Depending on who you ask, A/V racks are just as much about form as they are function. A home theater setup with swagger will get the job done while looking good doing it, and that's what Zotac aims to do with its ZBOX line. There are a number of ways you can implement the ZBOX ID80 Plus into your A/V rack, all courtesy of its small size (takes up less space than a Nintendo Wii console) and flexible mounting options, whether you want to showcase it for all to see or hide it behind your LCD television.
On the outside, the ZBOX ID80 Plus is a sleek looking machine with a glossy black front and backside accented by a light silver body sandwiched in between. There's a blue LED circle that sits squarely in the middle and lights up when you turn the system on and stays lit, though it doesn't flicker with activity, which could be overly distracting when trying to watch a TV show. There's also an optional Wi-Fi antenna (included) that sticks up, off the back.
The chassis is entirely constructed of plastic, which is a less expensive option than aluminum or even SECC steel, though at the expense of heat dissipation. Zotac can get away with it here because the ZBOX ID80 is built around Intel's low-power Cedar Trail platform with an Atom D2700 processor, along with a fairly mild GeForce GT 520M GPU from Nvidia soldered onto the motherboard.
The front of the device is home to a physical power button, a couple of small activity LEDs (Wi-Fi and hard drive), a 6-in-1 memory card reader, USB 2.0 port, headphone/audio out jack, and a microphone jack. Over on the back you'll find a pair of SuperSpeed USB 3.0 ports, Wi-Fi antenna connector, GbE LAN port, two USB 2.0 ports, a dual-link DVI port, HDMI output, optical (S/PDIF) jack, and the power input (DC 19V).
All these ports and connectivity options are flanked on both sides by an additional USB 2.0 port, an exhaust grill that blows out hot air from the GPU's fan/blower, and a passive mesh grill. Another mesh grill with a fan sits on the backside to draw cool air in.
This 360 tour highlights one of the main benefits of going with an HTPC over a dedicated media set-top player. There are more connectivity options than what you'll find on a typical media player, including a dual-link DVI port that's capable of driving a 30-inch 2560x1600 display. You can forget about trying to game at that resolution, but if you just need a basic PC for Web surfing, email, Word processing, and other light-weight chores, the ZBOX ID80 Plus is a compelling low-cost option. Just attach it to the rear of an LCD panel -- even a 30-inch monitor (we used a Dell U3011) -- and add a wireless mouse/keyboard combo for a space-saving setup that's far less expensive than some all-in-one (AIO) PCs.
Zotac slapped four rubber feet on the bottom of the ZBOX ID80 Plus to prevent scuffing up your A/V rack or sliding around. Alternately, Zotac provides a plastic stand to sit the system upright. It's a tool-less design that snaps on and slides into place.