Getting to the guts
The Nano's need to function as both a pre-built system and as a barebones box necessitates that the internal drive bay and memory slot are easily accessible. Zotac is only too eager to oblige, securing the bottom panel with four rubber-headed thumbscrews that also serve as the device's feet. Popping off the panel takes less time and effort than extracting the Zbox from its multiple layers of cardboard packaging.
Despite a tiny footprint, the Nano leaves enough room for my fat-fingered hands to get at the notebook memory stick and hard drive. Even the Mini PCI Express slot that plays host to the wireless card can be reached with relative ease.
This smaller Zbox casing does impose a few restrictions, though. The hard drive is held in place with a collection of tiny screws instead of the chunky thumbscrew that's found in full-size Zbox nettops. Those larger systems can accommodate thicker 12.5-mm notebook drives, but the Nano is limited to the 9.5-mm standard.
The single SO-DIMM slot is another limitation, but it's not a serious one. You get a 2GB module in the Plus version of the AD10, which is probably enough for the sort of tasks that suit the Nano. Since Zacate has but one memory channel, adding a second SO-DIMM wouldn't improve performance. If you simply want to run more RAM, the Nano supports up to 4GB of DDR3-1066.
Although the average user will have no need to extract the Nano's motherboard completely, we couldn't resist the urge to steal a peek at the other side of the circuit board—and the system's lone cooling solution. A single blower dominates the landscape and covers both the E-350 APU and its Hudson M1 partner. The cooler looks like something ripped off a $50 graphics card, and it's not as silent as one might hope for use in the living room.
With the fully assembled Nano idling at the Windows desktop, I measured a 35-decibel noise level 6" from the front face. That's was in a room with an ambient noise level of just under 34 dB, making the unoccupied Nano all but silent. After firing up a 1080p YouTube video, the decibel meter registered an audible 40 dB. At this level, the fan noise sounds more like a hum than a whine. Unless you watch Flash videos in absolute silence, the low drone is only a minor annoyance from across the room where one's couch might sit. I don't trust the tiny blower to be so well behaved over time, though. Midget coolers tend to get noticeably louder as they age, and they're not easy to replace.
Fortunately, Zotac provides a good amount of fan speed control in the Nano's UEFI. Users can define the temperatures at which the fan turns off, ramps up, and spins at full speed. It's also possible to control the slope of the fan response profile and set the startup speed. With fan controls like that, I can forgive the UEFI's somewhat flickery mouse support.
Configured with the default fan profile, the Nano withstood all my attempts to make it overheat. Even when burdened by our CPU-and-GPU torture test, the E-350 didn't climb past 61°C according to SpeedFan. 1080p YouTube video playback only warmed the APU to 50°C, up from an idle of 44°C. The hard drive idled at 40°C and gained just three degrees under our most strenuous of loads.
Flipping the heatsink reveals the Brazos duo fueling the Nano. The two-chip combo is tiny considering its capabilities.
This shot also gives us a nice look at Zotac's creative solution to the problem of where to put the CMOS battery on a motherboard with zero free real estate and little vertical headroom. The battery is taped to the top of the memory card reader. If only duct tape had been used, this clever approach would be MacGyver-approved.
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