Zalman is an experienced manufacturer of cooling systems as well as absolutely quiet PC cases, so the release of a HTPC case under this brand is not much of a surprise. This market is not too big, but Zalman’s products have always been rather expensive and positioned as solutions for demanding users, so we think the company will get its share on it without much difficulty. We won’t repeat ourselves telling you what a HTPC is (you can refer to our previous review of such system cases, if you are curious), but will just try to clear out what Zalman has come up with.
In our earlier review of HTPC cases we repeatedly stressed the idea that the user of a HTPC is not concerned about its hardware functionality as much as about having an optimal mixture of hardware and software components. We didn’t mention one aspect of such solutions, however. The fact is the manufacturer can go two ways – a right and an easier one. The former way implies development of a hardware/software system to manage media content as well as the computer proper (such a solution can be ordered from a third party as Thermaltake did, for example). The second way is trimming the hardware/software system down to the requirements of Windows XP Media Center Edition that Microsoft has been actively promoting. The former way is costlier, increasing the cost of the end-product, while in the other case the manufacturer only has to add a remote control compatible with Windows XP Media Center Edition and, if desired, a display.
After a detailed examination of the multimedia-oriented OS from Microsoft we have to confess its functionality can satisfy only some very undemanding users. The best versions of specialized software to view and manage multimedia content are far more functional. Well, we’ll talk yet about the software aspect of the Zalman HD160 in the appropriate section of the review. Right now let’s take a look at the hardware.