Outside and Noise
Last but not least, we have Zalman’s HD160XT Plus, which is very similar to its two competitors. Quality-wise, Zalman gets the highest marks. Like the Moneual case, the HD160XT Plus is made of aluminum, with only one fold between the lower- and the middle-third of the front panel. The 7” display is positioned on the left. On the right, there’s the 5.25” optical drive bay and the volume knob. Zalman also has an I/O panel covering the front connectors: two USB ports, one 1394a FireWire connector, audio jacks, and of course, a flexible card reader. It’s nice to see that all three vendors insist on this feature today.
Zalman provides ventilation openings on both sides of the case. Two 80mm fans on the rear side take care of heat removal. One additional 60mm fan provides fresh air intake from the bottom of the case, and there’s one 80mm fan installed on the left side of the case, which provides air flow through the four-drive HDD cage. The four fans can be attached in pairs if you intend to control them through your platform. Default operation does not create a lot of noise, despite there being noticeable air flow. The 38 dB(A) we observed is actually the lowest operating noise recorded here. Whether or not six screws are really necessary to fix the top cover remains questionable.
We should add that the drive cage comes with rubber parts to help mechanically detach drives from the case. This can reduce noise caused by hard drive vibration. Zalman doesn’t even mention the feature on its site, but we believe that this is a noteworthy feature, particularly for a quiet HTPC. We also found that Zalman is the only vendor that lists a ZPD (zero pixel defect) guarantee on its site.