Review: Zalman T5 mATX Computer Case

2 months ago Jack 0

I couldn’t help but snag this case for a review when I saw it on dirt cheap after rebate. Is such an inexpensive case worth the money, or do you just end up with a pile of garbage. Well, keep reading to find out.

Zalman has been making computer parts as long as I can remember; which makes me feel really old. Despite a few corporate issues in recent history, they’re still pumping out PC products for home builders. The Zalman T5 case is an interesting budget option that lets buyers build in a really compact chassis and still install beefy components.

Product Specifications

Overall Dimensions (W x H x D): 170mm x 427mm x 348mm
Motherboard Support: Micro ATX, Mini ITX
Power Supply Support: Standard ATX
PCI / AGP(That’s right!): Full Size 300mm
Expansion Slots: 4
External 5.25″ Bay: 1
Internal 3.5″ Bay: 2
Internal 2.5″ Bay: 3
Fans: 1 rear 92mm included, options for 1 front 120mm and 2 side 120mm
Ports: Microphone, Headphones, 1 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB 2.0

More Info: http://www.zalman.com/contents/products/view.html?no=54

Those dimensions aren’t huge. The Fractal R5 I used in my normal desktop dwarfs it. Still you get enough space to fill it up with peripherals. This case is behind the times when it comes to port selection. Most cases now will have at least a pair of USB 3.0 ports. On the other hand, I bet most people would be hard pressed to notice a difference between the ports; especially if you use them for controllers or other peripherals.

Detailed Product Examination

Don’t expect fancy materials on such an inexpensive case. Most of the case is made of thin and light steel. From a practical standpoint, the material choice will only make the case more susceptible to dents. Hopefully, you won’t carry your desktop into your next rugby match.

The front of the case is a plastic face textured to look like brushed aluminum. A small cutout sits at the top for your optical bay door to peek out. Note the little button right below that. When depressed (or angry) it will trigger the opening of the optical bay.

The issue here is that the optical drive’s front fascia hook onto that plastic opening frequently resulting in the drive being held open. I didn’t test, nor would I want to test, removing the front of the optical drive’s tray to clear that opening. I suppose that might solve the issue there.

Right above the optical bay, users find a straight line of ports and buttons. The power and reset buttons are on either end. A small LED sits just next to the reset button. Green and pink plastic are used for the microphone and headphone jacks. It might look cheesy to some folk, but they are much easier to identify by the color than by the embossed plastic text underneath them. You also see the two USB ports. I like the spacing of the two ports. I have reviewed cases that placed them too close together for certain types of peripherals. This setup is welcome.

The left side panel allows the installation of two 120mm fans. Neither area has holes for any other fan sizes, but you do get a coarse dust filter.

On the back, you have three holes with removable (permanent) blockers. Those are for water cooling systems that exit the case. The included 92mm fan resides in the only fan space on the back. It does have mounts for an 80mm fan as well.

PCI slots are almost as budget as it gets. The slots all exit the case with their 90 degree flanges. That means you have component sticking out of the rear of the case. The top slot has a replaceable cover. The rest are stamped out of the rear plate and removal is permanent.

At the very bottom you get a standard ATX PSU opening. Notice also on the back you have four thumb screws for the side panels. They’re plastic covered ones, so don’t get any bright ideas about using pliers to tighten them. Just use an appropriately sized screw driver.

Things get more fun on the inside. See the cable routing options? For a budget case, the options are solid. There are holes above the motherboard for the 4 or 8-pin power supply lines. There are two sets of holes near the front for power and SATA cables as well. You can also see a few stamped rings that cable ties can attach to.

On the floor, you can see that a dust filter is mounted just below the ventilation cutout for the PSU.

Did you spot all 3 2.5″ drive locations? One rests right underneath the 5.25″ bay. One is on the floor. One piggybacks on the motherboard in that honeycomb stamped area of the tray. The two 3.5″ mounts are aligned vertically on the front. They’re thin metal like the rest of the case and hard to access with the cage installed. Thankfully, the cage can be removed by pulling out a few screws (see next picture).

Right under those 3.5″ mounts is the front 120mm fan slot. I’m pretty sure the front fan can only draw in air from the bottom of the front fascia so make sure the case has enough ground clearance if you’re going to use that spot.

From this other angle you can see that there are rubber pads for the PSU to rest on; dampening vibration. The front fan also has a dust filter.

Overall, the case construction is adequate. It’s mostly rivets and thin metal. The fit of parts into the case required some effort because alignment of holes and metal bends weren’t perfect. We’ll get more into that next.

Usability

In computer cases, part of usability comes when you’re installing and changing components and the other have comes from daily use. Some computers can get away with really crappy ease of installation because of their great daily assembled usability.

This case has is pretty well balanced; mediocre in all aspects. When I built my PC into this case, I found that I had to rip the case open to get to the areas I needed to access. No easy installation trays here. Packing in all of the wiring meant that the cable looked like a mess. Thankfully, the case doesn’t have any real windows otherwise my OCD would bother me.

Most of the drive bays didn’t have enough room for cable routing or plugging things in. Also, because the SSD mounts are all in different spots, you’re required to use a lot of power cables to fill out the storage options of the case. What you end up with is a packed case with below average airflow.

Essentially, it’s like building a Mini ITX PC but with larger parts. It’s compact, dense, but comes with lots of trade-offs over a large system.

In use, I thought the case was a bit noisy partly because of the thin construction and partly because the components got hotter than my “daily driver” case and had to spin up the fans to cool down the system more.

My other complaint is one that I already mentioned. The 5.25″ drive tray catching on the bay door annoyed me. I’m sure some fix can be employed, but many of you won’t use an optical bay anyway. I love having one so I’m not ready to give up on them yet.

Recommendations

This case seems best suited for middle or low power systems with few components. Maybe an office PC or a midrange gaming PC would work great here. The small size means that you can cram it into a dorm room or a small desk. In those cases though, you still need to make sure it has a sufficient supply of cool air to keep it rolling.

Being such an inexpensive case, this could also be a great fit for people trying to squeeze every last drop of performance out of their PC budget. After all, the difference between a $100 case and a $15-30 case can be the difference between an SSD or HDD. It can mean a step up to a better CPU or GPU. Heck, you might even just use the savings to buy your girlfriend a nice gift.

Still, stretch your budget a little and you get into a larger case with better airflow and usability.

If you’re interested in buying this case, please use my Amazon affiliate link to do so. It helps me get more items to review and keep the website online. Sometimes you can get a better deal from other outlets though. If saving every last penny is your goal, keep an eye out.