Known mostly for the company's line of NVIDIA-based GeForce graphics cards and motherboards, Zotac maintains robust manufacturing and R&D operations overseas, including 40 surface-mount technology lines and over 9 million square feet of production space.
Zotac provided us with one of its ZBOX units, the HD-ID11. This small form-factor (SFF), energy efficient nettop machine comes with an integrated processor, cooler, and graphics/audio solution. You just provide the hard drive and RAM. As most of us have experienced, "energy efficient" often translates into "underwhelming performance," but this doesn't always have to be the case.
Let's take a look at the ZBOX.
Specifications, Pricing and Availability
Here is the ZBOX HD-ID11 spec sheet from Zotac's website:
An Intel Atom D510 1.66 GHz dual-core chip provides processing duties and the ZBOX accommodates a standard 2.5-inch SATA notebook drive.
The ZBOX is available from a variety of online retailers including Amazon, Fry's, and Newegg. Prices hover in the $220 - 250 USD range, sometimes with a mail-in rebate. While that's quite a bargain, keep in mind that you'll have to supply the RAM, hard drive, and operating system, which tacks on some extra expense.
Packaging, Internals and Set-Up
The ZBOX comes in a modestly sized box with a convenient carrying handle. The front sports an angled shot of the machine, and the back lists detailed system specs and images of the ports and other features.
Inside, we find the package's austere contents: the ZBOX (already loaded into a mounting bracket), a laptop-style power supply, stand, DVI-to-VGA adapter, mounting screws, a driver disc and thin manual.
The front panel houses one USB port, memory card reader, headphone jack, mic jack, two status lights, and the power button.
The top panel has another single USB port, along with the exhaust vent for the CPU cooler.
The rear of the machine boasts the lion's share of the machine's I/O. We get 1xeSATA, 4xUSB, Ethernet, DVI out, HDMI out, and an optical S/PDIF out.
And here is the mounting bracket on its own.
The bottom of the chassis, revealing the air intake vent.
The bottom edge of the chassis with keyhole slot for the included stand.
Removing the side panel only requires loosening two thumbscrews.
Here we see the clean and not-too-cramped internals of the ZBOX.
We'll be finishing out the system with a 640GB HDD provided by our friends at Seagate and a 4GB RAM module from our friends at Crucial.
We'll install the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Enterprise as our OS.
This is where the HDD goes, obviously.
Remove one screw, flip this tab back, and insert the drive.
It will only fit one way, so we had a hard time screwing it up.
Close the tab and replace the screw, and the ZBOX holds its new HDD snuggly in place.
RAM goes here.
Again, fairly idiot-proof, although the manual is unfortunately silent about which specific types of RAM the ZBOX supports. We originally tried it with a stick of 533MHz RAM that we had laying around, which we soon realized wasn't supported. The box and the product sheet mention 800MHz RAM, though we found that 677MHz would also do the trick.
Once we were up and running, installing the OS was as simple as connecting an external USB-powered DVD drive and inserting the installation disc.
Once the OS install completed, we swapped the disc for the driver disc supplied with the ZBOX. The driver installer gives the option of installing all the drivers at once or one at a time. We went with the "all at once" option, which worked for almost all the drivers. The graphics driver failed to install, and we ended up just downloading that one from Zotac's website, which conveniently provides links to all the necessary drivers. It's probably not a bad idea to go this route for all the drivers, since the ones on the disc might not be the most recent.
General Hands-On Usage and Performance
General Hands-On Usage
Here's a CPU-Z screenshot showing some detailed specs of what's running under the ZBOX's hood:
Once the basic software install had completed, we restarted the machine to get a boot time. The ZBOX reached the Windows 7 desktop in 72 seconds.
Obviously, since we did the OS install ourselves, the desktop contained only the standard Windows 7 icons.
Overall, the ZBOX performs quite admirably with everyday computing tasks. Though we certainly didn't experience (nor expect) the blazing fast responsiveness we've seen on solid-state drive-equipped desktops lately, the general computing experience was on par with what one might expect from a modern laptop. We experienced no crashes or hangs of any kind during the review of the ZBOX.
The ZBOX draws an incredibly low 21 watts at idle, bumping up to only 28 watts under load. While one of the least-demanding systems we've tested in terms of power consumption, there are some tradeoffs in terms of performance, as we will see below.
We ran the system through the standard media encoding test regime here at TweakTown, which includes music and video transcoding.
All systems are tested "as is", which means operating systems and drivers can and do vary and some come pre-installed with applications that may or may not affect performance.
Any anti-virus or security applications are disabled and uninstalled before any testing is started, as they can affect test numbers.
For the iTunes encoding test we took the White Stripes - Under Great White Northern Lights album in MP3 format and encode it to AAC format using iTunes and time the results with a stopwatch.
The ZBOX performed this task in 442 seconds. This is one of the longer times we've seen a machine take to do this task, but with a low-voltage processor and a 5,400RPM HDD, we can't say we're surprised.
For the movie-encoding test, we took the Microsoft Magic of Flight VC-1 WMV (1080p HD) video with six-channel audio and transcode it to XviD (1080p HD) with LAME MP3 two-channel audio and an MP4 container using MediaCoder 0.7.3.4616 32-bit edition.
The ZBOX took 862 seconds to complete this task-again, one of the slower times we've noted on recent machines.
The types of chips that operate well in low-voltage applications tend to perform rather poorly in CPU-intensive tasks such as media encoding and transcoding. This is just a tradeoff one must keep in mind when considering a low-voltage machine.
Benchmarks - CINEBENCH R10 64-bit
CINEBENCH R10 64-bit
Version and / or Patch Used: Release 10
Developer Homepage: http://www.maxon.net/
Product Homepage: http://www.maxon.net
CINEBENCH is a real-world test suite that assesses your computer's performance capabilities. MAXON CINEBENCH is based on MAXON's award-winning animation software, CINEMA 4D, which is used extensively by studios and production houses worldwide for 3D content creation. MAXON software has been used in blockbuster movies such as Spider-Man, Star Wars, The Chronicles of Narnia and many more.
MAXON CINEBENCH runs several tests on your computer to measure the performance of the main processor and the graphics card under real world circumstances. The benchmark application makes use of up to 16 CPUs or CPU cores and is available for Windows (32-bit and 64-Bit) and Macintosh (PPC and Intel-based).
We noted similarly underwhelming performance in this benchmark, with the ZBOX taking 450 seconds to render the bike in multi-core mode. Again, one can't expect quick rendering of complex 3D models on a machine with a low-voltage processor and an integrated graphics solution. That's just not what the Zotac was designed to do.
We included this benchmark only for sake of comparison.
Benchmarks - Super Pi
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.5 Mod XS
Developer Homepage: http://pw1.netcom.com/~hjsmith/Pi/Super_Pi.html
Product Homepage: http://pw1.netcom.com/~hjsmith/Pi/Super_Pi.html
Developed by some folks from the University of Tokyo, Super PI is a small utility that does just as the name implies. It figures PI to a set number of decimal places. Since PI is an infinite number to the right of the decimal point, the utility measures the time it takes to figure a set number of places. It runs the calculations a set number of times and gives a time for the completion of the task. This is a simple and effective way to measure the raw number crunching power of the processor being used to compile the results.
The ZBOX calculated pi out to the 1 millionth digit in 88 seconds.
PCMark Vantage 64-bit
Version and / or Patch Used: Nov 2007 Hotfix
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/benchmarks/pcmark-vantage//
Buy It Here
PCMark Vantage is the first objective hardware performance benchmark for PCs running 32 and 64 bit versions of Microsoft Windows Vista. PCMark Vantage is perfectly suited for benchmarking any type of Microsoft Windows Vista PC from multimedia home entertainment systems and laptops to dedicated workstations and high-end gaming rigs. Regardless of whether the benchmarker is an artist or an IT Professional, PCMark Vantage shows the user where their system soars or falls flat, and how to get the most performance possible out of their hardware. PCMark Vantage is easy enough for even the most casual enthusiast to use yet supports in-depth, professional industry grade testing.
Again, we see the ZBOX scoring at or towards the bottom end of the scale in these tests, though please note that it did score higher than the Giada, which incorporated a previous-generation ION chipset, in the first test.
Though the Zotac ZBOX won't win any awards for blazingly fast performance, for just a shade over $200, you get a nice-looking, thoughtfully designed platform to which you can add the HDD, RAM, and OS of your choice. If you're frugal with your additional hardware choices (or have some extras already on hand), this price is very tough to beat, even compared to entry-level desktops.
The ZBOX would make a great, affordable system for someone who just uses a computer for Internet, email, word-processing and media viewing.
It's not really the best choice for media encoding purposes, but given its slim profile and low power consumption, the ZBOX would also perform well as a file/media server for a home network, or as a second system.
Though Zotac deserves praise for the ZBOX's affordability and stability, some bottom-of-the-barrel performance numbers will probably cause more serious users to look elsewhere.
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