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David Murphy Oct 02, 2013

Zalman MS800 Plus

At A Glance

Case Race

Built-in fan controller; hot-swap bays; screwless 5.25-inch device installation; cutout behind CPU cooler on motherboard tray; many fans.

Case Waste

Unnecessary VGA guide; tight cable routing; drive-bay fan could be bigger; screw-filled PCI brackets; weak aesthetic; confusing top panel.

A budget case that’s trying to escape

Zalman’s MS800 Plus aspires to accomplish much for its super-inexpensive price of a cool $100. And on paper, it does.

However, a case is more than just its spec sheet, and the MS800 Plus is a perfect example of a chassis that looks a bit flashier on the printed page than underneath your desk. At its core, the MS800 Plus is a budget case; it suffers the same budget drawbacks you see in a number of cases in this price range, which lessens the impact—or “cool factor”—of the otherwise interesting elements that Zalman adds to the mix.

The MS800 features pricey features on a budget.

Popping off the case’s side panel (with its larger-than-expected window) is easy enough, thanks to the chassis’s thumbscrews. The first fun bit you’ll encounter is the case’s large “VGA guide,” which runs vertically over the top of the motherboard tray for all the case’s 21 inches. It’s there to support huge GPUs that can stress slots during movement, or it can be used to hold an extra 9.2cm fan (included). Such a feature on a budget case is questionable, though, as overly heavy GPUs tend to cost five to 10 times as much as this case. Nevertheless, you can still install a motherboard without issue.

Tabs located on the front bay covers mar the case’s overall aesthetic a bit, but they make installing and removing up to six 5.25-inch devices a complete breeze. We appreciate that Zalman offers twist-lock devices instead of screws for installation, but these locks do feel flimsier than competing push-button mechanisms.

Unique to the MS800 Plus (versus its companion chassis, the plainer MS800) are the case’s three hot-swap bays located at its very bottom-front. We love the addition, though we wish we had a wee bit more room for hard drives instead of 5.25-inch devices. In addition to the two 12cm fans, one on top and one in back, a single 9.2cm fan also sucks air in over the HDDs. We’d have preferred a 12cm on the drives, too, but space is already tight with the oddly placed 9.2cm fan. You could always connect the hard drive fan to one of the six available connections on the case’s built-in fan controller. It joins the case’s two USB 2.0 ports and two USB 3.0 ports, along with audio jacks, on the top of the case’s front. Our only complaint is that the controller uses a low-to-high decal to show you where the knob’s dial corresponds with fan speeds (as if the noise alone wasn’t enough). We would have liked a prettier light or visual indicator much more.

Two elements of the MS800 Plus that leave us a bit concerned are the case’s cable management and water-cooling support. The right-most side panel runs perilously close to the rear of the motherboard tray, leaving little recourse for those used to mashing a spider’s nest of cables against their side panel. You get a bit of a reprieve near the drive bays, but we wish we had that space all around. Additionally, the case needs a few more cable-routing holes cut closer to the power supply.

As for water cooling, the case comes with rubberized holes for tube routing. However, we could find no way to pop off the case’s top panel that didn’t make us feel as if we were going to break something important. This mars our dreams of top-mounting a radiator in the chassis.

Zalman’s MS800 Plus offers some compelling features—namely, a fan controller and hot-swap bay—at a low cost. But we’re not quite sure if some of the funkier elements, such as the out-of-place VGA guide, the case’s screw-laden PCI covers, its (practically) bolted-on roof, or its tight cable management, are worth the trade-off.

$100, www.zalman.com

THE VERDICT

Zalman MS800 Plus

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