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Zotac's Zbox ID92 mini-PC reviewed

35W Haswell, 802.11ac, and dual Ethernet

More than 18 months have passed since we last looked at one of Zotac's Zbox mini-PCs. In that span of time, Intel has released its Haswell processors, Sony and Microsoft have unleashed their next-gen consoles, and countless lesser gizmos have landed in stores. Many new and graphically demanding games, most of them primed for the next-gen consoles, have also turned up.

So, yeah. It's been a while.

In recent months, we've reviewed two Gigabyte mini-PCs with Haswell inside: the Brix Pro and Brix Gaming. Both of them have shockingly tiny footprints and surprisingly high performance. Unfortunately, they're also somewhat pricey and annoyingly loud when running at full tilt.

In light of those experiences, we figured we'd take a look at one of Zotac's newest Haswell-based mini-PCs.

The Zbox ID92 features a 35W Core i5-4570T processor with Intel HD 4600 graphics, and it's got the same kind of 7.4" x 7.4" x 2" enclosure that's housed Zbox systems for years. Where the Brix offerings are almost cube-shaped, the Zbox is flatter and wider, a bit like a Wi-Fi router or cable box. It's thin enough to mount to the back of a display (there's a VESA bracket in the package) yet discreet enough to blend in with your home-theater setup.

All told, the Zbox ID92 looks like a pretty sweet little PC. Here's a rundown of its key specs:

Processor Intel Core i5-4570T processor (two cores, four threads, 2.9GHz base, 3.6GHz Turbo)
Graphics HD Graphics 4600 (Integrated)
Platform hub Intel H87 Express
Memory 2 DDR3 SO-DIMM slots
Storage 1 2.5" SATA bay
1 mSATA bay
Audio 8-channel audio via Realtek ALC892
Wireless 802.11ac Wi-Fi via Intel Wireless-AC 3160
Bluetooth 4.0
Ports 1 DVI
2 DisplayPort
4 USB 3.0
2 RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet via dual Realtek controllers
1 digital optical S/PDIF
1 analog headphone out
1 analog microphone in
Expansion 4-in-1 card reader
Dimensions 7.4" x 7.4" x 2.01" (188 x 188 x 51 mm)

The Zbox ID92 will set you back about $468.25 in barebones form—that is, without memory, storage, or a bundled operating system. Zotac also offers a variant with 4GB of RAM and a 500GB mechanical hard drive. That model, known as the Zbox ID92 Plus, costs $529.99. Sadly, it's not among the Zbox Plus models to include Windows 8.1 with Bing in the box. You'll have to bring your own operating system.

The Intel HD 4600 graphics under the hood are a bit lackluster compared to the Brix Pro's Iris Pro IGP—and the Brix Gaming's discrete GeForce—but they should handle older games and casual titles well enough. The mix of 802.11ac and dual Gigabit Ethernet opens the door to all kinds of networking duties, too. With the right Windows software or Linux distro, the Zbox ID92 could serve as some kind of HTPC/router combo.

Speaking of HTPCs, some might be flummoxed by the Zbox's lack of an HDMI output. In fact, the system ships with a small DVI-to-HDMI adapter. The adapter is the same kind of single-piece contraption that graphics cards sometimes come with, so it's fairly inoffensive. It doesn't support audio, though, which means you'll be stuck with analog or S/PDIF out. The lack of a proper HDMI port is a little odd for a system otherwise so well-suited to home-theater duties.

The Zbox ID92 makes up for that omission somewhat with dual DisplayPort outputs and 4K support. You probably won't be playing any demanding games at 4K resolutions with the HD 4600 integrated graphics, but desktop tasks and videos should work. In theory, at least. We still don't have a 4K monitor up here at TR North, so we'll have to put that feature to the test later.

The Zbox ID92 is pretty easy to disassemble: just undo a couple of thumbscrews, slide off the bottom panel, and you're in.

As you can see above, there's a plastic bracket for a 2.5" SATA hard drive. The bracket easily snaps onto any drive up to 9.5 mm thick, and it's held in place by a single thumbscrew. Underneath the bracket are the Zbox's two SO-DIMM slots, and next to those (on the left of the photo) is the mSATA slot.

I like that Zotac left room for both mSATA and SATA storage. That means the system can be outfitted with a speedy SSD and a slower, high-capacity mechanical drive, all without having to put up with an external enclosure. mSATA SSDs tend to be priced about the same as their 2.5" brethren, and they're just as quick, so there's not much of a downside to going the mSATA route.

Alongside expansion is the CPU cooler, which has a small blower and a plastic shroud to direct airflow. The cooler exhausts air out of the side of the case, and it's surprisingly quiet even with the CPU is hard at work.

Here's the Zbox ID92 with a couple of the accessories that ship in the box: the little plastic pedestal, which props up the system vertically, and the VESA mounting bracket, which lets the Zbox be fastened to the back of a display. Also in the shot: the AC adapter brick, which adds a little to the system's overall volume, and the antenna for the built-in Wi-Fi controller, which screws into the rear port cluster.

And... that's about all there is to it. On the next page, we'll talk a little bit about performance..