Update: In light of some questions in our testing methodology, we've revised them to be more clear and easily reproducible. Parts of the review were updated to reflect the new results and testing.
Can't stand the heat? Instead of getting out of the kitchen, it's probably a better idea to simply invest in a good notebook cooler. More and more people are using laptops these days, but far too few are taking the prudent step of investing in a notebook cooling stand. At the same time, notebook cooler designs are getting better and better. The manufacturers are really starting to "get it." One of the newest in this evolution is the Zalman ZM-NC2500Plus from Zalman who are well known for their excellent CPU Coolers and other computer accessories. It holds promise, but does it deliver? Let's find out!
Features and Specifications
While it would have been nice to see an aluminum construction, Zalman did go with some higher quality plastics in building this notebook cooler. It has honeycomb-esque venting where your laptop would go, allowing for some good breathing room. There's also a rubber grip strip near the front to prevent sliding.
It measures 314 x 390 x 65mm, accommodating notebooks up to 17 inches in size. Around the back, we find a pair of 50mm axial fans spinning at between 1700 and 2250rpm. There's also a three-port USB hub and power for the fans can come either via USB (from your notebook) or with the optional DC adapter.
As an added bonus, the Zalman ZM-NC2500Plus comes with an integrated 2.5-inch SATA hard drive dock, giving your laptop some extra storage capacity as needed. Naturally, the drive itself is not included in the package.
Not Much in the Box
Accessories? What accessories? Cracking open the rather large box for this rather large notebook cooler, we discover that there isn't much inside. Then again, there really isn't much that we should be expecting in here anyhow.
Removing the Styrofoam inserts and removing the cooler from its protective sleeve, we find some basic instructions, the USB cable (with two connectors in case your need more power), and a set of hard drive mounting screws. In my use, a single USB connection was enough to power this puppy with a single SATA notebook hard drive inside.
For those that require additional juice to power hungry USB peripherals there is that power adapter that is available for extra money. While the adapter isn't really necessary or included with most notebook coolers on the market, the nature of this device demands it since you are not only powering a hard drive but also various USB peripherals as well. In this case, the adapter should be included as a measure of safety since there is additional power draw from this particular cooler with the drive installed.
A Different Kind of Notebook Cooler
When you look at most active notebook coolers (which is really the only way to go; passive coolers just don't work as well), you'll find that the fans channel cool air directly into the bottom of laptop. Such is not so with this product.
With the Zalman, the two fans are actually toward the rear of the notebook cooler, channeling air horizontally. This air then fills the cavity and is distributed through the base of your laptop through all of those tiny little holes. The idea is that the cool air can cover a larger surface area on the bottom of your laptop, rather than focusing on one or two specific locations. This may sound like a good idea in theory, but does it work in practice? We'll get to that in just a moment.
The Bonus Integrated Hard Drive Dock
So, what's with the "plus" moniker attached to the end of the model name? Presumably, the "plus" refers to the hard drive dock on its underside. And much like the Choiix Air-Through Stash, this dock requires you to remove the cover, connect the drive, and that's about it. There are no drivers required and Windows will recognize it as an external drive.
This dock is fairly universal, accepting 2.5-inch SATA hard drives of varying capacities. Your read and write speeds will depend on the speed of the drive used, naturally, but you can expect performance to be similar to that of a regular USB-attached enclosure.