If you build your own computer, you’ll know that the enclosure (i.e. casing) is one of the many components that you need to choose. For some people, the enclosure is unimportant, so anything “cheap and works” is good enough. Other people may be more discerning in their choice of enclosure, considering factors such as design and functional requirements.
This is the M350 universal mini-ITX enclosure from Mini Box. It’s described as the industry’s smallest universal enclosure. It’s “universal” because it will accommodate any standard mini-ITX motherboard, but only just barely. The enclosure measures just 210 mm deep, 192 mm across, and 59 mm (62 mm including rubber feet) high, with a total volume of about 2.5 L, making it really nice for low-power embedded computer projects.
The M350 is designed to be naturally ventilated by convection, so the enclosure is practically covered with ventilation holes on all sides except the back. Mini Box says that the M350 will support fan-less operation for processors with under 10 W TDP. Without a fan, and if you choose to use solid state storage, you could build a embedded computer that is totally silent, and with no mechanical moving parts to fail.
The rear of the enclosure is almost entirely covered by the motherboard’s I/O shield. The little space left has one hole for a DC-input socket, and another (covered up) for an SMA antenna.
The front bezel covers up two USB ports and some jumper switches. A nice thing about the bezel is that it can only be removed if the enclosure’s main cover is first removed. This may sound like it’s troublesome to remove the bezel, but actually it’s really a well thought out design. Consider the case where the M350 is used in an application where inquisitive fingers will attempt to meddle with buttons and attached parts. Well, once you lock the main enclosure cover, the bezel is also locked.
The jumper switches under the bezel let you configure how the power button operates. One jumper allows you to disable the power button (i.e. pressing the power button has no effect), while the other one configures the button to be always “on”. The “on” function doesn’t depend on the motherboard or BIOS to support an always-on mode.
The USB ports can be used to attach a gadgets such as a wireless dongle or a USB flash drive. This lets you build a system with wireless connectivity, as well as one that boots and runs entirely off a flash drive.
Inside the enclosure, there’s a bracket on top that holds a 2.5″ hard disk under it. Alternatively, you can install one or two fans under the bracket. Pictured above, the bracket is on the left side of the enclosure. You can move it to the right, or you can also get an additional bracket to hold another hard disk or more fans. Notice that there’s also another mount for a fan on the front-side of the case. Considering that the M350 is designed for fan-less operation, there are more than enough fan mount options.
The M350 is really well-built and very sturdy. This is probably not unexpected for something designed for industrial applications. The enclosure is made of 1 mm electro galvanised steel finished in powder coat. Yes, it is steel, so it’s heavy, and that’s why it’s so sturdy too. The bezel is made of tough ABS plastic. Everything is made with precision so good you’d be hard pressed to find anything that doesn’t line up properly.
Apart from the usual place-flat-on-table position, the M350 has several mounting options. You can attach to the back of a monitor via VESA brackets, attach to DIN rails via DIN rail brackets, or to a wall with wall mount brackets. All these brackets need to be purchased separately.
A caveat you should know with the M350 is that it’s really compact, and fits a mini-ITX motherboard just perfectly. You need to do your checks to make sure whatever you’ve planned to use with it will indeed fit in it. For example, there is no way to fit a traditional power supply unit. You will have to use a picoPSU. That means no high-powered CPUs in there. It will also be a tight squeeze to fit a CPU heat sink and fan, and likely impossible if you also expect to mount a hard disk above it.
The M350 universal mini-ITX enclosure is really small and compact, very well-built, and has all the features that make it well-suited for a low-power fan-less embedded computer project.
- Small form factor
- Well-built and sturdy
- Lockable bezel, with USB ports and power configuration jumpers hidden within
- Plenty of useful features for industrial and embedded applications
- Compact fit leaves little room for design mistakes
Honestly, I can’t really name a real con. The above con isn’t a con if you’ve done your checks to make sure the M350 will work for whatever you’ve planned to put in it. I can’t even fault it on price.