Date: June 13, 2011
Author(s): Ryan Perry
Being that silence is golden, it’s no wonder that so many people go out of their way to make sure their PC runs as quiet as possible. Pulling that off can be made a lot easier with the right chassis, however, and of them all, NZXT’s H2 is one of the best. It features classy aesthetics, a ton of features, and more foam than a busy Starbucks.
It’s case review time again and this one has me excited! Ok, I get excited whenever a new case crosses my table, but that’s not the point. Up for review today isn’t a sneeze, but rather NZXT’s H2 mid-tower case, which has been designed to be as quiet as possible without sacrificing cooling performance. NZXT has built a bit of a legacy with regards to quiet cases. It started in 2007 with the HU001, aka Hush, and continued on with the Whisper in 2008. The H2 has been a long time coming in my books and I can’t wait to see if it picks up where the others left off.
When compared to other cases available, the H2 has a rather subdued exterior. Also available in white, it features clear accents on the top and bottom right corners to allow the white hard drive activity and power LEDs to shine through. Behind the foam-lined door, which is designed to absorb sound and is held closed by a pair of good, strong magnets are three 5.25″ drive bays that feature quick-release clips. Just slide the clip to the left to swing the cover out and away.
Hiding the eight 3.5″ drive bays are two 120mm fans. Much like the drive bays, the fans also feature quick-release clips on each side, but there’s a twist. Squeezing in on the clips on each side allows the entire fan assembly to be removed. The fans mount directly onto the brackets and also draw power from them thanks to the metal contact pads on the right side of the bracket and on the right side of the case frame.
If the fans need to be cleaned, the front of the bracket that holds the fan filter can be removed, possibly eliminating the need to remove the fan unless the blades themselves are dirty. This adds up to incredibly easy maintenance or replacement of the fans and reduces overall clutter by eliminating cables that would normally run through the case and possibly impede air flow.
Both side panels are held on by black metal thumb screws and are completely solid so I’ll spare you a look at the outside and take a gander at the inside. Each side has more sound dampening foam to keep things as quiet as possible.
Around the back in the upper left corner is a small hole that the included blue USB 3.0 cable is fed through, but more about that in a moment. Just to the right is the motherboard I/O opening with another 120mm fan to the right of that. Below these are seven mesh PCI slot covers and two pre-cut holes with rubber grommets to run tubing for an external water cooling system. A vented opening is below with the opening for the power supply at the very bottom.
The H2 does away with the plain solid panel of years past. Across the front from left to right are the power button, 3.5mm microphone and headphone jacks and a USB 3.0 port that has connectivity provided by the blue cable mentioned earlier. That cable connects to a USB 3.0 port on the motherboard I/O but if no such ports are available, the cable can instead be connected to USB 2.0 ports and will operate at the lower speed and voltage.
Moving to the right are three USB 2.0 ports that connect internally, a three-speed fan controller and the reset button. The fan controller is powered by a 4-pin Molex connection and allows fans to run at 40, 70 and 100%. From the factory it is connected to the three stock fans but also has two spare connectors should additional fans be added to the available spots.
Behind the top I/O area is a cover that hides a SATA hot swap bay, provided the motherboard being used supports AHCI. This hot swap bay, like the fan controller also requires a 4-pin Molex connection for power and is accessed by pushing the release back and lifting the cover up.
Behind the hot swap bay is a magnetic cover that hides the area where an additional 140mm fan can be installed if the user wishes. Those hoping to mount a smaller or larger fan in this area will be out of luck without some modding because only mounting holes for a 140mm fan have been drilled.
Flipping the case over shows off several rubber pads around the edge of the plastic base to keep it from slipping, while the base lifts it off the ground to allow for proper ventilation. Running almost the entire length of the case is a removable filter that can be pulled out from the back and cleaned.
The exterior may seem boring to some but the interior is sure to please so let’s strip it down and have a look.
The all black interior shows off the eight hard drive bays at the front with the typical front to back orientation to help with air flow. Each 3.5″ or 2.5″ drive mounts into a plastic tray from the bottom although there are metal pegs surrounded by rubber washers that will need to be removed in both instances to allow for clearance. The trays are held in place without the use of tools but running down the side of the drive cage are thumbscrews for those who like an extra measure of stability.
Above the hard drive cage are the three tool-less locking mechanisms for the 5.25″ drive bays. To mount a drive, simply move the small slide latch forward to unlock the bay and pull out on the back end of the mechanism. Once a drive is in place, let the lock go, slide the latch back and the pegs on the back end will keep it secure. Like the hard drive cage, additional thumb screws are included if needed.
Behind the drive bays, along the bottom of the case are the openings for the 120mm fan and power supply that the filter covers from the outside. The power supply area has four round rubber pads to absorb any vibration caused by the fan.
Moving on to the motherboard tray that can support ATX, micro-ATX and oddly enough, baby-AT, we have what luckily is now considered standard fair in most higher-end cases today. Down the right side and along the bottom are cable management areas with pre-installed rubber grommets to help protect cables and keep things looking tidy. The smaller, oval openings that feature rolled edges instead of grommets can be used to route front panel connection to headers along the bottom edge of most motherboards.
There is also a large cut-out towards the top of the tray to help install CPU coolers that feature a back plate. The final cable management areas are at the top center and left corner where small cut outs help with routing the 12V power lead based on its location on the motherboard. The motherboard tray does not feature any pre-installed standoffs so users can configure them to fit the form factor of their motherboard.
The inside shot of the back and top panel show that the PCI slots feature the same thumb screws found throughout along with the rear exhaust fan and the top fan opening.
Behind the motherboard tray there is what seems like acres of room to tuck cables out of sight; 25mm or nearly 1″ of space. There are also the usual small loops in the motherboard tray where zip ties can be used to keep cables tucked up tight and enough room to hide any extra cables on this side of the hard drive cage.
Included with the H2 are a black and white fold-out manual, a product brochure showcasing some of NZXT’s other products and a bag that holds a speaker, some zip ties to keep cables in check and four rubber washers to help absorb vibrations from any extra fans added in by the user.
For screws, NZXT covered all the bases with extra screws to secure additional fans, screws for mounting 2.5″ drives, motherboard standoffs with a handy little socket, more screws for securing the motherboard and optical drives and finally four screws to keep the power supply in place.
With that said, it’s time to get our build on to see if the H2 can take the heat without holding it all in as many “silent” cases do.
The overall fit and finish of the H2 was absolutely perfect with all parts installing cleanly without any clearance issues, and boy, that little socket was mighty useful when installing the motherboard standoffs because the pre-drilled holes were quite tight at times.
For the hard drives, the front ends of the trays needed only a simple squeeze and they slid out the front. Mounting drives was easy enough by putting four screws through the bottom of each tray and into to the drive itself. As mentioned before, there are metal pegs surrounded by rubber washers that need to be removed before installation.
What I don’t understand is why the trays were designed the way they are. The metal pegs and rubber washers on the sides fit perfectly in the screw holes on the sides of a 3.5″ drive. When I was checking out the trays for the first time, I thought that’s what they did but after a closer inspection found that the rear and forward mounting points slide in opposite directions.
In order to truly make this mounting system work, both points should slide in the same direction making these drives mount without the use of tools. Even though the installation guide makes no mention of mounting drives in this fashion, I’m left to wonder why the pegs are even shipped with the case.
Cable management is very easy with enough options to keep any build looking very clean, but I do have one knock against the full fleet of NZXT cases that feature grommets around the cable management areas. The rubber used is almost too soft and has a tendency to over flex and pull away from the motherboard tray. Getting them back into place can be an ordeal, especially if a large number of cables have been routed through the opening. Extra care and patience, both of which are not my strong suit at times, can offset this.
Thanks to two different options for running the 12V power lead, our test system was able to keep visible cables to a minimum by using the middle top opening instead of having the cable routed through the top left opening and along the top of the motherboard.
There could be a small snag when it comes time to install the GPU however. Longer GPUs and/or GPUs with connectors on the edge that face the hard drive bays may have clearance issues seeing how they could interfere with the power and data connections on the hard drives.
If a Crossfire or SLI setup is run with cards of this nature, the number of drive bays that are available could be limited. Even some of the largest cards available today will have issues regardless of the location of the power connectors. The GTX 470 used in our test system only measures 11″ and you can see how close it comes to being up against the drives, so do your homework before ordering the H2 or a GPU.
I also have to question the positioning of the bottom fan area. Many companies include a bottom fan but so few cases actually allow for it without some sort of sacrifice. In the H2, the sacrifice that must be made comes in the form of removing a hard drive tray in order to have the necessary clearance to mount the fan. At least the mounting area is far enough forward that there should be no conflicts with most standard size power supplies.
Finally, a quick test of the top SATA hot swap bay went like clockwork. The drive was easily recognized when inserted and there was just enough clearance to even put the cover on while the drive is installed in order to keep the look clean although I would be careful about how hot the drive may get seeing how the cover does not allow for any air to circulate.
I just love a flawless build but how will the H2 perform?
All of our testing is performed in a near steady 20°C ambient environment with readings taken before and after with a standard room thermometer. AIDA64 Extreme Engineer is used for monitoring and recording all system temperatures throughout the testing process.
Windows is allowed to sit idle for 10 minutes after startup to ensure all services are loaded before recording the idle CPU and GPU temperatures. CPU load temperatures are generated by performing a 20 minute run of OCCT LINPACK using 90% of the available memory, while GPU load temperatures are generated by OCCT’s built in test, also for 20 minutes.
Stock CPU settings were obtained by setting the AI Tweaker option with the BIOS to Auto and the maximum stable overclock frequency of 4.0GHz was obtained after extensive testing to ensure stability. The final clocks for the GPU are 760MHz on the core and 1000MHz QDR (4000MHz relative) for the memory with the voltage increased to 1.087V using MSI’s Afterburner overclocking utility. As with the CPU overclock, testing was done prior to ensure full stability.
The components used for testing are:
Techgage Test System
Intel Core i5-661 – Dual-Core (3.33GHz)
ASUS P7H55D-M EVO mATX – H55-based
Corsair Dominator 2x2GB DDR3-1600 7-8-7-20-2T
EVGA GeForce GTX 470
Western Digital 2TB Green
Antec TP-750 Blue
Corsair Obsidian 650D Mid-Tower
Corsair SE White 600T
SilverStone Raven 03 Full-Tower
Corsair H60 (Exhaust Configuration)
Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
Going into testing I was pretty much prepared for these results seeing how both side panels are solid and three of the six sides are lined with foam, which can trap heat. Also, the airflow is strictly front to back when using only the stock fans but the option is there to add top and bottom fans to help with cooling so I’m sure temperatures would go down a few degrees with them installed. Seeing how the largest increase is only 3 degrees with the CPU overclocked and under full load, I’d say the H2 still does very well, although mileage will vary depending on the cooler being used.
To offset the higher temperatures, the H2 allows for a very quiet build. The loudest component in our test system is the Corsair H60 due to the fan spinning at 100% all the time but even this is muffled somewhat. With the included case fans on high it almost seemed creepy to be sitting beside a computer and not have any noticeable system noise. It just goes to show how accustomed one gets to ambient noise.
Higher temperatures aside, there’s nothing else that I can say about the H2, so I’m ready to call it a day.
In the past. I have used both the original NZXT Tempest and the Tempest EVO for my personal system. After not paying much attention to the company (although I did want to always take the PanzerBox for a spin), it’s nice to have been able to take a look at its newest product and find that the build quality and attention to detail has not been compromised over the years.
All of the components fit cleanly with all drives securely held in place, the case is very sturdy with no flexing observed, there is ample room to work even though this is a smaller case, the touch-powered fans are great for quick removal, and most systems should be able to be kept quiet thanks to the foam-lined door and side panels. From cable management to expandability, the H2 has it all and wraps it up in an understated package.
If the strange hard drive tray layout and clearance issues with the bottom mounted fan and possibly larger GPUs is all that is wrong with the H2, it has to be good… and it is! Sometimes I wonder if I am overly critical of the cases that I review but after looking at the H2, I feel like I’m doing the right thing by calling out products that don’t make the grade and catching every slip possible.
It would be nice to see a top fan included seeing how the case falls into a higher price range at ~$115. This hardly makes the H2 a cheap case but the quality shows this as well in terms of construction and features, so I will not hesitate in recommending it to those who are looking for a quiet, well built case.
Luckily I’ve managed to see the white version in person as well and it looks great, more so on the inside with just the right balance of black accents. Regardless of preference, users are sure to be satisfied. NZXT has a winner on its hands with the H2.
NZXT H2 Silent Mid-Tower Chassis
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