We can easily recommend the ZBOX OI520 Sphere, not just because it has a quirky design, but because it’s has the brains to go along with the neat looks.
Just a size comparison - the Sphere is more compact that it may seem at first glance
In terms of value, most small form factor PCs tend to carry a premium and the Sphere is no exception – the barebones SKU costs around €350 in Euroland, while the Plus version goes for €440 in the DACH market. In the US, Newegg lists the barebones OI520 at $389. It’s no more expensive than comparable models from other vendors, so it’s just a matter of perspective. To some extent, the mini-PC premium is offset by lower power consumption and the knowledge that you’re making a family of polar bears happy. If you need an 'always-on system', or an small office system, the reduction in power consumption could be significant – a couple of dozen watts versus a standard desktop every hour does is not pocket change over the course of a PC's lifecycle.
The frugal Core i5-4200U processor delivers good all-round performance and the integrated HD 4400, backed by dual-channel memory, should suffice for casual gaming, older titles or undemanding genres. Zotac has a habit of spicing up ZBOX designs with loads of connectivity options and the Sphere is no exception. Thanks to 802.11ac wireless and Bluetooth 4.0, it’s a good streaming platform, and let’s not forget 4K support and four USB 3.0 ports. None of these standards are likely to become outdated for years to come.
Bottom line, the Sphere is a well-designed, future-proof PC and we feel the barebones SKU is a somewhat better choice. The Plus versions ships sans OS anyway and you’re better off getting two sticks of RAM and a cheap mSATA drive instead. If you happen to have an old 2.5-inch hard drive, even better, as long as it’s not a 12.5mm or 15mm unit.
Oh, and Zotac – please make a white version next time around.