Z-Black - IntroductionIntroduction
Not too long ago, the concept of modifying a PC case was pretty much unheard of. But when a small group of enthusiasts began making some eye-catching additions to their enclosures, they became a near overnight success.This brings us to companies like Extreme Case. They are a relatively new company and they deal in products that are designed for the enthusiast. Which brings us to today's article covering their Z-Black enclosure.Sure, there are a huge amount of pre-modified cases on the market, but how many of these can claim to include a 420 watt PSU and still maintain a retail price of less than US$70? Not many I can assure you.So sit back as we take a closer look at this bargain basement case. We don't expect it to have many features that are common on more expensive enclosures, but we will take a look at what it does come with and decide whether it deserves any serious thought when it comes time for your next project.
Z-Black - ExteriorThe Outside
Starting with the front of the unit, we see it has some similarities with the Antec/Chieftec line of enclosures. Though it is shorter in stature, it still has the ability to handle an ample amount of devices, but we'll go deeper into that a bit later on.Since we're talking pre-mod designs here, it should be noted that the round Z
emblem glows with a blue LED when the system is turned on. While not the brightest of LED devices I've seen so far, it still puts out a good deal of light.Also of note are the curved lighting effects above and below the emblem. These glow red and work as hard drive activity indicators. The lighting effects give this case a unique appearance that helps set it apart from other modified cases that are currently on the market.
Toward the base of the front bezel are the customary USB ports and headphone/microphone ports. There is also a cutout for a Firewire port, but it was not included in the tested enclosure. It was nice to see the inclusion of these ports since it is an easy way to help cut costs on an enclosure design. Plus, the ability to access USB devices without having to pull the case out and mess around back is always a welcome improvement.
You'll notice that the door opens backwards from most other designs currently available. While some may think this is odd, it actually works a bit better. If you're the type of person who places the case flush against the underside of your desk with the non-fanned side against the side panel, then you'll find this direction of opening the door more convenient.For those who don't have drives the same color as their case, no problem. Just close the door and your off-color drives are totally hidden from view.
With modifications becoming very popular today, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise to see the side window added. The design is unusual when compared with others I've seen, but is still manages to maintain structural integrity so it won't make the case overly flimsy and unstable.It should also be pointed out that the paint on this case has a very noticeable gloss to it. This will be another item that sets this enclosure apart from its competitors. Nice touch!
In the middle of the window resides a lighted 80mm fan to help in the cooling chores, but it is more for looks than function. It does give a good airflow boost, but it would have been better placed over the AGP/PCI areas of a mounted motherboard.One thing I noticed was the filter element sitting below the designer fan grill. Since dust and dirt are two of our most dreaded enemies, it is good to see an active approach to minimizing these elements.
Moving on to the rear of the case shows us a pretty standard design. We have a total of seven cutouts for the AGP/PCI slots, and when viewed closely you'll see this is one area where some cost cutting has taken place. When the cutouts are removed they require a blank to be placed in any empty slots. You'll also want to be careful when you remove them as you can bend the framing between the slots making installation of your peripherals a bit tricky. I don't think it will be a hindrance to the installation, but it is something that should be kept in mind when making your case buying decision.Also of note are the cutouts for your motherboard's built-in peripherals. The case comes with a standard layout, but many modern mainboards don't conform to this design. You will need to completely remove the cutout plate in a manner similar to removing the PCI slot covers. While the custom backplates will fit in this slot when you install your motherboard, you will need a standard plate to utilize a normal motherboard in the future. This isn't included with the Z-series cases.
Z-Black - InteriorThe Inside
Beginning with the optical device bays we see space for up to four drives. All four of these bays are externally accessible so there won't be any worries regarding too little space. All four bays have tabs included to hold the device in the proper place when installing, so you can easily fill the spaces in whatever order you want.Remember, this enclosure is designed for modding on a budget, so don't be disappointed when you see there is no rail system for the drives to be mounted. This can be costly and would drive the price up drastically.
Again, we're not getting overly fancy, but you'll still find enough room for two external 3.5" devices and up to four hard drives on top of that. You'll need to get the screwdriver handy to install your devices, but that isn't to big a deal to be honest.For those who are observant, I'm sure you'll have noticed the impressive design behind the 3.5" drive bays. You can fit upwards of four 80mm fans into the front of this case. Mounting the fans is a simple matter since you just remove the front bezel and mount the fans from the front side. While no fans came fitted into the base enclosure, you should have no problems finding them in your favorite computer shop (or on the back shelf in my case).Oh, and you WILL
want to add some fans to this front area. I tested the case as it came from the factory and noted internal temperatures getting a bit high (around the 42C degree range), so go ahead and plan on adding at least a couple of fans here.
If you recall the headphone and microphone ports on the front bezel, you'll certainly realize they need to be ported to your sound card (or motherboard) in some manner. Since onboard sound is becoming a useful tool, there isn't always the ability to hook up your sound from a PCI board. This requires common RCA jacks to make everything work, but then these jacks are only accessible from the back of the motherboard.Included with the case is a PCI blank allowing you to feed both of these cables through the enclosure and out the back. Simply hook them into your sound board or motherboard and you're set.
As noted earlier, you get two USB ports on the front bezel. A great many enclosures give you a mass of individual wire blocks that require you to fit these connectors one at a time on your motherboard's USB pinouts. This made sense several years ago when USB was a new concept and there wasn't really an industry standard for the pin layouts, but that has pretty much changed a long time ago. All of the motherboards I've tested in the past couple of years have had identical pinout designs for their USB ports.I don't know about you, but I have rather large hands making this a total pain in the rear. The Z-series line of cases makes the process a great deal easier by having only two blocks to install per USB port. This was truly a blessing when it came time to set up the front USB ports.
Z-Black - PSU IncludedThe PSU
As mentioned in the introduction, you also receive a power supply with this case. Not only that, but it also happens to be a 420 watt model. This is certainly not something you would expect in a budget enclosure, but there you have it.The PSU is a Raidmax branded unit designed to be capable of handling 26 amps on the 3.3v rail, 32 amps on the 5v rail and 13 amps on the 12v rail. Overall a decent power supply, but you may want to watch out how many fans and lights you include in your system as the 12v rail is a bit lower than many other models. Not badly so, but you might find yourself limited when you get towards the high-end lighting effects and such.
As far as cabling goes, you will find everything you need to get your system up and running properly. Being an ATX design, you get a single 20-pin main power, both varieties of the 4-pin supplementary power for modern boards, a pair of FDD connectors and a meager four 4-pin Molex connectors.This brings us to one of the few true gripes I have about this case; the lack of enough Molex connectors. Considering the fact that the case itself has four Molex requirements (two rear fans, one lighted side fan, power lead for front LED/HDD activity lighting), you can see that daisy chaining is going to be mandatory. Even low-end power supplies should have a minimum of six Molex connectors, so you will almost certainly find this area to be lacking.
Once I calmed down about the lack of proper Molex connectors, I got down to the business of testing out the power supply. I stressed the system as I do when normally testing a PSU and came up with the above results.While all three power rails came up a bit below their stated value, the results still fell into the normal 5% window - so you should see no problems where power is concerned. Plus, with 420 watts at your immediate disposal, you should have very few problems with power levels when running your system.
Z-Black - ConclusionConclusion
Overall, I'll have to say that I'm rather impressed. Sure, there are much better cases out there, but not in a price range anything close to this one. For a retail price of US$69.99, you get an aluminum enclosure that is pre-modified and includes a 420 watt power supply. I've seen other so-called budget
cases with no PSU coming in at the same price, so you're already getting a good deal. Now take into consideration the lighting effects already in place, the solid mid-tower size and the LED blazing on the front cover and you have a pretty good deal on your hands.Of course everything isn't all roses, but again, we're talking about a budget box here. I will, however, jump upon the soapbox again and state that four Molex connectors is simply too few! Even without adding more fans to the front of the case I had to dig up a splitter just to make things work right.Bottom line...For those looking for a very workable enclosure that goes beyond the drab beige cases of yesterday, there are several options available. But for those who have a budget to consider, there are few alternatives that can match, yet alone beat, this Z-series case. You get a high level of quality along with a power supply and features that make this a value that may be just too good to pass up.- Pros
Exceptional price/valueAluminum constructionUnique window design420 watt PSU includedLighting mods already in place- Cons
PSU only has four Molex connectorsWill need to add additional front fansRating - 9/10