Zalman Z9 Plus ATX Tower Case

Table of Contents

The Zalman Z9 Plus is a budget ATX tower case targeting the enthusiast/gamer market. The Z9 Plus has the usual trappings of such cases plus a temperature sensor with LCD display and a fan controller, all at a very reasonable price.

March 3, 2011 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Zalman Z9 Plus
ATX Tower Case
Manufacturer
Street Price
US$60~$70

The Zalman Z9 Plus is a budget ATX tower case targeting the enthusiast/gamer market. These types of cases emphasize cooling with plenty of ventilation and multiple large fans which appeal to users with hot, high-end hardware. There is also a seemingly unabated need to catch the eye of users with fanciful designs, blinding lights, and what have you. The Z Plus has all of these standard trappings along bonus features that might actually be useful, like a temperature sensor with LCD display and a two channel fan controller. Zalman informed us that it is their first case to be produced in China, which explains the lower price compared to previous Zalman cases, which were all made in Korea.


The Z9 Plus box.

The Z9 Plus.

The first thing we noticed about the Z9 Plus is the gaudy looking side panel. A diagonal area of mesh book-ended with small acrylic windows were used in an ill-fated attempt to form the letter “Z”. The end result is less than flattering though some points may be awarded for originality/audacity. The rest of the case is thankfully more reserved, though the molded “Z” at the front of the case seems to decrease airflow for the front fan.

The Z9 Plus stands just over 18″ tall, which is modest for an enthusiast tower. It is fairly deep at almost 20″, which suggests it can accommodate most of the longer graphics cards on the market today. The case supports seven fans in total, with four 120 mm models included, one standard, and three of the blue LED variety positioned at the rear, top, side, and front. There is space for 3 x 5.25″, 6 x 3.5″ (one internal), and 1 x 2.5″ drives.


Accessories.

The accessories are contained in a re-sealable plastic bag. Included are the necessary screws and standoffs, a few zip-ties, a manual, an EPS12V extension cable.

Specifications: Zalman Z9 Plus
(from the
product web page
)
Enclosure Type ATX Mid Tower
Dimensions 207(W) x 464(H) x 504(D)mm; 48.4 L
Weight 7.2kg
Material Plastic, Steel
Motherboard Compatibility Standard ATX / m-ATX
Power Supply Compatibility Standard ATX / ATX12V
VGA Compatibility Full Size (290mm)
Expansion Slot 7
Drive Bay External 5.25″ x 3
Internal 3.5″ x 5
External 3.5″ x 1
Internal 2.5″ x 1
Cooling Component Front: 120mm /140mm fan x 1 (120mm Blue LED fan x 1 standard)
Top: 120mm /140mm fan x 2 (120mm Blue LED fan x 1 standard)
Bottom: 120mm /140mm fan x 1 (option)
Rear: (L) 120mm fan x 1 (standard)
Side: 120mm fan x 2 (120mm Blue LED fan x 1 standard)
Front I/O Ports Mic x 1, Headphones x 1, USB 2.0 x 4, Fan Controller, Temperature Display
Color Black

PHYSICAL DETAILS

The Z9 Plus weighs 7.2 kg or 15.8 lb and measures 207 x 464 x 504 mm or 8.1 x 18.3 x 19.8″ (W x H x D) making the total volume of the case 48.4 L. We would describe the build quality as decent for its price. The sheet metal is 0.8 mm thick, which is thicker than some, and the edges of the side panels are folded over and doubled for strength. The side panels can be flexed moderately, but latch on well to the chassis, forming a very tight seal. The strongest portion of the case is the hard drive cage, while the weakest is the optical drive bays above it.


The front panel features a temperature readout, fan control slider, front USB and audio ports. There is a decorative molded “Z” at the bottom where the included 120 mm intake fan draws air. That portion along with the drive bay covers are all ventilated.

 


A large fan filter is located at the top above two fan placements. The Z9 Plus supports two 140 mm fans on the ceiling with one 120 mm model pre-installed.

 


A 120 mm fan is mounted on the rear above a pair of watercooling grommets. One area that Zalman cut corners on is the expansion slot covers which cannot be reused.

 


At the bottom there is a very restrictive grill for the power supply and another 120/140 mm fan placement just in front of it with an exterior filter.

 


Like most modern cases, the Z9 Plus positions the power supply at the bottom of the case on four rubber pads to reduce vibration and provide breathing room. The case ships with two different kinds of fans, a molex-powered black and white model at the rear, and transparent 3-pin models at the top, side, and front.

 


The hard drive cage is supports five drives that slide in from the side. The intake fan in front of it uses the same dust filter as the placement on the case floor.

 


Behind the motherboard tray there is plenty of room for routing cables. A series of little arches are provided to slip in twist-ties and zip-ties, and there are some large holes near the front for thicker cables. A large cutout at the back is provided for mounting CPU heatsinks, and unusually, a ventilated 2.5″ drive bay sits beneath it.

ASSEMBLY

Assembling a system in the Z9 Plus is straightforward. The case supports three 5.25″ drives, five internal 3.5″ drives, one external 3.5″ drive (an internal 3.5″ caddy is provided), and one 2.5″ drive on the backside of the motherboard tray. There are four 120/140 mm fan placements, one at the front and bottom, and two on the top. Three 120 mm fans can also be mounted with one at the rear and two on the side.


The case comes with a couple of extras, a dual 3-pin fan controller, and a temperature sensor, both powered via molex. Unfortunately no thermal tape is included.

 


To mount a hard drive, screws are inserted into the sides of the drive with rubber grommets to dampen them. The drive is then slid into the drive bay until they are locked into place by a plastic lever on the side. The drive sits a little loose using this system which is preferable to being super-tight. It’s mechanical decoupling that helps reduce vibration induced noise.

 


The rest of the components install as they normally would in most cases. Due to the limited vent slots on the case floor, we positioned our power supply with the fan pointing upwards. There was about 50 mm of clearance to the right of our HD 4870 graphics card and approximately 10 mm of clearance above our ZEROtherm FZ120 heatsink.

 


The cabling at the rear was easily cleaned up.

 


Fully assembled minus the side fan (we’ll discuss the reason later).

 


One peeve we have is the power button. It is flush against the chassis and easy to depress by accident.

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

The Z9 Plus shipped with two different kinds of 120 mm fans: Three blue LED 3-pin models on the top, side and front, and a more traditional black and white model with a molex connector on the rear. Both used sleeve bearings, had a nominal speed of approximately 1000 RPM, and could be started with less than 5V.


Front, side, and top stock fan.


Rear stock fan.

Outside the case in open air, both fan types had similar acoustics. They were buzzy at high speeds, but fairly smooth once brought down to ~8V and below. However, once mounted, only the rear fan retained its positive characteristics. The top and front fans interacted negatively with the chassis, resulting in a slight humming noise.

The side fan was the worst of all, sounding absolutely atrocious, producing a deplorable buzzing like that of a cheap toy car motor. The mesh on the side panel turned out to be far too restrictive to be used as an intake. The only way to bring the fan’s noise down to reasonable levels was to make it an exhaust fan, or mount the fan on the exterior blowing inward.



Noise difference between the side fan mounted on the interior (stock) at 5V, and mounted on the exterior at 7V.

With the side fan on the outside of the case blowing in, it was much quieter, generating 14 dBA@1m at 7V, while in the stock configuration, it emitted 16 dBA@1m at just 5V. The quality of the noise was also much better when mounted on the exterior, with fewer tonal peaks. In the end we decided to ditch the side fan altogether — it simply wasn’t worth the amount of noise it generates, and we doubt many people would resort to placing it on the outside. Only by cutting the grill away could the side fan remain quiet enough to be used.

Baseline Noise Level
Fan
SPL @1m
12V
9V
7V
5V
Top
24 dBA
17~18
16 dBA
13 dBA
Rear
22 dBA
15~16
13 dBA
11 dBA
Front
27 dBA
21 dBA
17 dBA
12~13 dBA
Side
27 dBA
25 dBA
20~21 dBA
16 dBA
Side (exterior)
22~23 dBA
17 dBA
14 dBA
12 dBA
Top, Rear, and Front
28~29 dBA
23 dBA
18 dBA
13 dBA
Measuring mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle left/front
of case.

Together, the top, rear and front fans are SPCR-quiet at 7V and close to inaudible at 5V. These voltages can be reached with the included fan controller which supports two 3-pin fans.


With the stock fans running at 7V, the Z9 Plus measured 18 dBA@1m. Interaction between fans and chassis generated a hum centered at ~300 Hz.

TEST RESULTS

Test Results: ATI Radeon HD 4870


HD 4870 test system.

 

System Measurements (HD 4870)
System State
Idle
CPU + GPU Load
Fan Speeds (top & rear / front)
none
7V / 7V
9V / 7V
SPL@1m
20~21 dBA
22 dBA
26~27 dBA
27 dBA
CPU Temp
30°C
29°C
44°C
43°C
SB Temp
45°C
42°C
50°C
50°C
HD Temp
37°C
32°C
32°C
32°C
GPU Temp
68°C
68°C
85°C
85°C
GPU Fan
Speed
890 RPM
880 RPM
1580 RPM
1550 RPM
CPU fan set to 100% speed.
Ambient temperature: 22°C.

At idle with no fans on, our system measured 20~21 dBA@1m which is relatively quiet. Thankfully our reference Radeon HD 4870 stock cooler does not make much noise. Adding the three system fans at 7V resulted in a less than 1 dB increase in SPL, and a 3°C and 5°C reduction in Southbridge and hard drive temperature respectively.

On load, the system was much noisier, of course, with SPL rising to 26~27 dBA, expected with the GPU fan almost doubling in speed to nearly 1600 RPM. The quality of noise was fairly good, mostly broadband in nature. The CPU and Southbridge heated by an additional 15°C and 8°C respectively while the GPU core ran 17°C hotter. Raising the exhaust fans to 9V did not provide better cooling.


Our HD 4870 test system measured 26~27 dBA@1m on full load.

 

HD 4870 Configuration Comparison (Load)
Case
Antec 1200*
InWin Maelstrom
Zalman Z9 Plus
Fractal Define R2
Fan Speeds
top, rears @low
top, rear, side @9V
top, rear & front @7V
rear, front & side @12V
SPL@1m
25~26 dBA
26 dBA
26~27 dBA
26~27 dBA
CPU Temp
46°C
43°C
44°C
48°C
SB Temp
49°C
45°C
50°C
45°C
HD Temp
31°C
35°C
32°C
34°C
GPU Temp
85°C
80°C
85°C
84°C
GPU Fan
Speed
1760 RPM
1340 RPM
1580 RPM
1710 RPM
CPU fan set to 100% speed
All temperature results adjusted to 22°C ambient.
*Antec 1200 tested with Antec CP-850.

Compared to cases we’ve tested in the past, the Z9 Plus is middle of the pack. The noise level was comparable to the same setup in the Fractal Define R2, but the Z9 Plus managed to do a better job of cooling the CPU and hard drive. The R2, with its side fan boasted a better Southbridge temperature. As budget gaming cases go, the InWin Maelstrom seems to have the best strategy with its massive yet quiet side fan blowing over the case innards.

Test Results: 2 x ATI Radeon HD 4870 (CrossFireX)


2 x HD 4870 CrossFireX test system.

 

System Measurements (2 x HD 4870)
System State
Idle
CPU + GPU Load
Fan Speeds (top & rear / front)
7V / 7V
7V / 7V
9V / 7V
12V / 7V
SPL@1m
24 dBA
30~31 dBA
30~31 dBA
32 dBA
CPU Temp
29°C
51°C
47°C
45°C
SB Temp
47°C
62°C
61°C
61°C
HD Temp
33°C
33°C
33°C
32°C
GPU #1 Temp
74°C
87°C
86°C
86°C
GPU #1 Fan
Speed
870 RPM
1850 RPM
1780 RPM
1820 RPM
GPU #1 Temp
60°C
84°C
83°C
82°C
GPU #2 Speed
1000 RPM
1650 RPM
1590 RPM
1600 RPM
CPU fan set to 100% speed.
Ambient temperature: 22°C.

Adding a second HD 4870 produced an extra 2 dB when idle, along with hotter temperatures. Both the Southbridge and top GPU were 5~6°C warmer in this configuration. On load, the overall noise level jumped up to 30~31 dBA, which is fairly loud by SPCR standards. We noticed that the GPU fans were drowning out the system fans, so we cranked the exhaust fans up to 9V with no net change in acoustics; the GPU fans slowed down slightly which may have lessened the noise impact).

Compared to the single graphics card configuration, the CrossFireX system’s CPU ran hotter by 4°C, the Southbridge heated up by an additional 11°C, and the first graphics card’s fan had to spin ~230 RPM faster to keep the GPU at a comparable temperature.

CrossFireX Configuration Comparison (Load)
Case
Raven 2*
InWin Maelstrom
Zalman Z9 Plus
Antec 1200*
Fans Speeds
bottoms @low, top @9V
top, rear & side @9V
top & rear @9V, front @7V
top, rears, front, side @low
SPL@1m
26~27 dBA
30 dBA
30~31 dBA
31~32 dBA
CPU Temp
48°C
43°C
47°C
46°C
SB Temp
65°C
51°C
61°C
61°C
HD Temp
32°C
35°C
33°C
29°C
GPU #1 Temp
87°C
85°C
86°C
87°C
GPU #1 Fan
Speed
1930 RPM
1720 RPM
1780 RPM
2110 RPM
GPU #2 Temp
83°C
82°C
83°C
84°C
GPU #2 Fan
Speed
1670 RPM
1620 RPM
1590 RPM
1910 RPM
CPU fan set to 100% speed, 9V for Raven 2.
All temperature results adjusted to 22°C ambient.
*Antec 1200 tested with Antec CP-850, Raven 2 tested with Seasonic
X650.

Once again, the Z9 Plus’ thermal and acoustic performance was average, right in between the Antec 1200 and Inwin Maelstrom. With the help of a side-blowing intake, the Z9 Plus might have drawn closer to the InWin Maelstrom but as we explained earlier, the noise it produced was horrific.

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.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Z9 Plus is a foray by Zalman into the budget gaming case market and from that perspective we consider it to be a success. It is definitely middle-of-the-road for thermal performance and build quality, but for its asking price no one expects any miracles. Fortunately, it has a few nifty features that make it standout amongst the rabble.

The hard drive cage is well-constructed and the soft mounting system is actually more than just show. The rubber grommets used are thick and when locked into the place the drives are a little loose — as they should be for good mechanical decoupling. Cable management is hassle free thanks to the myriad of holes on the motherboard tray. The case is fairly deep with ample graphics card clearance. The temperature sensor is a nice bonus, but it would have been nice to include some thermal tape to adhere it to the base of a heatsink or what have you.

The included fan controller is simple add-on, supporting a pair of 3-pin fans, though this isn’t enough for all the fans included. Zalman provides a generous four 120 mm fans for the Z9 Plus, with the option for three more. In addition, four of the placements can use 140 mm or 120 mm fans. The stock fans themselves are quiet, at least in open air. Of the included fans, only the one at the rear interacted with the chassis without creating a negative acoustic result. The fan grill at the back is punched outward to give it clearance, while the top and front fans sit flush against metal surfaces, generating low pitched hums that are audible at close proximity. This isn’t a huge issue for most users, but if you want to house an ultra low noise system, the Z9 Plus really isn’t for you. We reserve special mention for the intake fan mount on the side panel — it sounds horrid, even with a low speed fan.

Our other complaints are less damning. The power supply vent on the case floor is too restrictive, basically a small series of slits. It is baffling why they did this and then put a massive wide open 140 mm fan vent right next to it. They tried to form a “Z” with small acrylic windows separated by mesh, but the end result is pretty ugly. The “Z” shaped molding at the front might also impede the intake fan. On a more personal note, we took issue with the hair-trigger. flush mounted power button. We leaned on it a few times during testing, shutting the system off by accident.

Still, the Zalman Z9 Plus represents pretty good value overall, whether you’re interested in cooling a hot gaming rig or making one quiet enough for day-to-day use. There is a lot offered for less than $70.

Zalman Z9 Plus
PROS

* Support for up to seven fans (four included)
* Independent fan speed controller and temperature sensor
* Damped hard drive bays
* 29 cm graphics card clearance
* Low price

CONS

* Side intake makes fans sound terrible
* Restrictive PSU vent
* Questionable aesthetics

Our thanks to Zalman for the Z9 Plus case sample.

* * *

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* * *

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