Model: ZBOX Nano XS AD13 PLUS
RRP: £225 (At time of the review)
The ZOTAC ZBOX Nano XS 13AD PLUS is a mini PC built around an AMD E1800 APU which runs at 1.7GHz and has a HD7340 GPU onboard for the graphical processing power. It has 2GB of RAM onboard with a 64GB solid state drive as storage, which is enough for your operating system and some programs. Both the RAM and the SSD can be upgraded with a larger capacity counterpart. With these specifications, it can run full 1080P video without a hitch and it can do this whilst being small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. It is 10.6cm x 10.6cm x 3.7cm, which when you take into consideration that there is an entire computer inside, is minuscule.
ZOTAC is an innovative company in my eyes and today I have a product in my hands that proves my point of view. Mini PCs, such as the one on test today. It’s just like when mini-ITX first became main-stream, it was ZOTAC who made it all happen and then other manufacturers to follow later down the line. It’s things like this which make a company stand out from the crowd and they deserve more credit than they actually get.
Claiming that such a small product can output full 1080P video without a hitch is something which will probably boggle the minds of a few people but it is my task to find out whether it can do it flawlessly or not. It is also designed for general web browsing from within your living room (or wherever you wish to use this product) in the comfort of your sofa.
Before we get into the review, lets take a quick look at the specifications and then open this little box of magic up.
|Product Name||ZBOX nano XS AD13 PLUS|
|GPU||AMD Radeon HD 7340|
|CPU||AMD E2-1800 APU (dual core, 1.7GHz)|
|Memory Speed||1333 MHz|
|Slots||1 x 204-pin SO-DIMM|
|Capacity||2GB (up to 8 GB)|
|WiFi||Bundled 802.11n USB WiFi adapter|
|Digital||8-ch via HDMI mini-Optical S/PDIF|
|Hard Drive||64 GB SSD|
|Memory Card Reader||6-in-1 (MMC/SD/SDHC/SDXC/MS/MS Pro)|
|Connectivity||HDMI x 1eSATA x 1 (combi with USB 2.0)USB 3.0 x 2USB 2.0 x 2|
|Windows Vista, 7, 8, Linux|
|1 x ZOTAC ZBOX Nano XS AD13 Plus1 x MCE compatible remote2 x CR2032 batteries (for remote)1 x USB IR receiver
1 x 802.11n USB WiFi adapter
1 x VESA mount
1 x AC adapter
1 x Power cord
1 x Warranty card
1 x User manual
The packaging in which the ZBOX arrives is actually very elegant looking in my opinion. The front of the packaging portrays the ZBOX itself as well as some of the key features such as its gigabit LAN, 802.11n WiFi, a remote control and the VESA mounting capabilities. It also states that there is a 64GB solid state drive onboard as well as 2GB of system memory. Flipping the box over and taking a look at the back gives an insight to the product as well as its connectivity options. It talks about the components within the ZBOX Nano XS and it also gives you a detailed feature/specifications list on the side of the box.
Once we open the outer box up, we are presented with a black box which has all of the goodies inside. It’s a good quality box which should mean that the components inside are well protected against damage in transit.
Within the box, you get everything you can possibly think of to get you started and using your ZBOX in no time at all. It comes with a power adapter that is rated well above the total power usage of the machine and is made by Delta Electronics. There are two power cables for both UK and EU operation. Also included in the box are the 802.11n wireless dongle, infrared receiver which is required for the remote control as well as all of the manuals and driver disks. It seems a little strange that they include driver disks when there’s no optical drive. It would have been better to bundle a small memory stick with the relevant drivers on there instead. To top it all off, there is also the VESA mounting which allows the user to mount it to the back of their TV/monitor so that there’s minimal clutter. It can also be wall mounted, of course.
Finally, to finish off, there is a remote control included which you can use for the media centre within Windows. You can control many things from the remote and it is definitely a useful addition to the entire package and in my eyes, it completes the package as a mini home theatre PC (HTPC).
Once you open up the box and see the ZBOX Nano XS for the first time, you really do realise how small this mini PC actually is. Sure, the numbers make it sounds small but it’s only when you see it that you really notice its size. Fitting in the palm of your hand is something which it does do, if you have monster paws like me. However, having said that, it still packs a lot of components into a tiny box.
Taking off the back of the box is done by holding and twisting the stands on the bottom. It then unscrews the plate and grants you access to the mSATA solid-state drive and the RAM. You can change and upgrade these components if you wish to do so. Both the SSD and the RAM is manufactured by Kingston which have a proven reliability track record. It’s great to see that only quality components have been considered for this mini system.
ZOTAC ZBOX Nano XS AD13 PLUS
CPU: AMD E2-1800 APU
RAM: 2GB SODIMM DDR3-1333MHz
Graphics: AMD HD7340
Operating System:Windows 7 Ultimate 64 bit with Service Pack 1
All benchmarks will be run on a fresh install of Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit to ensure that there are minimal background processes taking place to give you a better idea of the true performance behind the processor(s).
1080P Blu Ray Video Playback
ATTO & CrystalDiskMark– SSD Testing
AIDA64 – CPU & Memory Tests
SiSoftware SANDRA 2013 – CPU & Memory Tests
This simple integer benchmark focuses on the branch prediction capabilities and the misprediction penalties of the CPU. It finds the solutions for the classic “Queens problem” on a 10 by 10 sized chessboard. At the same clock speed theoretically the processor with the shorter pipeline and smaller misprediction penalties will attain higher benchmark scores. For example — with HyperThreading disabled — the Intel Northwood core processors get higher scores than the Intel Prescott core based ones due to the 20-step vs 31-step long pipeline. CPU Queen Test uses integer MMX, SSE2 and SSSE3 optimizations.
The ATTO Disk Benchmark performance measurement tool is compatible with Microsoft Windows. Measure your storage systems performance with various transfer sizes and test lengths for reads and writes. Several options are available to customize your performance measurement including queue depth, overlapped I/O and even a comparison mode with the option to run continuously. Use ATTO Disk Benchmark to test any manufacturers RAID controllers, storage controllers, host bus adapters (HBAs), hard drives and SSD drives and notice that ATTO products will consistently provide the highest level of performance to your storage.
CINEBENCH is a real-world cross platform test suite that evaluates your computer’s performance capabilities. CINEBENCH is based on MAXON’s award-winning animation software CINEMA 4D, which is used extensively by studios and production houses worldwide for 3D content creation. MAXON software has been used in blockbuster movies such as Spider-Man, Star Wars, The Chronicles of Narnia and many more.
PCMark 7 is a complete PC benchmarking solution for Windows 7 and Windows 8. It includes 7 tests combining more than 25 individual workloads covering storage, computation, image and video manipulation, web browsing and gaming. Specifically designed for the full range of PC hardware from netbooks and tablets to notebooks and desktops, PCMark 7 offers complete Windows PC performance testing for home and business use.
Power consumption is something which people will be most likely be looking at when they are taking such a system into consideration. I am glad to report that this system has a very low power consumption and as you can see from the results below, your electricity bill won’t be hit very hard at all. A mere 11.3 watts at idle (sitting on the desktop doing nothing) and 35.4 watts under 100% loading (CPU and GPU at 100%) is nothing to sniff at. Watching 1080P video peaked around the 24 watt marker although it will obviously depend on the source (in my case, the SSD) and the decoding the CPU and GPU will have to perform.
The temperatures at which this magic box operates is something which fascinated me. It’s so small, with so much packed into it, but yet it manages to keep the temperatures in check for the most part unless you torture it to death with 100% loads. It’s very unlikely to ever reach that sort of loading unless you specifically make run software to do so. The temperatures do get a little on the hot side, but when you take into consideration that my room was at 26°c when this little box was tested, it isn’t too bad. I will caution users to make sure that it is used in a well ventilated area though in order to avoid overheating.
SiSoftware Sandra (the System Analyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is an information & diagnostic utility. It should provide most of the information (including undocumented) you need to know about your hardware, software and other devices whether hardware or software.
The primary function of the ZBOX Nano XS AD13 PLUS is 1080P video playback. With that in mind, I set out to play a 1080P Blu Ray clip. It was a quick two minute theatre clip of an upcoming video. It had plenty of explosions, fast paced action and I am glad to report that the ZBOX had absolutely zero issues playing back such media. It was played directly via the SSD onboard, although I expect that it would have coped fine if it were being streamed via the Ethernet or over WiFi from a home server. Obviously this is dependent on various factors such as your router and signal strength.
Being a mini HTPC, it comes bundled with a remote control so that you can access all of your music, pictures, videos and TV shows from the comfort of your sofa. I had a quick play with the remote and I can say that it is very user-friendly and it’s easy to get used to as well. If you have giant hands such as myself, you’ll be able to reach all of the controls without having to move it in your hand too which is nice. Even people with smaller hands will be able to do this with minimal effort.
The remote is pretty much just like your DVD or Blu-ray remote control whereby you can control virtually everything you’d want to such as volume, playing, pausing, rewinding, fast forwarding and so on. It’s lightweight, it feels sturdy and it also feels well made too.
The ZBOX is designed and aimed at people who want a 1080P capable media streaming PC with a very small footprint and ZOTAC have captured this idea and brought it to life in only a way that (I feel) ZOTAC could. It’s small, plays full HD video without a problem, comes with an SSD for quick boot up times and it also comes with a number of accessories which make this box complete and ready for use as soon as you get it. There are more powerful variants available of these miniature systems which feature dual core i7 processors and such but they will obviously set you back a substantial amount more in monetary terms, and they will still do the same job at the end of the day.
Power consumption is all important factor in the consumer market today. The idle wattage of this system is an immensely low at just 11.3 watts and a peak wattage of just 35.4 watts under maximum loading. The fan noise is something which I would like to touch on as well. It’s a small little laptop fan which keeps the air flowing through the system. As it is so small, it has to spin at an incredibly high speed to get rid of the heat when the system is being loaded. In fact, it spins at around 6600RPM at full load, which as you can imagine does create a fair amount of noise. However, keep in mind that this was with the system next to me and not in a living room environment. If it were in a living room environment, I highly doubt you would even hear it from the sofa unless you listened really carefully. Once the TV is on, it instantly becomes inaudible.
Granted that this system does not come with its own operating system out of the box and you do have to install one yourself, it’s not a major setback. What is a major setback is the fact that people may not know how to do this. There is obviously no optical disc drive on this machine due to its small size which means you either have to use an external USB DVD drive or a bootable USB memory stick. I prefer installing via a USB stick due to the fact that it is quicker and much easier than carrying an external drive around. I chose Windows 7 Ultimate for this machine as it is my primary operating system for any system I test.
Of course the primary function of this system is to be a media streaming PC, but I feel that it would actually make a perfect office machine too. Its low power draw and full usability would make it ideal for those who have the computers on all day but still need the ability to use the internet, type on word, access your emails and whatever else you may require from it. Due to the way that it can be mounted to the back of a monitor, it does free up a lot of space on the desk and it is also very discrete which reduces clutter too.
The network performance on this particular ZBOX doesn’t quite live up to the 1Gbps speeds that it claims but then again, you have to take into consideration that the processor isn’t that powerful and the network chip probably isn’t as good as it could be. However, it does perform at close to 500Mbps which is far more than what is required to stream full 1080P video from say a home server or the likes. WiFi performance is something which I unfortunately cannot comment on as it would only connect to my BT Home Hub 3 at 72Mbps (the same as my 802.11n enabled laptop), which means it can’t be tested fairly. I do have no doubt that this is a great dongle and it would definitely be able to perform well, and stream video without an issue.
To conclude, this ZBOX is a fantastic bit of kit and I feel that it has a place in many homes today. If you already have a Smart enabled TV, I can’t see it being all that useful but if you don’t, this is definitely something you should consider if you’re looking into a HTPC. Top marks go ZOTAC and their little ZBOX. I wasn’t expecting it to perform nearly as well as it did and I was pleasantly surprised.
The ZOTAC ZBOX Nano XS 13AD PLUS is a fantastic bit of kit and thoroughly recommended if you are looking into a HTPC. It is most definitely capable of playing full 1080P video without a problem and at its price tag of roughly £225, it is a great little machine. Very innovative and very worthy of our design award too.
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