I have four PCs running in my computer room right now, three of which are by themselves in a corner. One is a desktop system that I have sitting on a wireframe shelf that performs my dialup access routing. A second sits under my desk and has three hard disks and a CD-R in it. Guess what that one's for! The third is my main work system, which, as I have lamented before, is but a mere Pentium II 266MHz in an ATX desktop chassis.
Running my own private network and having three servers in one room takes a lot of effort, as well as a lot of cable. For months, I had all three systems hooked up with keyboards atop each and a monitor extension cord plugged in where the monitor should go. When I needed to switch systems, I'd just unplug the monitor and plug it into a different cable. This is a hassle I would have preferred to endure, but rather than having three computers stacked on my desk, this was the only way it could be.
Needless to say, this was a mess I was eager to clean up. That's why I was thankful to be offered the opportunity to try out the FrontX CPX (Computer Ports eXtension) Multimedia Ports kit. The FrontX system is designed to allow you to plug devices in to the front of your computer case, as opposed to the back. It also carries some extra features that make it extend beyond the typical 5.25" drive panel mod I've seen on some cases.
The FrontX kit seats itself in a full-size drive bay, and also takes a single slot-panel cover from the back. The way it works is very simple - Cables running from the ports in the FrontX are routed through your system case and out a hole in the back, where they plug into the appropriate jacks. This basically takes the mess from the back of your computer and splits it up a bit, giving you less cable to deal with in the back and a bit more slack on your cables in the front. The ports on the FrontX even have little markers on them to differentiate microphone, line-in, and headphone jacks. This was a nice touch.
Installation of the FrontX casing is a snap. Simply insert the FrontX into an open drive bay and screw it into place. Route your cables through the PC and out an empty slot panel in the back (ISA preferably!) and then install the slot panel cover. The slot panel cover has a thin indentation on the side that will allow the cables to exit the case while still keeping very little of the chassis open. In my case, the slot panel cover gently crimped the cables when installed, insuring they'd stay snug in place.
So, now you can plug your joystick and headphones into the front of the computer. But what if you use speakers? Would you really want your speaker cable coming out of the front of the case? Of course not! FrontX thoughtfully accounted for this. The slot-panel cover has a jack for your speakers to plug into. Furthermore, the FrontX detects the presence of headphones plugged into the speaker jack, so that as soon as you plug in headphones, the audio signal to the speakers is cut off.
This is a very convenient feature, and in my opinion, a stroke of genius that could've easily been overlooked. I believe that most manufacturers would either have failed to think of this, or would've disregarded it, thinking, "The user can just mute the speakers himself." Quite a few OEM speakers in particular don't have an audio control on them, forcing users to adjust the volume from the PC. While this may seem to be trifle, this keeps me from having to constantly slide the volume control up and down in Windows, meaning that I don't have to precisely search for a comfortable audio level.