Taking a look inside the 972 it’s clear to see that the minimalist design of the exterior hasn’t been abandoned, with very little in the way of internal structures to cutter the case’s insides. There’re pre installed motherboard risers with fitting for MATX and ATX motherboards and only the smallest of PSU shelves troubling the rear of the case, with the front end dominated by the three modular drive bays.
It was at this point that we were surprised however to notice that this case is practically identical to the Zalman 160XT+
we reviewed over eighteen months ago, right down to the aluminium casing and touch screen. While we're unsure precisely how this happens (it seems likely that Moncaso has simply bought the rights to the design, or perhaps originally undertook the design work for Zalman and is now able to make the case itself).
Regardless of its history, the internals are still generally sensibly laid out - the two cages on either side of the case each houses up to two 3.5in hard disks and are both easily removable thanks to the long neck Phillips head screwdriver included in the box. Each of these cages also sports fittings for an 80mm fan (not included), matching up with the 80mm ventilation holes on either side to act as hard drive cooling. The third cage mounted beneath the HDD mounts is a single 5.25in mounting, aligning with the opening in the case’s front fascia for an easily stealthed optical drive.
One big concern with the interior however is that the Spartan fittings mean that there’s little room to tuck or tidy cables away, a fact that’s highlighted by the huge array of internal cabling that’s pre-installed in the 972. Connections for the front panel, card reader and touch screen are joined by the usual array of USB, Firewire and HD Audio connectors, and when you add the mess of a modern PSU’s cabling you’re left with a great deal of cabling and almost nowhere to safely stash it. While heavy use of cable ties and velco/sticky cable clips will help, the 972 is by no means an easy case in which to build a tidy PC.
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Another concern when looking at the case’s interior is airflow. With the PSU isolated and given its own (sadly non-dust filter equipped) vent, the case’s only active ventilation comes from two 80mm cooling fans fitted to the rear of the case. As the case is only as deep as a standard PSU, there’s simply no room for any larger fans and while each hard disk drive cage does offer the option of fitting an 80mm intake, it’s hardly going to provide the most efficient cooling.
With an HTPC the question of cooling is further complicated by the need for silence as well; when you’re sat watching a gripping thriller the last thing you want is for those moments of tense silence to be interrupted by the low buzz of cooling fans and sadly the 972 isn’t really up to standard here. The two 80mm fans were just about audible in our already noisy labs, and in a quieter room it was obvious they were on even from a good distance away. While noise levels will always be highly subjective, we’d strongly recommend swapping the included fans out for some quieter models as out of the box they’ll be easily audible. Noise is also a concern in regards to the 972’s hard drive mountings, with no kind of vibration dampening fitted as standard.