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Zotac's Zbox Magnus EN1070 mini-PC reviewed

Pascal produces a mini-monster
— 11:24 AM on December 22, 2016

Remember LAN parties? In some parts of rural America, we still don't have fancy DSL or cable internet connections, and we certainly didn't back in the mid-90s. Everyone was happy to lug their full-tower ATX PCs and 50-pound CRT monitors across the county just to play a few hours of Quake II or Starcraft. That's all ancient history now for most, but we're still having LAN parties, and so are folks elsewhere.

The thing is, the machines you're likely to find at a LAN party these days are less Chieftec and more like that Gigabyte P57X gaming laptop we just reviewed. Gaming laptops have come a long way in the last few years, and even more so with the ridiculously-efficient mobile graphics chips from Nvidia that have recently become available. While the complete package of a mobile gaming laptop might not perform as well as a full-blown desktop, it comes close. You can get laptops with adaptive-sync displays, SLI, and even external liquid-cooling these days, too. Life is good if you need to take a powerful machine with you.

Even so, laptops still have a lot of limitations. You have to worry about saving space for the battery, and you have to make sure it doesn't get so hot it will scorch the user. You also need to account for the display's power usage, and the whole thing has to fit within a certain thickness and weight envelope. What if you wanted a PC that was small enough to carry around anywhere, yet had some really serious gaming chops? Like ultra-settings-at-four-megapixels gaming chops? Say hello to Zotac's Magnus EN1070, the successor to the Magnus EN970 we reviewed a while back.

From the pictures, I really thought this tiny terror would be larger. I have some experience with Zotac's mini-PCs, and the machines I've had using AMD low-power APUs and ULV Intel chips have been pretty dang small. Given the hardware on offer and without much visual context, I was expecting this machine to be more the size of a Playstation 4 or Xbox One.

But it isn't! It's flippin' tiny. It has around the same footprint as a mini-ITX motherboard, but it's barely thicker than a Wii U. It's about as thick as four stacked DVD cases. This thing is so small my best lady-friend can stick it in her handbag. The solid copper cooling hardware inside makes it a bit heavy for that to be comfortable, though. My analog postal scale puts it at right around four pounds. The actual dimensions of the machine are 8.3" x 8" x 2.4" (21 x 20.3 x 6.2 cm.)

Despite the tiny size of this box, Zotac packs a desktop Skylake quad-core CPU and a GeForce GTX 1070 inside. The GTX 1070 is the same mobile graphics card in the Gigabyte P57X we tested recently, with 2048 Pascal shaders running at a base clock speed of 1442 MHz and a boost range of 1645 MHz. Meanwhile, Intel's Core i5-6400T handles more general-purpose math. Those in the know will already be aware that this is a low-power version of the base-spec, sixth-generation Core i5 series. It starts out at 2.2 GHz, and it can Turbo up to 2.8 GHz if thermals permit.

The CPU gets a pair of DDR4 SO-DIMM slots for RAM, and storage can slip into an M.2 socket and a 2.5" SATA drive bay. The M.2 socket supports SATA and PCIe drives, although it didn't like the OCZ RD400 we stuck in it when we first put together the EN1070.

After some correspondance, Zotac pinned the EN1070's reluctance to boot the RD400 to a hardware or firmware problem with our pre-production EN1070 that shouldn't be present in production units. In the RD400's place, the company lent us a HyperX Predator PCIe AHCI SSD, which went nicely with the pair of 8GB DDR4-2133 CL13 SO-DIMMs HyperX provided for use with the machine.

I want to take a moment and say thanks to Toshiba for the RD400 SSD, as well as to HyperX for the memory we used in the machine. The RD400 is one of the fastest SSDs we've ever tested, and I sorely missed its high capacity during testing. Meanwhile, the low-latency HyperX Impact memory is on sale at Newegg right now. Without these contributions from OCZ and HyperX, this review wouldn't have happened.

Let's get a closer look at this mighty mite.