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Zotac ZBOX Nano AD10 Plus U Mini SFF PC Review
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Date: Oct 28, 2011
Section:Systems
Author: Marco Chiappetta
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Introduction, Specs, and Bundle

Zotac is one of a select few companies that have fully embraced the ultra-small form factor and home theater PC markets. Although they’re also known for producing custom, high-end graphics cards, and an array of motherboards, which include a smorgasbord or mini-ITX options, Zotac’s Zbox and Mag lines of mini PCs are quite diverse. A quick jaunt to their website reveals over 30 ultra small form factor designs that leverage technology from Intel, AMD, NVIDIA, and even VIA.

What’s also interesting about Zotac’s mini-PCs are their extensive feature sets. Zotac seemingly crams as many features into a small space as physically possible. If you need proof, look no further than the Zotac Zbox Nano AD10 Plus we’ll be showing you all here. The Zbox Nano AD10 Plus is built around AMD’s dual-core E-350 APU with integrated, DX11-class Radeon HD 6310 graphics and features built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, an IR receiver, and USB 3.0. The tiny system also offers eSATA, a flash card reader, DisplayPort, and HDMI connectivity, along with gigabit LAN. And it does it all in a 5 x 5 inch square, that’s less than two inches tall. Check this thing out...


Zotac Zbox Nano AD10 Plus

Zotac ZBOX Nano AD10 Plus
Specifications & Features
Model
  • ZBOXNANO-AD10-PLUS-U
Assembly Configuration 
  • All-in-one (no OS)
Chipset
  • AMD M1 Chipset
CPU Socket 
  • N/A (Integrated CPU)
Cooler Type
  • Fan (Single Slot)
Onboard Video
  • AMD Radeon HD 6310
Onboard Audio
  • Onboard analog stereo high-definition audio
  • 7.1-Channel LPCM digital audio (HDMI)
  • Optical Digital S/PDIF audio
Onboard LAN
  • 10/100/1000Mbps
  • Wifi 802.11n/g/b (300Mbps)
  • Bluetooth 3.0
Memory Size
  • 2GB
Memory Slots 
  • 1 x 204-pin SO-DIMM
Memory Type
  • DDR3-1066 SO-DIMM
SATA
  • 1 SATA (6.0 Gbps)
  • 1 eSATA
Hard Drive
  • 320GB SATA, 2.5"
Video Ports
  • HDMI
  • DisplayPort
Dual-Link DVI Supported
  • Yes
USB
  • 2 x USB 3.0 (back panel)
  • 2 x USB 2.0 (back panel)
Power Connector
  • DC19V
Package Contents
  • 1 x ZOTAC ZBOX nano AD10
  • 1 x Power brick & cable
  • 1 x VESA monitor mount (w/4 screws)
  • 1 x MCE compatible remote w/ 2 CR2032 batteries
  • 1 x USB IR receiver
  • 1 x WiFi antenna
Dimensions
  • 5in x 5in x 1.77in
  • 127mm x 127mm x 45mm
Warranty
  • 1-Year Standard

 
Zotac Zbox Nano AD10 Plus Accessories and Bundle

Zotac includes a nice array of accessories with the Zbox Nano AD10 Plus. Along with the machine itself, users will find a user’s manual and quick installation guide, a drive / utility disc, a Wi-Fi antenna, an additional IR receiver, a standard VESA monitor mount, a small power brick, and a Media Center Remote, with batteries.

We should point out that the monitor mount allows users to affix the system right to the back of an LCD display so the machine would take up literally no desk space at all. And the additional IR receiver is not needed if the remote has a clear shot of the front of the Nano, where the integrated IR receiver is mounted. If, however, the Zbox Nano is hidden in a cabinet or behind a TV for example, the additional IR receiver can be mounted in an accessible location so the MCE remote can still be used. Including it was good thinking on Zotac’s part.
 

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Zbox Nano Exterior

The Zotac Zbox Nano AD10 Plus takes the term small form factor to a whole new level. Intel’s Atom and AMD’s E-Series APUs have allowed OEMs to produce some truly tiny devices, with virtually all of the base functionality of a standard PC. At 5” x 5” x 1.77”, however, the Zbox Nano AD10 plus is about the smallest full system we have come across.

 

 
Zotac Zbox Nano AD10 Plus--Front, Back, Left, and Right

The Zbox Nano AD10 Plus has a mostly aluminum enclosure, with plastic covers on the top and bottom. The front of the device is home to a flash card reader, headphone and microphone jacks, and IR receiver, activity LEDs, and the power button. One side of the machine is completely bare, while the other houses only some air vents, and the back is home to all of the machines I/O. On the back, users will find the power jack, DP and HDMI outputs, four USB ports—two USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0—a lock port, RJ45 LAN jack, eSATA, and an antenna mount for the integrated Wi-Fi controller. Connectivity is very good on the Nano, but we do wish there were at least a couple more USB ports.

 
Zotac Zbox Nano AD10 Plus, Top and Next To A Standard DVD

The bottom of the machine has four rubber feet, which double as thumbscrews and hold an access panel in place and the top appears back when the system is off, but has a lighted green ring when powered on.

Since the pics don’t really convey a true measure of how small the machine is, we also snapped a shot of the Zbox Nano next to its driver disc. Yeah—the machine is tiny.
 

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Zbox Nano Interior and Footprint
Opening up and working on the Zotac Zbox Nano AD10 Plus is surprisingly easy, despite the machines ultra small form factor. While some machines in this class require poking and prodding with shims and screwdrivers, to pop fragile plastic clips, the Zbox Nano can be opened up by removing four thumbscrews, which double as the machine’s soft rubber feet.

 

 

With the system opened up, its motherboard, hard drive, RAM, and mini-PCIe Wi-Fi controller are easily accessible. There is only a single DIMM slot in the device, which supports up to 4GB of RAM and a standard 2.5” HD with 9.5mm Z-Height can be used. Since this is the “Plus” model, a Samsung 320GB hard drive was included along with 2GB of DDR3-1066 RAM. Although adequate, we found this configuration to drag performance down, somewhat. The AMD E-350 APU powering the Zbox Nano AD10 is no benchmark barn-burner, so faster storage and more RAM make noticeable improvements to performance and enhance the overall user experience.

Although not visible in our pics, there is an AMD E-350 APU on the hidden side of the motherboard’s PCB, along with AMD’s M1 chipset. There is also a slim heatsink with barrel type fan, which exhausts air out of the side of the Zbox Nano. We found the single fan to be very quiet and the machine never gets warm or emits a ton of heat.


Finally, here’s a shot of the Nano mounted to the back of an LCD monitor using the included mount. Pair this machine with a wireless desktop and a slim monitor and that’s about as small a footprint as possible, without moving to a mobile form factor.
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Test Systems and Vantage

Test System Configuration Notes: We compared the Zotac ZBox HD AD10 Plus to an array of systems in a similar class. Because we used a standard 2.5" HD (that was included in the Zotac machine) for this round of E-350 testing, we compared the Zotac machine to a number of mobile platforms that used a similar storage configuration. For the remainder of our testing, however, we compared the Zotac Zbox Nano's performance to the reference platforms used in our AMD Zacate E-350 Processor Performance Preview. The comparisons will show relative performance versus similar, low-power power platforms and the performance progression AMD has made with the Zacate platform since we first tested the E-350-based engineering platform at AMD's HQ.

HotHardware's Test Systems
Intel and AMD - Head To Head

System 1:
Zotac Zbox Nano AD10+
AMD E-350 Zacate Processor
(1.6GHz - Dual-Core)
2GB DDR3-1066
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio
2.5" Samsung HD
Windows 7 x64

System 2:
AMD E-350 Zacate Processor
(1.6GHz - Dual-Core)
AMD Engineer Sample
(AMD Hudson IO Hub)
2x2GB DDR3-1066
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio
Windows 7 x64

System 3:
AMD Turion II Neo K625
(1.5GHz - Dual-Core)
Acer Aspire 1551 Notebook
2x2GB DDR3-1066
Mobility Radeon HD 4225
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio
2.5" Seagate HD
Windows 7 x64

System 4:
Intel Atom D525
(1.8GHz - Dual-Core)
Asus Eee PC1215N
2x2GB DDR3-1066
NVIDIA Ion 2
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio
2.5" Seagate HD
Windows 7 x64

Preliminary Testing with PCMark Vantage
Synthetic Benchmarks

First up, we ran our test systems through Futuremark’s latest system performance evaluation tool, PCMark Vantage. PCMark Vantage runs through a host of different usage scenarios to simulate different types of workloads including High Definition TV and movie playback and manipulation, gaming, image editing and manipulation, music compression, communications, and productivity. Most of the tests are multi-threaded as well, so the tests can exploit the additional resources offered by a multi-core CPU.

The Zotac ZBOX Nano AD10 Plus was every bit as fast as the other AMD E-350 based systems we tested and had no trouble smoking the Atom and Neo-based systems as well.

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3D Gaming: 3DMark, ETQW

For our next set of tests, we moved on to some in-game benchmarking with Enemy Territory: Quake Wars and 3DMark Vantage. When testing low-power platforms with ET:QW, we dial things in to moderate resolutions for the LCD panel that was available in each test case. Since these are more entry-level game tests on highly mobile or ultra small form factor platforms, we left anti-aliasing turned off and image quality settings set from moderate to high levels where possible.

3D Gaming: Vantage, ET: Quake Wars and Left 4 Dead 2
Testing Zacate's GPU


With the latest drivers available on AMD.com, the Zbox Nano AD10 Plus shows much better performance in the OpenGL-based ET:QW test and a slight improvement in 3DMark Vantage. Please note, the GPU configurations in the Nano and other E-350-based systems are the same, the improved performance shown here by the Nano are due to further driver optimizations done on AMD's part. The other E-350's would perform similarly had we tested with the latest drivers.
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Multimedia Playback
To test video decode and playback capabilities of the Zotac Zbox Nano AD10 Plus, we attempted to play back a 1080p H.264-encoded QuickTime clip, numerous 1080P MKV files, and HD Flash videos. We then fired up Windows Task Manager take a look at CPU utilization in all instances.

HD Video Playback and CPU Utilization
HD Video Decode Performance

When we first took a look at the AMD E-Series APUs, AMD still had some major driver work to do. Some video types consumed significant CPU resources as hardware accelerations was hit or miss. With its latest drivers, however, the E-Series APU in the Zotac Zbox Nano AD10 Plus performed extremely well in our multimedia tests. The screenshots above are "worst case scenarios", streaming 1080P, full-screen YouTube videos over an 802.11n WiFi connection. As you can see, CPU utilization remains in the 20% range, which is perfectly acceptable for a low-power platform such as this. Playback was smooth with no dropped frames. And performance with local content or MKVs or other rips streamed from a NAS was also excellent.

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Power Consumption and Noise

Throughout all of our benchmarking and testing, we monitored how much power our test systems consumed using a power meter. Our goal was to give you all an idea as to how much power the base platform configuration used while idling and while under a heavy workload. Please keep in mind that we were testing total system power consumption at the outlet here, not just the power being drawn by the processors alone.

Total System Power Consumption
Tested at the Outlet

The Zbox Nano AD10 Plus is very power friendly, although it did consume a few more watts under load than did the HD-AD03. This was somewhat surprising since the Nano lacks the Blu-Ray drive, but the addition of Bluetooth along with slight differences in voltage can easily account for the 3w difference. Either way, power should not be an issue for anyone.

And with such low power consumption, noise is not an issue either. There is a single fan in the Zbox Nano that is audible under load, but it is very quiet regardless and the fan doesn't produce an annoying high-pitched whine like some others. We'd have no problem with this device in a quiet living room--it's almost silent.

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Our Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: In comparison to other ultra small form factor systems and similarly equipped mobile devices in its same class, the Zotac Zbox Nano AD10 Plus is a good performer. Generally speaking this diminutive system performs exactly as other E-350 APU-bases systems would. AMD’s driver team has made great strides since we first examined the E-Series, however, which allows the Zbox Nano to pull ahead of our reference numbers, which were generated using a previous driver rev. Power consumption and noise are non-issues and multimedia playback was excellent.

We really like the Zotac Zbox Nano AD10 Plus. A lot. For such a tiny device, it offers a plethora of features and a user experience that’s right in line with other E-Series APU-based products. Aesthetically, the minimalistic design and unobtrusive square enclosure allow the machine to blend into almost any environment, making it well suited to home theater applications or even as a low-power secondary PC. The included accessories compliment the machine nicely and at about $320 for the “Plus” model we looked at here, which includes a hard drive and 2GB of RAM, Zotac is pricing the machine competitively. Although, please note, the system does not include an OS.

With that said, the machine is not perfect. It could definitely use a few more USB ports and the integrated Wi-Fi controller didn’t perform as well as some others we’ve used in the lab. We’d also argue that the non-Plus model is the better way to go. The 5400RPM HD included in the Plus edition drags down performance somewhat and with RAM prices so low, it’s a shame not to put 4GB in the machine. Grab the Zbox Nano barebones kits, which can be found for about $210, an affordable SSD or 7200RPM hard drive and 4GB of RAM, and you’ll have a better experience for marginally larger investment.

Regardless of which route you choose, however, the Zotac Zbox Nano AD10 is likely to please. It’s a very cool device that’s worthy of consideration if you’re shopping for a machine of its type.


  • Low Power
  • Super Slick Form Factor
  • Good Price
  • DX11 Graphics
  • Bluetooth, WiFi, IR, GB Lan All Here 
  • Could Use More USB Ports
  • Included WiFi Controller Sub-Par
  • Drive Included With Plus Model Is Pokey
  • No OS 



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