I would like to thank Origen AE
for being so kind to supply the review sample.
About Origen AE
Origen AE was established in the year 2000. You may think to yourself, why you have not heard from the brand before recently. Turns out that the company was named Uneed International and was re-branded to the much nicer name of Origen AE Technology in 2005.
The new company entered the market with a bang. When the first images of the S21T surfaced on the interweb everyone was asking "wow, who is this?" and their booth at CeBIT 2007 was a huge hit. All of their cases were shown off and additional ones are still being developed. Origen AE exclusively manufactures HTPC enclosures, so you are bound to find one for your needs, which does not only look great but features a build quality beyond comparison.
Origen AE S21T
The S21T is the company's flagship product. It is available in two colors, black or silver. Origen AE was so kind and sent us the black variant, which is much less advertised but looks just as gorgeous.
- 12.1" motorized TFT touch screen display
- 1920x1080 TFT resolution support
- one piece 5mm aluminium front & sides
- 1 x 120mm exhaust fan (pre-installed)
- 2 x 90mm intake fan (pre-installed)
- 1 x 120mm optional extractor module
- front media bay, usb hub, audio & firewire
- matched optical drive bezel
- removable motherboard tray
- rubber isolation hard drive screws
- optional MCE & IR Trans module
- support for up to 10 hard drives
- matching aluminium stylus
||Origen AE S21T
||Premium HTPC chassis
||1 - External 5.25"
10 - Internal 3.5"
||7 standard slots
||1 x 120mm rear exhaust fan, 2 x 92mm intake fans, optional 120mm extractor module
- 12.1 " screen size
- 16:10 ratio
- 1920 x 1080 max resolution
- 1280 x 800 native resolution
- 1 x SVGA input
- 12V DC input
- 9W power consumption
- Auto power on feature
2 x usb ports (+2 internal), 1 x firewire (1394) port, 1 x headphone (HD & AC97), 1 x microphone (HD & AC97), 1 x multi format media bay
||435 x 220 x 390 mm (*incl. feet)
Origen AE has created a full color package to show off the case in all its beauty. The two main sides simply show the enclosure with the display at the two different positions. As you can see the package has a huge rip and is dent quite badly. Seems like the carrier - I won't mention names here - managed to soak the brown outer package (not pictured) and the retail package, then continued to rip through both of these during delivery.
You will find the specifications of the S21T on one of the shorter sides of the package, while the other lists the features in short.
The first thing you see when opening (besides the wet spot) is the instructions manual. Origen AE has placed it in the middle of the massive Styrofoam spacer. This is supposed to remind you to read the manual before diving into assembly. The afore mentioned Styrofoam spacers cover almost the entire case, which is something you should expect for the price tag.
The first thing out of the ordinary - and certainly not the last such item - are gloves. Origen AE includes these right under the manual in the center of the Styrofoam spacer. The case takes fingerprints easily and these gloves should avoid such problems.
Inside the case, you will find a white cardboard box. It is not even very large, but holds a lot of different parts and contents.
The box holds two different remotes, the first is a Media Center remote for Windows, while the second, much smaller lets you control the LCD to turn it on or off. The batteries for the large remote are quality parts from Philips. There are two IR receivers included, one for each unit.
Another surprise are the 10 SATA cables and four Molex to SATA adapters. There are two such cables with three SATA power connectors and two with only two SATA power plugs, adding up to a total of 10. A bag of screws also holds the aluminum optical drive bay cover. Notice the sticker inside the bag? Those are BluRay or HD-DVD logos, so Origen AE suggests that you should place on of these inside the enclosure. Considering the retail price of over 900€, a BluRay or HD-DVD drive should be a small buy, but a normal DVD drive will fit into the S21T as well.
A Closer Look
The first thing you notice once the S21T is unpacked, is the massive display. It measures 12.1 inches, which is by far the biggest on any HTPC enclosure. To protect the touch screen from damage, a thin plastic film has been placed over the LCD. Origen AE has decided to keep the outside simple, clean and sturdy, but the display makes this large HTPC chassis very menacing. The rear of the S21T looks relievingly normal. You will not have to worry about an exotic installation procedure when looking at the back of the HTPC case. As mentioned before, the case sides are completely clean and a single, easily 4 mm thick aluminum piece has been used to form the sides and front of the case.
The lack of air vents is compensated by an ingenious design on the bottom of the case. Two vents have been placed toward the front of the enclosure, right under the hard drive bays. The case feet are of very high quality as well.
You will find a large power button in the left corner of the front, while a very high quality Origen AE logo has been placed on the top right. The HDD LED, front I/O, card reader and optical drive bay are hidden behind the large screen.
The PSU bay is just like any other, as Origen AE follows the theme "if it works, no need to reinvent it". The large fan is completely open and is covered by a seperate fan grill. This is the best choice for a good air flow. The fan is mounted on rubber rings to reduce vibrations. You will find such spacers on every fan in the system. This is another small tidbit one would expect from the most exclusive retail HTPC case known to man.
Above the 7 PCI slots, is a crude fan grill. Origen sells an optional 120 mm fan, which comes with an enclosure to be mounted above the PCI slots. It is a bit surprising that such an useful accessory needs to be bought seperately.
The mainboard tray is removable, even when the rest of the system is closed. You simply remove four thumb screws and can then pull the tray out of the chassis. Opening the top of the S21T is done by removing two additional thumb screws. Origen AE has kept the entire case in black, even the inside. The inner layout is just as you would expect, with the single optical drive in the center and the hard drive bays on either side, toward the front. This is the same general layout as the Moneual LAB case we reviewed here
, but much more elaborate. There are thin foam spacers to reduce vibrations when the case is closed. These small details make the difference!
The mainboard tray does not bare any real surpises and the appropriate standoffs come pre-installed. As you can see, the case can hold a MicroATX or full size ATX mainboard. One of the PCI brackets is filled with a small PCB and an external VGA connector. Origen AE has designed this PCB specifically for the enclosure, instead of simply routing the display signal through a thick cable to the back of the S21T.
The connectors used for this purpose are thin, just as the attached cables. This should make it easier to route them nicely and you have complete choice where to place the PCI slot with the VGA connector. While this may be unique, the mainboard headers are of the usual kind and the audio connector is available in HD audio or AC'97. There is no third, all seperated plug in case you have an older board. This is another subtle hint, telling you to better install some high end components inside this enclosure.
The hard drive bay consists of two bars and heatsink like grooves, while the fan used for cooling is of the 92 mm kind with a mainboard header. Origen AE opted for such connectivity for all fans inside the S21T, which is perfect. It is interesting to see that 92 mm fans are used instead of the smaller 80 mm variety. This choice of fans will cause problems later on in this review.
The optical drive bay cover needs to be removed to install a DVD, or preferably BluRay or HD-DVD drive. This is done by unscrewing four screws, two on either side.
You will find three colors of PCBs inside the case. The electrical motor, which drives the display up and down utilizes blue PCB, while there is a small green PCB responsible for the LCD and the touch screen functionality. Note the sheer amount of cables already connected and routed nicely.
The third color, yellow, is found in form of the front I/O PCB which also holds the card reader. Another interesting aspect is the fact that this PCB utilizes a single USB 2.0 header, so you do not loose any connectivity due to the card reader. Other cases require you to plug in the card reader seperately instead of combining everything into a single USB 2.0 header. This means you plug the cable into the mainboard, then you are able to use the card reader and have two USB 2.0 plugs in the front of the case - one mainboard header used, two USB 2.0 connections gained, simply perfect.
Filling the tray with hardware is quite straight forward. The main advantage is the fact, that you can easily install everything outside of the case. Once done, slide it into the enclosure and connect all the needed cables.
To place up to ten hard drives into the case, simply screw in the rubber covered spacers on the drive. I have installed four of these, but it turns out that you only need three for each drive. This not only makes the installation really simple, but also prevents vibrations building up within the enclosure. In case you have not beeen keeping count, this is the third feature to prevent vibration noise inside the S21T.
To install a drive you need to remove the metal bars from the drive bays first. This can easily be done without any tools by unscrewing the four tall screws. Once removed, the "lanes" for the hard drives can be seen. You may wonder why there are so many when only five hard drives can be installed on each side. Such a feature gives you the freedom to space fewer drives wider apart for better cooling.
Once you have dropped the drive(s) into the case, place the locking bars on the appropriate locations and secure them with the tall screws. This system should make it very easy to install up to ten hard drives inside the S21T, which would be a big hassle otherwise - well done Origen AE.
There is a single optical drive bay which does require the use of a screw driver and a total of eight screws. Four hold the cover on the optical drive of your choice, while the other four are needed to secure the entire contraption within the case. According to the manual from Origen AE, you do not have to worry about removing the drive cover until after you have turned the enclosure on and have ejected the drive tray.
The power supply is installed with four normal screws - nothing out of the ordinary here. The afore mentioned problem with the hard drive cooling fan arises when the mainboard utilizes angled connectors. Some manufactures use IDE or SATA connectors at a 90° angle on the edge of the board. Due to the 92 mm fans, there is no chance to reach the single IDE port of the Asus P5B deluxe. You need to remove the fan if you want to use this interface. Such a problem could be solved if Origen AE were to install an 80 mm fan instead. For this review, the fan in question was removed to allow use of the DVD+/-RW.
Once everything is installed, it becomes apparent how strict everything has been calculated. Most of the interior is taken by the 10 hard drive spaces, and the optical drive is very close to the CPU cooler. Using a Scythe Infinity in the S21T will not be possible, due to the extensive dimensions of the cooler. The power supply is also very close to the hard drive bays, which means that you will not be able to install the long 1200W PSUs inside this case.
The last, but actually not that surprising limitation concerns graphics cards. These cannot be longer than the Radeon X800 we used for this review, if you plan to fill all ten hard drive bays. If you want to use something like a GeForce 8800 GTX or Radeon HD2900XT, you will be limited to five hard drives.
The display of the S21T is an actual TFT with all the electronics of such a device. This means that you have an OSD, just like a normal LCD and it works right away. An additional advantage is full compatibility in DOS and at the BIOS screen. This is something the seven inch touch screen of the Moneual LABs enclosure was missing.
The touch screen functionality of the S21T needs to be enabled, by installing the software, but Origen AE did not include it with the case. You are required to download it from their website instead. This is by no means normal practice, as it causes extra work, on the other hand it ensures you have an up-to-date version of the software.
Once downloaded, the software needs to be unpacked, as it is an archive. The installer works perfectly fine. It does ask you if you want to install a PS2 controlled touch screen, with no mention of USB 2.0. This is rather confusing, but simply leave it unchecked, as this is in addition to the standard USB based functionality. Once installed the software autostarts, but you are also asked by the installer if you want to calibrate the display before
running the software.
Origen AE is utilizing a software application called "Touchside" to manage the touch screen functionality. It can be opened through a small system tray icon once installed and is rather extensive. The first tab visible once opening Touchside is called "General". It simply shows all devices which are controllable by the software in form of icons. The settings of the input device, in this case the stylus, can be set in the - big surpise here - "Settings" tab.
You will find the calibration menu hidden under the Tools tab. A simple drawing tool lets you check how accurate your current calibration is. The most interesting part of the software can be found under "Display". Here you may set what part of the overall Windows desktop can be used by the stylus pen and which does not feature such an input method. This is perfect for dual screen setups of home theaters.
The above three tabs are of no real interest and do not need to be changed for normal operation. The last two simply show you what controller is being accessed and also display the software version and developer address.
Case In Action
The power button is capable of two colors. When the enclosure is not on, a red light symbolizes standby, while blue is shown when the computer is up and running. This should go really well in a home theater rack, as red is used to denote standby in most such devices.
The small video below shows you how the motorized display goes down and back up with the push of a button:
AVI Video ~900 KB
The above picture is only meant to give you a good idea about the brightness of the display, while the following pictures are taken in low light surroundings. It is certainly bright enough, but any modern stand alone LCD will have better specifications than the built-in one.
To gain access to the optical drive, the entire display needs to be dropped down. As you can see, the DVD drive color shines through. The NEC drive did not open, as the tray got stuck behind the aluminum front. I had to open the enclosure and remove the tray cover before turning on the device again and ejecting the drive. This is the only way to line up the included aluminum cover of the S21T, when using an NEC drive and goes against the instructions found in the manual.
Once the display is lowered, a few additional features can be used. The left side of the display can store the included stylus, while the right holds the controls for the OSD (on screen display).
Setting up the display did yield a surprise. It works at 1920 x 1080 but the desktop ends up being bigger than the 12.1 inch screen. This leads to a scrolling screen on the TFT. The native resolution is a much more down to earth 1280 x 800. This is something you find on every notebook these days. I was under the impression that the display is actually capable of displaying the full HD resolution on the actual screen real estate. Now when using clone mode video cards allow you to setup scaling and scrolling which will result in the scrolling of the 1920 x 1080 size on the 1280 x 800 native resolution by default, however you can change the video driver settings to use the TFT panels build-in scaling to fit the 1920 x 1080 image onto the 1280 x 800 screen.
Surfing the web works perfectly fine as well. The stylus is very accurate and navigating web sites is incredibly comfortable with the metal stylus. I tried out both TechPowerUp.com and Origenae.com. I was so amazed and taken by the unsual input method, that I missed six phone calls on my cell phone - no kidding!
I openend the new Beowolf trailer in 720p from Apple.com with the screen set at 1280 x 800. The LCD is responsive enough, so that there is no visible ghosting even when playing scenes with strong contrast or high brightness. The color saturation and the deepness of black is very good, so it should be fun watching a movie on the 12.1 inch screen from time to time.
Value and Conclusion
- The Origen AE S21T will set you back around $990 US Dollars or 999€s. This is by far the most expensive HTPC available in retail.
- Incredibly well built
- Great motorized display
- Will run 1920 x 1080
- 12.1 inch touch screen - holy smokes!
- Incredibly efficient PCB layout and design
- Quiet, even with all the fans on
- Can take up to 10 hard drives
- Most large CPU coolers should be fine
- Card reader included
- All fans are rubber mounted and come with mainboard power headers
- Removable mainboard tray
- Everything you will need is included
- Great standby power button
- White gloves for cleaning and handling
- Price - certainly not for everyone
- Incompatible with angled mainboard IDE or SATA headers.
- The use of a large graphics card will reduce hard drive bays to five.
- Large PSUs and some CPU coolers will not fit.
- No application CD included
- Is a fingerprint magnet
- No wireless keyboard included
The Origen AE S21T is the most expensive and exclusive HTPC money can buy. It ships with features not found on any other such enclosure. Because of the price you should only expect the best in each area and the case delivers in most cases. The S21T manages to swallow a whooping 10 hard drives, which is already a feat in itself, considering the overall dimensions. This on the other hand limits graphics card and power supply choices, for a case which only deserves the best parts. This is the S21T biggest drawback. Odds are you want to place a modern high-end VGA card inside the system alongside a speedy multi core CPU and loads memory, all topped off by a next generation optical drive. All of these things take a lot of juice, which you may find youself short on, especially if you decide to place two Radeon HD2900 XT in CrossFire with 5 hard drives and a Quad-Core CPU.
All of these shortcomings are easily overlooked when you first turn on the HTPC and drop the motorized display down - your jaw will drop seconds later. It is like looking into a puppy's eyes - you just cannot be anything but smile from ear to ear. The touch screen is responsive, incredibly accurate and can handle 1920 x 1080 - somewhat. Origen has placed the bar for innovation, design and price very high and I doubt anyone will manage to raise it any higher for a long time.