A look under the hood...
Many people looking at buying an HTPC enclosure may be put off by the size of the HD160. In fact strong opinions were vocally aired in the labs when I took it out of the box. There are low profile cases out there that, through use of smaller motherboards, low profile cards and specific cooling, will save you a few inches however flexibility, upgradeability and ease of installation will be somewhat limited.
An HTPC is designed to replace your PVR, DVD player, CD Player, Freeview box and if you are a large screen gamer your gaming PC, so having the option to use full size parts far outweighs the size concerns.
Removing the lid is as simple as unscrewing five tiny screws and lifting it off. Being the perfectionists that we are, we would strongly recommend using cotton gloves and taking much care of the top once removed. Not only does this particular finish damage easily, revealing the aluminium underneath, it is very prone to fingerprint marks.
A quick glance inside is all you need to see how easy access to all of the innards will be and how there will be plenty of space to allow for good airflow. This case is actually a little bigger than what used to be classed as a Desktop PC case, but seeing the amount of kit you can squeeze into it the size is not surprising. As you can see in the second picture there are also two other vent holes placed in strategic places to allow for good ventilation to the hard drive cage and the cable side of the PSU.
Offered by the HD160 is the standard motherboard connection fare: USB 2.0. firewire, audio, power, reset buttons/LEDs, etc. The extra USB header cable is for the inbuilt VFD, essential some might say for an HTPC, but more about that later.
As previously mentioned the two 80mm fans are super quiet ones - having powered these up with no other hardware running I can verify the super quiet claim to be a valid one. Their positioning is crucial: directly above the I/O array, where the airflow of a well positioned CPU fan would be vented directly out. We get the feeling that Zalman have thought the design of this enclosure out thoroughly, as attention to detail in all aspects are outstanding.
Four tiny screws hold the hard drive case in position; once removed you have access to the all-powerful VFD assembly. This incorporates the LED array, the power/reset buttons, the VFD display and volume dial. The only thing that doesn't already come connected to it is the always on power for the VFD Display - this fits onto the labelled grey header in the centre of the row of headers, from the 24 to 24 pin PSU adaptor provided.
The accessory set that is provided includes the compulsory screw bag, although there are no motherboard risers. Some of you may have noticed these are fitted to the base of the HD160 - this limits the enclosure to ATX and Micro-ATX motherboards so be careful you don't select a more obscure format. Included also are a printed manual, the VFD and Remote software on CD, the previously mentioned 24 to 24 pin PSU adaptor for the VFD, some cable management clips and the optical drive bezel.
Included also is Zalman's rebranded MCE remote control, complete with the "big green button" and all the functionality afforded by Windows Media Center Edition 2005. The kind people at Zalman even include a set of batteries. It is a backlit remote control and feels pretty solid, unlike some of the remotes provided with TV and sound cards.
We have seen it empty; now let's pour some hardware into it...