Part 1 of a 9-part series: Choosing the best Middle Atlantic A/V Rack System for your specific requirements
By Chris Knout
So you're here because you've decided to take the plunge and build a custom audio/video rack for your home theater or pro A/V system, but you're not sure which rackmount enclosure is right for you and your particular application. If you've never installed a rackmount system before, then hopefully you will find this straight-forward buyer's guide helpful for deciding on what sort of rack you need, as well as insight into the design and installation of your rack system. Over the coming weeks we will eventually go over everything you need to know to purchase your Middle Atlantic rack and get started on your installation. Topics will include RSH custom rackmount shelving, power delivery and protection, cable management, thermal management and a few others.
Here at Custom AV Rack we have extensive experience selling and installing Middle Atlantic A/V and network racks, so if you still have questions after going through these next several blog entries, feel free to drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our technical help forums to post questions or look for answers in regards to custom A/V rackmounting
Before you can purchase your rack, you should ask yourself the following questions:
Where am I going to install my A/V rack system?
Decide where your system is going to be stationed: basement, attic, cinema room, closet etc...
What style of rack do I need or want based on my environment and equipment?
Middle Atlantic builds many different kinds of A/V racks: slide-out, rotating, stand-alone, and wall mount are just a few of their options
I've decided what kind of rack I want, now what height/depth/weight capacity do I need for my particular equipment and location?
Consider the dimensions and cooling requirements of your components. Figure out their height, width, depth and weight.
What about spacing my equipment for air flow or room for future component additions?
Installing a rack that is future-proofed for growth and changes to your A/V rack system, as well as accomodating for proper air flow is important.
How should I mount my equipment? Is my rack going to be seen by people, or sitting in a closet or basement?
Look at the various shelving options, and decide if you want to go with Middle Atlantic's RSH custom shelves or standard shelving. Maybe standard shelving with a plexiglas front door?
An Xbox 360 Elite and PS3 mounted in RSH custom shelving
These are the questions that you should be asking yourself or your installer when you decide to build.
Next, lets go over some of the basics about rack mount equipment dimensions.
Rack Mounting Width:
Racks have traditionally come in 19, 23 and 24 inch mounting widths. Today, the 19 inch is the standard for most applications, including A/V systems. All Middle Atlantic A/V racks have 19 inch wide rackmounts. The 19 inch mount is just the internal mounting width from rail to rail. Overall width depends on the kind of rack. For bigger heavy-duty rack enclosures that will need a thick steel frame to hold larger, heavier equipment, or to run cabling down the side you can expect the overall width to be around 22-23 inches or more. For a simple system with 4 or 5 consumer electronic components, you may need a smaller, slimmer rack with as little as 19.125 inches of width. Remember that the width of the mounting shelf or rack ears on the piece of equipment that you are mounting have to be compatible with 19 inch wide rackmounts.
Rack Mounting Height:
Racks are measured and spaced by RMU or “rack mount units” which are always 1.75 inches high. Most commonly, they are referred to by “U” spacing. So for example, a 20U rack will have 20 x 1.75 inch = 35 inches of internal mounting space. Like the external width, the overall height of the rack will be just over the 35, usually not more than a few inches. When you consider your equipment and go to order your shelves, you will need to figure out how many rack units you will need to mount your entire system. When mounting equipment into Middle Atlantic RSH custom shelves, the mounting height of the custom shelf will usually be the next space up from where the actual height of the component is at, unless the next height up is only a few millimeters.
For example: 1U = 1.75 in., 2U = 3.50 in., 3U = 5.25 in.
The Xbox 360 has a height of 3.27 inches. The next space up is at 2U/3.50 in. That isn't enough space for Middle Atlantic to cut out the frame of the unit and have enough metal going around the border. In this case, the Xbox 360 is bumped up to a 3U/5.25 in. shelf, plenty enough to mount the unit and have a decent outer frame to the faceplate.
On the other hand, the popular Motorola DCH3416 cable box has a height of 2.76 inches. In this case there is enough room for them to move up the next available space height – 2U at 3.50 inches.
If you have equipment that isn't listed in Middle Atlantic's custom rack shelf component database, then you'll have to either ship it to Middle Atlantic for measurement, or submit the specifications yourself. Either way, it is extremely important to make sure that you will have adequate rack spaces available.
We also highly recommend that you pick up Middle Atlantic's handy rack ruler.
This little gem saves lot of time and headache by measuring in both inches and rack mount units.
Rack Weight Capacity:
This one is just as important to consider. If you don't have proper weight capacity for your equipment (ie: frame strength) then you could damage your gear, bend the rack frame or shelving, or if you try to push it to the limits you may not like what you hear later on down the road if it starts to sound rickety as wear from an overweight equipment load occurs over time. All of Middle Atlantic's racks are highly engineered to have appropriate weight capacity ratings. Their Slim 5 series rack is rated for 400 lbs, and it does hold 400 lbs with perfect ease. Up to this point the rack will function as described and will stand up to the test of time. If you swap out some components down the road, replacing some with heavier ones, add another here or there and now you've got 500 lbs, well that might not go so well. Time to buy a whole new rack to accommodate your updated system.
You also might want to do some customer feedback research as well before looking around for something cheaper, like a Raxxess rack for instance, unless you plan on listening to the sweet sound of metal parts clicking and clanking together. Or if you buy AvRak's price placebo and overpay by hundreds or even thousands to have 500 lb. weight capacity shelves hold a DVD player. Trust me when I say that Middle Atlantic has a solution tailored to your specific needs at the right price.
A perfect example of the sleek, elegant look that a Middle Atlantic rack gives your A/V system
Photo courtesy of Polk Audio
We also highly recommend that you check out a couple of very useful and innovative software programs that Middle Atlantic has built that help you easily pre-configure your entire rackmount system ahead of time.
The first program is their Rack Tools ® software:
Click to download Rack Tools®
This software has been around for a long time, and they have made many upgrades and tweaks to get it to the straight-forward state that it is in now. It's basically a visual layout tool that allows you to plug in your components, and then drag and drop them into whatever Middle Atlantic rack you choose. You can move them around and add Middle Atlantic shelves, filler and cooling panels, power strips etc..until you get the configuration you want.
The second tool is called Visio Blocks:
Click to download Visio Blocks
Visio Blocks is a new program that runs along the same lines as Rack Tools, but is integrated with Microsoft's popular Visio® software. They are basically Visio stencils that allow you to quickly pre-configure your entire system. This is a handy tool to have for quickly putting together rackmount system presentations for clients if you are an installer.
So in recap, once you consider where and how you are going to mount your A/V system, make sure that you do sufficient planning so that A. you can accommodate your audio/video equipment, and B. that you think ahead to potential future upgrades and extensions to your system. Choosing a rack with the proper dimensions for height, width and weight capacity to fill your needs is crucial.
Now that you've chewed on some of this info we will profile each A/V rack that Middle Atlantic sells, so you can get familiar with the many different options that they offer and decide which is right for your application.
Click here to go to part 2 where we go over the details of Middle Atlantic's various A/V racks...