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The Zalman Z9-U3 isn’t a great case but, at a cost of $70, it would be difficult to expect this mid-tower chassis to move many mountains.
You can only connect a total of two fans to the case’s built-in controller unless you pick up some additional adapter on your own.
The case’s design isn’t all that different from the company’s previously released Z9 chassis. Changes include the removal of the case’s grilled side in favor of an acrylic window and the happy inclusion of USB 3.0 connectivity on the chassis’ front—two ports, with internal headers. Although the switch from a grilled side to acrylic means that you’re down two potential fan slots, the case supports five fans in total (ranging from 12cm to 14cm) and comes with three preinstalled for you.
Fans seem as if they would be a big deal on the Z9-U3, mainly due to Zalman’s new inclusion of a “controller” dial on the case’s front. Presumably, this allows you to adjust the speed of connected fans from low to high. However, you can only actually connect a total of two fans to the dial’s available 3-pin connectors. As it just so happens, only two of the three preinstalled fans on the Z9-U3 case have three-pin connections of their own; one’s the case’s top blue LED fan, whose light will vary in intensity when you spin up or slow down the fan itself.
Below this controller dial—and to the left of the front panel’s two USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0 ports—is a simple display that lists the temperature (in Celsius) of wherever you happen to stick an accompanying thermal probe inside the case. It’s a cute feature, but we would have preferred more USB 3.0 ports.
The case’s three 5.25-inch bays are easy enough to work with, but they require you to bust out a screwdriver in order to mount additional components within your chassis. The case’s five hard drive bays—while described by Zalman as “tool-free,” are anything but. Instead of using drive rails or trays, Zalman requires you to screw four large screws into each of your hard drives, and these screws click into locking mechanisms on the bays themselves. Don’t forget to use the included rubber vibration dampeners, too; without them, the drives won’t really fit in the bays correctly.
The case does fit longer video cards up to 29 centimeters in length, but, as you might expect, it can start to feel a bit cramped on the inside. The inclusion of cutout holes on the motherboard tray for cable routing helps alleviate the problem a bit, and the large, empty hole behind the CPU section of a typical ATX or microATX motherboard makes modifying a CPU cooler a breeze. While you can even go liquid cooling if you want in this chassis—using the case’s two top 12-14cm fan mounts for a two-fan radiator and the rubberized holes in the case’s rear for tube routing—it’s still going to feel a little tight.
The Z9-U3 both looks and feels like an inexpensive chassis—one could also use the word “cheap.” The case’s bonus features of a fan controller and a temperature display are fun, but we’d gladly trade these in for an easier installation process, a little bit more space, or better looks.
Note: This review was originally featured in the January 2013 issue of the magazine.
Fan controller and temperature display built in; cable routing holes in motherboard tray.
Demands tools for awkward component installation; so-so aesthetic; can feel cramped.