The Zotac ZBOX is, quite frankly, a marvel in a lot of ways. The model we were sent to review essentially has the specifications of a decent gaming laptop crammed into something not much bigger than your average wireless router. Micro PCs are becoming more and more popular as secondary systems – something easy to move around to events and LAN parties, or simply something that doesn’t take up a lot of space.
Underneath the big “EPIC GAMING SERIES” graphic on the box it comes in, Zotac offer “THREE GREAT REASONS TO LOVE THIS MINI-PC”. So I figure the most efficient way to review it is to bring up those promises and see how it lives up to them.
COMPACT AND VERSATILE
If I had a ZBOX all of my own I’d probably gut the hard drive and replace Windows with SteamOS. It just seems like a natural move. During my time with it hardly replaced my main PC – which is verging on four years old and still has a crazy amount of power behind it – but it did become a more convenient option for playing local multiplayer games or just streaming videos. It boots up in a smart 20 seconds, a slight edge on my main computer (which is probably to be expected considering it packs an SSD).
You really can’t fault the size. It’s tiny. In a bag, it’d take up as much room as a couple of external hard drives. The power it puts out is worthy of applause simply because of how small it is – there must be some kind of British sci-fi technology at work here, because this thing is definitely bigger on the inside. It comes with a stand so you can mount the box sideways rather than on its rubber feet, and a mount so you can mount it to walls or even the back of your TV. I only used the stand – mainly because I was too terrified of incorrectly mounting a £600 mini PC and smashing it into even tinier pieces. But the stand and the mount are both well made enough to support it properly and make sure you can fit this thing wherever you need to. It’s well suited for use just about anywhere, and quiet, too – not exactly silent, but hey, my main PC at the moment has a CPU cooler that looks like it was taking directly from a motorcycle’s engine block, so it’s quiet enough.
My only real gripe with the build is the shiny, cheap looking black plastic the case is made out of. It stays together well enough and the sockets are nice and secure, but the majority of people buying this are going to be doing so because they can move it about – and I don’t see the exterior holding up too well. Would it have cost that much extra to manufacture a matt-surfaced case? Surely a tiny, portable gaming PC comes under a “luxury purchase” banner in the first place. Hell, gaming PCs full stop come under luxury purchase. The ZBOX’s insides are solid genius – it just doesn’t make sense to have it all in a box that looks like a wireless router from the early 2000s.
The ZBOX has a clever tool-less design – to get into it all you have to do is take out a couple of screws and the bottom of the case slides right off. I had a little bit of a cautious poke around in its guts and it’s all solidly made – it’s easy enough to pull out the hard drive and memory modules you want to replace to put your own. Zotac provide enough information with the ZBOX that even a newbie to the world of computer parts would be able to do it in a matter of minutes without any tiny screwdrivers (God, I hate tiny screwdrivers). It really is as simple as taking the lid off and clicking out the bits you want to replace.
I will say that the case panel that slides off always seems to feel slightly wobbly – but it’s impossible to tell without months of use whether that will become a long term problem or not. Regardless, as mentioned before, it fits into the mount and stand absolutely solidly. You don’t have to worry about it not sitting in the housing properly (but I still do because I’m naturally paranoid about expensive pieces of kit that don’t belong to me).
SPECIALLY DESIGNED FOR YOUR NEEDS
The ZBOX would obviously be an extremely convenient machine for MMOs, so I loaded up WoW – which has increased massively in system requirements over the past ten years – and decided to log some framerates. The reason I use MMOs is because they’re usually very processor-intensive games, and I figured the 3.2GH i7 would do pretty well. The following results were all taken at 1920×1080 resolution.
The ZBOX just about coped on the highest possible settings with some weird spikes and drops. Roaming around the Pandaren wilderness, the game stuttered around 16FPS, occasionally dropping lower to 12, but never to the point of being unplayable. Sitting in the center of Orgrimmar with a bunch of other players moving around maintained a steady average of 20 frames per second.
Strangely enough walking through the Shrine of Two Moons the framerate spiked to a gorgeously fluid 70fps before crashing back down to 20.
This seems to be the sweet spot between performance and graphic intensity for most titles on the ZBOX. Orgrimmar got a steady 30fps with no stutter whatsoever and only the occasional drop in dungeons and effect-heavy fights.
In Good it logged a consistent 50fps, but sticking the game on the lowest possible settings sees the framerate jump up between 90-100 frames per second. Not half bad.
I also tried out some more demanding games like Metro: Last Light Redux, which played beautifully on low settings (and still looked pretty good) but the framerate really does struggle on anything above medium. It’s fine if you’re just walking around taking in the ambience but in the chaos of shootouts it becomes near-on unplayable.
Several times during my playtest of the ZBOX the machine ran into unidentifiable system errors and had to restart. This was during benchmarking, checking core temperatures, and even playing games, almost like it was resisting any extensive stress testing. I was unable to check how hot the core/graphics chip ran under pressure and as a critic, that made me slightly uncomfortable. I’m not sure if it simply couldn’t handle the stress of running Steam in Big Picture mode or was just so offended at my choice of games that it rebooted in hopes I’d just get the hint. It didn’t happen often enough to become a concern but it was slightly annoying not being able to get any real stats out of it.
Unfortunately I don’t have a screen that can do the potential for 4k resolution justice – but the video output on both DVI and HDMI was absolutely flawless and I have no doubt the ZBOX is more than capable of handling it.
So, as a long time PC gamer who owns a perfectly good machine anyway, would I recommend the ZBOX to you? It all depends on what you want it for.
My first gaming PC
This might not be the best solution if you want to play your games on high specifications. Go for a regular desktop you can get more performance out of – it won’t cost as much as the ZBOX and you’ll be able to upgrade more than memory.
A secondary portable PC for mobile use
This is really what the ZBOX is made for. It’s light, quiet, and compact. Pack a mouse and keyboard with you, find a screen, go nuts. I can imagine these taking off in a big way at competitive gaming events and LAN weekends. Hell, even if you just want a decent PC you can move around with for other stuff – like video editing or HD streaming – this is a decent way to go. Steam OS would be a perfect fit with the ZBOX – it worked really well with Big Picture mode and just by plugging a few controllers into the tiny box you can enjoy some great local co-op sessions. It’s effectively a tiny console in this configuration, but one packing a surprisingly heavy punch in a much smaller case than any of the next gen offerings. This is probably the future of gaming – modular PCs packed into tiny boxes, the two platforms finding some kind of happy medium.
A media storage/streaming device
It’s not the cheapest media machine but the small size and versatility make it worth the extra cash. Alongside portable PC gaming, this seems the most natural fit for the ZBOX – something you can store a bunch of media on and access very quickly. It’s hard to imagine a living room, bedroom or office space where you wouldn’t be able to fit the ZBOX in some capacity.
If you’re looking for a gaming PC, trust me – go the build your own route. It’s not as hard as you think, and for £600, you could get something with way more power behind it than this. But if you’re looking for something small and light enough to take anywhere, or a SteamOS machine for your living room – look no further. It doesn’t take up as much space as The ZBOX packs a surprising amount of power into a tiny shell that leaves room for upgrades – but with 8GB of RAM, an i7 processor, and a terabyte of storage, you’re not likely to need that.
All in all I was completely blown away by the amount of power something so small could put out. Even if it struggled slightly running games on higher specs, it still managed. I can’t fault it past some petty complaints about the cheap-looking case. It’s not going to rival full-sized desktops that run for the same price tag. But what do you expect? It’s literally the size of a DVD boxset.
The ZBOX has a lot of potential, and if it happens to line up with the machine you’re looking for, you could do a hell of a lot worse. Well built, decent performance, and truly versatile – when it comes to mini-PCs, it doesn’t get much better than this.
- 4th generation Intel i7 quad core, 3.2GHz, up to 3.9
- Intel Iris Pro 5200 Graphics
- 2 x 204-pin DDR3 SO-DIMM slots (8GB of memory included)
- 5 inch SATA 6.0 Gb/s HDD/SDD bay (1TB HDD included)
- 1 x mSATA 6.0 Gb/s slot
- Dual Gigabit LAN (10/100/1000 Mbps)
- 11ac WiFi
- Bluetooth 4.0 and IR
- SD/SDHC/SDXC/MMC card reader
- 8 Channel digital audio and stereo analog audio
- 2 x DisplayPort, DVI-D, outputs HDMI via DVI-HDMI adapter (included), 4 x USB 3.0
- Dimensions: 188mm x 188mm x 51mm
What’s in the box:
- 1x ZOTAC ZBOX
- 1x Stand
- 1x VESA mount
- 4x mount screws
- 1x AC adapter
- 1x DVI-HDMI adapter
- 1x USB drive w/OS driver
- 1x antenna
- 1x Power cord
- 1x Support DVD
- 1x Warranty Card
- 1x User Manual
- 1x Quick Start Guide
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.