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Zotac Zbox Blu-ray AD03 Plus review

Zotac Zbox Blu-ray AD03 Plus

Verdict

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

Review Date: 29 Mar 2011

Reviewed By: Mike Jennings

Price when reviewed: £349 (£419 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
4 stars out of 6

Features & Design
5 stars out of 6

Value for Money
4 stars out of 6

Performance
3 stars out of 6

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.

Author: Mike Jennings

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User comments

Make do?

"make do with Windows or set aside extra cash for beer and install Linux."

There, fixed it for you. I can think of quite a few MythTV users who might appreciate it.

By alynsparkes on 29 Mar 2011

Media centre

It should run really well with XBMClive.
Almost tempted to buy

By DaChimp on 29 Mar 2011

If you want to just watch ripped films, DVDs or maybe the iplayer, Linux is enough (eg. Xbmc).

If you want blu-ray though you must use windows I believe or at the very least still buy the playback software if/when available.

By tech3475 on 29 Mar 2011

ZBox AD03 can bitstream DTS-HD and True HD

What you failed to show is that this awesome machine can bitstream DTS-HD MA and Dolby True HD via HDMI which is a HUGE deal for people that want to use this machine as an HTPC. I have one recently and it does just that. This machine runs cool and quiet. My ripped blu-ray collections now can finally sound FANTASTIC.

The HD audio is just incredibly powerful and completes my HD movie watching experience.

For those that thinking of buying the Intel Atom HTPCs, please DO NOT as Intel Atom processor cannot bitstream like this one.

By MBP12345 on 31 Mar 2011

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