Zalman HD160XT - Ultimate Home Theater Case

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Product: Zalman HD160XT HTPC Case
Provided By: Zalman USA
Price: ~$550.00 USD (~620.00 CDN)

 

Introduction:

Home theater PC's are becoming more and more popular these days, everyone wants an all-in-one PC that can play music, movies, games and whatever else you can imagine. One of the biggest tasks when building a HTPC is finding the perfect case that will fit nicely with all your other stereo and TV components, the last thing you want it a ugly old beige case sitting beside your TV.

A while back we took a look at the Zalman HD135 HTPC Case, and today we are going to look at the big brother of that case, the HD160XT case. There are definite similarities between the two cases, but the HD160XT takes things to a new level with the touchscreen.

This case is one of the most feature-rich HTPC cases on the market, and even includes a 7" touchscreen on the front of the case. Zalman is famous for producing some very high quality cases, let's see if this is yet another in a long line of winners.

 

First Impressions:

The HD160XT comes in a pretty standard box, and easily withstood the beating that the mail system threw at it. Inside you'll find everything you need to get started. The box is nice and sturdy, and when I needed to haul this case to a LAN party, I was able to easily reuse the box with no problems.

This case is entirely made of aluminum, it's not the lightest case I've ever seen, but it's not as heavy as many others that are made of steel.

 

box.jpg
Zalman Box
inbox.jpg
Box (Open)

 

The HD160XT is designed to fit a full ATX system board, as well as a ATX power supply, which is always nice since some of the small form factor gear can be more expensive and sometimes not perform as well.

 

casefront.jpg
Front of Case

frontclose.jpg
Case Controls and CD-Rom Opening

 

As you can tell from the pictures below, the HD160XT comes with a card reader built-in, which is always a great feature for a media PC. The card reader is hidden by a flip-down panel on the front of the case so when you're not using the reader it's out of sight. The flip-down panel also hides a speaker and microphone jack, as well as 2 USB ports and one Firewire port.

 

front.jpg
Front of Case (Panel Open)
cards.jpg
Card Reader

 

Also you can also tell, this case has A LOT of vents for cooling, two vents on the side, one on the bottom, an adjustable vent on the top, as well as two fans on the back, with all that airflow it's not too tough to keep everything running nice and cool.

 

casebottom.jpg
Bottom Vent
caseside.jpg
Left Side Vents

 

caseback.jpg
Rear Vents
casetop.jpg
Adjustable Top Vent

 

As you might be able to see on the above pictures, the top of the case is removable, however, you're going to have to take out 6 screws to get it off. It's sort of a pain to have to take that many screws out, and very shortly after removing the cover a couple times I began to leave out the 2 screws on both sides, and just put in the 2 screws on the back of the case. It would have been nice to have not so many screws holding down the cover, but on a positive note, your top cover isn't going anywhere.

 

The accessories that are included with the HD160XT are pretty standard, you've got your remote, setup guides, software, screws, and misc. cables. Nothing too out of the ordinary, but definitely everything you need to get you all up and running.


Specifications (Taken From ZalmanUSA.com)

Dimensions (LXWXH) 460mm X 435mm X 160mm (L*W*H)
Weight 6.9kg (15.2lb)
Material Aluminum
Motherboard Compatibility Standard ATX / micro ATX
Power Supply Support Standard ATX / ATX12V
PCI/AGP Card Support Full Size
Drive Bays 5 X 3.5" Internal Drive Bays, 1 X 5.25" External Drive Bay
Cooling Components Rear Panel : 2 X 80mm Exhaust Fans
Bottom Panel : 1 X 80mm Exhaust Fan
Side Panel : 1 X 92mm Exhaust Fan
Expansion Slots 7 Slots
Front I/O Ports 2 X USB Ports, 1 X IEEE1394(Firewire) Port
1 X Microphone, 1 X Headphones
Available Colors Silver / Black
LCD Screen Size : 7" Wide LCD
Screen Ratio : 15:9
Maximum Resolution : 1024 x 768
Screen Output : RGB Output
Power Input : 12V DC
Touch Screen
ZPD (Zero Pixel Defect) LCD
Flash Memory Compatibility Compact Flash, Micro Drive, Secure Digital, Multi Media,
Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro

 

hd160xt_01.jpg

 

1. Remote Control Receiver
2. System Power Indicator
3. Power Button
4. LCD Power Indicator
LCD Settings - Menu
LCD Settings - Enter / Auto Adjust
LCD Settings - Cursor Control (Up/down)
5. Audio (Headphone, Mic) Port, IEEE1394 (Firewire) Port, USB Port
6. Card Reader Slot (MS/Pro/Duo, CF/Micro drive, MMC, SD,SM)
7. Keyboard Arrow Keys (Up/Down/Left/Right)
8. Enter / Multimedia Player (Windows XP MCE, M-Play) Launcher
9. Backspace / Previous
10. Volume Control / Mute
11. ODD Tray OPEN / Close

 

System Installation:

Test System:

Intel Core 2 Duo E6300
MSI P965 Neo - Provided by Memory Express
XFX 8800 GTX - Provided by Memory Express
2 GB Kit of Crucial Ballistix PC2-8000 - Provided by Crucial
Western Digital 250 gig (16 MB Cache)
Enermax Liberty 500 Watt Power Supply
ZeroTherm BTF80 CPU Cooler
Windows XP: Media Center Edition

The system that I installed into this case may be a bit more than most people will be installing into a HTPC, however it will definitely be a great test since all of these components produce a lot of heat, it will be a great test of what this case can handle.

The CPU cooler I used was the Zerotherm BTF80, this is a tall heatpipe cooler and it easily fit into the case. For more information on the cooler you can check out our review here.

 


HTPC System Installation & Features:

As soon as you open up the case, you will notice there are a lot of wires that need to be tended too. Cable management isn't a whole lot of fun, and it takes quite a while to get the cables routed half-decently, luckily there is no window in the case so you don't have to be too fancy, but naturally you want thing nice and neat for airflow reasons.

 

inside.jpg
Top View
insidecables.jpg
Bottom Exhaust Fan

 

 

Installation of the board and other various components went pretty smoothly, until I went to plug in my new 8800GTX video card....

 

As you can see in the below pictures the 8800GTX is a big video card, and it doesn't fit into the case. I had to remove the hard drive rack just to get the video card to fit into the case. As you can also see from the pictures, it was very close, another couple centimeters and I would have been able to get the card in. This is definitely an issue since removing the rack eliminates spots for 4 more hard drives, and without the rack you are going to be limited to one Optical drive and two hard drives maximum. For my test rig this wasn't the end of the world since I am only using one Optical Drive and one hard drive, but many system builds could use more drives.

 
touching.jpg
Video Card and Front HDD Rack - Almost Fits....
 

 

Luckily, even though the video card won't fit into the system with the front HDD rack installed, you are able to remove the HDD rack, which isn't a perfect solution, but at least it's an option. As you can see in the below pictures I was able to easily remove the rack in order to get the video card installed.

I'm not really faulting Zalman too much for the card not fitting, as the EVGA 8800GTX was released well after the case was released, so there wasn't really a way for Zalman to test this, thankfully Zalman didn't rivet the HDD rack down, but made it easily removable which made installation of the 8800GTX possible. Even with the rack removed you can still install a CD-ROM and 2 HDD's on the other side, so if you were to use this case for a gaming PC or wanted to have a top-end card in your home theater case, you're still able too.

 

 
rackremoved.jpg
Front Rack Removed (Top View)
 
rackout.jpg
Front Rack Removed (Side View)

 

7" Touchscreen LCD

Ok, this is really the main selling point of the case, the Zero Pixel Defect (ZPD) 7" Touchscreen LCD. This LCD is very sharp looking at is capable of 1024x768 resolution. It's pretty neat to be able to push a button on the front of the case which brings up Windows Media Center, and with a couple taps on the screen you've got a movie playing on the front of your case, it's really quite impressive.

 

 
lcdcontrols.jpg
Rear of the LCD (Reset and Adjust Controls)
 
mce.jpg
LCD in Action (Windows Media Center)

 

 

Fan Controller

One of my favorite features of the case is the fan controller that is built in, this is perhaps the greatest feature that a case can have. I personally hate listening to screaming fans and if the pc can be as silent as possible, I'm happy. When I first fired this case up, it was LOUD, but after I got the fan control software working I was able to set the fans to a bearable level, and my opinion of this case skyrocketed.

I've owned my fair share of fan controllers in the past, and I must say this one works as well if not better than any I've used. The fan controller allows you to select any speed you want the fan to run at (0-100%), yup that's right, with the controller you can turn them right off, or run them at a silent 5%, whatever you feel like. With the combination of a quiet CPU cooler and a quiet GPU cooler and a quiet power supply, you won't be able to hear this PC, which makes is ideal for a home theater PC, no one likes having to crank the TV way up just so you can't hear the computer running. I found that running the fans under 40% made them almost silent; the only sound I was able to hear was the EVGA 8800GTX video card cooler.

 
insidecase.jpg
Fan Controller (Side View)
 
fan controller.jpg
Fan Controller (Top View)

 


Fire It Up!

As soon as you fire up the system for the first time, you think to yourself "Wow, that's loud", yes its loud and from the sounds of the case airflow should not be a problem. Don't worry though, it's not always that loud, thanks to the fan control software that comes included, you can easily turn these fans down to the point where you can't hear them, and that's the type of fans I like. I will cover the fan control part of the case later on in the review.

Anyways, now that the system is all up and going, we can move onto the software, which most cases don't have, but this one has a bit of setup required to get all the features working properly.


Software installation:

The software that comes with the HD160XT consists of 3 programs:

M.Play ZiNi - This is the software that runs on the touchscreen, and is also the software that controls the A.F.C (Fan Control) and controls the software for the remote control.

MediaBay - This is some media center software, similar to something like Windows Media Center, it allows you to have all your movies, music, etc in an easy to navigate interface

Digitouch - This is the software that enables the touchscreen to work, without it your screen in your case will not be touch-sensitive. I won't be going into much detail about this, since it's basically just drivers and a simple configuration program that run behind the scenes.

 

MediaBay

In our review of the HD135 earlier on in the year, we also took a look at the MediaBay software that came enclosed with the HD135, and that same software comes with the HD160XT also. This is software that could be compared to Windows Media Center, it's got the same functionality and turns any version of windows system into a media center PC.

I didn't mind the software, its very well laid out and functions much the same as Windows Media Center, one thing I will note is the built-in internet radio section, which works very slick, it was a feature that caught my eye and worked very smoothly.

If you've got Windows XP Media Center installed on your computer already, you probably won't use MediaBay, since it's very similar to Windows Media Center, and the HD160XT case works very well with Windows Media Center, so chances are if you've been using Windows Media Center, you'll probably stick with that.

I won't go too in depth about the MediaBay software, it seems like a good program to me, and if you need a media application, this will easily do the job. It's very intuitive, and you can easily figure it out without having to read the manual.

 

mediabay.jpg
Zalman MediaBay Main Screen

 

M-Play ZiNi and Digitouch

The M-Play Zini software is the software that controls the remote control, as well as the ZiNi program that runs on the touchscreen and gives you a graphical summary of what's going on in your computer. The ZiNi software isn't anything too fancy or complex, but it does the job and looks good. (I have included some pictures of what the program looks like later on in this section)

Configuration of the M-Play ZiNi software was not the easiest task however.......

When you first fire up the case and install the software, the ZiNi program will automatically load on your secondary display (which in most cases is your touchscreen). After the first reboot it loaded up fine, and started to function right away. Great, it makes you think you're almost done the setup, well, not exactly....

Ok, so I see the ZiNi program running on the touchscreen, and go to touch the screen to see what happens, but naturally nothing happens. Obviously the touchscreen is not working, and needs to be configured. That should be simple enough thanks to the enclosed Digitouch software that runs in the background and runs the touchscreen. So I fire up Digitouch to get things configured, except it's not as simple as I was hoping. The Digitouch software for some reason keeps bringing up the calibration software on my primary screen (which would be your TV in most cases), obviously that's not going to work since I'm trying to configure the secondary monitor (the touchscreen). Luckily there is a "Muli-monitor" tab in the Digitouch software which is supposed to tell which monitor is the touchscreen that needs to be calibrated, so I select number 2 and try again only to have the calibration software pop back up on my primary screen again. "Huh?" I think to myself and when I go to exit the calibration software to try again, it freezes! Not only does it freeze the software it locks up the entire computer...reboot time. After a while of trying different options and freezing and rebooting and searching the internet of help on this problem (very little help out there), I decide to try something different. (I also tried the new version of Digitouch with no success; however it didn't freeze up as much).

So I think to myself, "If the stupid configuration software will only come up on the primary screen, why don't I made the touchscreen primary and my other screen secondary?", this is a great idea, so I switch around the monitor connections and magically it works, I'm finally able to configure the touchscreen. Great, so I'm thinking to myself I have to be almost done now....... Well, almost, but not quite.........

 

These issues are possibly linked to Windows XP Media Center that I was using for the review, the way Windows XP Media Center handles the mouse may be the problem with why the touchscreen does not calibrate properly when hooked up as the secondary monitor. I was unable to test with another version of XP before this article was published, but I will most definitely update with my findings down the road.

Now that I have the touchscreen configured, I can FINALLY get the ZiNi program loaded up and working, so I go to fire that up ZiNi and it loads itself up on the secondary screen. Hmmmm, this isn't good since I had to make the touchscreen primary, so I go about trying to move the ZiNi screen over to the touchscreen (primary monitor now)... and soon find out you can't drag and drop the ZiNi software, it basically loads and runs and the only option is to exit out of the software to make it go away.

So now I'm a little bit ticked off, I have to run the touchscreen as the primary monitor because I can't calibrate it when its hooked up as secondary, and I can't run the ZiNi program (the program that is designed for the touchscreen) on the primary because it by default runs on the secondary and won't load up on the primary. Well, I tried and I tried, but to no avail, finally my solution was to download ultramon (mulit-monitor software), and setup a shortcut key that will move windows on your desktop to other monitors with a simple keystroke. This luckily did work and I was finally able to get the ZiNi program working on the touchscreen. Quite obviously this is a stupid solution, since the software by default should work out of the box.

Now, when I was having all these issues I scoured the internet for other users encountering the same issues, which unfortunately there wasn't much information about this issue or this case for that matter. One interesting thing I did find on the Zalman site is a forum moderator saying they are looking into various software issues, but they however outsource the software to other companies so these problems take a bit longer to figure out since it's another company working on the software. I wasn't able to find much information about the exact problems I was having; even on the Zalman site there isn't much information about troubleshooting. I'm not sure if a case like mine is isolated, or if people just work around this problem and don't worry about getting the ZiNi software going, I'm thinking most people once they got the touchscreen working would just forget about the ZiNi software and move on, if I wasn't reviewing the case I would probably have just ditched the software and been happy with the touchscreen working and used other software instead. I am going to continue to look into this issue after this article is published, and I will make sure to update this section if any new information surfaces.

Once I finally got the program configured it ran fairly well, I never had any real issues with it after it was configured, the only time it acted up is when I tried to run my two displays cloned (same picture on both screens), in which case the ZiNi program crashes on startup. I was unable to pinpoint why it was crashing, but it could be due to the Nvidia software that I was using to clone the two displays.

Below are some screenshots from the M-Play software, this is the software that control the fans, as well as you can configure programs like Windows Media Center, Windows Media Player, MediaBay, etc to work with the remote control that is included. Everything is pretty straightforward and worked very well.

 

 
fan.jpg
Fan Control Section
 
main.jpg
Main Control Section

 

app.jpg
Windows Media Player Configuration

 

 

The next few pictures are screenshots of the ZiNi program, this is a program that runs on the touchscreen that allows you to check out various statistics about your system, it's pretty basic, but it also shows of the capabilities of this case, it's pretty cool to be able to touch a couple buttons and see how your CPU usage is, or how much network bandwidth your using. One interesting thing to note is the CPU and Memory usage screen, its reporting 1025 MB's of memory, which isn't correct since I have 2 GB's of memory installed, not sure why its incorrectly reporting.

 

 
clock.jpg
Main Screen (Date and Time)
 
cpu.jpg
CPU and Memory Usage

 
nw.jpg
Network Usage
 
fan2.jpg
Fan Statistics

 

 


The Remote: 

As I mentioned earlier, the remote that is included with the HD160XT is the same remote that was included with the HD135 case that Ryan "Howdy Duty" Ward reviewed earlier on this year.

 

 
remotetop.jpg
Top of Remote
 
  remotebottom.jpg
Bottom of Remote

 

remote.jpg
Remote (Full)
 
remoteback.jpg
Remote (Back)

 

This is what he thought of the remote:

The remote was one of the most disappointing features in the package as it controlled functions of the mouse pointer and navigation through the media software poorly.  The round disc in the middle of the remote is used to navigate menus and it didn't seem to matter how I pushed the disc 8 out of 10 times it would move twice.  It became very frustrating after a short time when you want to 'menu down' one item and it flies right by.  When not in WMC or MediaBay I thought the navigation disc would be used to move the mouse pointer around the screen.  Not so much.  The remote / software has a function called 'warp' which cuts the monitor into 9 sections and allows you to press the numbered buttons on the remote to 'warp' to that zone.  Moving the mouse pointer incrementally only works with the warp function on, which is very irritating to see a bunch of lines on your screen when all you want to do is move the mouse a half inch to the next icon.  Once I got the hang of moving the mouse pointer with the remote I found the movement to be erratic and incremental.  There was nothing smooth about it.  The pointer would move about a 1/8th of an inch at a time.  My 5 year old Remote Wonder moved the mouse pointer much smoother than this.  The remote works, but I'd rather use a cordless mouse on the couch for navigation and just use the remote for changing channels or the volume.  It's also worth mentioning that the remote will not power on the PC if it's shut down.

Honestly I came to pretty much the same conclusion as him. Using the remote instead of a cordless mouse is definitely cumbersome, and if you need to do any sort of navigation, do yourself a favor and go buy a cordless mouse. The remote isn't the best remote I've used before, but for basic navigation it gets the job done. You will be happy enough with the remote if you aren't expecting to use in instead of a mouse, as long as you don't try to get too fancy and use it for everything, it will do the job.



Conclusions:

When I first received this case I was immediately impressed with the quality and the features, it's definitely classy looking and people really notice it. Pretty much everyone I have shown the case to have been very impressed with it, mostly with the touchscreen, it's just not something you see built into a case, and if you fire up a movie on the screen people are amazed. I'm very impressed with the look of the case, and have no problem whatsoever putting it on display beside my TV with all my other stereo/video equipment, it really looks like it belongs there.

This case isn't perfect though, the remote isn't all that great, it gets the job done, but it could definitely be improved. Also you need to understand that this isn't like every other case you've bought before, you're not going to be up and running in 30 minutes, you've got a bit of setup ahead of you if you want to get the touchscreen and all the other software working properly. Once you get it all up and going though, it's definitely worth it. The software setup was the most time-consuming part of reviewing this case, I was able to get it all installed, but getting everything working properly took a bit of time, and I had a few issues, but once those were worked out, it really worked well.

The price of this case will also scare some people off, at first I was a bit surprised at the price too, but once you think about it, you're getting a top quality Zalman case with a awesome 7" touchscreen built in, so really the price isn't too unreasonable. If you're looking for the ultimate HTPC case, you can't go wrong with this. This case really isn't aimed towards the value consumer, this case is aimed at someone who wants a top-end case, and it delivers.

After using this case for well over a month now, I must say that I am very happy with it. When combined with Windows Media Center, it makes a pretty killer combination. I have no problems giving this case our Top Pick award, it's a high quality case with a ton of features, and if you want a killer HTPC case, you can't go wrong with this one.

 

 

Pros:

  • Well built, All-Aluminum, Sturdy Case
  • Very Classy Looking Case, Fits in Nicely with other Home Theater Components
  • 7" Touchscreen LCD capable of 1024x768
  • MediaBay turns any version of windows into a media center
  • Fan Control software controls thermal output / noise
  • Very Good Airflow and Cooling


Cons:

  • Remote has limited functionality
  • Software takes a while to setup properly


Score:

 

BCCHardware.com Rating
Quality:
10/10
Performance:
9.5/10
Software Pack:
7/10
Stability/Durability:
9/10
Features:
9.5/10
Value:
9/10
Total Score 9.0

 

TopPick

 

Thanks Zalman USA for sending out the HD160XT for us to check out!  If you have any questions or comments regarding this review, please feel free to drop us a line in the forum at the link below.