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.

Comments closed
    • Entroper
    • 3 years ago

    I’m definitely stealing this from a friend at work: SCUBAVR. Self-Contained Untethered Backpack Apparatus for VR.

    • Omniman
    • 3 years ago

    I’m imagining VR headsets with the backpack computers are going to be the new awkward person talking on the Bluetooth headset in the elevator sort of scenario.

    • DPete27
    • 3 years ago

    I’m still waiting for someone to figure out how to wirelessly broadcast to a VR headset. Seems only logical.

      • tay
      • 3 years ago

      Latency kills it.

      • Entroper
      • 3 years ago

      For a while, it’s going to get harder rather than easier. HMDs will rapidly increase their resolution in the coming years.

    • Ninjitsu
    • 3 years ago

    Had I not known better, the amount of times I’ve read VEE ARRR in the last month could have led me to believe that it’s actually something hugely relevant to a lot of people.

    • sweatshopking
    • 3 years ago

    Anyone curious if vr is finally ready need only look at how stupid this market is: Backpack computers. That’s not taking off, and it shouldn’t. Because its stupid. I get why they’re doing it. It just shows they’re not ready.

      • Deanjo
      • 3 years ago

      Brace yourself, I agree.

      I’m just waiting for lawsuits to begin with people injuring themselves tripping and falling over while using these devices.

      And if by some miracle they do become popular, get ready for a whole new set of laws stipulating that use of VR will not be allowed while driving or walking in public.

      • DPete27
      • 3 years ago

      Cell phones looked pretty stupid when they were introduced.

      Most people are in agreement that VR attached to a stationary desktop PC is not ideal. To me, backpack VR is a glimpse into the future. Just think how much smaller and more powerful and power efficient computers have become over even the last 10 years or so. According to Wiki, the mITX motherboard with PCIe x16 wasn’t ratified until 2008, and remember how woefully underpowered mITX systems were at first. Now we’ve got even smaller PCs like Zotac’s Magnus EN980 with 1-2 orders of magnitude more performance. Given the current trajectory of tech, we won’t have to wait too long before that same amount of power is in your cell phone in your pocket (goodbye backpack).

        • ImSpartacus
        • 3 years ago

        Just remember that it isn’t a desktop pcie 980. It’s the laptop mxm 980. They aren’t clocked the same.

        Recent rumors have suggested the there will be a similar laptop 1080, and it, too, would almost certainly have lower clocks if it used the same 130ishW tdp like the laptop 980.

        • NTMBK
        • 3 years ago

        Yeah, but you’re still a dork in porn goggles.

        • sweatshopking
        • 3 years ago

        Until it is wireless completely, and all signals processed somewhere else, essentially lag free, nobody will buy in.

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