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NZXT H2 Classic Silent Midtower Chassis

The H2 is NZXT’s attempt at a budget tower case with a silent slant. For US$100, it offers noise dampening foam, three quiet fans, a built-in fan controller, a SATA docking station, and a variety of other niceties including a brilliant front fan mounting tray.

March 28, 2011 by Lawrence Lee

Product
NZXT H2
ATX Tower Case
Manufacturer
Street Price
US$100

NZXT is an American case manufacturer that produces a wide assortment of interesting cases popular among PC enthusiasts and gamers. Perhaps less well known is the fact they also make a “Classic” series of cases that aren’t quite as fancy, being cheaper and more reserved in both aesthetics and features. The new H2 stands out as it claims to be a “Silent Midtower Chassis” — which of course instantly puts us into challenge mode. Set to be available for purchase in April, the H2 carries a price tag of just US$100, putting it in direct competition with the Fractal Design Define R2 (or its replacement, the R3).


Congratulations, it’s a healthy brown box.

The box the NZXT H2 arrived in was unusually large and completely plain on the outside. Opening it we found there was a box within the box to prevent damage during shipping, though again, there was no artwork on the interior package; if anything it looked even plainer. It was also next to impossible to get the box out without spilling all the packing peanuts, but luckily SPCR’s resident cat suffers from pica, so we just left it alone for a few days and the problem eventually resolved itself.


The NZXT H2.

The H2 has a simple look with solid side panels and a slightly glossy, heavy front door. The sides of the front bezel are composed of molded plastic while the front facia is made of aluminum. The covers on the top of the case stand out, unfortunately looking like window shutters.


Viewed from the right side.

Cases designed to be quiet often have one thing in common, that being an almost completely enclosed body to prevent noise from leaking out. Of course this also means limited ventilation, something that is looks like it could be a problem for the H2. It doesn’t have many places to pull in fresh air, especially from the front. The door has tiny slits on the sides and bottom, and there isn’t much open area underneath it either.


Accessories.

The H2 ships with a basic accessory pack which includes a black and white manual, a small color brochure featuring some of NZXT’s other cases, the necessary screws, a PC speaker, and a few zip-ties for wrapping up cables.

Specifications: NZXT H2
(from the
product web page
)
MODEL H2
CASE TYPE Mid Tower Steel
FRONT PANEL MATERIAL Plastic/Steel
DIMENSIONS (W x H x D) 215 x 466 X 520 mm
VGA Clearance (length) 31cm w/o HDD, 270mm w/ HDD
CPU Heatsink Support 170mm
COOLING SYSTEM FRONT, 2 X 120mm @ 1200rpm
REAR, 1 X 120mm @ 1200rpm
TOP, 1 X 140mm (optional)
BOTTOM, 1 x 120mm (optional)
DRIVE BAYS 3 EXTERNAL 5.25″ DRIVE BAYS
8 INTERNAL 3.5″/2.5″ Slots
Screwless Rail Design
MATERIAL(S) Steel with painted interior
EXPANSION SLOTS 7
WEIGHT 8.9 kg
MOTHERBOARD SUPPORT ATX, MICRO-ATX, BABY AT

EXTERIOR

The H2 weighs 8.9 kg or 19.6 lb and measures 21.5 x 46.6 x 52.0 cm or 8.5 x 18.3 x 20.5″ (W x H x D) making the total case volume approximately 52.1 L. It is a little bit wider and deeper than most ATX towers. The chassis seems very sturdy all around, though the side panels have a small degree of flex. While the door is heavy and well-built, it doesn’t open up much past 90 degrees so we can imagine it could be easily damaged by accident.


The inside of the front door is covered in thick sound dampening foam and latched with a pair of strong magnets. There are just three 5.25″ bays, the covers for which are removed easily thanks to release latches. Underneath are a pair of 120 mm fans secured to the chassis with tabs on each side.

 


By far the coolest feature of the H2 are the front intake fan mounts. The fans have short cables plugged into a small circuit board on the side. When the fan holder snaps into place, two pins make contact with another circuit board on the chassis which connects on the interior to the case’s fan controller. Hard drive mounting requires front access but you won’t have to worry about fan cables getting in the way. (Photo above shows fan flipped to show the electrical contacts on the little green PCB.)

 


The power/reset buttons and external ports are located at the top of the case. There are mic and headphone jacks, 3 x USB 2.0 and 1 x USB 3.0 connectors, as well a fan controller switch with three settings.

 


Just behind the front ports is an external SATA docking bay. It is fine for a 2.5″ drive, but a bit tight for a 3.5″ drive. Removing one requires some force and there isn’t any room to gain leverage. Behind it, underneath a slide-out magnetic cover, is a 140 mm fan placement.

 


The rear of the case is fairly standard. The expansion slot covers have a fine mesh on them and the 120 mm rear fan placement is beveled outward (as are the floor and ceiling placements). The blue cable on the outside is for the USB 3.0 port, plugging into the motherboard’s back panel port. This is fine as most current USB 3.0 motherboards lack an internal header.

 


To steady the case, a series of rubber pads are found all around the edge of the bottom. A large pullout filter with a somewhat restrictive plastic spine is is located underneath the power supply and optional 120 mm fan placement.

 


The side panels are secured at the back via a pair of thumbscrews each. They are reasonably thick, flexing slightly when force is applied. A large sheet of foam is adhered to the interior of both sides. (Cover on above photo flipped to show the foam.)

INTERIOR

On the inside, it becomes very clear that the H2 shares more than a few similarities with the Fractal Define R2. Limited 5.25″ bays, plenty of hard drive support, fan mounts on the top and bottom, black and white stock fans, and dampening material on the door and side panels, to list a few.


The H2 has a standard layout with the power supply on the bottom, a large cutout behind the CPU area, and many holes for routing cables.

 


For users who prefer extra exhaust, a 14 cm fan mount covered with a mesh grill is located on the top panel. Next to it are the connectors for the external SATA docking bay. A SATA data cable and molex to SATA power adapter are pre-connected.

 


Four rubber feet pad the power supply and gives the vent underneath some extra clearance.

 


The front intake fans provide enough coverage for all eight hard drive bays. The trays are tightly grouped, with very little breathing between them unless you stagger the drives.

 


With an inch of space behind the motherboard tray and a myriad of holes and handles, cabling is simply a non-issue. The fan controller is powered via a molex connector, hidden in the nest of cables tied up at the back. In addition to driving the two fans at the front, it has an additional pair of 3-pin connectors so it can control a total of four fans.

 


The fan controller is hardwired to a pair of female 3-pin headers which connect to the intake fan positions’ circuit boards. These cables lack the 3rd pin for RPM monitoring, but it’s not missed as there is nothing to which to report the fan speed.

 


Removing the filter reveals the front fans are mounted with just a pair of standard fan screws.

ASSEMBLY

Assembling a system in the NZXT H2 is a straight forward affair. Much of the process is tool-less except for the mounting of the motherboard. Our test system consists of an Asus 790GX motherboard, a ZEROtherm FZ120 heatsink with a Nexus 120 mm fan, a WD Caviar Black 1TB hard drive and a Cooler Master 700W modular power supply.


A rubber clip is used to lock optical drives in place on one side. The two thumbscrews next to each clip can be removed and used to secure the drive on the other side.

 


The hard drive trays have metal pins that simply slide into a HDD’s side mounting holes. They are dampened by rubber grommets but as the tray is made of somewhat rigid plastic, and the instructions indicate that screws should secure the drives from the bottom as well, it’s not a true soft mounting system. The trays have bottom mounting holes for 2.5″ drives so no adapters are required.

 


After snapping in from the front of the case, thumbscrews are used to keep it in place. When the system was turned on, with the side panel open, we could feel and hear the vibrations coming from our test hard drive. It lessened a great deal when we pushed on the side of the drive, so the mounting system would benefit from being more secure.

 


Our IGP test system assembled. Graphics card clearance was about 31.1 cm (12.2″) if the three hard drive trays adjacent to the PCI-E slot are removed. Our ZEROtherm FZ120 cooler fit with approximately 10 mm to spare above it, and as there is no fan on the side panel to get in the way, the case can accommodate CPU heatsinks up to 17 cm tall.

 


With so much room on the right side of the chassis, there is plenty of space to tie up cable slack.

 


Though there is ample of room between the ground and the power supply, the bottom of the case could use some extra ventilation. There is only a small air gap on each side and the back is completely blocked off.

 


On many cases the power and hard drive LEDs are annoyingly bright and in your face. The H2’s LEDs shine downwards like a porch lamp and when the door is closed they become pleasant accents on the outside corners rather than the twinkling nightmares of epileptics. Note that the light appears blue in our pictures, but is actually white.

TESTING

System Configuration:

Measurement and Analysis Tools

System temperatures and noise levels were recorded with SpeedFan and GPU-Z
at idle and on load using CPUBurn (K7 setting) and FurMark, an OpenGL
benchmarking and stability testing utility.

Baseline Noise


An H2 stock fan.

The NZXT H2 ships with three 120 mm fans, one at the rear and two at the front, all the same model except the intake fans have very short cables. The stock fan is an Oreo-style fan with a black housing and nine white blades. The model number on the hub is DF1202512RFLN which correlates to a 1200 RPM 1.92W fan that is used by Silverstone in their original Raven and Fortress series cases.

Baseline Noise Level
Fan
SPL @1m
High (~12V / 1230 RPM)
Medium (~8V / 920 RPM)
Low (~5V / 600 RPM)
Rear
23 dBA
16~15 dBA
12~13 dBA
Front (upper)
22 dBA
16 dBA
12 dBA
Front (lower)
22 dBA
16 dBA
12 dBA
Combined
26 dBA
20 dBA
14~15 dBA
Measuring mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle left/front
of case.

 


The stock fans on low are very quiet, together measuring 14~15 dBA@1m.

The fans produce a slight hum at higher speeds, but other than that, the acoustic profile is fairly smooth and certainly better than average. They are reasonably quiet when set to medium or low speed using the integral fan controller of the case. Typically front fans measure higher due to how we angle the case, but with the door closed, the noise level was about the same as the rear fan.

TEST RESULTS: Radeon HD 3300 IGP


IGP test system.

 

System Measurements (IGP)
System State
Idle
CPU + GPU Load
System Fans
off
low setting (~5V)
CPU Fan
9V
12V
SPL@1m
16~17 dBA
17 dBA
18 dBA
19 dBA
CPU Temp
31°C
68°C
57°C
52°C
SB Temp
35°C
46°C
38°C
38°C
HD Temp
37°C
42°C
37°C
37°C
System Power
47W
174W
173W
172W
CPU fan set to 9V unless otherwise noted.
Ambient temperature: 22°C.

Without any system fans, our IGP test system was very quiet at 16~17 dBA@1m depending on whether the computer was idle or on load. When stressed, it struggled to keep the processor cool though as the CPU temperature came close to 70°C. After turning on the case’s stock fans at the lowest fan controller setting, the CPU, Southbridge, and hard drive temperatures decreased by 11°C, 8°C, and 5°C respectively, well worth the extra 1 dB in noise. Running the CPU fan at maximum gave us an additional 5°C improvement, but only for the CPU.


Our IGP test system on load measured 18 dBA@1m with the CPU fan set to 9V and the system fans set on low.

On their own, the H2’s stock fans on low measure 14~15 dBA@1m. Adding a 7200 RPM hard drive, a Nexus 120 mm fan at 9V cooling the CPU heatsink, and a power supply fan increased the noise level to 18 dBA@1m on load. As the extra fans were fairly smooth and quiet, the acoustic character didn’t change much save for a slight hum emanating from the hard drive.

IGP Configuration Comparison (Load)
Case
NZXT H2
Fractal Define R2
Antec P183
Antec Sonata Elite
System Fans
front & rear @low
front & rear @12V
rear @low
rear @low
CPU Fan
12V
12V
9V
9V
SPL@1m
19 dBA
19~20 dBA
19~20 dBA
20 dBA
CPU Temp
51°C
51°C
50°C
55°C
SB Temp
38°C
38°C
38°C
37°C
HD Temp
37°C
34°C
37°C
30°C
Ambient temperature: 22°C (results adjusted accordingly)

On load, our H2 IGP test system beat out other quiet cases like the Fractal Define R2 and Antec P183, posting similar temperatures but with a slightly lower noise level. The H2’s lack of airflow doesn’t seem hurt it too much in this situation; perhaps the power draw and heat isn’t enough?

Test Results: Radeon HD 4870


HD 4870 test system.

 

System Measurements (HD 4870)
System State
Idle
CPU + GPU Load
System Fans
low (stock)
medium (stock)
medium (rear, front & bottom)
SPL@1m
19 dBA
28 dBA
28 dBA
29 dBA
CPU Temp
34°C
56°C
53°C
52°C
SB Temp
47°C
55°C
52°C
51°C
HD Temp
34°C
35°C
33°C
31°C
GPU Temp
78°C
90°C
87°C
87°C
GPU Fan
950 RPM
2280 RPM
2110 RPM
1990 RPM
System Power
122W
344W
343W
340W
CPU fan set to 100% speed.
Ambient temperature: 22°C.

Adding a reference HD 4870 added no measurable noise to the system when it was sitting idle as the stock cooler is more forgiving of higher temperatures, staying under 1000 RPM. The Southbridge chip took a 12°C hit just for being in the vicinity of the GPU and because a lot of its airflow was blocked. On load, the CPU and Southbridge approached 55°C, while the GPU hit 90°C with its fan spinning at close to 2300 RPM. The noise level was 28 dBA@1m which is high by SPCR standards, though it didn’t sound all that bad.

Increasing the system fan speeds to medium helped cool down the GPU, allowing its fan to spin down to about 2100 RPM. This drop balanced the noise increase from the system fans resulting a SPL of 28 dBA@1m once again. This move also lowered overall temperatures by 2~3°C, making it effectively a noise-free upgrade in thermal performance. After that, we moved one of the front fans to the floor to see if the better ventilated bottom fan position would give us better results. It did, reducing temperatures slightly. However, without the door muffling this fan, the system noise level increased by 1 dB even though the video card cooler dropped in speed by 120 RPM.


Our HD 4870 test system on load measured 28 dBA@1m with the CPU fan set to 12V and the system fans set on medium.

Despite measuring 28 dBA@1m, the HD 4870 system did not produce any particularly annoying tonality resulting in a tolerable noise experience.

System Measurements (HD 4870): CPU + GPU Load
System Fans
rear, 2 x front
rear, front, bottom
Door
closed
open
closed
open
SPL@1m
28 dBA
30 dBA
29 dBA
31 dBA
CPU Temp
53°C
47°C
52°C
49°C
SB Temp
52°C
52°C
51°C
52°C
HD Temp
33°C
31°C
31°C
32°C
GPU Temp
87°C
85°C
87°C
87°C
GPU Fan
2110 RPM
1870 RPM
1990 RPM
1950 RPM
System Power
343W
337W
340W
337W
CPU fan set to 100% speed.
System fans set to medium (~8V).
Ambient temperature: 22°C.

So what is the effect of the airflow impedance caused by the door? With the system fans in their stock configuration on medium speed, our HD 4870 test system on load with the door open experience a drop in CPU temperature of 6°C while the hard drive and GPU cooled down by 2°C, even though the GPU fan slowed by 240 RPM. The system also sounded better this way despite the lack of a measurable difference. It sounded softer as the soft air turbulence from the intake fans became more predominant, while the graphics card fan, which isn’t nearly as smooth, faded more to the background. With a front fan moved to the floor, the door being open only made a slight difference, with only the processor garnering noticeable improvement.

HD 4870 Configuration Comparison (Load)
Case
Antec Sonata Elite
Zalman Z9 Plus
Fractal Define R2
NZXT H2
System Fan Speeds
rear @low
top, rear & front @7V
rear, front & side @12V
rear, front @med
SPL@1m
25~26 dBA
26~27 dBA
26~27 dBA
28 dBA
CPU Temp
55°C
44°C
48°C
53°C
SB Temp
53°C
50°C
45°C
52°C
HD Temp
32°C
32°C
34°C
33°C
GPU Temp
88°C
85°C
84°C
87°C
GPU Fan
Speed
1980 RPM
1580 RPM
1710 RPM
2110 RPM
CPU fan set to 100% speed
All temperature results adjusted to 22°C ambient.

With a hot graphics card requiring better cooling, the NZXT H2 doesn’t fare quite as well as the other cases in this comparison. The Define R2 produced a substantially better Southbridge temperature, and allowed the GPU fan to spin slower by a whopping 400 RPM. The R2 utilizes a low speed side fan which certainly helped, but regardless, the overall results were a lot better. Even cases not built for silence like the Zalman Z9 Plus hand the H2 its lunch.

AUDIO RECORDINGS

These recordings were made with a high resolution, lab quality, digital recording
system inside SPCR’s own 11 dBA ambient anechoic chamber, then converted to
LAME 128kbps encoded MP3s. We’ve listened long and hard to ensure there is no
audible degradation from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent
a quick snapshot of what we heard during the review.

Each recording starts with ambient noise, then 10 second segments of product
at various states. For the most realistic results,
set the volume so that the starting ambient level is just barely audible, then
don’t change the volume setting again while comparing all the sound files.

  • NZXT H2 – Radeon HD 4870 test system at 1m
    — idle, CPU fan @12V, system fans on low (19 dBA@1m)
    — load, CPU fan @12V, system fans on medium (28 dBA@1m)
    — load, CPU fan @12V, system fans on medium, door open (28 dBA@1m)

FINAL THOUGHTS

The NZXT H2 is one of the better cases we’ve encountered recently. It has a couple of issues, but overall the good far outweighs the bad. The front fan mounting system is absolutely genius, making fan removal so easy and tidy that we spent far too much time popping them in and out while the system was running, watching with glee as the fans started themselves magically without having to plug in any cables. The 3-speed fan controller lets you manage the speeds of up to four fans with ease, and the fans themselves have good acoustic quality. And to make things that much quieter, noise absorbent foam is applied liberally to both the side panels and front door.

The door is well-constructed and has a great solid feel to it thanks to its aluminum construction and large magnets. It doesn’t open as far as we’d like, but that’s a minor nitpick. The overall build quality of the entire case is fairly good. Assembly is a breeze as drives mount with little effort, and if you need to plug in a SATA hard drive temporarily, you can just use the dock sitting on the top of the case. Cable management in the H2 is a dream as there is ample room behind the motherboard tray and there are many holes and holds for tying down cables. Closing the right side panel with a mess of wires tucked behind the tray can be a chore with most cases, but not so with the H2.

The only serious problem with the H2 is the lack of airflow. A case built for silence usually don’t outcool gamer cases with huge side fans, etc, when a high power video card requires cooling, but better ventilation would certainly help bridge the gap. The front fans struggle to pull air from the small slits around the door, resulting in higher internal temperatures and requiring higher fan speeds to compensate. Opening the door helps considerably, but it doesn’t look very attractive and can make the system louder depending on where the door is oriented in relation to the user. It would probably help if the gaps around the base of the case were larger and more numerous as well. We aren’t crazy about the hard drive cage, as it doesn’t quite secure the drives as tightly as we’d like, but that can be said of many cases on the market. NZXT was too ambitious trying to jam in eight drive caddies; they are packed too densely.

The NZXT should arrive on the market sometime in April 2011 with a street price of about ~US$100. It’s a pretty good value given its unique array of features. For housing a modest, quiet system, the H2 is one of the better choices on the market as it has quiet fans, fan control, and noise dampening foam. If you’re looking for a chassis for a more high performance PC, it has enough clearance for both tall CPU heatsinks and long graphics cards, but just note that you will need better than average cooling to make up for the lack of airflow. For these types of systems, the Fractal Design Define R2/R3 is a better choice, though it lacks many of little niceties offered by the H2.

NZXT H2
PROS

* Brilliant front fan mounts
* Fan control for up to four fans
* Stock fans have good acoustics
* Solid build quality
* External SATA dock
* Excellent cable management
* Good clearance: 17 cm for CPU heatsink, 31 cm for graphics card

CONS

* Restricted front intakes results in lmited thermal performance
* Hard drive trays mounts too loose and spaced too tightly

Our thanks to NZXT for the H2 case sample.

The NZXT H2 is Recommended by SPCR.

POSTSCRIPT: Modifying the door for better airflow?

* * *

Articles of Related Interest
Antec ISK 100 Mini-ITX Case
Zalman Z9 Plus ATX Tower Case
HDPLEX H10.ODD Fanless microATX Case
Lian Li PC-V354 MicroATX Mini Tower Case
Lian Li PC-B25S Mid-tower Aluminum Case
Fractal Design Define R2 ATX Tower Case

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POSTSCRIPT : Can the NZXT H2 front door be modified for better airflow?
by Mike Chin

Any diehard DIY computer hobbyist who owns a Dremel or other cutting tools will answer, Yes!, to almost any question of this nature. But the question needs to be qualified further — Can the H2 front door be modified in an unobtrusive, simple way to improve airflow and cooling for a hot gaming video card? Now the answer requires more careful consideration. Simple to who?, you might ask. My answer: Simple to most people who assemble their own PCs from time to time, which probably represents a large majority of the SPCR readership. This generally means someone who has some mechanical skills, familiarity with PC components, and some previous experience dealing with the odd challenges that sometimes crop up when installing PC components into a case.

To answer the question, let’s take a very close look at the door. One thing Larry did not cover in the review is how the entire front bezel assembly can be removed, much like the front bezels of most ATX mid-tower cases. There are six plastic plugs on the back of the bezel assembly which fit into matching holes in the metral front panel. Remove the left side cover, push on a couple of these plugs from the inside of the metal front panel, and the bezel assembly starts to separate from the chassis. You pry on the gap, and very quickly, the whole front bezel assembly pops off. This is similar to most current mid-tower cases.


NZXT H2 front bezel assembly pops off easily.

With the entire front panel assembly off, it is easier to examine it carefully. First, take a close look at the gaps around the edges that are the vents.


A is the bottom intake slot, B is the right side slot; there is a slot similar to B on the left side. C is a gap on the frame portion of the bezel, which does nothing for either intake or exhaust, but it is about the size that vent A should have been.

A very close examination of the hinges showed no easy way that the door could be removed from the inner frame. This means any cutting of any of the slot vents must be done with the two parts (door and inner frame) fixed so that the hinges do not get broken accidentally.


The right side slot of the door has a supporting tubular section that makes the edge quite thick. It is probably going to be quite difficult to enlarge this slot cleanly, and the ensuing ragged edge would be highly visible and annoying for the user to behold. So modding this slot is out.
The left side slot is even more difficult to enlarge because of the close proximity of the inner frame of the bezel assembly. That one is out, too.


The bottom slot can be made both deeper and wider.

The bottom slot is not visible in normal use, so it is the one that modders should consider. Unlike the side slots, its edge does not have any thicker stiffening plastic. The thin lip, if cut away, could provide an extra quarter inch depth, and the slot could also be made about an inch wider. This would make the bottom slot about 3~4 times bigger than it is now. There would be no impact to dust filtering. This is a no-brainer for a modder to try. Even if you mess up, if the mess can be limited to the bottom, it is not likely to have any visual or operational impact, and the airflow for the intake fans will be substantially improved. Either a power tool like a Dremel or a manual tool like a fine-toothed blade saw would work.


The end result of a 2-minute “quick & dirty” cut with a jig saw. It looks rough… but you will not see it unless you look from below the case. You can also do a cleaner job with more care. Compare the opening, though, with the original in the second photo on this page. There’s no question the intake airflow will be improved with this mod.

This modification would only be worthwhile in a system equipped with a VGA card that exceeds 100W TDP, and stressed to high load often for long periods (as in gaming). Off the shelf, the H2 provides good enough airflow at low fan speeds for cooler VGA cards. Something like a Radeon 5770 is probably about the hottest GPU that can be safely cooled in the HS while keeping noise to SPCR-quiet levels.

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