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David Murphy Jun 27, 2008

Zalman GS1000

At A Glance

3.14159265...

Lots of internal room, lots of drive bay space in a hotswap design, parts kept in check and off the floor using spring-mounted screws.

Kidney Pie

Optical drive installation a formidable task, fan holes blocked by plastic grate, minimal front-panel connection options.

At first glance, Zalman’s GS1000 chassis looks like it’s a going to be a tool-free computer builder’s dream. And in many ways, it is. Zalman peacocks the hot-swap bays for your hard drives by placing them right on the front of the case, eschewing the more traditional combination of side-facing drives with a front-facing cooling fan. And many of the case’s screws are spring loaded. It prevents the accidental (and often frequent) loss of any of the case’s helpful thumbscrews.

Zalman’s gone to great lengths to ease the building process with these innovations. But like your bank robber friend who bails on you once the cops arrive, the company leaves case enthusiasts in the lurch. The GS1000 still comes with a fair share of building hassles, contradicting its attempts to turn rig creation into a fun, fast, and painless process.

The PCI card holders on the 26.4-pound chassis use thumbscrews. We’d pardon this minor transgression given the good behavior of the case’s other ease-of-use features, but there’s more on the rap sheet. Installing an optical drive into the chassis is far more complicated a procedure than it need be. Removing the front-bay coverings—often just requiring a quick punch from the rear in other cases—forces you to pop off both side panels and remove two thumbscrews. The optical drives mount using four more of the Zalman’s loss-free screws. Drive rails would have been a stronger choice, tying directly into the tool-free motif of the case’s front drive bays.

About those. The case comes with only a single backplane, rendering a mere three drives truly hot swappable. We’re neutral on this exclusion since six hot-swap bays push the limits of usefulness. We’d much prefer to fill that space with a water-cooling reservoir. But we can also see the argument for a single additional hot-swap bay: Suppose a user wants a standard RAID 5 setup with an accessory drive for media or backups. We would much prefer to just add that drive into the case when needed as opposed to having to constantly connect an external enclosure.

The interior of the case leaves plenty of room for parts, even more so for cables. No fewer than seven separate holes are present for stringing cables around, behind, and between the various bits of one’s rig. Two 12cm fans woosh air out of the rear and top of the case, and you can add up to three more using the case’s pre-drilled holes and grills—at least, in theory. We found that the plastic design on the underside of the GS1000 blocked one of the fan’s holes completely. The case also comes with no active cooling for any of the hard drive areas. This isn’t an ideal situation as-is, but it's made worse if you plan to pack three drives in close proximity to each other.

We’ve seen lesser cases offer a ton of front-panel connection support, so we’re not sure why Zalman includes only two USB and one FireWire connection on the GS1000. But it does help round out the motif of this case, in that the GS1000 has a few things that are great about it, a few things that are average, and a few things that elicit a starry-eyed look or two. In short, this is an average to above-average chassis. We like some of its features, but its lackluster installation process and general design inconsistencies are enough to make us pause before putting this one under our desks.

THE VERDICT

Zalman GS1000

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