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The Zalman HP160 is a reasonably successful first try at a quiet, high performance HTPC case. The styling is quite nice, as is the basic build quality. The provided remote system works fine with Windows XP Pro, and it is MCE (Windows Media Center Edition) compatible. The volume control on the front panel was not tested; it works in MCE.
MCE remote works OK in Windows XP.
The cooling performance is quite good, roughly on par with the recently reviewed Antec NSK2400. It does have the advantage of accepting full ATX size motherboards, unlike the mATX limitation of the NSK2400. The 80mm fans that come as standard equipment are pretty quiet and probably blow enough air for most system at 5V. The supplied nifty adapter (4-pin Molex to dual 5V and 12V fan headers) makes it easy to get 5V for the fans from any power supply as well.
Ergnomic issues during assembly were annoying, but not impossible to overcome. The most niggly problems were encountered while mounting the optical drive, its faceplate, the hard drive and the VFD power cable. We expect better in an enthusiast case that's priced as high as this one.
The lack of proper HDD damping is more significant. It basically means that unless you use a 2.5" laptop drive and suspend it with elastic in the HDD cage, the limit to how quiet you can make a system in the HD160 will always be the vibrations conducted so efficiently into the case by the hard drive(s). With the large top panel and the low density of aluminum, such vibration will result in increased audible noise.
We did experiment a bit with damping. Applying a firm hand (palm down) on the top of the case does help damp the noise a bit, but a lot of HDD-induced thrumming is still audible, which suggests that many other panels in the case are also vibrating in sympathy with the hard drive, not just the top panel. Still, 24~25 dBA@1m may be perfectly good enough for most users for a HTPC system, for reasons discussed earlier in the section Acoustics Around a Media PC on page 5.
For those who seek a full-featured HTPC case with an integrated MCE remote, support for full ATX motherboard, excellent cooling performance, decent acoustics, and the visual appeal of a brushed aluminum facia and panels, the Zalman HD160 certainly fits the bill. If your acoustic requirements are as stringent as ours, you could try some modifications including external location of the OS drive by using eSATA, damping materials and so on or keep waiting for that perfect HTPC case to materialize.
* Good airflow / thermal design
* Nice looks
* Built-in VFD with MCE remote control
* Quiet stock fans
* Front panel I/O w/ card reader
* Niggly assembly problems
* Poor HDD damping results in vibration noise
Much thanks to Zalman USA for the HD160 sample.
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