Moore's Law has certainly been beneficial when it comes to narrowing the gap between laptops and desktops, but the extra heat generated by smaller, more powerful chips is a definite downside. No one wants to work or play on a hot notebook, and high temps can eventually damage internal components. The Zalman ZM-NC2500 Plus cooler lets users avoid this problem, and even has a bay for an external hard drive. While some minor issues occasionally hamper the cooler's functionality, the numerous strengths of the NC-2500 Plus outweigh the caveats.
At 12.4 x 15.4 x 2.6 inches, the NC-2500 Plus certainly has ample space for any laptop; Zalman says that the cooler can support systems up to 17 inches in size. Aesthetically, it isn't especially noteworthy. The top of the cooler, which accumulated several noticeable scuff marks throughout our testing, features a large matte black grille. Two 50mm fans, which operate at a barely audible 1,700 to 2,250 rpm, pull fresh air from the rear into a chamber inside the cooler.
The NC-2500 Plus only clocks in at 2.1 pounds, but despite tossing on several laptops of varying weights and sizes, the pad was surprisingly durable and showed no signs of bending. Rubber strips along the top and bottom keep the laptop and cooler in place, though the adhesive on one of the grip pads near the grille started to wear out during our testing.
The NC-2500 Plus features a mini-USB port (to connect it to a notebook and power the fans), three USB 2.0 ports, a plug for an AC adapter (sold separately, unfortunately) if you don't want to power it via USB, and a fan speed controller at the rear. You'll also find a 2.5-inch SATA hard drive mounting bay; installing a drive is as simple as unscrewing a cover on the bottom of the cooler to access the bay. If a hard drive is installed, it will function as external storage for any computer that's connected to the cooler. Once we installed a drive, we had no issues copying files to it or accessing them. In order for it to work as a backup drive, though, you'll need to supply your own software.
In order for the NC-2500 to function both as both a cooler and USB hub--and to use the external drive feature--you must use a USB Y-cable, which takes up two of your notebook's USB ports. However, the Y-cable is poorly designed: plastic tabs on both USB plugs are so big that it was impossible to plug them into adjacent USB ports on several different notebooks. Ironically, we sometimes had to use a USB hub so we could use the Zalman as a USB hub. Once connected, we had no problems using peripherals such as a smart phone and mouse.
To test how well the NC-2500 Plus worked at cooling notebooks, we measured the warmth of an HP Envy 13 with an infrared temperature gun at several hot spots: between the G and H key, in the middle of the touchpad, and at the center of the underside. After we played an episode of The Good Guys on Hulu at full screen for 15 minutes, we saw saw temperatures of 91, 84, and 94 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively.
We let the Envy 13 cool back down (with readings of 78, 79 and 80 degrees) and placed it on top of the cooler with the fans turned on to maximum speed. After repeating the same test on Hulu, we saw readings of 89, 81 and 86 degrees. While the NC-2500 Plus only made a modest difference between the G and H keys, the cooling performances at the other two locations were definitely impressive.
While the AC adapter costs extra, the Zalman NC-2500 Plus' functionality, solid construction, and cooling capabilities certainly make it an appealing prospect for any user seeking a quiet way to cool down their notebook. With a street price hovering around $60, the cooler costs slightly more than its competitors, but its performance and the ability to use it as a backup dock make it worth the investment. However, if the ability to add an external drive isn't paramount, the Zalman ZM-NC1500 ($34.99) gets the job done for much less.