Date: October 16, 2006
Author(s): Matthew Harris
Building a PC requires several considerations. What’s in it? What’s powering it? What case do I use? How do I cool it? For using air cooling there’s a wide world of cases open to you but if you’re using aftermarket water cooling your options start to narrow. Today we look at a new case from NZXT that lends itself to both air and water cooling.
NZXT has released a few cases that tailor to the "Boy Racer" crowd over the past few years. Recently though they’ve started to come around to the school of thought that not everyone wants a case that looks like it spends its spare time battling evil robots. One of their latest cases, the Zero is the result if this new thinking. The Zero is a very understated case that features the monolithic look that I really like but still has some "bling" factor to it.
One of the coolest features of the Zero is the door. The door has a smoked inset in the top that functions as a window for 5.25" bay devices such as LCD or VFL displays so they can be seen with the door closed. The door and the lower bezel half are overlaid with thick aluminum and the door features the power button, HDD activity LED and the upper scallop is the power LED.
Let’s see what NZXT has to say about the Zero.
Full Tower Aluminum Chassis
Introducing the highly anticipated Zero from NZXT. Outfitted with the ultimate in quiet cooling, the Zero comes preloaded with 8 fans and a boasts impressive drive space. The front panel of the Zero is overlayed with thick aluminum and a smoked window for use with 5.25" LCD devices.
The Zero’s aluminum structure allows for light weight while maintaining integrity. With quad 12cm intakes in the side panel, the Zero is the best solution for new SLI and Crossfire setups. Whether you are a power user or a hardcore gamer, the Zero is the perfect chassis to meet all high end needs.
|CASE TYPE||Full tower Aluminum Chassis|
|FRONT PANEL MATERIAL||Plastic/Aluminum|
|DIMENSIONS (W x H x D)||210.5 X 532 X 520 mm|
|COOLING SYSTEM|| FRONT, 1 X 120 mm fan (included)|
REAR, 2 X 120 mm Fan (included)
SIDE PANEL, 4 X 120mm fan (included)
TOP, 1 X 80mm Fan (included)
|DRIVE BAYS|| 13 DRIVE BAYS|
5 EXTERNAL 5.25" DRIVE BAYS
2 EXTERNAL 3.5 " DRIVE BAYS
6 INTERNAL 3.5" DRIVE BAYS
Screwless Rail Design
|POWER SUPPLY||500 WATT PS2 ATX 12V 2.0 ( OPTIONAL )|
|WEIGHT||7.35 KGS (W/O Power)|
|MOTHERBOARD SUPPORT||MOTHERBOARDS: ATX, MICRO-ATX, BABY AT, MINI ATX|
The Zero makes a good impression straight out of the box. The front is glassy and slick, the fit is top notch and the look is overall very clean.
The front of the Zero is covered with a self adhesive split plastic layer that protects the door and lower fascia in shipping. With it removed we get a better look at the front bezel. On the front bezel is a chevron on the lower half that lights up with the PC under power and an inverted chevron on the door that’s powered by the mobo’s power LED header. The lower chevron is powered by a molex pass-thru and is considerably brighter. Inside the door is the reset button on the lower right, next to 3.5" bays.
We also see the grill over the four (Yes, there are four of ’em) 120mm fans in the side panel. My first thought was that this case is going to sound like a blow drier. We’ll find out if I was right or not in a bit.
My first thought upon seeing the Zero was "OMG, finally a case I mount my 240 rad inside of!" After closer scrutiny I discovered to my dismay that the top fan is too close to the PSU to allow for such a setup sadly. Happily though the bottom fan is held off the PCI slots high enough to allow for tubing to go through there from the outside. This means that you can use a Swiftech Radbox to do an external radiator mount and pass the tubing into the case through that area. Don’t worry, if you’re lost I’ll demonstrate what I’m talking about in a minute.
The rear of the case also has something I wish more makers would incorporate, full cutouts for the fans and wire grills. I just wish that NZXT had done this with the blowhole fan and the front fan. No I don’t have a pic of the front fan because it would’ve required tearing things way down and I didn’t discover it until I’d had the PC nearly 100% built but the fan holder is perforated just like the roof.
I’d also like to comment on the inside of the Zero, from the outside you think that this is one honkin’ big case and it is, but, it’s crowded inside. I ran into the problem of deciding where to put everything during my loop layout.
On the backside of the door we find the four 120mm fans I’d mentioned earlier. In fact these are the same fans mounted in the rear and I’m assuming in the front as well. The fans are built by Chang Feng and owing to their rather low draw rating of 1.2W (0.1A) I’d put them in the neighborhood of 30 CFM and probably sub 20db. They’re so quiet that when I powered them up I could not hear them running even with my ear up against them.
The front of the case pops off pretty easily to accommodate installing drives and removing the drive EMI covers without removing the face is nearly impossible. Note that you can remove and install 5.25" drives with the fascia installed but for 3.5" drives you have to pull the fascia off. So if you’re using a 3.5" device the time to install it is when you’re pulling the needed EMI covers off. I found this out the hard way. :-(
Sadly the 80mm in the case roof puts a black eye on the good work done with the 120’s, it’s loud enough to be heard. Not annoying mind you but loud enough that the case can’t be called silent thanks to it. Too bad really, the 120’s are really very quiet.
Inside the case is the box holding the tool-less drive rails and the standoffs and screws along with the manual. I’d like to mention that mine had 10 standoffs and 8 mobo screws. No big deal if you’ve got any spare parts inventory at all but still bad if you’re a part time builder or light hobbyist that throws spare parts away and therefore counts on having enough of everything to get the job done the first time.
Along with the standard power header mobo connectors there are also firewire, USB and audio port connectors. a Couple of weeks ago I was saying I’d like to see standard 10 pin header plugs for the audio and firewire, looks like the good folks at NZXT were on the same page. Not only does the audio wires feature 1-10 pin header plug but 2. One for Intel’s new HD audio and another for AC’97 audio plus both the audio plug and firewire both feature individual wires with small plugs for non-standard headers. w00t!
The drive rails are all the same with the exception of size so for redundancy’s sake, I’m only covering the HDD versions. The rail is plastic and has holes where you’d normally use a screw but instead they feature a press fit metal stud that fits into the screw holes. just line the studs up with the screw holes and slide them in and it’s ready to pop the drive in. Simple as that and all the bays are screw-less.
Here’s where the fun begins, I found that with all the 5.25" bays in use that I had nowhere to put the reservoir aside from the bottom of the case. With the res in the bottom of the case I then had nowhere to put the pump so into the drive bay with it. Fortunately for me the holes in the drive bay are just the right size for 5/8" OD tubing to pass through. This left room for one HDD in the HDD bay above the pump.
I mounted the Radbox on the top fan and cut two 7/8" holes for the tubing to route through to the rad. Now, this wouldn’t be a big deal normally but I had to be mindful of the tool-less PCI mechanism. It uses an inverted "L" shaped piece of flat aluminum on a hinge to hold the PCI devices in place. The top of the lever can be seen under the bottom fan right next to the tubing from the rad, I’ve got a shot of the rest of the mechanism in a bit. Anyway, I had to make certain to allow enough room for the lever to fit in the closed position.
Here you see how I ran the tubing through the rear wall of the case to the radiator and back from the radiator to the CPU water block.
The bottom pic shows the tool-less PCI lock with it pivoted away from the PCI slot covers. To lock the slots down you simply move the top part over the PCI slots and latch it in place, the part with the little nubs sticking up off of it rotates up against the slots and the nubs lock the PCI covers into place.
The first pic shows the setup during leak testing, the second shows the gob of spaghetti from the PSU tied to the upper rail brace and the third shows everything in place and wired. Due to the design of this case it’s nearly impossible to hide wiring behind the mobo tray. They ran the tray the entire width of the opening, it runs from the rear of the case to the front on that side of the case. This prevents the wiring from routing behind the drive bays since the mobo tray is right up against the bays. If the tray ended right before the bays you could run the wiring behind the bays and mount your HDD’s with the connectors facing the off side of the case. This would make for an extremely sanitary look.
As you can see, once everything is in place the inside of the case is quite cluttered. Yeah, I know my cable shui sucks but I tried, believe me. Every area in the case that’s hidden has at least one cable stuffed up in it. Unfortunately though, the case just doesn’t have many nooks and crannies to hide cables. If you’ve got a modular PSU you’re in business though. Unfortunately, I used a standard fixed cable PSU so I’m a bit limited as to options.
Here’s how she looks completely done and buttoned up. As you can see the smoked panel does a great job of blending into the door until there’s something lit up behind it. You can also see what I was talking about when I said the upper chevron wasn’t quite as bright as the lower one. The lower one really pops!
In lower light you can see just how nicely the window works, it really cuts the glow from your LCD devices to an easily livable level for those of us that keep our PC’s going 24/7. I’ve got to say that it’s a feature I really like.
Well, that about wraps it up, in the last pic you can see the tool-less PCI slot lock in the latched position. What I like about this is that you can put a screw through the lock in any spot that you feel might need extra support. Notice that NZXT kindly put holes in the case frame to allow you to get a screwdriver into the screws without putting them at an angle. Nice touch.
I’ve been running this setup for the last week and I’m happy to report that it’s quieter than the Armor I had been using, I’m running the radiator fans at 5V and have the same or better temps than with the Armor on the watercooled components and the case temps are much better. The side fans do a great job of pushing a lot of air over the motherboard so PWM circuits stay nice and cool, this is a big concern for water coolers as you’ve removed the fan from the CPU and that fan is generally responsible for keeping things in check in the PWM area. I’m also happy that the front fan has a filter, the side fans are pretty much filtered by the side grill which is a fine mesh, I’ve had to dust it off 3 times in the last week. Better to wipe it off the outside of he case than blow it out of the case later! :-)
The final ding I haven’t discussed until now, the paint looks fine in the photos but looking at the case in person you can see what looks like texture to the paint. This would be fine for a matte finish but for a gloss finish it should be as smooth as glass.
When it’s all said and done the NZXT Zero is a fine case for most users looking for great cooling with a minimum of noise. Water cooling buffs might want to look at the Zero too. it does offer a nice alternative to the usual suspects even if it is a bit cramped inside. I’ve heard rumours that NZXT might be working on a water cooling case, I’d like to see what they come up with. They’re just a few degrees away from having the right product with the Zero. I’m awarding the Zero a 7/10 with the caveat that if the paint was cleaned up it’d get an 8. Spending around $150+ for a case you should get a smooth finish.
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