Hello there - my name is Matt "Vector" Conwell and today I'd like to give you a quick look at the Zotac ZBOX Blu-Ray. I've been a hard core computer enthusiast for over a decade and I've built countless computers. I'll show you what I like about the ZOTAC ZBOX Blu-Ray, what I feel could be improved on, and help you make the choice if this is the right Media PC for you.
**PDXLAN and ZOTAC are giving away a ZOTAC ZBOX Blu-Ray to one lucky PDXLAN fan on Facebook between march 26th and March 30th 2012. Be sure to enter daily for more chances to win! **
We want to make sure our readers understand: This is not meant to be a high end gaming or photo processing PC.
The ZOTAC ZBOX Blu-Ray is designed to be a MINI-PC built for a few specific uses. The main use will be as a media PC. If you are unfamiliar with what a media PC is, let us help you out. You may have tons of home video sitting on your desktop in another room that you would like to show on your TV in the living room - this PC can do that. You may have a ton of recorded TV stored on a hard drive, this PC can play that. Think of a media PC as a way to play content in a place other than your computer. Take the ZOTAC ZBOX Blu-Ray and an HDMI cable to a TV and your TV is now an Internet browser, media player, music player, and more.
If your goal is to play high end games or do intense photo editing on this computer you may be disappointed. While this computer can easily run World of Warcraft on low settings, it can not run Battlefield 3 without revolting and killing itself. Steam Pop-Cap games? Sure it can do that. (Random note: iBomber Defense is fun on a 60" TV)
About the ZOTAC ZBOX Blu-Ray
The ZOTAC ZBOX Blu-Ray comes built with a Intel D525 dual core processor, 2GB DDR2 memory, a 250GB Hard Drive, WiFi, LAN, and the video power horse NVIDIA ION GPU.
As the box states, the ideal solution for this kind of PC might be in your bedroom, kitchen, or living room. We'd like to expand that to consider exercise room, garage, office waiting room, of business digital signage. The ZOTAC ZBOX Blu-Ray can easily do any of those.
The ZOTAC ZBOX Blu-Ray does NOT come with an operating system pre-loaded. At first I was bummed about that. As I thought about it I found myself ok with it because there are so many different OS's for media PC's. In fact ZOTAC includes some online here. (http://www.zotac.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=582%3Afree-media-center-os&catid=129&Itemid=100271&lang=en)
We opted to install Windows 7 to give us maximum compatibility with as many options as possible.
The front of the ZOTAC ZBOX Blu-Ray comes with a microphone jack, headphone jack, USB 3.0 port, USB 2.0 port, slot load DVD/CD/Blu-Ray, and memory card reader. The back of the ZOTAC ZBOX Blu-Ray has a USB 3.0 port, RJ45 10/100/1000MB port, a combo USB 2.0/eSATA port, Dual-Link DVI-I port, HDMI port, Optical S/PDIF port, and a power port for the external power supply.
Given all of these ports we quickly used 3/4 USB ports. Our devices in the back were a USB Windows remote and a USB 3.0 Hard Drive. In the front we used a Bluetooth dongle for our AZIO thumb keyboard (Review coming next week). We connected our 60" 1080P Plasma TV via HDMI to our BOSE system receiver, and ran independent optical S/PDIF to the BOSE system as well. The BOSE system then played the sound and sent the video to the TV. For network we had a hard line installed to our living room so we could run at full GB speeds.
The ZOTAC system can actually be expanded quite a bit should the need arise. ZOTAC has been kind enough to provide 1x 2GB memory chip instead of 2x 1GB memory chips in the memory expansion area giving us immediate options. This means you can drop in a 2GB or 4GB stick of RAM and expand your memory if you need it. The hard drive can be easily removed and reinstalled with a larger drive should you need it. In addition there is a Mini PCI Express slot open for a mini SSD if you really want to get fancy.
One bias that I have is that before the ZBOX was put at my TV I was running a full desktop computer at the location. (8GB DDR3 / 5850 / Intel i7) The goal of the Zotac was to see if it could replace my desktop - a TALL order.
Our primary source for video is Netflix. The ZBOX did quite well with this with zero issues. We then moved to XVID, MP4, MKV videos that were stored on a USB 3.0 hard drive. We had zero issued here as well. I wanted to see how much the machine could handle, so I set up TVTorrents with uTorrent RSS feeds to download our favorite on air television shows. I could download shows while watching shows just fine in 720P. Where I began to notice the system struggling was while playing 1080P and downloading. If I paused TVTorrents the problem would clear up. It was my assumption that the D525 was taxed at that point when multi tasking.
I'd like to be clear that this was a test to "break it" and is no reflection on the product. We found that pausing all other activities led to a great video experience.
One last thing I would like to mention is that the noise level of this PC is virtually silent. As more and more people learn about noise acoustics I can see that this will be a part of the buying decision. The fan used is very quiet.
Ways to use a ZBOX:
The most common use of a ZBOX is to bring digital media to a TV in your living room or bedroom. We wanted to think outside the box and figure out other things we could do.
1. Rhapsody / Pandora / Hulu - With an internet connection you can now play a ton of content anywhere you drop a ZBOX,
2. Excercise room - Hook up to a 1080P 24" LCD TV and you have a mini-media center to keep you entertained while running up a mountain on the treadmill / elliptical machine.
3. The garage - Working on a project and want to watch TV? Listen to music? The little box brings you your media files anywhere. For live sports, consider adding a USB video receiver.
4. The craft room - My wife loves to scrapbook. With the ZBOX she can watch Save the last dance or girl interrupted as much as she likes.
5. Waiting room - Have a business office with a waiting room? The ZBOX could play a loop of pre-determined video for your clients while they wait.
6. Digital Signage - If your business has a waiting room you can also use a ZBOX to play digital signage that rotates advertisements, information, and video clips.
7. In the kitchen - with the small form factor of the ZBOX we could easily install it under a cabinet and run a small LCD TV in the kitchen for morning news while eating breakfast, or calling up a recipie for chicken cheese enchiladas.
8. CarPuter - while this is not an area I know much about, I wonder if this could be a viable use of the system given its miniscule power requirements.
The ZOTAC ZBOX Blu-Ray retails currently as $449.00 on Newegg. If you are willing to sacrifice the Blu-Ray player and 1GB of RAM you can shave off about $200.00.
How you will use the machine will dictate what you need. If you don't need Blu-Ray then $269.00 is a steal for a full media system. (D525 / 1GB/ ION / 250GB / Wifi / LAN) If you want to take it a step further and need the Blu-Ray player, then you will pay more.
To sum up a chaotic article written by a caffeine starved gamer, I really like the ZOTAC ZBOX as a media pc. With current trends I would expect that 75-85% of American homes will have a Internet capable TV by the year 2020. The Zotac ZBOX will make that a smooth transition. Get on the bandwagon early!
As always, please feel free to ask questions about the product, or comment on our mini-review. Here is the forum.