When VIA announced the Pico-ITX form factor, we knew that it would be something special. After all, here was a self-contained, super-efficient x86-based system capable of running a variety of software in all sorts of industrial and consumer-based applications. Best of all, the Pico-ITX systems only took up about the same amount of space as a trade paperback book.
And that’s exactly the sort of aesthetic that Casetronic seems to be shooting for with their TE-T290 “Anker PC” Pico-ITX case. While most other Pico-ITX cases shoot for the more “traditional” no-nonsense industrial look of the “black box,” the Anker PC case is sleeker, curvier, and more stylish. With its curved front end and brushed aluminum “covers,” it resembles nothing so much as a high-tech brushed aluminum book.
All this style and flash is for naught, however, if the case itself is of less-than-ideal quality and manufacture. Fortunately, the Anker PC is none of those things. Despite its more “consumer” appearance, it is built like a tiny tank and feels quite solid and sturdy in the hand. The external “binding” on the Anker PC is made of 2mm thick brushed aluminum anodized to a classy dark bluish-gray color, while the sides and back are of sturdy 1mm powder-coated aluminum that presents no sharp edges or unsightly overspray. The power button feels solid and secure, with a smooth operation and a very positive “click” when pressed.
Unlike nearly all of our other Pico-ITX cases, the Anker PC has no front panel I/O connections, having relegated them all to the back of the unit. It sports a 12V DC-in power jack, VGA, Ethernet, a wireless antenna mounting hole, audio line-in, line-out, and mic-in, and a trio of USB connectors.
“Wait, what?” you ask. “After all, the Pico-ITX boards support four USB ports… why does this case only let me use three of them?” Well, in fact, the Anker PC does use all four ports; and it’s that missing fourth port that is perhaps one of the most interesting features of the case. That all-important fourth port is not actually missing, but has instead been turned into an internal 5-pin connector that is designed for use with internal wireless USB modules, such as the one we sell here.
These tiny USB modules have been traditionally very difficult to install in Pico-ITX cases. The USB pin header adapters we carry for use with the USB modules do not fit on the headers in the PX series of boards, especially alongside the large block connectors most Pico-ITX cases use for their external USB connections. The Anker PC addresses this concern with its special internal 5-pin connector. Not only does it have the appropriate USB connection built in, it also sports a pair of mounting holes on its hard drive bracket designed specifically to fit the USB wireless module without any modifications. It even includes the screws!
This makes the Anker PC excellent as a durable and discreet Internet-oriented PC. It is truly unique among our product range in terms of its size and wireless capability. Its stylish looks and discreet appearance make for an excellent high-end Internet-capable device for surfing and e-mail, while its sturdiness and simplicity let you toss it into a suitcase or backpack without worry. Having such a small wireless system also opens up all kinds of possibilities for remotely controlled applications or dynamically-updated digital signage.
Additionally, the Anker PC supports SATA 2.5” hard drives, and the power and data cables included with the case are just the right length to reach all of the connectors without being too bulky or too long. Since SATA is the new standard for data storage, this makes the case much more receptive to upgrades than many of the other Pico-ITX designs that rely on IDE drives. It also makes cable management clean and simple.
As much as I love this case (and I really do), there are three small issues with it that make it fall a little short of perfect. On the back panel, the three USB ports are mounted horizontally beside each other in very close proximity. This makes it very difficult to plug three devices in at once, as there is simply not enough room for the USB plugs to fit. When I first built this system, I attempted to connect a keyboard, mouse, and a USB flash stick to run some basic tests. However, all three devices would not fit at once, and I had to do some creative hot-swapping to get everything running.
I also do not really like that the external screws that hold the lid onto the case require an Allen wrench to open (which is, fortunately, included with the case). Since the vast majority of the screws within the system use the normal Philips head, it can be annoying to dig around for a tiny Allen wrench that is only needed for two of the dozen or so screws required for assembly. It’s a small nitpick, but one that jumped out at me nonetheless.
The final issue is the price. The excellent materials, attractive design, and solid construction have resulted in one of the most expensive non-rackmount cases that we sell. Don’t get me wrong, I love this little case; but it is definitely priced toward the higher end of the case market.
That said, the Anker PC case is very attractive for a variety of reasons. Its durability and overall construction is top-notch, it is easy to build, and the wireless capability is unique within our Pico-ITX case line. And, it looks cool too. After all, who wouldn’t want a stylish computer that doesn’t look too out of place on your bookshelf alongside such classics as 1984, Crime and Punishment, or, erm… Battlefield: Earth?