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Zotac ZBOX Nano XS AD11 Plus
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Date: Apr 11, 2012
Section:Systems
Author: Marco Chiappetta
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Introduction, Specs, and Bundle

In addition to building graphics cards, Zotac is one of only a handful companies to fully embrace small form factor and home theater systems. Whether you want to build something yourself from the ground up, quickly assemble a barebones rig, or pick up a fully built HTPC, Zotac has you covered. The company offers a wide array of mini-ITX motherboards based on many modern chipsets (including the just released Z77) and barebones ZBOX systems for the DIY Crowd, along with full SFF systems that need nothing but an OS.

Over the last couple of years, Zotac has introduced a number of ultra small ZBOX systems that have seemingly gotten smaller and smaller with each new generation. The latest model we’ll be showing you here today, however, is the smallest yet. The new Zotac ZBOX Nano XS AD11 Plus is an AMD E-series APU based small form factor / HTPC system that fits in the palm of your hand—literally. Despite offering a dual-core processor, integrated DirectX 11 class graphics, 2GB of RAM, a 64GB solid state drive, USB 3.0, a flash card reader, and various other connections, the ZBOX Nano XS AD11 Plus measures just 4.17” x 4.17” x 1.46”.

To shrink things down into a package that small, Zotac had to make some concessions with the Nano XS that it didn’t have to make with previous-gen Nanos, however. We’ll explain what those concessions are on the pages ahead. For now, check out the specifications and bundle and then we’ll move on to the juicier details...


The Zotac ZBOX Nano XS AD11 Plus Ultra Small Form Factor PC

Zotac ZBOX Nano XS AD11 Plus
Specifications & Features
Model
  • ZBOXNSX-AD11-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 6320
Onboard Audio
  • Onboard analog stereo high-definition audio
  • 7.1-Channel LPCM digital audio (HDMI)
  • Optical Digital S/PDIF audio
LAN
  • 10/100/1000Mbps (on board)
  • Wifi 802.11n/g/b (300Mbps, external)
Memory Size
  • 2GB
Memory Slots
  • 1 x 204-pin SO-DIMM
Memory Type
  • DDR3-1333 SO-DIMM
SATA
  • 1 mSATA (6.0 Gbps)
  • 1 eSATA
Storage
  • 64GB mSATA SSD (3Gpbs)
Video Ports
  • HDMI
USB
  • 2 x USB 3.0 (back panel)
  • 2 x USB 2.0 (back panel)
  • 1 x Combo eSATA USB 2.0 (front)
Power Connector
  • DC19V
Package Contents
  • 1 x ZOTAC ZBOX nano AD11
  • 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 adapter
Dimensions
  • 4.17in x 4.17in x 1.46in
  • 106mm x 106mm x 37mm
Warranty
  • 1-Year Standard



 
Zotac ZBOX Nano XS AD11 Plus Accessory Bundle

Zotac includes a nice array of accessories with the ZBOX Nano XS AD11 Plus. Along with the machine itself, users will find an owner’s manual and quick installation guide, a drive / utility disc, a USB Wi-Fi adapter, an additional IR receiver, a standard VESA monitor mount (with mounting screws) that doubles as a wall mount, a 1/8” optical SPDIF adapter, 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 included media center remote has a clear shot of the front of the Nano XS, where the integrated IR receiver is mounted. If, however, the ZBOX Nano XS 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. Kudos.
 

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ZBOX Nano XS Exterior
If you thought Zotac’s original ZBOX Nano systems were small, you’ve got to check out the new Nano XS AD11 Plus. As we’ve mentioned in the past, 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 4.17” x 4.17” x 1.46”, however, the ZBOX Nano XS AD11 Plus is the smallest full system we have yested yet.


ZBOX Nano XS AD11 Plus - Front

The Zbox Nano XS AD11 Plus has a mostly aluminum enclosure, with plastic covers on the top and bottom. The front of the device is home to a 6-in-1 memory card reader (SD/SDHC/SDXC/MMC/MS/MS Pro), headphone and microphone jacks (the headphone jack doubles as an optical SPDIF output), an IR receiver, a combo eSATA and USB 2.0 port, and the power button.


ZBOX Nano XS AD11 Plus - Side

Both sides of the unit have some perforations that act as air vents (one side is intake, the other is exhaust). One side has a Kensigton lock port as well, and the back is home to all of the machines I/O.


ZBOX Nano XS AD11 Plus - Back

On the back, users will find the power jack, an HDMI output, four USB ports—two USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0—and an RJ45 gigabit LAN jack. Connectivity is very good on the Nano XS, but we do wish there were at least a couple more USB ports. Also note, the integrated WiFi and DisplayPort outputs on the "larger" previous-gen Nano are gone. WiFi now comes by way of an external USB controller.

The bottom of the machine has four rubber feet, which double as thumbscrews and hold an access panel in place and the top appears black when the system is off, but has a lighted green ring when powered on. The unit's activity LEDs are also located on the top, at the front left corner.

As we mentioned on the previous page, the ZBOX Nano XS AD11 Plus includes a standard vesa mount that gives users the ability to mount the unit right to the back of a display. Here's a pic of an original Nano affixed to the back of an LCD monitor.
 
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ZBOX Nano XS Interior

The exterior of the ZBOX Nano XS AD11 Plus is pretty cool, but for geeks like us, it’s the technology crammed within the system that’s most ogle worthy. Thankfully, Zotac makes it incredibly easy to open up the Nano XS should a user want to service something on the interior.


Removing The Thumbscrews / Feet

The four rubber feet on the bottom of the system double as thumbscrews. Simply unscrew them and the bottom of the unit pops right off.


A Look Inside The ZBOX Nano XS AD11 Plus

With the bottom panel removed, users have easy access to the ZBOX Nano XS AD11 Plus’ single SO-DIMM slot and mSATA port. The “non-Plus” barebones ZBOX Nano XS AD11 will ship with these slots empty, but the Plus model we have here includes 2GB of DDR-1333 RAM and a 64GB mSATA solid state drive from Kingston, although Zotac points out that some machines may ship with different solid state drives in the future. We should also mention that although the mSATA slot supports 6Gbps speeds, this SSD has a SATA 3Gps interface.


The ZBOX Nano XS AD11 Plus' Motherboard, APU, and Chipset

There are a half dozen screws to remove inside the Nano XS should a user want to remove the motherboard, although there’s little reason to do this. With the motherboard removed, however, the system’s single cooling fan is visible. The fan sucks air in from one side of the system and exhausts it out the other. A single heatsink cools both the AMD E-450 APU and M1 chipset.

For this unfamiliar, the E-450 APU differs from the E-350 used in previous-generation ZBOX Nano systems in that it has a slightly higher frequency (1.65GHz vs. 1.6GHz), a higher clocked GPU (Radeon HD 6320 vs. Radeon HD 6310), and official support for faster DDR3 memory.
 

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Test Systems and Vantage

Test System Configuration Notes: We compared the Zotac ZBOX Nano XS AD11 Plus to an array of systems with similar specifications. We compared the Zotac machine to a number of mobile platforms that used a similar storage configurations to older ZBOX systems. For the remainder of our testing, however, we compared the Zotac ZBOX Nano XS'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 XS AD11+
AMD E-450 Zacate Processor
(1.65GHz - Dual-Core)
2GB DDR3-1066
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio
Kingston mSATA SSD
Windows 7 x64

System 2:
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 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 ZBOX Nano XS crushed the previous-generation ZBOX systems in PCMark Vantage. The new system's huge performance boost does not come by way of its newer APU, however. The ZBOX Nano XS's strong performance here is due to the solid state drive included in the system, which heavily influences the PCMark results.


ZBOX Nano XS AD11 w/ 64GB Kingston mSATA SSD

As you can see in the ATTO Disk Benchmark results above, the 64GB Kingston mSATA SSD included in the ZBOX Nano XS isn't terribly fast by today's standards, but it absolutely demolishes the 2.5" mobile hard drives included with its predecessors.

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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 down to moderate resolutions to accommodate 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
Testing Zacate's GPU

The CPU benchmark built into 3DMark Vantage doesn't show the newer E-450 with much of an advantage over the older E-350-based systems; those 50 additional MHz just don't help CPU performance all that much.

But the integrated Radeon HD 6320 does offer significantly more performance than the Radeon HD 6310 of t he E-350, at least according to 3DMark Vantage.

Curiously, ET: Quake Wars shows somewhat lower performance at the lower resolutions, which almost levels out once the resolution is increased to 1366x768. These tests on the ZBOX Nano XS AD11 were run using the latest AMD Catalyst drivers, which may be lacking OpenGL optimizations present in older drivers for this title.
 
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Multimedia Playback
To test video decode and playback capabilities of the Zotac ZBOX Nano XS AD11 Plus, we attempted to play back a wide variety of 1080P H.264-encoded QuickTime clips, numerous 1080P MKV files, and HD Flash videos, both locally and streamed over the web or LAN. We also used both the wired and wireless network connections while streaming. 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



1080P YouTube Video Full Screen


SD Hulu Content, Full Scaled To Full Screen


SD Hulu Content, Windowed

Our experiences playing back various file types on the ZBOX Nano XS AD11 were mostly good. When playing back SD or HD .MKV files locally, the system performed flawlessly. Our experiences were also very good while playing numerous different file types from a NAS device using the Nano XS AD11's wired network connection. When using the included USB WiFi controller to stream files over the network, performance was generally good with SD content, but we did run into some framerate issues and wireless connection stability when playing large HD videos. If you plan to stream HD content from a NAS or server on your network, using a wired connection is preferable.

Streaming content from the web was mostly good as well, but we did have some issues with content from Hulu. Our system had a fresh Windows installation with the latest Flash Player and AMD Catalyst drivers installed (v12.3), and YouTube content played back flawlessly. We'd see high CPU utilization during initial playback of 1080P HD content from YouTube, in the neighborhood of 60% - 70%, but once the vide completely downloaded utilization would drop into the teens. With Hulu, however, CPU utilization remained somewhat high regardless of the video resolution. If we played back SD content and scaled it to full screen, for example, CPU utilization hovered in the 70% - 80% range. Scaling the video down to a small window, however, would reduce utilization significantly.

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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 Zotac ZBOX Nano XS sips power. Even with a dual-core CPU, DX11-class graphics core, 2GB of RAM, and a 64GB SSD (among many other components), the system consumed only 11 wats at idle. And under load, that number jumped up to only 28 watts. With those numbers, the Nano XS consumed slightly more power than its predecessors, but that's reasonable considering the XS's higher clocked CPU and GPU cores and USB 3.0 controller.

With such low power consumption, it should come as no surprise that the ZBOX Nano XS AD11 remains nice and quiet. While idling the unit is virtually silent--in an very quiet room, a slight hum from the unit's cooling fan can be heard, but if there is any ambient noise at all it will almost certainly drown it out. Under load, the fan in the ZBOX Nano XS AD11 does spin up and become somewhat more audible, but we'd still consider the system very quiet. Even under the most strenuous of workloads, the fan in the ZBOX Nano XS AD11 could never be considered loud.
 

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Our Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: Overall, the new Zotac ZBOX Nano XS AD11 is a good performer. In comparison to other ultra small form factor systems and similarly equipped mobile devices in its same class, the ZBOX Nano XS AD11 does well. The AMD E-450 APU at the heart of the system is a mild step up from the E-350 APU used in our reference systems and the E-450 had no trouble outpacing any of the Atom-based offerings. The mSATA SSD included in the ZBOX Nano XS AD11+ model we tested is also a huge step up from the pokey 320GB HD bundled with previous-gen ZBOX Nano systems. The SSD makes the ZBOX Nano XS AD11+ feel much more responsive than previous-gen ZBOX Nanos we’ve tested and we’re glad Zotac decided to go the solid state route with the XS.

We’ve been fans of Zotac’s ZBOX Nano small form factor systems. The tiny little boxes don’t break benchmark records, but their diminutive enclosures and well thought out features make them very well suited for home theater and low power applications. After spending years building my own HTPCs, Zotac came along and designed some ultra-small systems, with just the right amount horsepower, and eliminated the need to built my own. The systems aren’t powerful enough to run the latest games, but for multimedia playback and everyday computing chores, Zotac’s ZBOX Nano systems are great. And this latest addition may just be the best yet. The ZBOX Nano XS AD11 Plus is the smallest of the Nanos by about .75 inch all around, yet it’s slightly more powerful. In addition, the “Plus” model does away with the slow hard drive included with its predecessors in favor of a much faster mSATA SSD. At only 64GB, storage capacity is vastly decreased, but it’s more than enough room for an OS and your favorite multimedia and media center software in our opinion.

We do, however, have some concerns. The included USB WiFi adapter is basic and won't due for streaming high-bitrate content from a NAS or home server. That's the case with most WiFi adapters though, so stick with the wired connection where possible. We also experienced some quality issues with the unit's cooling fan and power button. Although the fan on our unit was nearly silent most of the time, on occasion it seemed to go out of balance and sounded like it was churning a bit. The power button on our unit wasn't always responsive either. We sometimes had to hit it multiple times to get the unit to power up.  We suspect these problems are isolated, however, and have another unit on the way. Once we test the new unit, we'll update this conclusion with our final recommendation.

The ZBOX Nano XS AD11 Plus has an MSRP of $359. That's a very fair price considering the hardware and accessories included with the system. Built your own E-450 based rig with a similar SSD and memory, include an MCE remote, wall mount, and USB WiFi adapter, and the price will hover in the $300+ range for a mini-ITX system, which will also be much larger. The premium Zotac charges for the utlra small form factor of the ZBOX Nano XS AD11 Plus is easily justified. We hope the replacement system doesn't have the same issues as the first unit we tested, because this little machine is hot.

  • Low Power
  • Super Slick Form Factor
  • Good Price
  • DX11 Graphics
  • WiFi, IR, GB LAN All Here
  • Could Use More USB Ports
  • Included WiFi Controller Sub-Par
  • No OS



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