GMC Noblesse K-2 Ebony Case Review
Does not lay comfortably on its side...
The company that is now known as Auzentech has a long and interesting background here in the US. First they were an arm of HDA of Korea, and they made their first break in the US market by providing Bluegears (now B-Gears) with the CMedia based soundcard with swappable OPAMPS that offered hardware accelerated Dolby Digital Encoding, something that had not been seen in PCs since the legendary nForce 2. Once the success of this soundcard, and later versions featuring DTS encoding, carved out a niche in the US market, HDA thought it a good time to expand their presence. So the birth of Auzentech was set into motion.
Since that time Auzentech has continued to produce soundcards based on the HDA of Korea designs, and they have created quite a market for themselves. Their latest X-Fi based cards are the first (and only, as far as I know) 3rd party soundcards which utilize the X-Fi chip from Creative. The build quality for these cards is truly second to none, and they have become quite popular in the gaming, music, and HTPC crowd. Soundcards do not always pay the bills though, and Auzentech has acted as a gateway to other manufacturers looking to find a market in the US. To this end Auzentech acts as the distributor to many of these products. These brands include Infrasonic (manufacturer of high end PC audio/studio equipment), JamMate (USB audio peripherals, such as mics and keyboards), and finally GMC. This is not the GMC that has been reorganized by the US Government, but rather the Korean PC case manufacturer.
Not too bad of shape, considering it was shipped all the way over from South Korea.
GMC of Korea has been around for a while, and they have a reputation of putting out some very interesting cases. Their designs usually are focused on creating a very small footprint case that will still house a full size ATX case along with all of the necessary peripherals. Products such as the R-2 Toast and R-3 Corona offer good looks, decent cooling, and a surprisingly small footprint for being fully featured cases. These products are not what we are particularly interested in as of right now. Instead we are going with their heavy hitter, the king of the lineup… the Noblesse K-2 Ebony, a product that promises to be the ultimate HTPC offering for its particular price point.
A Controlling Interest
Most HTPC cases are designed to fit into a component stack, and be indistinguishable from other pieces of equipment in the rack. While this has an aesthetic appeal, the functionality of most of these cases still relies on the keyboard and mouse attached to the back of the case. Some of the more advanced models will have a basic remote control that will act as a wireless mouse, or perhaps even control some of the aspects on the LCD display that they may or may not feature.
Instead of designing and implementing one of the “component” style PC cases, GMC has utilized a fairly generic, Mid-ATX sized case (albeit with some nice features) and integrated a full iMON/iMEDIAN HD receiver. There are several retail versions of this hardware that are standalone and can be integrated into other cases, but GMC took the time to create a fully custom unit that has a very distinctive look.
The packaging for the K-2 is really nice and thick. It was well protected for its journey.
The look itself will invoke feelings of love or hate, and rarely anything in between. People who like all of the red colored LEDs on the panel, as well as the information center will be quite pleased by the futuristic, yet still somewhat classy design. For those that want their HTPC to fit seamlessly into a rack with their other stereo equipment, then they will have to shop elsewhere.
SoundGraph is the brains behind the remote control and front panel control unit. Their iMON and iMEDIAN HD products are fairly well known around the world, but they have not had a big impact in the US so far. Their products are designed around HTPC functionality, and these products are sold as both standalone units and integrated into other cases by 3rd party manufacturers. For example, GMC also features two cases which are more like typical components, and they utilize a slightly different version of the SoundGraph controller.
When I first received this case in late 2008, I was more than a little disappointed by it. The primary beef I had with the product was the lack of software support. The CD that came with the case, which was supposed to install all the drivers and software, did not support the version of hardware integrated into the product. So I had to try to dig around for updated software. The GMC site did not have updated/working software when I checked back in late 2008, so after some more digging I was able to finally get to the SoundGraph site and download the latest update.
Our first good look at the K-2 Ebony.
It turns out the latest update was around 1.5 years old. The software that they had listed was from 2007, and I was not entirely sure that it would work. Luckily for me, it did. The next issue I had was that the software did not play well with Windows Media Player as well as my preferred PowerDVD software for Blu-Ray and HD-DVD playback. The remote control would not start/stop/pause/FF/RWD content in any of those applications, and I ended up using the remote as a mouse. The remote, while it had all the correct buttons to be able to handle the functionality, just was not working right off the bat in those programs. There is a thumbstick and a couple of buttons that will move the mouse cursor around the screen, and that is what I used. I then attempted over about a 20 minute period to program the remote to work with PowerDVD, but the exercise was pretty futile. On the SoundGraph website they did have some user created profiles that “should” work with those programs, but I was not really tempted to download those.
There I was, stuck with a HTPC that I was not all that excited about because the functionality, while promised, was not easy to get to and certainly not working out of the box. This is not the end of the remote story, but for the time being I will go over the other aspects of the case.