Nettop Round-Up: Four Tiny PCs, Benchmarked And Reviewed

Zotac Zbox AD03BR-PLUS

We're familiar with Zotac’s family of tiny Zbox HTPCs, but the AD03BR-PLUS model adds AMD’s E-350 APU to the mix. Combining low power usage, minimal thermal output, and an integrated Radeon HD 6310 graphics processor, this should make for a solid nettop media center platform. As tested, armed with 2 GB of DDR3 and a 250 GB hard disk, this is the lowest-priced option in our round-up at $504 from If you prefer to choose your own memory and storage, a barebones model sells for $399. Just remember that neither model includes an operating system.

The Zbox is long and flat, measuring 11.5” x 7.5” x 1.5”. Its glossy black and brushed metal chassis are attractive, and we dig the large blue illuminated circle (though it might not be the most welcome addition in a dark theater room).

The back side features HDMI and DVI video outputs, a combo eSATA/USB port, a USB 3.0 port, gigabit Ethernet, the power supply input, and an optical S/PDIF audio output. After testing two USB-rich nettops, the single USB port is disappointing; you're forced to use the eSATA combo port for USB if you need a separate keyboard and mouse (and don't want cabled dangling off the front). The most obvious workaround is to use a wireless keyboard and mouse setup that requires one USB port for its receiver.

Zotac's Zbox doesn’t come with a remote, detracting from its allure in a home theater capacity. If you want to add one, you might have to plug its receiver into the front of the unit.

More than half of the Zbox's narrow front is consumed by the optical drive slot. You get two more USB ports up there, though, one of which transfers at USB 2.0 speeds and the other supporting USB 3.0. Audio and microphone jacks are also routed to the front.

Zotac’s entry comes with an external DC power supply, a support (driver) CD, a manual, a quick start guide, a VESA mounting bracket for attaching the Zbox to the back of a monitor, a DVI-to-VGA converter, and a full version of CyberLink’s BD Solution software for Blu-ray playback.

As mentioned, no remote comes bundled with the Zbox. While we accept that some folks have a third-party favorite they'd prefer anyway (or even an app like Mobile Mouse Pro), we still think remote control should be standard on a product so obviously intended for HTPC duty.

Accessing the hard disk and memory is quite easy via a rear access panel. 

  • jdwii

    But at $504 with no operating system (and $399 for a version without an operating system, hard drive, or memory),
  • Pyree
    IDK, $800 for the ASRock CoreHT 252B. A laptop cost less, has better performance for that price range, better mobility and space saving plus you have everything (screen, speaker etc). I rather get a laptop for a small office.
  • chumly
    These all seem expensive to me, considering you could probably build a better mini itx slim form factor system from scratch for about half the price.
  • AMD X6850
    As mentioned, no remove comes bundled with the Zbox.

  • cleeve
    AMD X6850Remote?
    Thx, fixed!
  • molo9000
    Nettops? These things are far too expensive to be nettops.
    They are small form factor PCs or home theatre PCs, but they are not nettops.

    btw: Mac mini should be in this lineup.
  • amk-aka-Phantom
    Very nice article. I was about to request something like it :)

    Mac Mini should be in this lineup? Actually, a good idea. I'd love to see how it compares to similar Wintel boxes.

    I'm through with these small boxes because they're a pain in the a$$ to service and the hardware isn't good for the price ($800?! gimme a break!), but I see value in them for people who are ready to pay more for the small size.

    If I would build a small form-factor box myself, I'd use something like this new Lian Li case which was in Tom's news recently - it can fit proper PCI/PCI-E cards.

    Again, lovely article. Keep it up.

    P.S. The ASRock box is great.
  • compton
    I second the sentiment that these aren't really nettops. Luckily, the next iteration of Llano should rectify that, creating the golden triangle of CPU , GPU, and low cost. At least that's what I expect anyway. These reviewed units are more HTPC solutions than low cost nettop. Intel has a new half height miniITX initiative with a rare and relatively expensive 1155 mini ITX to match. However, once Intel's iGPU gets a serving of HTPC friendly features, you could build your own full featured, passively cooled system to take these units on performance and price as well. The move to 22nm should make low powered passively cooled CPUs easy to get right. As it stands, each of the solutions tested are pretty good, but I'm not sure that any of them are worth the asking price. In particular, I've always avoided Atom like the plague, and I don't think they're appropriate in small form factor systems that cost more than about $200.
  • ruban71
    Can we now have a comparison against a couple of ITX builds? Choose an nice looking case and show us what can be put together for similar money.
  • I've owned an E350 - struggles with HD playback in a linux system, there doesn't appear to be any support for the amd hardware decoding. So if you were thinking of making a linux htpc out of it, go for something more powerful... It will perform better though as in the article above if using Windows (Using I think - Media Player classic which allows hardware h.264 decode.)