Zbox mini PCs get Ivy Bridge Core i3, i5 upgrades

Zotac has beefed up its Zbox lineup with two new models based on Ivy Bridge processors. Until now, the company's most powerful mini PC has been based on the Core i3-2330M, a 2.2GHz duallie from the Sandy Bridge generation. The new Zbox ID88 boasts a dual-core Core i3-3220 clocked at 2.8GHz, while the ID89 sports a Core i5-3470 with a 2.9GHz base frequency and a 3.6GHz Turbo peak. Both chips can execute four threads in parallel via Hyper-Threading. However, only the i5 includes AES acceleration capabilities and some extra virtualization mojo.

Apart from their processors, the new Zboxes appear to be identical. Intel's H61 Express chipset anchors the underlying motherboards, which have dual SO-DIMM slots and support for up to 16GB of RAM. Although the H61 platform doesn't have integrated USB 3.0, Zotac appears to have added an auxiliary controller to provide the systems with dual SuperSpeed ports. There are dual USB 2.0 ports, as well, plus two Gigabit Ethernet jacks, a memory card reader, and plenty of audio and video outs. Wireless options include 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0.

The Zbox chassis has a single 2.5" hard drive bay, which is empty in barebones models but comes loaded with a 500GB mechanical drive in the Plus variants of each system. Those configs also include 4GB of RAM, but you'll still have to provide the operating system yourself.

As usual, Zotac includes a bundle of goodies with the new Zbox systems. The best part is arguably the MCE-compatible IR remote, which plays nicely with XBMC. Zotac also throws in a stand for propping up the chassis vertically and a VESA mount for strapping the chassis onto the back of a monitor. Only some monitors will support the VESA mount, but the bracket can be placed anywhere you can sink a few screws.

While the new Zboxes have much faster CPUs than their predecessors, their graphics horsepower is a little lacking. Unlike the ID42 we reviewed in February, these machines don't feature discrete GeForce graphics. Instead, you're stuck with the Intel HD Graphics 2500 IGP, which should be fine for everything but serious gaming. The ID42 is saddled with a pokey 1.1GHz Celeron CPU, so it entails some compromise, too.

We don't have US pricing for the new Zboxes yet, but Zotac tells us the ID88 and ID89 will sell in Germany for €329 and €399, respectively, with the Plus variants each carrying a €80 premium. A direct exchange-rate conversion pegs US pricing at $432 for the ID88 and $524 for the ID89. I suspect actual prices will be a tad lower stateside, if only to slip under the $400 and $500 thresholds.

Update: Zotac has provided us with US pricing for the new machines, which will indeed be cheaper on this side of the Atlantic—quite a lot cheaper, in fact. The ID88 is set to retail for only $340, and the ID89 will be priced at $430. You can expect to add $110 for the Plus version of the ID88 and $100 for the equivalent ID89.

Tip: You can use the A/Z keys to walk threads.
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