Zotac@Computex 2016: next-gen graphics cards and untethered VR

As part of our Computex travels this week, we checked in with Zotac to see its latest mini-PCs and graphics cards, along with its much-talked-about backpack PC for untethered VR experiences.

The Zbox Magnus EN980 was among the smallest VR-ready PCs on display at Computex this year. Zotac achieved this machine's relatively tiny footprint by cooling the full-fat GTX 980 graphics chip and Core i5-6400 CPU inside with a full-coverage waterblock connected to a 120-mm radiator.

While this machine is larger than its NUC-like appearance might suggest, it's still more compact than even a VR-ready Mini-ITX PC might be, and its aluminum exterior looks and feels quite nice. We're confirming pricing and availability info for this machine with Zotac, and we'll update this post with that info once we have it.

Zotac is also an Nvidia graphics partner, and its GTX 1080 Amp Extreme had to be one of the most over-the-top takes on the card at Computex. This card has a triple-slot cooler with three fans and RGB LED lighting, plus beefed-up power delivery circuitry and a sturdy-feeling backplate. Since Nvidia isn't allowing more than two GTX 1080s to be joined together in SLI, the triple-slot cooler on this beastly card isn't as much of a liability as it might first seem. Like many other Nvidia partners on the show floor, Zotac was still working out the final base and boost clocks for its most extreme 1080. 

If the Amp Extreme card is too, well, extreme, Zotac will also be offering a saner Amp Edition card with a dual-slot, dual-fan cooler. This card still offers the RGB LED lighting, reinforced backplate, and beefy power delivery system of its more-Extreme stablemate. Zotac expects this card will make up most of its GTX 1080 sales. As with its Amp Extreme card, Zotac is still working out the base and boost clocks for this GTX 1080.

VR backpack PCs were a big trend at this year's Computex, and Zotac's prototype take on the formula builds on the Magnus EN980. The backpack version of this system ditches the liquid cooling for a more traditional air-cooled design. Zotac suggested that the battery in this system is good for about two hours of untethered play time, which sounds pretty reasonable given what we know about the parts inside.

We got a chance to try out this system with two VR demos: the Xortex mini-game from Valve's The Lab, and the more-photorealistic Arizona Sunshine. It feels great to dive into VR experiences without worrying about tripping over the HTC Vive's unwieldy umbilical. While the system handled the relatively undemanding Xortex with aplomb, the graphically-intensive Arizona Sunshine was surprisingly choppy.

We didn't have enough time to determine whether that graphical jank was a product of tracking issues or a lack of horsepower, but it definitely made the system feel more like a proof-of-concept than a finished product. Still, it seems backpack PCs like Zotac's are going to become A Thing if the number of similar systems at Computex were any indication, so we'd definitely expect to see a more refined version of Zotac's prototype hit the market in some form at some point.

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