. I’m not moving to Broadwell/Skylake until the featureset is compelling enough, i.e. Iris Pro + integrated southbridge (to eliminate another source of passive cooling heat from the mobo and move it into the CPU).

      My ideal build scenario now is actually something like the Gigabyte BRIX Pro (I have an upcoming post on this), which I nearly leaped for—Iris Pro graphics and optical audio out is pretty much what I’ve always wanted in an ITX build. But I figured I’d give it another generation or two to improve. 55W TDP would be ideal for me; I’ll take as much performance as I can get in that power envelope. Unfortunately the Haswell i7s only seem to be available in 45W and 65W (and there is no data on the performance delta between these and the regular 4770).

      I use TDP as a rough gauge, but from observation it seems that CPUs with the same TDP can vary wildly in typical heat output. The i5-4440S, i5-5670S and i7-4770S all have 65W TDP, but would have quite different load temperatures. Right now what I’d really like is to see more sources of heat moved from the mobo (which is poorly cooled in a passive build) into the CPU (which gets most of the cooling). A CPU with the same TDP but more sources of heat integrated would make for a better solution for passively-cooled thin-ITX.

  2. Thanks for the detailed answer and your thoughts on this topic. This is really helpful. I definitely appreciate this.

    So I did another deeper comparison of the mobos today and the ASUS Q87T is probably the best choice. All other MSI and Gigabyte only have Realtek LAN. Since I consider WLAN an unreliable technology wired NIC connectivity has utmost priority for me.

    BIOS support and update cycles for Gigabyte boards are shoddy at best (right now they are at version 1.0 and never updated. LOL)

    Another good choice would be the H81T/CSM, but unfortunately no Displayport and no Intel LAN. I like it since it’s a feature-cut version which is visible in the smaller 64MB BIOS compared to the 128MB of the Q87T. Less features, less bugs :) Who needs RAID (only 1 mSATA anyways) and vPro (in a non-business world) in a minimalistic built :) Also it’s mentioned on the Haswell-Refresh BIOS update list.

    Well, I also compared mSATA SSDs spec sheets for the Intel 525 (30GB), 530 (80GB), Plextor M5M (smallest size), Samsung 840 EVO (120GB) and last but not least the Sandisk X110 you got. I also have an Intel SSD 310 40GB sample from Intel laying around and pulled up the spec sheet for it.
    No one except Intel states what the TDP is or in other words how much heat they dissipate which makes it really hard to determine which mSATA SSD would be the best fit for this fanless case. The only thing that is comparable across the board is the power it *draws* in different power states:
    1) Active state
    2) Idle State
    3) DevSleep State

    Well here it is:
    310: 150 mW ; 75 mW ; not specified
    525: 300 mW ; 250 mW ; not specified
    530: 140 mW ; 55 mW ; 0.2 mW (!)
    M5M: 200 mW ; not specified ; 1 mW
    840EVO: 145 mW ; 55 mW ; not specified
    X110: 85 mW ; 80 mW ; 4.8 mW

    Well is this bad news or not? You already got the mSATA SSD which draws – according to official spec sheets – the least power. Is it safe to say that it also dissipates the least? We don’t know.

    … i.e. Iris Pro + integrated southbridge (to eliminate another source of passive cooling heat from the mobo and move it into the CPU).

    Right now what I’d really like is to see more sources of heat moved from the mobo (which is poorly cooled in a passive build) into the CPU (which gets most of the cooling). A CPU with the same TDP but more sources of heat integrated would make for a better solution for passively-cooled thin-ITX.
    Very good points. Now that I think about it you are absolutely right. Southbridges still come with passive heatsinks or even small 5cm(?) fans. With the introduction of the Multi Chip Package they will disappear *into* the CPU which is the best cooled component in a build. MCP FTW : ) Lets see how all this develops.

    1. How about the Asrock Z97e ITX? I have only had good experiences with Asrock so far and I think this motherboard would work quite nicely with the H1.S

      1. I don’t see any obvious reasons why it won’t work. Specs are quite nice too, with Intel GbE LAN. It’s terrible that it still uses single-link DVI-I though (“Supports DVI-I with max. resolution up to 1920×1200 @ 60Hz”). With DVI being treated as a second-class citizen on modern motherboards, I think it’s time to just kill it on new small-form-factor motherboards and stick with HDMI and mini-Displayport for digital video output.

        One thing with ITX (instead of Thin-ITX) builds you need to look out for is the DIMM height. Typical desktop RAM sticks might not fit in the low z-height of the H1.S. You will want to go with low-profile DIMMs (e.g. G.Skill Ares series).

        1. well for me, that would be fine, as I would use HDMI (I only own a 1080p monitor…) and in case of a future upgrade Displayport.
          I was planning to use Crucial Ballistix Sport XT, but i guess they would be too high. Instead maybe the Ares as mentioned, or Ballistix sport, which are a little lower profile as far as i know.

          My system is going to be a Hackintosh, so my motherboard choices are fairly limited:

          Gigabyte Z97N Wifi
          Gigabyte H97N Wifi
          Asus H97I-PLUS
          Asus Z97I-PLUS
          Asrock 77e Itx

          Can you recommend any of those motherboards? Personal experience?


          1. I’m still on the 8-series chipsets myself, haven’t upgraded to 9-series, and probably won’t; I’m still waiting for USB-C, NVMe and Displaylink to stabilise and make their way to Thin-ITX/NUC form factors …

            I’m more of an ASUS guy myself, haven’t had any issues with their motherboards. I’ve had my eye on a couple of Gigabyte boards before, but each time skipped them over because of reported lack of support in Linux, or just because they were not in stock. Would not hesitate to buy Asrock either if they check out fine, but I’d stay away from MSI.

  3. Well, for 50% of their current boards Yes they broke the curse. But then I was digging further into the Gigabyte Stable Models Thin Mini-ITX boards (GA-Q87TN / GSM ; GA-H87TN / GSM ; GA-H81TN / GSM) and neither one is on the list of the Haswell-Refresh BIOS updates mentioned above. :( Bummer for them since they potentially loose enthusiast customers.

    Continuing the process of elimination….

    So Out with Gigabyte and in with BIOSTAR. They announced yesterday ( http://www.biostar.com.tw/app/en/news/news.php?S_ID=192 ) that all their boards support Haswell Refresh. Well they only have one (1) mini-ITX board and since it’s not Thin it doesn’t come with SO-DIMM. Also no DisplayPort and no Intel NIC. Out with BIOSTAR, too.

    MSI’s mini-ITX boards ( http://www.msi.com/product/mb/#/?sk=Mini-ITX-Intel ) all do NOT come with SO-DIMM (except the new J1800), so out with MSI too.

    This leaves ASUS H81T or Q87T only :)

  4. Great build!
    I have a question regarding the PSU:
    The Asrock Z87e only has an 8 pin 12V power connector, so would the 4 pin connector work properly and power the cpu, as some motherboards woul need some extra plugs.
    Any Help is appreciated!

    1. Traditionally the EPS12V (8-pin) spec[1] was meant for high-power desktops and servers. But motherboard makers started including it on boards aimed at overclockers. This avoids overcurrent on existing 12V rails (on the 4-pin), but it is also a form of marketing—motherboards with only a 4-pin ATX12V are shunned for overclocking, and soon came to be considered “budget” or low-end boards.

      18-gauge (AWG) wire is recommended for PSU wiring (except some minor ones)[2], with a max amp rating of 16A each[3] (192W @ 12V)—note that there are two 12V wires. In the PSU design guide (pg 14), some typical max current ratings for each rail (not the same as wires—there may be multiple wires on each rail) are given. As far as I can tell, this is definitely sufficient for stock low-power builds like the one I am using, and probably even for slight overclocking.

      The ATX12V 4-pin connector plugs into one side of the EPS12V housing on the motherboard (check the connector shape). Such a config should be quite safe to use, as long as you’re not running a heavily overclocked configuration that might overload the ATX12V rails (that would take quite a lot of current though).

      [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Power_supply_unit_%28computer%29#Entry-Level_Power_Supply_Specification
      [2] http://www.formfactors.org/developer/specs/Power_Supply_Design_Guide_Desktop_Platform_Rev_1_2.pdf
      [3] http://www.powerstream.com/Wire_Size.htm

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