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Zotac's Zbox Magnus EN1080K small-form-factor PC reviewed

The big little PC

Why do we like little PCs? You give up a lot to make a computer small. Everything has to fit in a cramped casing, and you forfeit any real opportunities for expansion. Even working on the machine becomes a huge pain in the butt, assuming you can really work on a small-form-factor PC to begin with. The further you shrink the system, the less and less standardized your parts become, until you're using barrel plugs and flexible flat cables like a laptop.

As I said in the post announcing this review, I didn't evacuate for Hurricane Harvey. I have evacuated before, though, and down here in Southeast Texas we're always under the threat of a serious storm. Ease of evacuation (or more generally, ease of transport) is just one advantage to a little PC. It's easier to find space for it, and it's less likely to be in the way wherever it ends up. It's cute to look at, and frankly, it's just really cool having that much processing power in a little-bitty space.

The machine on deck today is Zotac's Zbox Magnus EN1080K. Don't be fooled by the "K" at the end of the model number: this machine isn't overclockable. Instead, it stands for Kaby, as in Kaby Lake. This is the updated model of the original Magnus EN1080, and it features a Core i7-7700 CPU where the original model had a Core i7-6700 inside. Just as the change from Skylake to Kaby Lake was a small one, this CPU upgrade is also a small change: an extra 200 MHz of base clock speed and support for DDR4-2400 memory. Since this machine makes no use of the Core i7's built-in graphics processor, the Kaby Lake changes to the Gen9 graphics' video block are irrelevant.

Let's check out the full specs of the machine as we tested it, shall we?

  Zotac Zbox Magnus EN1080K barebones
Processor Intel Core i7-7700
Memory (not included) 32GB HyperX Impact DDR4-2400 (2x16GB SODIMMs)
Chipset Intel B150 Express
Graphics Mobile GeForce GTX 1080 with 8GB GDDR5X RAM
Storage (not included) WD Black 512GB NVMe M.2 SSD
Audio Realtek ALC892
Expansion and display outputs 1x USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C
1x USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A
4x USB 3.0 Type-A
3x HDMI 2.0 (up to two in simultaneous usage)
2x DisplayPort
Communications 2 Realtek 10/100/1000 Ethernet
Intel 8265 802.11ac + Bluetooth
Dimensions (HxDxW) 8.9" x 8" x 5" (23 x 20 x 13cm)
Weight 8.5 lbs (3.9kg)
Included cables 2 180W power adapters

The combination of Intel's second-fastest desktop CPU and Nvidia's second-fastest desktop GPU is a potent one. This machine's graphics chip is actually a mobile GeForce GTX 1080, but the Pascal architecture means the difference between desktop and mobile parts is pretty minimal. Here, the choice of a laptop part means a slightly lower base clock and reduced power limit. The EN1070 that I reviewed before was hampered by its insufficient 180W power supply and the slow CPU, but there shouldn't be any such problems here. The EN1080K uses a pair of those very same power adapters. That gives the machine up to 360W of power draw to play with, and it should guarantee a much more solid gaming experience.

The hardware pulling that power will be making quite a bit of heat, too, and Zotac's engineered a custom liquid-cooling loadout for the EN1080K. We couldn't strip our machine down to its guts, but other reviews of the EN1080K suggest Zotac is using a close descendant of the system that the company debuted with the Magnus EN980. We never took one of those boxes apart, but Jeff got a neat picture of an example system encased in transparent Plexiglas at Computex a couple of years ago. No doubt the hardware here is cooled in a very similar fashion. There are hefty water blocks on both the CPU and GPU, and they're piped into a single thick 120-mm radiator for exhaust purposes.

The RAM and storage that we're using for these tests came from the same place the machine did. Friend of the site Aaron Schradin let us borrow this little beastie for a bit so that we could see how it measured up to its forefathers. The final resting place of the EN1080K we're testing will be under the next generation of Turris VR chair. If you haven't read up on the Turris, click over to shortbread baker Colton's piece on the best place to plant your butt for seated VR. Our thanks to Aaron for trusting us with his expensive hardware for a few days.

So you've seen the picture above before, but what does the thing actually look like? Well, turn the page and let's have a closer look.