Zalman's HD135 HTPC case: Gasping for air

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The stock fans are two identical, slim frame 80mm models of the type that have given Zalman a bad reputation for fan noise. They are badly placed and badly chosen. Both are installed directly against restrictive vents that will prove difficult obstacles for the low pressure that can be expected of such thin fans. The vents can also be expected to cause turbulence and whine.

The choice of intake fan is puzzling, because the top vent is clearly designed for a 120mm fan. We can only assume that Zalman decided that a smaller fan with a duct could provide better cooling than a larger, but less focussed 120mm fan. This doesn't make a whole lot of sense though, since top-down style of heatsink recommended by Zalman should have its own fan directly underneath the duct. We won't be surprised to hear the duct generating the noise that comes from placing two fans in series with no way of equalizing the pressure between them.

The intake fan has a plastic duct over top.

The position of the exhaust fan is equally problematic, though for a different reason. The photo below illustrates the problem effectively: Located behind the power supply, the mass of spare cables blocks much of the airflow around the fan. We'd recommend a modular power supply ... but we can't think of a single one that conforms to the standard 140mm length that is required by the indented mounting position.

The exhaust fan is very ill placed, and is badly restricted when cables are installed.


Installation was simple and straightforward, with little to make things any easier or more difficult than usual. The only exceptions of note concerned the PCI slots, which used a toolless, level-based system as seen in the photo below, and the power supply, which, while easy to install, must be chosen carefully to fit the constraints of the case.

Although we appreciate what the sunken power supply does for aesthetics, we were very annoyed at how it limited the power supplies we could use. First of all, the power supply must conform to the standard ATX12V length of 140mm. This would not be a problem in itself if power supplies complied with this part of specification, but a surprising number of "ATX12V compliant" power supplies do not — especially the high end, high capacity models that use the extra space for larger components or improved cooling. As noted above, this restriction counts out every single modular power supply that we know of.

The second limitation of the sunken mounting is that the wire harness — the spot where the output cables leave the power supply — must be located so that the cables are against the top of the case when installed. Again, this is specified in ATX12V — but, as with length, the requirement is not well adhered to. Many popular power supplies, such as all of Seasonic's recent models, are counted out by this requirement.

Toolless PCI slots are a nice touch.

The most complex part of the installation was correctly hooking up the VFD. Access to the VFD control panel requires removing the optical drive, and then a bewildering number of connections must be correctly hooked up. The location of the connections are not clearly labeled on the panel, but must be looked up in the manual, which (thankfully) does a good job of explaining things. At a bare minimum, the VFD requires power, an internal USB connection, and pass-through connections for the power and reset buttons. A pair of thermistors and a pair of fans can also be connected, as there is thermal monitoring and fan control circuitry built in.

In addition to hardware setup, there is also the issue of configuring the VFD / fan control software — a process that will inevitably take time and experimentation to get right. The software is M-Play, by VL System, and is extensive and complicated. It is clearly a powerful software tool (to the point of being able to create custom graphics), but it is not very user friendly and we only scratched the surface of the features it offers (one of which is integration with popular fan control tool, SpeedFan).

The VFD panel sprouts fans, thermistors, a power connector, a USB connection,
and pass-through connectors for the power and reset buttons.

Two looong thermistors can be placed as needed and used to control fan speed.

One final note: Installing the stealth drive door took considerable time and patience. The process was the same as documented in our review of the HD160, and we refer you there for details.

Fully installed.

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