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Zotac's Zbox Magnus EN970 reviewed


The barebones PC console
— 2:58 PM on November 4, 2015

The miniaturization of PCs is an interesting trend. Of late, PC makers have been able to pack big computing power in boxes smaller than some mid-range graphics cards. We've looked at some of those systems, like a pair of Intel's Next Unit of Computing boxes. The NUCs are missing something, though, and that's graphics horsepower.

Zotac thinks it has the cure for what ails us in the Zbox Magnus EN970. The Magnus packs a Broadwell CPU, an Nvidia Maxwell-based graphics card, and lots of space for storage into a box not much bigger than a Mac mini.

The GeForce GTX 960 inside the Zbox isn't based on the standard, fully-enabled GM206 chip of its desktop namesake. Rather, the GTX 960 here is more like the GTX 970M found in gaming-oriented notebooks. This is a cut-down GM204 chip with 1,280 stream processors and a 192-bit bus to 3GB of GDDR5 memory. The chip has a 924MHz base clock and 1038MHz boost speed, and the memory runs at 5000 MT/s—speeds that are eclipsed by the average "real" GTX 960. This chip's wider engine could make up for some of the clock speed deficit, though.

The mobile Core i5-5200U found in the Zbox Magnus EN970 is built around a pair of Broadwell cores running at 2.2GHz base and 2.7GHz Turbo clocks. This chip has Hyper-Threading enabled, and it's fed by 3MB of L3 cache. The CPU includes Intel's HD Graphics 5500 IGP, but the onboard graphics processor isn't used at all in the EN970.

The Zbox is clad in a mixture of textured and glossy black plastic. The textured parts should deter fingerprints, but the front panel is a smooth, reflective surface that will smudge quickly. There's a bit of flex in the top and bottom panels, so I wouldn't want to stack anything on top of the Zbox. The large power button commands attention with an orange LED ring when the system is on. An SD card reader, microphone and headphone jacks, and a pair of USB 3.0 ports round out the front panel.

The power connector is around back. Next to that, the Magnus sports another couple of USB 2.0 ports alongside a pair of USB 3.0 connectors. There's also a barbershop quartet of HDMI 2.0 ports that can transfer 4K video at 60Hz. These ports can transfer audio, as well. Next up is a pair of Realtek-powered Gigabit Ethernet jacks. The lone antenna header is used by the Realtek 802.11ac Wi-Fi controller. Another antenna is hidden inside the housing for Bluetooth 4.0LE connectivity.

When we had Zotac's Jacky Huang on a recent episode of The TR Podcast, he told us that using four identical display outputs on the EN970 would allow users to connect four identical displays for consistency in multi-monitor setups. Since Nvidia's G-Sync variable-refresh-rate technology requires a DisplayPort connection, though, the Zbox can't support G-Sync operation.

At 8.3” wide by 8” deep and 2.1” tall, the Magnus is a fair bit bigger than either of the NUCs that have passed through our labs earlier this year. The Zbox's external power supply is nearly big enough to house a NUC on its own, too, at 6" x 3.3" x 1.3". 

The EN970 comes in two configurations. The barebones model is the one we're testing today, and it's available from Newegg for $799. The EN970 Plus comes with an 8GB SO-DIMM and a 120GB AHCI SSD in the M.2 slot. That configuration goes for $899. Zotac doesn't include a Windows license with either model, so builders will need to factor that into their budgets, as well.

Now that we've toured the Zbox's exterior, let's take a look at what Zotac has stuffed inside.