Zalman TNN-500A Fanless PC Case Review - The Disadvantages
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Safety and security: Please note that the below comments are based on the initial prototype of the case; improvements may follow.
Safety: The case looks like it's shut but despite a door both at the front and the back the guts of the case are more accessible than in any other design of case. You don't need a screwdriver, you don't even need to take the side panel off to access the RAM, PCI slots and CPU! Unlike any other PC case we've seen - when you open a door (front or rear) you can insert your hand right through the case to the other end of the machine.
A child could open a door (either at the front or rear) simply by push-clicking the door open. He can then put his hand deep into your PC, pull out the power cable going to your hard disk, unseat your graphics card, pull your RAM out and even unplug you from the power supply. You'll try to power your PC up later and be left tearing your hair out because you can't find why it's not booting. There are other implications for internal components being so easily accessible, especially by kids. Drink spills reaching the motherboard accidentally, sticks poking your PCI cards and chocolate ice-cream being smeared over your RAM are all things the parent of a two-year-old will have nightmares about. For the older kids - this is a convenient place to hide your unwanted broccoli. If you're missing your hamster or pet mouse, have a look inside this case first. It's a nice warm place to hide. And it can't be locked.
Hard disk attachments: Maybe we were just unlucky, but we've had no joy with this. The idea of incorporating the ZM2-HC1 hard disk heat sink with the TNN-500A case was a good one, but we are not particularly excited about the ZM2-HC1. It comprises two metal plates that fit either side of the hard disk and a set of pipes that connect from one plate to the other. This creates a larger surface area for heat from the hard disk to disperse. So far, so good. But the ZM2-HC1 connects to a case via a set of four very, flimsy rubber bushes (bottom, inset). We don't know whether it was just our unit or whether there is a design fault with these bushes, but we had a problem.
We set it up in a PC and before long the combined weight of the hard disk and the heat sink caused two of the bushes to break (visible in the photo below), leaving the hard disk balancing on the other two and we doubt those would have lasted long. The ZM2-HC1 is definitely something that you wouldn't want to fit into a PC that you are trusting to a knock-it-about-and-bash-it-around courier. The normal rough handling PCs get by most couriers is bound to damage something this delicate. Fortunately, there are other 3.5" locations within the case that will take up to four/five hard disks. It's been pointed out to us that Zalman will have a revision to this product, the ZM2-HC2, and not a day too soon.
Security: The easy access to internal components does raise some security issues. We don't know why you'd leave this expensive case in a less than secure environment, but a thief could nick all four of your RAM modules in under ten seconds. And he doesn't even need to have any tools on him.
Cleaning: We haven't had to dust one of these babies down yet, but if you're using this case in a dusty location it could take a while to wipe down all the fins. (Who said men don't think about all these things?) The good news is that the lack of fans pumping air into and out of the case reduces the amount of dust that collects inside the PC.
One unmovable block: The center CPU heat sink block (blue one to the center top of the below image) can be relocated parallel to the motherboard, but there aren't the screw holes to move the block closer to the motherboard. This may be an issue if you're using a motherboard which has a CPU located further away from the right edge of the board. The example in the picture here is a P4C800 Deluxe motherboard, and as you can see the CPU heat sink is fairly close to the edge of the board. Zalmam provides a full list of motherboards that they have tried in this case. The manual lists about 90 motherboards that are "approved", ranging from cheap makes like Asrocks to expensive ones like Asus and several in-between, including the DFI LAN party (yeah, right).
Packing: The packing could be a bit more robust. The external cardboard box seems sufficient to hold the empty case, but it wouldn't be strong enough to ship a completed PC in.
The packing is pictured below. Well, at least that's how the cases were all supposed to reach us.
By the time Amtrak couriers finished with them, this is what one of the boxes looked like:
The polystyrene blocks that go at the bottom and top of the case are brittle blocks and liable to break if the box is dropped, thereby reducing the shock protection available to PC components like the hard disk.
Fortunately, the case itself is like a bomb raid shelter. If the courier driver did indeed drive into this box, he's probably got a dented van now - and it serves him right!
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