Pros: price, fans, aesthetics, acoustics, anti-vibration hard drive mounting system
Cons: no innate usb3 header, space behind mobo tray could be deeper, snap off brackets not reusable, bundled screws, front panel hard to remove
The outer design aspects of the Z11 Plus could be an acquired taste. A lot of aggressive, angular edges and details are evident from the top translucent vents right down to the acrylic window on its side panel. The styling is at least consistent throughout. The power button is prominently located on top with the front panel, and glows blue when turned on. The front panel is actually a mix of hard plastic and translucent front fan cover that diffuses its blue color very nicely. However, I find it rather tightly attached to the case, and requires some effort to get it loose. The kind of force required should be familiar to those who worked in cases like Coolermaster 690, which also gave me a scare. Fortunately, the plastic is rather sturdy and should put many at ease from worrying about breaking it. Be aware, though, since the power button is on the front panel, there is a detachable cord that adjoins it to the case that takes some effort to put aside when reattaching the panel back to the case. The drive covers, as well as the front fan are behind filters.
The side panels contain curious oddities, which is what Zalman terms 'hard drive cooling system', namely the vents that attempt to draw in the air taken in from the front and expel it past the hard drive mounts. In theory, this should work to prevent warmed air from hard drive from reaching the rest of the case. My impression is that while they move some air with no vibrations, the low profile 80mm fans don't seem to be up to the task of providing any perceivable cooling advantage. I am thinking a turbine fan should work better in this application, but they would be much louder. In addition, the vents are plastic, while the rest of the panel is steel. They do have matching colors, but different reflexive properties under closer inspection. I think Zalman tried hard to differentiate this case from the Z9, and managed to do so more aesthetically than functionality.
There are five fans included in the system, front, on the top, two 80mm fans for the panels, and one on the back. They are quiet to my standards, especially under the control of motherboard fan headers, but not silent, especially the molex driven 80mm fans. Zalman seems rather fond of blue lighting scheme in its product lineup, including their cpu heatsinks, and this case is no exception.
The inner sanctum of the case is pretty well laid out, with bottom mounted psu configuration and a lot of different holes for cable management. Space can get a little tight under the motherboard tray, but those more skilled in routing cables than I would have little problems in utilizing the space. The hard drive mounting, while not tool free, is intuitive and provides secure enough fit. Also adding to mounting options is a drive cage that supports 2.5 and 3 inch devices
Bundled accessories are nothing too spectacular, just the expected number of screws and thumbscrews. An extra point for Zalman for providing an extension cord for CPU power cable that makes it much easier for navigate it through back. Some screws had threads warped so tightening them only managed to loosen their grip; It is something that Zalman should improve on. To compensate for the snap off brackets in the back, two separate reusable brackets are provided, one with opening for routing the usb 3 cables out to back port of the motherboard. The two holes in the back provide water hoses to be routed through, although they may be a tad too small.
Overall Z11 plus is a decent case that, out of the box, fulfills almost all requirements of building a midrange setup. I like its looks, fan options, filters, and versatility in terms of cable management and most of all, its price. Those who prefer the look of Z9 should wait for the impending release of Z9 U, which does away with the panel fan mounts for straight up acrylic panel and adds one filter for psu slits and usb 3 ports.
*Update: I'd like to update this review with some observations I made in the past few months of ownership. I docked a mark from the previous rating, because I realized that I shouldn't have based the score on the rebate price, rather on its MSRP. And I did test out the side fans a bit more thoroughly, and found that there was virtually no difference in cooling efficiency, at the expense of adding a few more decibels to the noise. Another note is that the case could be viewed as rather cramped and after installation of components would not have any room for further maneuverability inside. If Zalman would have stretched the case in all dimensions, including the space behind the motherboard, the case would truly have been great. My conclusion has changed to reflect these points. Wish you luck in finding a perfect case.