Zotac ZBox Blu-ray HD-ID34 Nettop / HTPC Review

User Experience

We found Intel's Atom D525 to offer sufficient performance in Asus' Eee PC 1215N netbook, but would it feel fast enough on a desktop? It did. Right from the beginning, it's hard to dislike the newest ZBox. The design just gets things started in the right direction. When you like the design, it's easier to like the rest. We will say, however, that a lot of how you use the ID34 will depend on the keyboard and mouse that you use. But since this machine doesn't ship with either, we won't elaborate much on that. Just make sure you pick a combo that you enjoy, obviously.

So, how was actually using the machine? For under $500, including Blu-ray, we would argue that it would be hard to find a more capable nettop. Boot-up wasn't lightning fast due to the relatively slow 5400RPM drive included with the machine, and it was still possible to cause system lag when loading up multiple applications at once, but aside from a couple of intensive scenarios, the system ran smoothly. It handled general Office tasks with ease, and we weren't stuck dealing with multi-second lag times when performing simple tasks, like right clicking on icons or switching between applications like we were with prior Atom machines. In fact, we would say that the performance of the ZBox felt exactly like the performance we saw on the Eee PC 1215N, which shouldn't be surprising given just how similar the specifications are.

The baseline system (2GB of DDR2-800 memory and a 250GB 5400RPM hard drive) is plenty powerful for basic tasks along with 720p/1080p video playback, but the barebones option would allow you to install 4GB of RAM and an SSD without wasting money on lower-performing included performance for a serious boost in speed. For a few hundred extra dollars, you could turn this little baby into quite the speedster. It's only worth doing, though, if you plan to use this as your primary desktop. If you only plan on using this at night to watch Hulu or a Blu-ray movie, for the few extra seconds it takes a 5400RPM hard drive to load the Cyberlink software, it's probably not worth spending the extra cash. 

The system fares quite well once an application is loaded and underway; as with any Atom, it takes a number of seconds for a heavy application like PowerDVD 9 to load, but it's not a deal-breaker, particularly at this price point. The system noise and heat output was also acceptable. Since we can imagine this being used as an HTPC, noise is very important. Even when spinning a Blu-ray Disc, the ZBox did a great job at keeping things quiet. It's not nearly as loud as a PS3 or Xbox 360, for example, and the Atom D525 keeps heat output down. We felt comfortable with the machine even squeezed between our cable box and A/V rack. It's not silent, mind you, but with any volume from your speakers you won't really notice the ZBox doing its job in terms of noise.

And considering that Zotac took the time to add a Blu-ray player, we had to test it out. Put simply, the playback was excellent. We're impressed that Zotac managed to get a Blu-ray drive into a machine that starts at just $399, and if you have been holding off on buying a player for yourself, the ID34 makes a great option. It's more expensive than some BD players, but then again it's a full fledged PC. 

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