Zalman Z11 Neo Mid Tower ATX Case

Z11NeoLogoHeaderZalman, based in Korea, has been providing a wide variety of unique computer products to consumers since 1999, with an emphasis on developing noiseless computing solutions for a market that was growing in demand for these products.  Zalman has released a variety of products since being founded, including 3D LCD monitors, GPU cooling solutions, CPU heatsinks and of course, PC cases.  Zalman's slogan is "Cool Innovations." I fondly remember Zalman heatsinks from my early days of reviewing as being quiet performers with a unique, functional look.  In fact, that's Zalman's angle.  Their products tend to be different in looks and mechanism, but very functional and high performance.  For example, their flagship AIO cooler, the Reserator 3 Max, uses a vastly different design than your typical AIO cooler, but offers great cooling performance.  Zalman has been a favorite of PC enthusiasts in the past, so it will be interesting to look at their latest offering in the case market, the Z11 Neo. Z11NEO_b01The Zalman Z11 Neo Mid Tower Computer case, which is a revision of an already popular line of cases marketed towards gamers from Zalman that fall under the Z11 model name, was sent to us for review directly by Zalman.  Word of the Z11 Neo actually hit late last year, but Zalman has only now been able to release this case. The case measures in at 205 x 520 x 515mm, which weighs it in at a little larger than your average Mid Tower ATX case, but this is largely due to the large plastic top and front fascia extending from the case so much. There is currently one model of Z11 Neo, with no variations in chassis color or LED fan type currently available.   With an MSRP of $84.99, this case has a lot of competition from other manufacturers such as Corsair and NZXT, so it will be interesting to see what Zalman has up their sleeve to set the Z11 Neo apart from it's competitors.  Luckily, it can be found for $54.99 shipped after a $20 rebate right now and that $30 price drop puts this case in a whole new price category. Here are the specifications of the Zalman Z11 Neo Black ATX Mid Tower, taken directly from Zalman USA's Z11 Neo product page.
Case Type ATX Mid Tower Case
Dimensions ( W x H x D) 205 x 520 x 515mm
Motherboards Standard ATX / Micro ATX
Power Supply Unit Standard ATX / ATX 12V
PCI / AGP Card Compatiblility Full size 270~400mm
Expansion Slots 7 slot
Color Black
Drive Bays 5.25" External Bay x 1
3.5" Internal Bay x 6
2.5” External Bay x 2
Cooling Components (Fans) Front 2 x 120mm Fan Vent (1 LED Fan Included)
Rear 1 x 120mm Fan Vent (1 Fan Included)
Top 2 x 120/140mm Fan Vent (1 LED Fan Included)
Bottom 1 x 120/140mm Fan Vent (Fan Optional)
Side 2 x 80mm Fan Vent (2 Fan Included)
I/O Ports Ports 1 x Microphone, 1 x Headphones, 2 x USB 3.0, 2 x USB 2.0
I looked for warranty information on the box, the manual and in the literature for the case that Zalman has posted on their website.  The warranty information was not clearly spelled out on any of the product references. Referring to Zalman USA's website, I found a downloadable PDF with Zalman's warranty information:
"Zalman USA and any Zalman USA brand hardware products purchased in the United States come with limited 1-year warranties. Power supplies and SSDs come with 3-year limited warranties. The limited warranties cover defects in material and workmanship within the warranty period and they are further described below." - Zotac
Given the information provided, it appears that the Z11 Neo comes with a one year warranty for defects in material and workmanship.  In the future, it'd be good practice for Zalman to list the warranty in the manual, or at least provide the URL to their warranty page. Zalman is clearly targeting PC enthusiasts on a budget and gamers with the Z11 Neo, as it's distinct styling and lighting aren't going to fit well in an office or work environment.  Users who are interested in a quality ATX mid-tower with appealing visual features that offers a decent amount of expansion and cooling options should definitely be interested in the Z11 Neo and what it has to offer.  The Z11 Neo is currently available for $54.99 shipped at Newegg after a $20 rebate if purchased before 5/31/2015. Let's take a closer look at the case, now.

Zalman Z11 Neo External Impressions

ZalmanZ11NeoBoxThe Zalman Z11 Neo ships in a brown cardboard box with listed dimensions of 569 x 303 x 586(H) mm that arrived to us in pretty good shape.  The box has an illustration of the case, the model name and a line of features on the side.  Of note, Zalman is listing SSD support as one of the features of this case and we'll examine exactly what this means later in the review. Z11NeoBoxTopOpenInside of the box, Zalman packages the case between two foam inserts and wraps it with a plastic bag.  The case arrived to us with no damage or scratches and the packaging is adequate and typical of most cases of this type.  The side panel window is covered by a protective film that was very easily removed and it didn't leave behind any residue. Z11NeoCaseFrontFascia   Z11NeoSidePanel1 I noted immediately that the Z11 Neo is lighter than it looks.  It is really easy to pick up and carry, but has a very sturdy feel to it. I really dig the way this case looks. The faux-aluminum front panel really looks sleek and is a vast improvement over the previous Z11 cases.  There is a definite high build quality that is carried throughout the case.  None of the panels are flimsy, the plastic all aligns properly and the front and top panels are removable without issue. Externally, this case really shines and would be right at home on any gamer's desk.  Users with laid back tastes, or who prefer simplicity, will not like this case or it's radical lines and use of lots of plastic.Zalman Z11 Neo Accessory BagZalman includes all of the screws and stand offs necessary to complete your build in a zippered plastic bag.  Also included are extras to assist with your build like an 8-Pin CPU Power extension cable and a PCI slot cover. The user manual covers the basics, such as the contents of the case and some installation guides.  It's a basic manual that gets the job done and the documentation is better than that of some manufacturers who include no manual at all. Z11NeoTopPanelUSB2 The top panel offers two USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, an illuminated blue power button, a reset button and microphone and headphone jacks.  The power button has a very short amount of resistance and almost immediately clicks when pressing it.  The reset button has a nice amount of resistance and requires a strong press, so accidentally hitting it while blindly changing USB devices isn't an issue.  The reflective storage tray between the USB ports is a welcome addition, though it picks up fingerprints and smudges very quickly. Z11NeoTopRear The top fins give the Z11 Neo a very aggressive, stylish look, while actually being functional.  These fins are wide open, solidly built and really add a lot to the looks of the case compared to the typical cut out or mesh style openings we are used to.  Unfortunately, dust very easily falls into these openings and you can't really add a filter, since the unique design just really won't allow for one to be cleanly installed.  Most users are using the top fans as exhaust, so this is not a huge concern. Z11NeoWindowedPanelNone of the metal flexes and the side panels are very solid and well built.  Compared to the thin panels I've become used to with some cases, even those coming in at higher price tags, the quality here was refreshing. The side panel of the Z11 Neo stands out right away.  It's got an angled window and the panel protrudes out a bit from the case in order to accommodate the 80MM fan installed in the panel.  The window has a darkened-clear look that makes it somewhat hard to see the hardware through it and unfortunately, it seems to scratch rather easily.  Even with the window of the case protruding a bit, some taller CPU coolers will have trouble fitting in the Z11 Neo and the case is limited to use with HSF's up to 160MM in height.   The area above the top mount fans has a unique plastic fin design from Zalman that adds to the aggressive styling of the case.  At the rear there is a mesh grill to allow for additional airflow.   Z11NeoRubberizedFeetThe feet on the Z11 Neo have rubber anti-vibration pads on them.  These are a must-have for any case.  Not having them will often cause the case to transfer noise and make scratching sounds on certain surfaces.  These particular pads are thick and definitely help with grip and noise dampening.  Zalman has also included a mesh-style PSU filter that can be removed very easily for cleaning, as well.  This filter is more open and should allow better airflow than more closed filter types, but will let more dust in, subsequently. Z11NeoFrontLogoGrills The side grills look really clean, without being too over the top.  Unfortunately, the fascia being redesigned to a flat look means there is restricted airflow, as the only places to draw air from are the side grills. The Z11 Neo is definitely styled aggressively and has some very exaggerated lines.  The front grill looks aggressive and the faux brushed aluminum plastic styling is a visual improvement over the Z11's large open plastic grill.  

Zalman Z11 Neo Internal Impressions

Z11NeoInternalShot The Z11 Neo allows for installation of mATX or ATX motherboards.  Due to there only being 7 PCI slots, there could be a lack of expandability with certain motherboards and the Z11 Neo isn't an optimal case for multiple GPU setups.  The motherboard tray features a large CPU area cutout for the installation of aftermarket CPU coolers.  The case doesn't come with standoffs built directly into the tray, as we've seen in other cases as of late, but rather uses traditional standoffs.  Zalman installs four of these and leaves installation of the rest up to the customer, based on the motherboard they are using.  The glowing omission here is the lack of rubber grommets on the cable management holes.  It's 2015, Zalman.  Less expensive cases offer these grommets and while it isn't a deal breaker, they would really enhance the internals.  Another aesthetic complaint is that the motherboard header cables are multicolored.  Other manufacturers have stepped up as of late and are shipping cases with header cables in a uniform color, which really enhances the looks.  It's a simple thing Zalman could do to show attention to detail that they omitted. Z11NeoOpticalDriveArea Zalman opted to go with a three 5 1/4" drive bay setup, but only one drive is accessible, as the bottom two bays are covered by the front fascia.   These bays do not include a tool-free design, instead Zalman includes thumbscrews, which will be a let down for many. Personally, I still screw my optical drives into the case as I prefer the security provided by this method.  I really feel like Zalman limited this case by making two drive bays inaccessible.  They do include 2.5" drive adapters in these spots so that you can install SSD's, but I don't think many users will go that route.  Zalman had to make a choice between aesthetics and function here and they choose aesthetics.  I can see this being a detractor for people who would use these locations for bay reservoirs or fan controllers.Z11NeoHDDCages The removable 3.5" HDD bays are removed via two thumbscrews.  Z11NeoDriveCagesRemovedWhen removing the top thumbscrew, you must lift a tab to slide out the top 3.5" HDD cage.  Removing the middle HDD bay will allow for more airflow and longer graphics cards to be installed. Z11NeoHDDCagesRemovedThe bottom bay can also be removed, but there will be limited application for this in the Z11 Neo. Zalman Z11 Neo PCI-E cover areaZalman not using replaceable PCI slot covers and instead using stamped out covers creates an issue in that over time, you're inevitably going to upgrade and change out various components and the need for physical slot covers will come in.  Zalman should have included more than one replacement cover to help complete the package, or just ship the case with regular slot covers.Z11Neo80MMFanPortThe 80MM exhaust fan fits securely in the side panel of the Z11 Neo and is easily uninstalled by removing the four corner screws and sliding the fan down.Z11Neo80MMFanThese 80MM fans, which are installed in both side panels, are powered with a four pin Molex connector.  I'd rather Zalman used 3-Pin fans here, as most users with modular power supplies are able to omit the 4-Pin Molex chain, but this case will require it.  Another issue is that the fans aren't easily speed controlled because they use Molex connections.  With motherboards offering multiple fan headers now, I think most users would prefer  3-Pin fans.  This is an oversight by Zalman that I think they should seriously reconsider on future models.  Or, even better, I would like to see Zalman integrate a side intake fan to assist in cooling the GPU and motherboard area, rather than the two 80MM exhaust fans to cool the HDD cage.  Realistically, these exhaust fans are probably doing more harm than good.  Why would you want to remove all of the air the case is able to take in from the already limited front panel? Z11 Neo Rear SSD MountZalman includes a 2.5" HDD/SSD mounting location on the rear of the motherboard tray. In theory, this is great for users with a single SSD as their storage solution, as the two front drive bays can then be removed to make room for watercooling equipment if you so desire. Z11NeoFrontFilterThe stock fan configuration is going to prove adequate for most users and the case offers a decent amount expansion in terms of fan placement, including a bottom 120/140MM fan mount option with an included filter. The upper radiator area can take either 120MM or 140MM fans, as well, while the front and rear fans are restricted to 120MM. The omission of rubber grommets on the cable management holes stands out, but it isn't a deal breaker in my opinion.  The different top panel cables could have also been uniformly colored black in order to enhance looks.  With case manufacturers taking every step to make sure their cases offer the best possible looks and cable management, Zalman really could have stepped it up here.  The stock fans are very basic and Zalman should have gone with 3-Pin headers for all of the fans.  140MM intake fan mounting points would have been nice, as well, given the case has 2x 140MM top fan mount points.  If Zalman is looking to impress in a crowded market, attention to detail in every single area is necessary. Besides the minor issues I noted, I really liked the internal layout of the Z11 Neo.  The ability to remove HDD bays to accommodate different hardware is nice and the top fan area is very well thought out and using AIO coolers doesn't come close to interfering with any of the hardware below, which is sometimes an issue on Mid-Tower ATX cases.  Overall, the internals of the Z11 Neo are well thought out and on par with competing cases.  Let's get our system built into the case next and see how everything looks.

ZALMAN Z11 Neo Build Experience

For this build, we went with a Z97 Sabertooth motherboard and a typical load out of hardware you would find a gaming machine or basic enthusiast system.  A DVD drive from Plextor was used to test ODD functionality and see how the ODD door would behave after repeated use.  During the build phase, we didn't note any problems and everything went very smoothly, with a couple of exceptions I will bring up in a moment. Z11NeoBuildComplete1 Unfortunately, an otherwise clean build is hampered by Zalman's decision to not use rubber grommets on the cable routing holes and go with multicolored front panel connectors.  The screw holes for expansion cards line up directly with the outer metal bracket of the case, so if you use long screwdrivers, you have to screw in at an angle.  This is a bit bothersome when installing expansion cards and GPU's, as you have to go in at an angle.  Had Zalman used rubber grommets and gone with mono-colored connectors, the overall looks of the build would be improved quite a bit.  These are small issues, as it is still very easy to build a nice looking system in the Z11 Neo with minimal time spent.  Users who want to make the connectors uniform can use electrical tape to help shore up the look of their build. Z11NeoIOShieldAreaCleanThe motherboard IO shield snapped into place and the motherboard lined up perfectly with the standoffs after sliding the ports into the IO shield. In general, installation was a breeze.Z11NeoPSUMountedOur test PSU lined up perfectly with the holes on the rear of the case and sat on top of the anti-vibration PSU pads without any interference with the bottom fan. Z11NeoTopRadiatorAreaThe upper radiator mount location is well thought out by Zalman, as it is isolated and easy to access.  Those of you with AIO coolers such as Corsair's H100/H110 will find installation in the Z11 Neo case to very simplified due to this isolated radiator area design.  The upper radiator design will allow for use of 2x 140MM fans. Z11NeoFanTopGrillThese fins are more than wide enough to allow adequate airflow and not impede cooling, while still looking very stylish and reflecting the blue LED of the top fan very nicely.  We've seen designs like this before where the fins were not spaced properly, so kudos to Zalman for thinking this design out and allowing for proper airflow.  There is a hum produced if you listen closely, but  it likely won't be noticeable by most end users.Z11NeoH80IInstalledThe Corsair H80I AIO cooler installed into the rear 120MM fan mount area without issue and there is adequate clearance between the fan exhaust and the other components.  There is also a nice amount of clearance between the 120MM fan mount and the top fan mounts, so the H80I is able to be installed with a top fan in place, which has been a problem with some cases, such as the Corsair 300R.  The Zalman Z11 Neo definitely is well equipped for AIO coolers to be installed in the top fan location.  We chose the rear mount location for our H80I, but it could easily be installed in a top fan location to allow use of the rear 120MM fan, still. Those of you who are wondering about the lack of a GPU in the build system, have no fear, the Z11 Neo can handle 400MM of GPU if you remove the top 3.5" bays.  Unfortunately, our build GPU suffered an untimely death before the review.Z11NeoHDDArea2Hard Drive and SSD installation is a breeze on the Zalman Z11 Neo.  You simply remove the bracket from the HDD cage by squeezing on the two side handles and pulling.  Once removed, you install your HDD into the bracket by aligning the pegs with the screw holes of the HDD and snapping the HDD into place.  SSD's must be screwed into the bracket and they sit in the middle of the bracket, which can cause issues with certain SATA power connectors.  This is the typical tool-free HDD mechanism we've seen for the past few years and it works great here and the HDD cages are very quiet.   The mechanism works fine and they slide in without issue.Z11NeoHDDBracketOf note, these HDD brackets are very flexible and feel somewhat flimsy, but they didn't have any functionality problems or feel like they would break, even through multiple uses.Z11NeoInstallDVDZalman ships the Z11 Neo with thumbscrews that can be used to install the ODD without a screwdriver.  I had no issues installing the optical drive in the Z11 Neo, but I would have preferred a tool-less clip like most manufacturers are using. Z11NeoDVDAreaThe single external 5 1/4" bay offered by the Z11 Neo can be accessed by pushing down a cover on the front fascia. Unfortunately, optical drives don't sit flush with anything in particular and thus, it looks pretty ugly when you've got the drive door open. Given how little your average user is going to access optical drives these days, this isn't a big deal.   Above the DVD door, there is a red HDD activity light. Z11NeoRearBuildComplete Z11NeoBuildRearCableSpaceThe amount of space behind the motherboard is acceptable and didn't pose any issues with being able to close the side panel once the cables were ran, even without spending much time or using many zip ties.  Our Corsair RM750 PSU was able to install in just minutes. Z11NeoRearSSDMount2The rear motherboard tray allows for an SSD installation.  I did find that placing the SSD label up forced the power cable to be pushed on more, whereas installing it label down meant that you can't easily access the SATA cable release tab.  Perhaps Zalman can address this by placing a larger indentation on the motherboard back tray, or even putting a cut out there? Z11NeoPSUFilterIssue3The use of longer PSU's will render the bottom fan input useless, as the PSU extends over the mounting holes for both the 120MM and 140MM fans.  We found this issue with both our Corsair RM750 and PC Power and Cooling Silencer 910 units.Z11NeoTopFanGrill2The system emits a quiet blue glow from the top panel when powered on.  These top fins are spaced nicely to allow proper airflow and they reflect LED fans quite nicely.  This is a very nice touch that allows the Z11 Neo to stand out in a visual sense. Zalman Z11 Neo Mid TowerThe build process was simple, with the few small issues noted.  The bottom mounted fan location not being able to be used with two different, albeit somewhat long, test PSU's was unfortunate, as the case is already somewhat limited by the dual 120MM front intake fan setup.  Also, having to screw in PCI-E slot screws at an angle is a bit annoying, but I see this issue on cases all of the time and have gotten used to it by this point. Overall, I found the Z11 Neo to be a joy to work with.  I prefer cases with built-in motherboard stand offs and rubber grommets, so those omissions were annoyances.  The case is fairly spacious and HDD/SSD installation is really simple.  The blue effect was subtle and I liked it quite a bit, but this is a matter of personal taste.  The rear motherboard SSD mount can really help clean up the looks of your system.  The anti-vibration pads for the PSU are a nice touch, though I did have an issue with them lifting off after swapping PSU's a couple of times, so take note.  It would be easy for even a novice to build a nice looking system in the Z11 Neo.  I definitely could see it as being a popular choice for system builders trying to sell an aggressive, stylish looking gaming system that offers functionality, like the four top USB ports and the storage tray, along with stylish blue lighting.

Final Thoughts and Conclusion on the Zalman Z11 Neo

Z11NeoTopAngleThe Z11 Neo is a much needed refresh to the Z11 lineup from Zalman.  The Z11 was getting long in the tooth since it was originally launched in March 2012 and didn't have an internal USB 3.0 header, which was a major issue for many consumers.  While keeping the aggressive styling and improving upon the functionality of the original Z11, Zalman hoped the Z11 Neo refresh would be a hit with consumers.  While it hits most of the necessary points a case needs to in order to make itself competitive in a very crowded market, it still finds itself in a tough position against cases like the Corsair 300R ($69.99 shipped) and NZXT S340 ($69.99 shipped), both of which offer more refined cable management options for close to the same price (depends on rebates and promotional discounts at any given time).  With that said, the Z11 Neo from Zalman is a fine case from a well-known brand and has a unique style that I find to be very visually appealing. Beyond the visual appeal, the Z11 Neo has a solid build quality, with strong side panels that don't flex or bend.  The window is nicely implemented, but is severely scratch prone.  Ours arrived with a scratch from the factory, so Zalman could definitely improve in this area.  The cooling options on the Z11 Neo are interesting, but I'd really like to see them get rid of the 80MM fan intakes and have a standard sized intake on the side panel to aid in GPU cooling, as the 80MM fans are just loud and ineffective. Not including rubber grommets on the cable management holes and including fans powered by Molex connectors were two annoyances that I think hurt this case and it seems like Zalman could have easily remedied this. Including Molex-powered fans that can't easily be speed controlled on a modern chassis is just not acceptable.  Taking an already proven design and improving on it generally is a proven concept and while Zalman hasn't done enough with the Z11 Neo to really make it stand out against the pack, it has done enough to make it an option.  Aggressive styling and solid build quality are on the side of the Z11 Neo and it offers just enough to keep itself in the running with other cases in it's price range. At $54.99 shipped (after rebate), Zalman has made the Z11 Neo accessible for consumers who are looking for a unique looking case that will be able to host a modest to mid-range enthusiast system.  There is very stiff competition in this price range and I don't think the Z11 Neo sets itself apart from the competition in many areas, but it also doesn't fall behind, either.  I noted some small issues with aesthetic functionality that I think Zalman can address to make it a better value, but as it stands, the Z11 Neo earns our recommendation for having solid build quality, unique styling and decent functionality.  Had Zalman taken a little more time and really refined the Z11 Neo and thought some of the features out a little more, I think they would have a true winner on their hands rather than just a case we can recommend as an option.

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Legit Bottom Line:  The Zalman Z11 Neo is a nice update to the original Z11 that came out in 2012 and the introductory price of $55 shipped keeps price competitive for the time being.