Review: Smallest ZBOX packs quite a punch
Back when Zotac's tiny ZBox Nano XS was first showcased at Cebit in March, we were very impressed by the compact form factor and just about everything else going for it. So, when Zotac offered us a chance to check out the ZBOX Nano XS AD11 Plus, we couldn't pass. The ZBox Nano XS AD11 Plus is a complete system rather than a barebone and it's packed in a chassis, with a smaller footprint than a DVD. However, it still has all the features that you'd would whether you are looking for a frugal office rig or HTPC system.
The ZBOX Nano line actually features a total of five different computers based on either AMD, VIA or Intel platforms. ZBOX Nano systems, measuring 127x127x45mm, are a bit larger than the ZBOX Nano XS, which measures just 106x106x37mm and it is one of the smallest x86 systems on the market today.
Features, looks and specifications
The Zotac ZBOX Nano XS AD11 comes in a simple box that clearly explains what you get with ZBOX Nano XS. The only obvious hint about its size is the "palm-sized mini-PC" line at the top, and that sums it up quite well. However, it's got a lot more going for it than sheer size.
Based on AMD's A50M chipset and dual-core E-450 APU, the Nano XS AD11 will not break any performance records but certainly keeps up with similar systems that we had a chance to compare it to. Zotac deserves praise for the deisgn, as they managed to squeeze practically every feature that you might need in a 10,6x10,6cm package and it is indeed a palm-sized PC.
Such dimensions, of course, came at a price. For example, Zotac had to stick with mSATA storage and an external WLAN adapter, but everything else ended up inside the Nano. The back side of the unit features two USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI output and power jack.
The front is reserved for the card reader, ESATA/USB combo, power button, integrated IR sensor, microphone and headphones/optical combo jacks.
As was the case with all previously released ZBOX systems, the ZBOX Nano XS AD11 is also available as a barebone system in case you want to add your own mSATA storage and RAM. Zotac uses the "Plus" moniker to denote complete systems. In the case of the Nano XS, the Plus version comes equipped with a 64GB mSATA SSD and 2GB of DDR3 memory. Both models are shipped without an operating system, probably in order to keep the price down and allow users to choose between Windows or Linux.
The good side of the story is that even the barebone version comes with all the goodies inside the box including WiFi adapter, MCE-compatible remote, additional USB IR receiver that actually has a purpose, mini-optical to optical S/PDIF adapter and standard VESA mount.
The insides are accessed by simply unscrewing the four little feet that obviously double as thumbscrews. It's clever design.
As you can see, Zotac decided to go for Kingston’s 64GB mSATA SSD and 2GB of Samsung’s 1333MHz CL9 memory.
The Kingston 64GB SSD is rated at 255MB/s for sequential read and 170MB/s for sequential write with random read and write set at 11,000 and 3,000 IOPS. These specifications will definitely have a serious effect on benchmark results, so the Zotac ZBOX Nano XS AD11 Plus should end up significantly faster than nettops with traditional 5400rpm hard drives.
Closer look and benchmarks
When plugged in, the top part of the Zotac features a tiny LED light in the bottom left corner that glows red when powered off and green when powered on. Next to it is a blue HDD activity LED. The top is dominated by a large green glowing circle that can be switched off in BIOS, in case you find it too tacky. Intel-based ZBOX systems feature a blue circle, while VIA models proudly glow in yellow.
As noted earlier, Zotac ZBOX Nano XS comes bundled with MCE-compatible remote and an additional USB IR receiver. Bear in mind that it also has an integrated IR receiver below the start button and the additional USB IR receiver is used in case you want to use the supplied VESA mount and hang the ZBOX on the back of your monitor or TV making the integrated one inaccessible. (Note that if you plug the USB IR receiver it is advisable to disable the integrated one in BIOS since there is a possibility that it will read both signals and double all inputs from the remote).
In 3DMark 06 Zotac’s ZBox Nano XS AD11 is, as expected, faster than the ZBox AD02 with E-350 APU, but still falls behind Shuttle XS35GTA V3 and its Atom D2700 and Radeon HD 7410M combination as well as Sapphire’s Edge HD2 with Atom D525 and Nvidia ION 2.
PCMark 07 tells a completely different story and the Nano XS AD11 Plus takes a clear lead against mini-PCs that we had a chance to put it against. Of course, the main reason is Kingston’s mSATA SSD as in Computation test, ZBox Nano is just below both Shuttle and Sapphire’s mini-PCs and just a tad bit faster than the Zotac AD02 with E-350 APU.
Cinebench R11.5 pretty much confirms all previous tests and Zotac’s ZBox Nano XS AD11 Plus with its E-450 APU ends up faster than ZBox Nano AD02 with E-350 as well as Sapphire Edge HD2 with Intel Atom D525+ION2 system.
Temperatures, noise and power consumption
As you can see from the CPUID Hardware Monitor screenshot below, the APU works at anywhere between 15 and 60 degrees Celsius, while the graphics part goes from 30 to 76 degrees Celsius.
The temperatures are quite understandable as due to its small size, the entire system is cooled by a single, relatively thin blower-style cooler that is in contact with both the E-450 APU and the A50M chipset. As you can see the fan, when set to work in smart mode in BIOS, spins anywhere between 2400 RPM and 4400RPM. Even at its highest 4400RPM value that we have seen, you can only hear it if you get close to it as it surprisingly does not produce a high-pitch sound that is characteristic of small fans.
Of course, bear in mind that these high values for both temperature and fan speed are achieved under full load and extensive benchmarking and it is highly unlikely that you’ll ever see those in normal usage.
Power consumption is pretty decent as according to our measurement it draws about 0.5W in standby, 12 to 14W in idle and up to 29W under full load.
It is quite hard to find something wrong about the Nano XS AD11, but it is also quite hard to compare it to other mini-PCs as it has a unique form factor and tiny footprint.
Of course it is not the fastest thing on the market, but it is still packs quite a punch when compared to much larger systems. The E-450 is a well balanced processor, capable of delivering enough performance to cope with pretty much anything you throw at it, but at the same time it's not too pricey or too hot. Of course, any serious gaming is out of the question but if you are looking for an office PC or a home theater system, ZBox Nano XS is definitely worth taking into consideration. Pair it up with either Linux or Windows, throw in the XBMC media center and you'll get one heck of an HTPC system.
The €320/US $315 price tag for the ZBox Nano XS AD11 Plus might sound a bit steep but if you add all the features up, especially the Kingston SSD, you’ll see that you would end up with a similar price tag on much larger systems. The sheer size of the ZBox Nano XS AD11 Plus is impressive and it is definitely its best selling point. The barebone version sells at around €220/US $220.
As for the downsides, 64GB of storage is just about enough for a system drive, so external storage is a must. That’s where eSATA and USB 3.0 connectivity come in handy, but the most elegant solution would be to hook it up to a NAS unit. Considering the performance and responsiveness of an SSD-based system, it’s a fair tradeoff in our book.
Even with all this in mind, recommending the Nano XS is a no-brainer and if you are looking for a decent media center for your living room or an office PC that you can strap to the back of your monitor, Zotac's ZBox Nano XS AD11 is definitely the way to go.