Zotac’s Zbox Nano AD10 Plus nettop

Netbooks deserve a lot of credit not only for ushering in an era of affordable ultra-mobile computing, but also for spawning a new class of small-form-factor systems dubbed nettops. These similarly inexpensive PCs are less intimidating than cobbling together a Mini-ITX rig from discrete components, and they’re usually smaller and cheaper than do-it-yourself alternatives. There are performance limitations, of course, but the low-power platforms that underpin nettops get more potent with each new generation.

At the moment, AMD’s Brazos platform—specifically its Zacate APU—is the cream of the crop. The chip’s dual CPU cores are quick enough to handle basic desktop computing tasks, and its integrated Radeon graphics processor has formidable video decoding capabilities in addition to a healthy dose of 3D horsepower. This well-balanced attack makes Zacate ideal for home-theater PCs and lightweight desktops, so it’s no surprise that we’ve seen numerous nettop makers get in on the action.

Zotac didn’t take long to trot out a Zbox AD02 with a Zacate-based E-350 APU inside. The AD02’s 7.4″ x 7.4″ x 1.7″ (188 x 188 x 44 mm) dimensions are pretty typical for a nettop, so it doesn’t break any new ground. However, the same can’t be said for the new Zbox Nano AD10, which is half the size, just as fast, and even better equipped.

A handful of Zacate

Yes, the Nano actually fits into one of my meaty mitts. The thing measures only 5″ x 5″ x 1.8″ (127 x 127 x 44 mm), giving it a substantially smaller footprint than the old Zbox, while maintaining a similar thickness. To put things into perspective, consider that the Mac Mini has dimensions of 7.7″ x 7.7″ x 1.4″ (197 x 197 x 36 mm).

Of course, the Mini starts at $600 and features a Core i5 CPU, so it’s not really in the same class. When decked out with a 320GB hard drive and 2GB of RAM, the Nano is slated to cost just $320. That fully loaded model is known as the Zbox Nano AD10 Plus, and it doesn’t include an OS. There will also be a Plus-less barebones variant sold sans hard drive and memory for just $270.

Processor AMD E-350 1.6GHz
Graphics AMD Radeon HD 6310
Platform hub AMD Hudson M1
Memory Micron 2GB DDR3-1066 SO-DIMM
Storage Samsung HM321HI 5,400 RPM, 320GB
Audio Realtek ALC892 (2.1 analog, 7.1 digital)
Wireless 802.11n Wi-Fi via Atheros AR9002WB-1NG

Bluetooth 3.0

Ports 1 DisplayPort

1 HDMI

2 USB 3.0 via NEC D720200

2 USB 2.0

1 RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet via Realtek RTL8111E

1 eSATA 6Gbps

1 analog headphone out

1 analog microphone in

Expansion 1 MMC/SD/SDHC/MS/MS Pro/xD card reader
Dimensions 5″ x 5″ x 1.8″ (127 x 127 x 45 mm)

Both versions of the AD10 feature the same AMD E-350 APU, which has dual CPU cores clocked at 1.6GHz alongside a DirectX 11-class Radeon HD 6310 GPU. Our initial review of the E-350 covers the chip’s features and performance in much more detail than we’ll indulge here. It’s enough to say that the E-350’s CPU cores are faster than the leading Atom platform, whose anemic IGP doesn’t even deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the APU’s integrated Radeon. The E-350’s only real competition comes from Atom systems that include Nvidia’s discrete Ion GPU. That three-chip solution isn’t as slick—or as power-efficient—as the two-chip tag team that makes up the Brazos platform.

The second member of that tandem, the Hudson M1 platform hub, is loaded with contemporary conveniences like 6Gbps Serial ATA and second-generation PCI Express connectivity. We’ve found that those features offer similar performance to desktop chipsets, making Brazos even more appealing.

The Nano’s 5,400-RPM hard drive isn’t nearly quick enough to take advantage of Hudson M1’s 6Gbps Serial ATA controller, but one could conceivably plug a faster drive into the eSATA port at the rear. Unfortunately, the port doesn’t feature integrated USB power. That omission is particularly maddening in light of the fact that the AD10 has a mere two USB 2.0 ports; Hudson M1’s circuitry allows for 14, but Zotac doesn’t take advantage.

At least the company was smart enough to add a couple of SuperSpeed USB 3.0 ports to the rear of the system. There’s no reason for people to be forced to endure plodding USB 2.0 transfer rates when using external storage devices. With internal storage limited to a single drive, external solutions are probably even more popular in the nettop world than they are with desktops.

On the networking front, the Nano complements its Gigabit Ethernet jack with built-in Bluetooth 3.0 and 802.11n Wi-Fi. Unlike Zbox designs that feature integrated antennas, the Nano has a jack for an external one. We haven’t been impressed with the signal reception of Zotac’s integrated antennas, so the external option is much appreciated. It seems to have better reception, too.

The presence of dual digital display outputs is also a nice touch. The DisplayPort output probably won’t see much action, but the HDMI port will work equally well with big-screen TVs and inexpensive desktop monitors. If you have a fancy receiver, note that Zacate’s integrated Radeon is capable of piping TrueHD and DTS-MA audio bitstreams over HDMI.

Don’t want audio piggybacked on your video stream? The only other output option is an analog headphone jack up front. It’s joined by a microphone port and a 6-in-1 memory card reader. Sadly, there’s no front-panel USB connectivity. Zotac includes an IR receiver for the bundled remote instead.

To the left of the IR eye sits the power button and a trio of unobtrusive indicator lights for power, disk, and Wi-Fi activity. In case you miss the power LED, a sizable green ring glows from behind the glossy plastic top panel when the Nano is operating. I like the additional aesthetic touch, but I’m even more enamored with the fact that Zotac makes it easy for users to turn off the extra lighting.

TR’s resident fashion police probably gagged halfway through that last paragraph when they saw “glossy plastic” mentioned. The Nano’s top and bottom panels are clad in the same shiny black finish that has polluted the notebook world. While the smudge-prone exterior treatment is a fingerprint-filled nightmare on devices that are handled constantly, it’s really not that annoying on a nettop that’s likely to spend its life sitting on a desk, tucked under a television, or hanging anywhere you please.

Peeking inside the box

Yep, you can hang this sucker anywhere you can drive a few screws.

Zotac includes a back plate that has 75- and 100-mm VESA bolt patterns. A pair of metal tabs hook into the Zbox to secure it in place, leaving the holes free for mounting to the back of a monitor, a wall, or even on the underside of a shelf or desk. As an added bonus, the presence of four pairs of anchor points in the Nano’s underbelly allow the system to be oriented with the expansion ports facing up, down, to the left, or to the right. It really is the little things that impress. If you’re curious about clearances, the plate measures 5.1″ (130 mm) square.

While a simple metal bracket isn’t the most impressive of accessories, the Nano’s included MCE remote might turn a few heads. Zotac is keenly aware of the fact that nettops make excellent home-theater PCs, and both the Plus and barebones versions of the AD10 come with the remote as standard equipment.

Apparently, Zotac isn’t familiar with what people actually do with remotes—that is, handle them while sitting on the couch, usually with a bowl of greasy snacks within arm’s reach. The polished black plastic that’s forgivable elsewhere on the Nano is a cardinal sin here. I don’t even want to know how streaked and smudged the mirror finish is going to look after a Top Gear marathon with a bowl of buttery popcorn. Ewww.

The shine also permeates the optional IR dongle, where it thankfully isn’t a problem. The dongle is really a must if you’re going to be mounting the Nano behind a monitor or on a wall, obscuring the remote’s line of sight to the front-panel receiver.

The only other accessory of note is the nondescript power brick that comes in the box. This 65W unit is all the Nano requires to keep running.

Actually, it only needs about a third of the power available in the PSU. The Nano sips just 12.7W from the wall socket when idling on the Windows 7 desktop. Play a 1080p video clip in Windows Media Player or via YouTube, and you’re looking at power consumption in the 20-21W range. Even when running a Prime95 CPU torture test alongside the Unigine Direct 11 graphics demo, the Nano registered only 27W on our watt meter.

Getting to the guts

The Nano’s need to function as both a pre-built system and as a barebones box necessitates that the internal drive bay and memory slot are easily accessible. Zotac is only too eager to oblige, securing the bottom panel with four rubber-headed thumbscrews that also serve as the device’s feet. Popping off the panel takes less time and effort than extracting the Zbox from its multiple layers of cardboard packaging.

Despite a tiny footprint, the Nano leaves enough room for my fat-fingered hands to get at the notebook memory stick and hard drive. Even the Mini PCI Express slot that plays host to the wireless card can be reached with relative ease.

This smaller Zbox casing does impose a few restrictions, though. The hard drive is held in place with a collection of tiny screws instead of the chunky thumbscrew that’s found in full-size Zbox nettops. Those larger systems can accommodate thicker 12.5-mm notebook drives, but the Nano is limited to the 9.5-mm standard.

The single SO-DIMM slot is another limitation, but it’s not a serious one. You get a 2GB module in the Plus version of the AD10, which is probably enough for the sort of tasks that suit the Nano. Since Zacate has but one memory channel, adding a second SO-DIMM wouldn’t improve performance. If you simply want to run more RAM, the Nano supports up to 4GB of DDR3-1066.

Although the average user will have no need to extract the Nano’s motherboard completely, we couldn’t resist the urge to steal a peek at the other side of the circuit board—and the system’s lone cooling solution. A single blower dominates the landscape and covers both the E-350 APU and its Hudson M1 partner. The cooler looks like something ripped off a $50 graphics card, and it’s not as silent as one might hope for use in the living room.

With the fully assembled Nano idling at the Windows desktop, I measured a 35-decibel noise level 6″ from the front face. That’s was in a room with an ambient noise level of just under 34 dB, making the unoccupied Nano all but silent. After firing up a 1080p YouTube video, the decibel meter registered an audible 40 dB. At this level, the fan noise sounds more like a hum than a whine. Unless you watch Flash videos in absolute silence, the low drone is only a minor annoyance from across the room where one’s couch might sit. I don’t trust the tiny blower to be so well behaved over time, though. Midget coolers tend to get noticeably louder as they age, and they’re not easy to replace.

Fortunately, Zotac provides a good amount of fan speed control in the Nano’s UEFI. Users can define the temperatures at which the fan turns off, ramps up, and spins at full speed. It’s also possible to control the slope of the fan response profile and set the startup speed. With fan controls like that, I can forgive the UEFI’s somewhat flickery mouse support.

Configured with the default fan profile, the Nano withstood all my attempts to make it overheat. Even when burdened by our CPU-and-GPU torture test, the E-350 didn’t climb past 61°C according to SpeedFan. 1080p YouTube video playback only warmed the APU to 50°C, up from an idle of 44°C. The hard drive idled at 40°C and gained just three degrees under our most strenuous of loads.

Flipping the heatsink reveals the Brazos duo fueling the Nano. The two-chip combo is tiny considering its capabilities.

This shot also gives us a nice look at Zotac’s creative solution to the problem of where to put the CMOS battery on a motherboard with zero free real estate and little vertical headroom. The battery is taped to the top of the memory card reader. If only duct tape had been used, this clever approach would be MacGyver-approved.

Video playback

The Radeon HD 6310’s third-generation UVD video block is easily the Nano’s most important element for home-theater applications. So, is it any good? We fired up a collection of high-definition versions of the official Iron Man 2 trailer to find out. Local video playback was done with Windows Media Player, while YouTube content was streamed via Firefox 6.0 with the latest Adobe Flash 10.3 add-on.

  CPU utilization Result
Iron Man 2 H.264 720p 0-10% Perfect
Iron Man 2 H.264 1080p 3-17% Perfect
Iron Man 2 YouTube 1080p windowed 40-76% Smooth
Iron Man 2 YouTube 1080p fullscreen 86-100% Smooth
Iron Man 2 YouTube 1080p fullscreen (replay) 18-63% Smooth

The Nano had no problems playing 720p or 1080p video files encoded with H.264. CPU utilization stayed under 20%, and playback was utterly flawless.

Throwing streaming Flash video into the mix complicates matters. Things went smoothly with windowed playback and video resolutions up to 1080p, although there was a hint of occasional stutter at the highest resolution. Blowing things up to full-screen made the first few seconds of video chug, and CPU utilization was higher on that first full-screen run than with subsequent replays, which smoothed the initial fumbling. 1080p Flash playback was still smooth enough to enjoy a collection of additional videos.

Gaming performance

One of the best things about running a home-theater PC is the wealth of games available for the platform. With a dual-core CPU and an honest-to-goodness 6000-series Radeon GPU under the hood, the Nano has more gaming potential than one might expect from something that’s smaller than a Nintendo Wii.

I started with something easy: Frozen Synapse, which is a masterful combination of Counter-Strike and chess. The game isn’t too graphically demanding, and it ran smoothly at 1080p resolution with background animations turned off. Those animations don’t add much to the game, which hovered between 25 and 33 FPS without.

Next, I tackled Geometry Wars, a personal favorite that’s simple yet filled with bursts of visual flair. The Nano didn’t break a sweat with this one, staying at 60 FPS when running at 1080p resolution. Only when I hit a shortcut key to take a screenshot did the game hiccup.

Shank is a another favorite of mine, and it’s perfectly playable on the Nano. Fraps’ frame rate counter showed 18-20 FPS as I slashed my way through droves of stylized enemies at 1080p with full detail. The experience certainly felt smooth from where I was sitting, likely because the cel-shaded side-scroller is more tolerant of lower frame rates than a twitch shooter.

Enough messing around with indie hits. What about a blockbuster title like Portal 2? The game fared better than I expected, running at 18-30 FPS with a mix of high and medium detail levels at 1280×720. Particularly complex scenes reliably induced slowdowns, but the game remained playable despite the occasional hitching.

Last, but not least, I launched into some Gymkhana hoonage in DiRT 3. The game had to be run with the lowest detail settings at 1280×720 to get smooth frame rates, which stuck to the mid-20s through multiple environments. You don’t get much in the way of DirectX 11 goodness with that config, but at least it makes DiRT 3 playable. If only it made up for my n00b drifting skills.

About that missing OS

Although our testing has thus far been confined to Windows, I spent a little time sampling the Nano with an operating system that won’t add anything to the asking price. The Nano is compatible with Fusion-optimized beta versions of OpenELEC, a Linux distribution designed “from the ground up” to play host to XBMC, which is neatly integrated into the installer. Getting the distro downloaded and running on the Nano (via an old SD card, although it can also be installed to the hard drive) was a surprisingly painless experience that took all of maybe 10 minutes and was no more complicated than flashing a motherboard BIOS.

OpenELEC is nearly as good as the Windows version of XBMC, which I adore, but it’s not quite ready for prime time on the Nano. The headphone output doesn’t work, for example, and neither does the front-panel IR port. The remote is functional using the IR dongle, though, and I had no problem getting audio piped to my TV over HDMI. I don’t imagine it would take too much additional effort to get OpenELEC’s kinks ironed out on the Nano, and I hope Zotac invests the resources to ensure that happens.

With hardware-accelerated video playback, a YouTube add-on and other plugins, and that warm, fuzzy feeling that comes along with open-source software, OpenELEC has the ability to allow average folks to transform the Zbox Nano into a fully functioning home-theater PC without dropping a dime on an operating system. If you’re going to be accessing content exclusively from networked sources, you don’t even need to add a hard drive to the barebones Nano config. The OpenELEC folks really need to get XBMC’s full suite of Milkdrop-powered music visualizations working, though.

Conclusions

The Zbox Nano AD10 is a perfect example of less being more—and more being more. Along with a chassis that’s half the size of a standard Zbox, Zotac throws in a better VESA bracket, an external antenna, an MCE-compatible remote, and Bluetooth support. All you really lose is one memory slot and support for 2.5″ hard drives with three platters rather than two.

One might assume the Nano’s smallness and extras command a hefty price premium over normal Zbox units with Zacate hardware. That’s only half right. The barebones Nano’s $270 MSRP is $40 more than the Zbox AD02’s street price. The Nano AD10 Plus will run $320, however—the same price as the full-sized equivalent, which has a smaller hard drive. The $50 gap between the two Nanos seems entirely reasonable to cover the memory and hard drive, so you can’t go wrong either way.

That’s what really strikes me about the Zbox Nano: it’s an OS away from being a complete system, and it’s also available as a stripped-down barebones rig if you want to add your own parts. Zotac makes it easy to swap in the hardware you want, and I’ve gotta give the UEFI engineers a shout out for incorporating decent fan speed controls.

At the same time, I have to dock a point for the tiny blower. I worry about its aural characteristics trending toward a high-pitched whine over time, and I’d actually prefer a slightly larger enclosure if it accommodated a bigger heatsink-and-fan assembly that ran quieter under load. The Nano’s acoustic footprint should be as unobtrusive as its physical presence.

Zotac Zbox Nano AD10

August 2011

While I’m griping, I’d also like a front-panel USB 3.0 port and a matte remote. A stealthy metal case would be nice, too, even if it had to cost more as an exclusive AMP Edition.

As it stands, this handful of Fusion is a bargain in the realm of ultra-mini PCs. The Zbox Nano is also particularly friendly to hobbyists and enthusiasts, a characteristic that elevates it to rarefied status as an Editor’s Choice. Expect to see the barebones and Plus flavors available online starting September 12. Trust me, you’ll want to hold one of these things in your hand.

Comments closed
    • xiaomimm
    • 8 years ago
    • xiaomim
    • 8 years ago
    • seanchk
    • 8 years ago

    I used to have 3 tower PCs networked using Multiplicity so I could control them with the same mouse/keyboard. One PC had 2 screens and the other 2 had one screen each, so I had 4 screens.

    When I moved countries I couldn’t take the towers or the monitors so I ripped out the HDs and gave the rest of the hardware to a charity.

    I’m now thinking I might buy 3 or 4 of these little boxes, hook a screen up to each one and do the same thing.

    With Multiplicity Pro you can control 7 PCs or the open source Synergy that will handle 3 PCs.

    Each PC needn’t be all that powerful as instead of trying to drive multiple screens and programs all from the same CPU and Ram, each machine only has to handle one screen and few running programs.

    • FireGryphon
    • 8 years ago

    Excellent review. I, too would like to see better front panel port options. What really has me guessing are these points:

    1. If the Nano only needs half the power its power brick provides, why have the extra headroom?

    2. I don’t understand the following part of the article:

    “With the fully assembled Nano idling at the Windows desktop, I measured a 35-decibel noise level 6″ from the front face. That’s was in a room with an ambient noise level of just under 34 dB, making the unoccupied Nano all but silent.”

    What do you mean by ‘unoccupied Nano’? With what is it not occupied? That entire paragraph (page 3, paragraph 6) confuses me.

      • flip-mode
      • 8 years ago

      I think it means that the Nano is not occupied with any task, i.e., “idle”.

      • mutarasector
      • 8 years ago

      [quote<]1. If the Nano only needs half the power its power brick provides, why have the extra headroom?[/quote<] I agree. That eSATA port isn non-powered, no? Seems to me they could have used the capacity of the power brick for that, no?

    • Ruiner
    • 8 years ago

    Zacate still chokes on HD Netflix streams. Silverlight isn’t hardware accelerated yet.

      • Kurotetsu
      • 8 years ago

      Apparently Silverlight 5 supports hardware acceleration:

      [url<]http://www.techspot.com/news/41403-microsoft-announces-silverlight-5-with-hardware-acceleration.html[/url<] Not sure if thats out yet or not.

        • sweatshopking
        • 8 years ago

        it’s not out yet. should be out end of the year. just checked it out, as sister has dm1 and was complaining about it.

    • shakyone
    • 8 years ago

    I am drooling. This is exactly what I am looking to bolt onto the back of my little kitchen TV, with a wireless keyboard and mouse!

    • Bensam123
    • 8 years ago

    Omg, it’s so tiny! Does anyone else wish one of those hole on the back was a bit bigger…?

    Jokes aside, I do lament about it being a stone throw away from a custom built mini-itx system. No graphs?

    • My Johnson
    • 8 years ago

    My God. It’s …Beautiful.

    • Bauxite
    • 8 years ago

    E-450 please

    Same thermal rating, slight speed bump to cpu/gpu/ram, hdmi upgraded to 1.4a and can run it out of the display port with a passive dongle. (which would only run about $2 en masse, could also make room for 1 more usb that way)

    Oh, and lose the gloss of course along with some of the labels on the front.

    • flip-mode
    • 8 years ago

    Honestly, I would really have appreciated a perfect cube shape for this thing, which would have accomplished thee things:

    [list=1<] [*<]More room for cooling, hard drive, and RAM [/*<][*<]With better cooling it could use a more capable CPU [/*<][*<]The artistic aspect of a perfect cube[/*<] [/list<] If this thing was 5" x 5" x 5" and had a A8-3600 or a CULV 2300 or i3-2100, could fit a 3.5" hard drive, and had 2 DIMM slots, I'd probably lose all restraint and buy one right now. Even as is, this would make a perfect file and print server and host a household website and such. This is a great article though - thanks Geoff! If nothing else it reminds me of the sexy little boxes that Zotac makes.

      • UberGerbil
      • 8 years ago

      It’s in the eye of the beholder, I guess; personally, I would consider a 5″ high cube uglier than this*. A perfect cube doesn’t fit in with anything else I own, and it would be awkward in a lot of HTPC scenarios. This thing can hang behind a screen or slip beneath it. A 5″ cube doesn’t really mesh well with most folks’ AV stack, either, whereas this can probably slip in somewhere on its side or next to a cable/OTA box, which are roughly similar heights.

      A cube is also not going to do anything about more RAM, since that’s dictated by the ITX spec and more height isn’t going to help (unless they went with some wacky riser scheme, I guess).

      The Dell Zino has a larger footprint (7.8″ x 7.8″) and is a lot thicker (3.4″) without getting close to cube-shaped; other than giving it room for a desktop 3.5″ HD, it doesn’t get a lot more from that volume. It might have a bigger / better / quieter fan, though (the early Zinos apparently had some cooling issues, however).

      * I have aesthetic quibbles — especially the legends on the faceplate — but they don’t have anything to do with its size or proportions. If you were going to go for the “artistic aspect” I’d suggest using the Golden Mean for ratio of dimensions, rather than a cube.

        • flip-mode
        • 8 years ago

        I think if the AD10 was taller then it would be able to accomodate two DIMMs in the upright position. Dunno for certain since the components on the board might be packed too tight to allow another DIMM slot at all.

        As for 5x5x5 – that still would not accomodate a full size drive which I just measured to be almost 6″. However, it might accomodate two 12.5mm x 2.5″ drives, which would be just as awesome.

          • shank15217
          • 8 years ago

          But Zacate only has one memory channel, what would it do with 2 dimm slots?

      • BobbinThreadbare
      • 8 years ago

      Why not just use network attached storage?

        • flip-mode
        • 8 years ago

        I’ve got absolutely nothing against NAS, and if NAS is all you want I completely recommend a NAS product over this thing.

          • derFunkenstein
          • 8 years ago

          I think he means NAS to access media from this device.

      • indeego
      • 8 years ago

      There isn’t a PC or mac in the last decade that couldn’t act like a file/print/web server for ~1000/hits/day.

        • Flatland_Spider
        • 8 years ago

        Yes, but how much heat is that PC going to generate? I have a really beefy desktop that I could easily use as a home server, but it puts out lots of heat. The Zotac box will put out about the same amount of heat as my laptop, so much more win all the way around.

        • flip-mode
        • 8 years ago

        OK. I don’t know what I said to suggest that was not the case.

          • Anonymous Coward
          • 8 years ago

          Probably something about how you wanted all these upgrades and then [i<]associate it[/i<] with being a file server, even though you didn't actually say the upgrades are needed to be a file server. People are pretty nuts about fancy hardware for file servers, IMHO. Anyway my changes to make it into a perfect file server would be space for two or three 2.5" drives, plus passive cooled. Maybe it would be cube shaped. A spot for slim optical drive would be a win, along with more USB ports and eSATA ports. AND AND AND...

      • flip-mode
      • 8 years ago

      Honestly, though, the more I look at this thing the more impressed I am. I can only imagine holding it in person and being overcome with sheer awe at how compact it is, and yet how capable. It really is very impressive.

        • NeelyCam
        • 8 years ago

        [quote<]I can only imagine holding it in person and being overcome with sheer awe at how compact it is, and yet how capable. It really is very impressive.[/quote<] That's how I feel about most smartphones

      • ludi
      • 8 years ago

      It’s already been done. It didn’t go over so well.

      [url<]http://www.cultofmac.com/diy-powermac-g4-cube-tissue-dispenser/62678[/url<]

        • UberGerbil
        • 8 years ago

        I thought of mentioning that, but I always kind of liked the impractical chutzpah of that design (we need to cool it, let’s make the whole thing a chimney!) The Apple “let’s wrap everything in plexiglass” aesthetic didn’t age well, did it?

        • flip-mode
        • 8 years ago

        So, just to be clear, you’re saying that making this thing bigger is going to result in operational issues? Hmm… maybe you should think about it some more.

          • UberGerbil
          • 8 years ago

          I don’t think that’s what he’s saying.

            • flip-mode
            • 8 years ago

            He wasn’t really saying anything UG, he was just trolling. And I disagree with the statement that the Mac Cube’s demise was at all related to its shape.

            • ludi
            • 8 years ago

            Trolling, wot? I [i<]still[/i<] get tickled by the tissue box conversion. I think you'd have to be pretty deep in the Apple tank to find no humour at all in the similarity. The Mac Cube is interesting from an industrial design point of view but it wasn't an entirely practical format, and didn't last very long in the market. I suppose we could argue over whether the format or the price was more responsible for its demise, but it only lasted about a year and Apple hasn't tried to make anything like it since then. Even the Shuttle SFF boxes have stuck to an elongated design that vents front-to-back and allows for more practical expansion options (the Cube had an AGP slot but couldn't accept any full-length cards).

            • flip-mode
            • 8 years ago

            Yeah I take back the trolling remark but I don’t think the shape of the Mac Cube had anything to do with it unsuccessful run.

            • ludi
            • 8 years ago

            Maybe, but the shape can force design compromises. Up to a point, you can make a single PCB as wide and as long as you want, but you can’t make it taller. Stack PCBs, and you raise the production cost while requiring more interconnect, which raises design and testing costs. Of course, you can stack other things, like heatsinks and hard drives and such, but on a low-power device like this you’re not going to get to a square form-factor unless you purposefully design it that way. And then people can’t figure out where to put it, because they wanted to tuck it into the A/V cabinet next to the HD-OTA converter box or stack it with the router and DSL modem.

    • UberGerbil
    • 8 years ago

    It’s a pity they skimped on the USB ports; I realize they’re working with very tight constraints but on a system this compact, with no options for internal expansion, those ports are pretty important. The USB3 ports are going to get eaten up by external storage and (in an HTPC scenario) the external tuner / cablecard. I guess with a hypermodern setup your storage is on the network, and so is your tuner (HDHomeRun style), and your keyboard/mouse (or equivalent) is wireless, but still. If you’re plugging in legacy peripherals, those ports disappear quickly and then you’re digging out hubs and plugging them in. The card slot on the front is fine if you just want to view a slideshow or some just-shot video, but if you have a thumb drive or just want to recharge something, you’ll be grubbing around the back.

    • FuturePastNow
    • 8 years ago

    Kudos for the DisplayPort on the back. It would be very nice if every new system and display had one, and we could kiss DVI and VGA goodbye for good.

      • UberGerbil
      • 8 years ago

      I agree, but consumer electronics is the dog in this and we’re just the tail. And unfortunately the huge installed base of LCD/plasma TVs with HDMI ports (and no dp) isn’t going anywhere, which means products will continue to be made to mate with them and HDMI will be with us for a long time to come.

        • BobbinThreadbare
        • 8 years ago

        Can’t you convert from DP to HDMI with just an adapter?

          • UberGerbil
          • 8 years ago

          Sure, but what company wants to force its customers to go out and buy adapters, or eat the cost of including them? No matter what the engineers do, the marketing folks are going to demand HDMI. At least one port, and in the case of things with multiple inputs, probably several. And so devices keep getting added to the installed base of HDMI, and thereby continue the justification to keep including them in new devices because that’s the installed base.

          The only thing that will swing things over to DP is a qualitative technical advantage or a quantitative business advantage. If an something emerges that dp can handle and HDMI can’t (QuadHD say, or some multiscreen thing), then companies will be happy to try to sell the new thing if they think they can get consumers to replace all their old equipment. But realistically that’s probably ten years away. The one ace dp may have up its sleeve is the fact that it’s packetized protocol, which should make it easier (and thus cheaper) to do the kind of switching you really want in a receiver, where you have multiple inputs and multiple outputs all operating potentially simultaneously. That’s some relatively high-end stuff (you’re feeding multiple rooms from multiple source, etc) but we may see it there and start filtering down.

      • indeego
      • 8 years ago

      DP is a slight PITA to connect. At least on those systems I’ve used, the connection is too tight and requires too much force. It also suffers from USB syndrome where you can’t tell at a glance/low light how to connect it.

        • Bauxite
        • 8 years ago

        Exact opposite experience here, dealt with many TVs and AV equipment coming with crappy hdmi slots that have to be forced (or even worse its far too loose, then you are really ****ed) using multiple cables versus a couple nice monitors with good connections and a positive confirmation that it is seated.

        And by touch, DP is a lot easier to feel the orientation than hdmi.

    • Flatland_Spider
    • 8 years ago

    This is almost the little server I’ve been looking for. The price is right, the size is right, the hardware is right, but the fan is not. I’m really looking for something with zero mechanical parts… And a lot less media features. I know it’s like getting a banana split and being disappoint because I only wanted a banana. 🙂

      • Anonymous Coward
      • 8 years ago

      I am somewhat tempted to take a solemn oath to never buy another fan-cooled desktop computer.

    • End User
    • 8 years ago

    I applaud you for testing OpenELEC on the AD10.

      • Flatland_Spider
      • 8 years ago

      Agreed. Giving them press and mentioning it’s shortcoming will only help them get better.

      • stdRaichu
      • 8 years ago

      FWIW, I own an ASRock Vision 3D running Debian + XBMC; from the looks of the remote on this thing I imagine it’s using the same IR controller as the ASRock. Support for it was only recently added to the kernel and although it was a slight fag to get it working, it will work.

      The kernel module is nuvoton_cir and the IR receiver in the Vision 3D is the Nuvoton 677.

      Edit 2: just had a gander at their spec sheet (which 404’d) but judging from the driver downloads it’s an ITE chip rather than a nuvoton, but should still be supported by the ite_cir driver.

      • Ethyriel
      • 8 years ago

      Thank you, indeed, they turned me onto the distro, and saved me a good bit of time. I may still end up throwing on Arch Linux later, because it gives me more versatility. But for the time being, it gives me everything I want, without any hassle.

      • UberGerbil
      • 8 years ago

      How is the support for tuners like HDHomeRun? The last time I looked I saw requests for the functionality but that’s all. (Are there any quality USB3.0 tuners yet, supported or not?)

        • stdRaichu
        • 8 years ago

        IIRC the HD Home run is supported under XBMC, although you have to configure it manually:

        [url<]http://wiki.xbmc.org/index.php?title=HDHomeRun[/url<] I think it's also been supported in MythTV for ages too, but as I'm a UK user I've not tried it myself. Bear in mind that XBMC is primarily designed solely for media playback though, it doesn't have any inbuilt TV management features (although it can be run as a MythTV frontend).

    • NeelyCam
    • 8 years ago

    A beauty! The only concern I have is noise… maybe a dual-core Deccan or Cedar Tail would fit the bill better…

      • NeelyCam
      • 8 years ago

      -2? Goty – is that you?

        • NeelyCam
        • 8 years ago

        I mean, seriously? AMD fanboi /slash/ NeelyCam haters are missing their pills again?

        Logic just doesn’t apply when you’re an AMD fanboi, eh? Pathetic.

          • Bauxite
          • 8 years ago

          Trying to see any logic in asking them to replace the price and form-factor appropriate zacate with a nextgen part a year away or yet another crappy atom refresh with a junk gpu thats still 3 months out…

            • NeelyCam
            • 8 years ago

            The reason is the Zacate power consumption. Next-gen version cuts the power in half with minimal performance degradation. You could cool that thing with a quieter fan (or maybe even make it passive).

            Same for Atom. The next-gen one is supposed to have all the hardware decoders that a HTPC would need, and consumes even less power: again, potential for passive cooling.

            The Atom GPU is definitely weaker than what Zacate has, but I’d rather have a quiet, non-gaming HTPC than a loud HTPC that can run some games at mediocre resolutions. It would be hooked up to a 1080p display anyways, and doing anything at lower resolutions than that seems kind of pointless.

            So, you may not agree with my reasons, and you may be willing to sacrifice quieteness for higher graphics performance – that’s prefectly fine. But saying that my preference lacks logic is unreasonable.

          • mutarasector
          • 8 years ago

          I agree. Some of the “-1’s” are just flat out silly. This thumb up/down system is broken…

    • hapyman
    • 8 years ago

    This thing is pretty great for what it does. I have been searching for a replacement for my old htpc that just died and this would be perfect. I wanted something a little more capable for playing games but it is not a necessity.

    Oh and great work on the review. It was very thorough and highlighted a lot of the questions I was asking myself about this thing.

    • Kurotetsu
    • 8 years ago

    Get the barebones for $270 and throw in a [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820167044<]40GB Intel 320[/url<] SSD (assuming they've got the firmware issues resolved, and [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820231295<]8GB of DDR3-1333[/url<] and you have a machine with more and faster memory plus a much, MUCH faster boot than the default, non-barebones, configuration for $90 more and still around $200 cheaper than a Mac Mini (meaning they still don't compete with each other). This box could've benefited from just making that the default?

      • GodsMadClown
      • 8 years ago

      Did you miss the part where there’s only one so-dimm slot?

        • UberGerbil
        • 8 years ago

        That’s [url=http://www.memoryamerica.com/m471b1g73ah0-yh9.html<]not going to stop[/url<] Kurotetsu. How else to get the price up to into Apple territory?

        • NeelyCam
        • 8 years ago

        He probably did, but his point is valid otherwise. 4GB of faster memory and an SSD [i<]would[/i<] make the system nicer. That said, his comparison to Mac Mini is a bit unfair... Mac Mini has a Sandy Bridge, after all.

    • Hattig
    • 8 years ago

    This will be very sexy with next year’s quad-core low-end AMD Fusion chips.

    • axeman
    • 8 years ago

    No separate digital audio out. I am disappoint. Maybe I’m in the minority in needing one, but it’s a HTPC with a displayport, but no SPDIF? O_o

      • MadManOriginal
      • 8 years ago

      Yeah, a combo optical port on the headphone out would be nice.

      • Kurotetsu
      • 8 years ago

      Most likely they’re assuming you’ll be hooking this up to a receiver via HDMI for HTPC stuff. It sucks for people who don’t have a modern receiver though. Though I’m pretty sure USB-to-SPDIF converters are cheap. I know I have at least one laying around.

    • Dposcorp
    • 8 years ago

    A very fine job Zotac. Heck, I could even run it from a USB 3.0 memory stick , and have one less moving part.
    Bravo Zotac.

    Speaking of Zotac, I have to give them props for processing a rebate in a timely manner; job well done.

    They are quickly becoming one of my favorite companies.

    • sweatshopking
    • 8 years ago

    the computer for EVERY grandmother on the planet. let’s be honest, my grandmother writes a lot, and a tablet isn’t going to cut it. she will destroy a laptop, but this is the penumbra of capable “everyone” computing. will do everything, small, cheap, and efficient. Well done Zotac.

      • FakeAlGore
      • 8 years ago

      You wouldn’t happen to be gorice on the Ars Technica forums, would you? Similar posting style, similar grandmothers…

        • sweatshopking
        • 8 years ago

        nope. i’m sweatshopking everywhere.

      • UberGerbil
      • 8 years ago

      Exactly why I got the Dell Zino for my mother (who’s grandmotherly-aged, and writes a lot) about 18 months ago. If this had been available then I would’ve gotten it; as it is, she’s perfectly satisfied with the dual-core Turion and laptop 4350 graphics (no GPU media acceleration, but she doesn’t need it).

      The Zino is bigger, but not by a lot, and it does have a colored lid which she likes. And it manages to fit a desktop 3.5″ HD, which is nice (not that it makes any real performance difference).

        • raddude9
        • 8 years ago

        [quote<]The Zino is bigger, but not by a lot[/quote<] By my math the Zino is about 5 time bigger than this: Zino: 8.9 cm x 19.7 cm x 19.7 cm = 3454 cm^3 Zotac: 12.7 x 12.7 x 4.4 cm = 709 cm^3

          • UberGerbil
          • 8 years ago

          It’s a couple of inches in each dimension. That’s not a lot.

          Once you get down to “smaller than a loaf of bread” it just doesn’t matter all that much. (At least, when it’s just sitting on a desk. For other applications, like hiding it behind a screen, obviously the smaller the better). And for grandmas, too small is in its own way as bad as too big.

    • Ryhadar
    • 8 years ago

    Not that I’m unimpressed by the Zbox, but I was really hoping that this was the Zbox with the Via Nano X2 in it: [url<]http://www.slashgear.com/zotac-zbox-mini-pc-offers-via-nano-x2-dual-core-power-07157550/[/url<] Maybe this replaced the Via one? Would you be able to contact Zotac and ask about the Via based Zbox? Also, thanks for the review. Great as always.

      • Dissonance
      • 8 years ago

      Zotac is still building the Nano-based, er, Nano…. but it’s geared more toward the digital signage market. Zacate is far more appropriate for desktops and HTPCs.

      • Goty
      • 8 years ago

      The Nano X2 is a great little chip, but I don’t know that I’d want one in this product. The fan noise from this machine would probably be a good deal louder with the Nano X2.

      • Rza79
      • 8 years ago

      I thought exactly the same thing.
      I stopped reading when i figured out it’s yet another Zacate machine review.
      Tech Report, get hold of the Nano X2 version and review it!

    • dashbarron
    • 8 years ago

    Someone was just asking me for a small unobtrusive PC for their home email machine. With an old copy of Windows (or 7) laying around this looks like a good match.

      • axeman
      • 8 years ago

      With Linux this looks like a good match.

      FTFY

        • End User
        • 8 years ago

        I agree.

      • Ethyriel
      • 8 years ago

      Meh, I’d go with an Antec ISK 310-150 build, with an Intel H61 and Pentium G620T. It’s $250 with case, motherboard, and CPU. Just throw in 4GB RAM and a cheap SSD like a 64GB Crucial M4 and you’re set for less that $400. You have a much faster CPU, but the graphics probably aren’t quite as nice. But throw Fedora 15 on there and you’re set for someone who just wants a web machine.

        • raddude9
        • 8 years ago

        “Meh”….. I don’t think you got the point…. hint, it’s very small.

        your proposed Antec ISK 310-150 solution measures:
        9.6cm (H) x 22.2cm (W) x 32.8cm = 6862cm^3

        This ZBox Nano AD10 measures:
        12.7 x 12.7 x 4.5 cm = 725cm^3

        so by my calculations your SFF mini-ITX Antec machine is roughly 9.5 times bigger than this machine.

        In other words you could fit almost 10 of these in the same space as your proposed machine.

          • dashbarron
          • 8 years ago

          Bingo. For the most basic operations (and these things bill for a multimedia) only the minimum hardware is required. At least with this thing I can get more RAM, have a SSD, and have a smaller case for less than say a Dell and still have money left to buy an external optical drive if need be. It’s about $60~ more to have worse hardware minus the optical drive and the OS (whoopie) with a Dell.

          • deruberhanyok
          • 8 years ago

          [edit] reading comprehension fail. model number confusion. This thing is TINY!

    • derFunkenstein
    • 8 years ago

    Neato! It wasn’t holding it in your hand that made me realize how small it was, though; it was the 1/8″ headphone jack and the SD reader that really made me go WOWZA. it’d fit in a 5.25″ drive bay, or come really close. Might be a bit too tall.

      • Chrispy_
      • 8 years ago

      I was just thinking “Man, Geoff has huge hands” assuming that was a compact flash slot like I see on the front of all my servers and switches.

      Damn, that thing is small.

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