Zotac Zbox Blu-ray AD03 Plus review

29 Mar 2011

Brazos doesn’t revolutionise the nettop, but this is undoubtedly a stylish and well-rounded little system

Zotac Zbox Blu-ray AD03 Plus
Price when reviewed: 
419(£419 inc VAT)
4

We’ve been impressed with Zotac’s Zbox range of nettops in the past, and the latest makes the move to AMD’s Brazos platform. The processor in question is the 1.6GHz AMD E-350, which we’ve already seen in its barebones form, so we were keen to see if it fared any better in a full retail package.

When we tested it last with our old benchmarks, we found it a shade faster than its Atom rivals. In our new suite of tests, the Zotac returned a score of 0.27, with a solid 0.42 in the Responsiveness test that best measures such low-end systems. By way of contrast, a current Atom nettop scores about 0.25 overall, with 0.38 for Responsiveness.

The Brazos system-on-a-chip also has an integrated AMD Radeon HD 6310 graphics core. It’s not one for gamers, but it’s perfectly capable of handling most desktop media tasks: once we’d updated the included version of CyberLink PowerDVD 8 BD, both our test Blu-ray and 1080p video files on the hard disk played smoothly. Streaming content was fine, too, with BBC iPlayer HD and YouTube HD happily playing back.

It wouldn’t run any of our Crysis tests, which isn’t a huge surprise, but it coped fine with a lesser game such as TrackMania Nations Forever. At 1,366 x 768 and Medium settings, it averaged a perfectly playable 31fps, showing casual gaming is well within its capabilities. It also shows the leap between the Brazos nettop chips and their netbook cousins: the AMD C-50 in the Toshiba NB550D managed only 22fps in the same test at a lower 1,024 x 600 resolution.

Zotac Zbox Blu-ray AD03 Plus

When maxed out, the processor remained relatively cool: a peak temperature of 79°C was joined by a pleasing lack of noise, so the Zotac won’t disturb those tender movie moments. Power draw was low too – 26W when idle, increasing to just 34W in our stress tests.

The E-350 is assisted by 2GB of RAM and a 250GB hard disk, all packaged into the same slim chassis that impressed us when we first saw the Zbox. It’s a fine piece of kit, with decent build quality and plenty of style – half the unit is glossy black and pulses with a glowing blue circle, with the other half coated in brushed metal.

It’s only 40mm tall, which makes up slightly for the fact that it doesn’t stand neatly on its end like many nettops, and the slot-loading Blu-ray is paired at the front by a card reader, audio jacks and a USB 2 as well as a USB 3 port.

Elsewhere, there are HDMI and DVI-I outputs and an eSATA port on the rear, although Zotac still hasn’t included an infrared receiver, so you won’t be able to use a remote control. If you’re using a wired keyboard and mouse, you’ll be left with a single USB port for other peripherals.

The switch to AMD brings a similar price – Zotac has given us a £419 inc VAT SRP, but that should fall at retail to match the current £380 of the Atom version. If that looks steep, the Zbox can be bought as a barebones unit for about £100 less. It’s worth bearing in mind, though, that all varieties of Zbox come without an OS, so you’ll either have to make do with Linux or set aside extra cash for Windows.

It’s a little more than you’ll pay for the average nettop, and it’s hard to avoid the fact that despite some advances it’s still relatively underpowered next to even the cheapest PC. But with Blu-ray and Brazos on board, there’s no doubt that Zotac’s machine is as strong as nettops come without stepping up to Core i3 levels.

Details

Price ex VAT £349
Price inc VAT £419
Overall rating 4
Performance 3
Features & Design 5
Value for Money 4

Warranty

Warranty 1 yr return to base

Basic specifications

Total hard disk capacity 250GB
RAM capacity 2.00GB
Screen size N/A

Processor

CPU family AMD
CPU nominal frequency 1.60GHz
CPU overclocked frequency N/A

Motherboard

Conventional PCI slots free 0
Conventional PCI slots total 0
PCI-E x16 slots free 0
PCI-E x16 slots total 0
PCI-E x8 slots free 0
PCI-E x8 slots total 0
PCI-E x4 slots free 0
PCI-E x4 slots total 0
PCI-E x1 slots free 0
PCI-E x1 slots total 0
Internal SATA connectors 2
Internal SAS connectors 0
Internal PATA connectors 0
Internal floppy connectors 0
Wired adapter speed 1,000Mbits/sec

Memory

Memory type DDR3
Memory sockets free 0
Memory sockets total 2

Graphics card

Graphics card AMD Radeon HD 6310
Multiple SLI/CrossFire cards? no
3D performance setting Low
Graphics chipset AMD Radeon HD 6310
Graphics card RAM 1.00GB
DVI-I outputs 1
HDMI outputs 1
VGA (D-SUB) outputs 0
DisplayPort outputs 0
Number of graphics cards 1

Hard disk

Hard disk Samsung Spinpoint M7 HM250HI
Capacity 250GB
Hard disk usable capacity 232GB
Internal disk interface SATA/300
Spindle speed 5,400RPM
Cache size 8MB
Hard disk 2 make and model N/A
Hard disk 2 nominal capacity N/A
Hard disk 2 formatted capacity N/A
Hard disk 2 spindle speed N/A
Hard disk 2 cache size N/A
Hard disk 3 make and model N/A
Hard disk 3 nominal capacity N/A
Hard disk 4 make and model N/A
Hard disk 4 nominal capacity N/A

Drives

Optical drive Slimtype DL4ETS
Optical disc technology Blu-ray reader/DVD writer combo
Optical disk 2 make and model N/A
Optical disk 3 make and model N/A

Monitor

Monitor make and model N/A
Resolution screen horizontal N/A
Resolution screen vertical N/A
Resolution N/A x N/A
Pixel response time N/A
Contrast ratio N/A
Screen brightness N/A
DVI inputs N/A
HDMI inputs N/A
VGA inputs N/A
DisplayPort inputs N/A

Additional Peripherals

Speakers N/A
Speaker type N/A
Sound card AMD High Definition Audio
Peripherals N/A

Case

Chassis Zotac proprietary
Case format small form-factor
Dimensions 280 x 187 x 40mm (WDH)

Free drive bays

Free front panel 5.25in bays 0

Rear ports

USB ports (downstream) 2
eSATA ports 1
PS/2 mouse port no
Electrical S/PDIF audio ports 0
Optical S/PDIF audio output ports 0
Modem no
3.5mm audio jacks 4

Front ports

Front panel USB ports 2
Front panel memory card reader yes

Mouse & Keyboard

Mouse and keyboard N/A

Operating system and software

OS family Windows 7
Software supplied CyberLink PowerDVD8 BD

Noise and power

Idle power consumption 26W
Peak power consumption 34W

Performance tests

3D performance (crysis) low settings 0fps
3D performance setting Low