Zee box from zee outside
Good things come in small packages in the nettop world, and the Zbox stays true to that tired old cliché. The system measures just 7.4" x 7.4" x 1.73" (188 x 188 x 44 mm), making it about the same size as a Nintendo Wii. Think small. Very small. And light, because the Zbox tips the scales at four pounds sans hard drive and memory.
The system's relatively light weight allows it to be mounted on the back side of an LCD monitor using a VESA bracket that comes in the box. Hiding the Zbox behind the screen is certainly a neat trick, although doing so will obscure the USB ports, memory card reader, power button, and so on. Folks who would prefer to have access to those goodies can run the Zbox in a vertical stand that also comes with the system. One can always ditch the stands entirely and simply lay the HD-ID11 flat on its side, as well.
Like all too many budget PCs, the Zbox is sandwiched between slabs of glossy black plastic. The shiny finish will inevitably collect fingerprints and smudges as you put the system together, but a quick wipe with a cloth restores the factory-fresh sheen. Unlike notebooks and netbooks that get handled constantly, there's little reason to touch the Zbox's glossy panels once you've given it a final buffing. The system's slender midsection, which houses all the buttons, slots, and ports, mercifully has a matte silver finish.
A large blue ring illuminates the left size of the Zbox when the system is powered on. The right side is more subdued, playing host only to an intake port for the system's solitary active cooling element. More on that in a moment.
As you can see, the left side of the Zbox also becomes its underbelly. Little rubber feet ensure that the ID11's gently curved, er, side panels don't prevent it from sitting flat.
The Zbox's power button sits up front alongside a couple of activity lights and a memory card reader. Headphone and microphone jacks make an appearance, as well, and they're the only analog audio ports available. If you want more than basic stereo audio, you'll need to use the digital S/PDIF at the system's rear or pass audio over HDMI.
The enclosure's front edge also hosts a single USB port, and a second one lurks behind the rubber cover (to the right in the picture, on what becomes the top edge of the system when it's standing). I suppose the rubber cap is there to prevent spills from leaking into the USB port, but there's no such protection for the array of exhaust vents located a little further along that same edge.
Around back are the S/PDIF output and four more USB ports. There's eSATA connectivity, too, although not of the USB-powered hybrid variety. Video output is offered in DVI and HDMI flavors, and both ports can be used simultaneously to power a pair of independent displays.
Over to the right is a jack for the tiny power brick that comes with the ID11. Zotac mistakenly shipped its first batch of systems with a two-pronged power cord rather than the more common three-pronged variety. The company tells us that it's replacing the incorrect cords free of charge, and all new systems should now have the right cord in the box.
The Zbox comes with a Gigabit Ethernet jack driven by a Realtek RTL8111 controller. GigE is a nice touch for a budget system, and so is the built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi card, which is powered by an Atheros AR9285 wireless chip. Rather than supplying a connector at the rear for an external Wi-Fi antenna, Zotac built one right into the Zbox's chassis. That's a good idea in theory. Reception can be an issue in practice, however. I only have an 802.11g Wi-Fi network in the Benchmarking Sweatshop, and although the Zbox stayed connected throughout my admittedly small single-level home, the signal started flaking out when I ventured to the garage. My notebook has no problem maintaining a wireless connection in my glorified bike shed, and neither does another system built on one of Zotac's Mini-ITX boards, suggesting that the Zbox's integrated antenna has some uncommon limitations. Holding the Zbox differently didn't improve the signal strength, either.