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Zotac Enters The PC-On-A-Stick Market

The SFF PC market has long been an important area of business for Zotac. The company has produced numerous mini-PCs over the years, but now it is introducing its smallest PCs to date--PCs on a stick, essentially--the Zbox PI220 and PI221.

These new mini-PCs are similar to Intel’s Compute Stick in both size and internal hardware. The PI220 and PI221 each have one HDMI out connection and a single USB 3.0 port. In this regard, Intel’s Compute Stick has more to offer, as it has two USB ports, making it easier to connect peripherals.

The Zotac PI220 and PI221 have their own advantages. Both devices sport an RJ-45 port that will allow you to hook up an internet connection in areas where Wi-Fi connectivity is problematic. The PI220 also has a small fan to help cool the system, whereas Intel’s Compute Stick is fanless. The fan will help reduce thermal throttling inside of the PI220, which may help it outperform the Compute Stick.

The internal hardware is fairly similar to the Compute Stick, as well. Both of Zotac’s devices and the Compute Stick use an Intel Atom X5-Z8300 Cherry Trail SoC with four Airmont CPU cores. The CPU cores have a base frequency of 1.44 GHz and a turbo boost speed of 1.84 GHz. DDR3L (2 GB) clocked at 1600 MHz is connected to the SoC over a single-channel 64-bit memory interface, providing the system with 12.8 GB/s of bandwidth.

The built-in iGPU is fairly limited, with 12 EUs clocked at 200 MHz and with a burst frequency of 500 MHz. This limited iGPU won’t play any modern games, but it might be able to run certain older titles.

Currently, Zotac’s primary competitor in this market space is Intel. There are other competing products such as the Archos PC Stick and the Lenovo Ideacentre Stick 300, but these two devices are at a disadvantage compared to Intel’s second generation Compute Stick and Zotac’s Zbox PI220 and PI221.

All of these devices share a similar design, but Archos’s and Lenovo’s combatants use older Bay Trail-based SoCs. In addition to running slightly hotter and operating at marginally lower clock speeds, the Bay Trail-based SoCs also have weaker iGPUs, with just 4 EUs. This gives Zotac and Intel a strong performance advantage in any tasks that use the iGPU.

There is currently no word on pricing or availability.

PC Stick Comparison
ProductZotac ZBox PI220Zotac ZBox PI221Intel Compute Stick (Second Gen)Archos PC StickLenovo Ideacentre Stick 300
Memory2 GB DDR3L-RS16002 GB DDR3L-RS16002 GB LPDDR32 GB DDR3Up To 2 GB
Storage32 GB Onboard eMMC32 GB onboard eMMC32 GB Onboard eMMC32 GBUp To 32 GB
CPUIntel Cherry Trail Atom X5-Z8300 Processor (Quad-core 1.44 GHz, Up To 1.88 GHz)Intel Cherry Trail Atom X5-Z8300 Processor (Quad-core 1.44 GHz, Up To 1.88 GHz)Intel Cherry Trail Atom X5-Z8300 Processor (Quad-core 1.44 GHz, Up To 1.88 GHz)Intel Bay Trail Atom Z3735F Processor (Quad-Core 1.33 GHz, Up To 1.83 GHz)Intel Bay Trail Atom Z3735F Processor (Quad-Core 1.33 GHz, Up To 1.83 GHz)
GPUIntel HD GraphicsIntel HD GraphicsIntel HD GraphicsIntel HD GraphicsIntel HD Graphics
Display Options1 x HDMI1 x HDMI1 x HDMI1 x HDMI1 x HDMI
Card Reader3-in-1 (SD/SDHC/SDXC)3-in-1 (SD/SDHC/SDXC)3-in-1 (SD/SDHC/SDXC)3-in-1 (SD/SDHC/SDXC)3-in-1 (SD/SDHC/SDXC)
Ethernet10/100 Mbps10/100 MbpsNoneNoneNone
Wi-Fi802.11ac + Bluetooth 4.0802.11ac + Bluetooth 4.0Dual-Band 802.11ac + Bluetooth 4.0Wi-Fi + Bluetooth802.11n + Bluetooth 4.0
USB Port(s)1 x USB 3.01 x USB 3.01 x USB 3.01 x USB 2.011
AudioHeadphoneMicrophoneHeadphoneMicrophoneN/AN/AN/A
DirectX Support1212121111
HDCPYesYesYesYesYes
Supported OSWindows 10 32-BitWindows 10 32-BitWindows 10Windows 10Windows 10
Thermal SolutionSmart Active Micro FanPassively CooledPassively CooledPassively CooledPassively Cooled

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Michael Justin Allen Sexton is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He covers hardware component news, specializing in CPUs and motherboards.