Zotac Zbox HD-ID34 review

1 Dec 2010

Superb design, decent media performance and an attractive price make this a focused living room option

Price when reviewed: 
422(£422 inc VAT)
4

If first impressions are anything to go by, Zotac is onto a winner with its Zbox HD-ID34. It's a nettop with a mouth-watering set of features, but it's the Zbox's style that really grabs you. A sleek combination of aluminium and black plastic with a ring of blue glowing through the black top, it's just 40mm thick and about the size of a netbook. It reminds us of those flat, wall-mounted CD players, so you'll have an idea of how well it will fit in with your AV living room kit.

Thoughtful design is about more than just style, though, good as that is; it's also evident in the selection of ports on offer. There's a memory card reader on the front for SD, MS, MMC and xD Picture formats, and both a USB 2 and USB 3 port for easy access; the rear has a USB 2/eSATA combo port and one more USB 3. The inclusion of the latter will be a boon should you come to add external storage to the Zbox - which may be wise, as we'll come to later.

Also on the rear are both DVI and HDMI ports, the latter of which combines nicely with the included slot-loading Blu-ray drive. It's an addition absent from most nettops, and one that - as well as fitting perfectly with the blue-lit styling - gives this low-cost media system its main selling point.

Zotac Zbox HD-ID34

As expected, Blu-ray playback via the bundled CyberLink Power DVD 9 software was smooth and stutter-free. Similarly, we tested BBC iPlayer HD and YouTube HD, and the Zbox was more than up to the task. Playback and decoding is primarily handled by the Nvidia Ion graphics chip: a vital addition to compensate for the relatively meagre 1.8GHz Intel Atom D525.

We installed Windows 7 and found general daily use and navigation to be fine. In our application benchmarks the Zbox scored 0.46, which is pretty much as we'd expect from a dual-core Atom and 2GB of RAM. It isn't a whole lot faster than most netbooks - and similar to the 0.49 of last month's Shuttle XS35GT-804 - so don't expect to be adding intensive editing to your video viewing. Pleasingly, though, even when the processor was pushed to its limit, noise levels remained low - the Zbox won't whine all over your movie.

Should you wish to stream online video to the Zbox, it has 802.11n Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet. This is a good thing, as the 250GB hard disk will likely fill up quite quickly when you start collecting your own HD video files; you may be making use of that USB 3 port for extra storage before you know it.

Gaming prospects are similarly uninspiring. Although the Ion copes admirably with video, it can't handle serious gaming, as our painfully slow Low quality Crysis test demonstrates. Although gaming isn't expected from a media centre, it's entirely possible to get it at this price - so it's quite clear you're choosing that Blu-ray drive over other pursuits.

Zotac Zbox HD-ID34

The other remaining caveat is that there's no integrated IR receiver for a remote, and there's nothing of the sort bundled either. You'll have to use a wireless keyboard and mouse via a dongle, or perhaps make use of one the burgeoning number of smartphone remote control apps for navigating Media Center from the sofa.

Zotac doesn't supply the Zbox with an operating system, but it does offer a variety of flavours. You can buy it barebones with just an Atom D510 - no drives or RAM - for just £122 exc VAT. If you want the Atom D525, 2GB of RAM and a DVD drive, it will cost £226. We have no doubt, though, that it's the Blu-ray drive you want, and for that you're looking at £359 exc VAT.

The only other system we've seen that comes close in specification is the ASRock HT100-BD, which costs more but comes with a far quicker processor, 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard disk. If you want your living room PC to be capable of a lot more than just media, the ASRock is the better option. But if playing back Blu-ray, streaming media and slotting stylishly into your snazzy home-theatre setup is what you're after, it's hard to fault the Zotac Zbox.

Details

Price ex VAT £359
Price inc VAT £422
Overall rating 4
Performance 2
Features & Design 5
Value for Money 4

Warranty

Warranty 2 yr return to base

Basic specifications

Total hard disk capacity 250GB

Processor

CPU family Intel Atom
CPU nominal frequency 1.80GHz

Motherboard

Wired adapter speed 1,000Mbits/sec

Memory

Memory type DDR2
Memory sockets free 1
Memory sockets total 2

Graphics card

Graphics card Nvidia Ion
DVI-I outputs 1
HDMI outputs 1
VGA (D-SUB) outputs 0
DisplayPort outputs 0

Hard disk

Capacity 250GB

Drives

Optical disc technology Blu-ray drive

Monitor

Monitor make and model N/A

Additional Peripherals

Speakers N/A

Case

Case format Small form factor
Dimensions 280 x 187 x 40mm (WDH)

Rear ports

USB ports (downstream) 2
eSATA ports 1

Front ports

Front panel USB ports 2

Performance tests

Overall application benchmark score 0.46
Office application benchmark score 0.33
2D graphics application benchmark score 0.52
Encoding application benchmark score 0.57
Multitasking application benchmark score 0.48