Three Slim Atom/Ion 2-Based Nettop PCs Compared

Zotac ZBOX

Zotac’s ZBOX comes in a number of flavors, but we’re testing the premium Blu-ray combo burner model. This unit can be purchased for $500 on Newegg, a price that includes 2 GB of RAM, a 250 GB hard disk, and a slim slot-load Blu-ray combo drive. The operating system is not included in the price.

The ZBOX is the largest of the Atom-equipped nettops we’re testing today, but it has a great excuse: it’s the only model with a built-in optical drive. Despite this distinction, at 11.5” x 7.5” x 1.5” this is not a large PC by any stretch of the imagination. Zotac’s entry is very attractive with its gloss black/brushed metal construction and large blue illuminated circle to let the user know when the power is on. Here is a picture of the ZBOX beside the competition:

We’ve included another nettop here for comparison purposes: the ASRock Core 100HT-BD. ASRock’s solution also offers a Blu-ray drive, but pairs it with a comparably more powerful Core i3-330M CPU instead of the Atom, and it’s interesting to see the difference in size that this mini-ITX solution demands. Like the Mini-TOP, Zotac’s ZBOX comes equipped with the Intel Atom D525. The 2 GB of DDR2 included is par for the course in the nettop arena, and it’s sufficient for the tasks that this PC is expected to perform.

The rear output panel hosts HDMI and DVI video outputs, a double-duty eSATA/USB port, a dedicated USB port, a gigabit Ethernet port, the power supply input, and an optical S/PDIF audio output.

The optical drive slot dominates the front of the ZBOX, with two more USB ports, a memory card reader, and audio output/microphone jacks sharing the space. The extra USB ports are appreciated.

Zotac’s ZBOX comes with an external 19 V/4.74 A DC power supply, a driver CD, a manual, a quick-start guide, a VESA mount bracket for attaching the ZBOX to the back of a monitor, a DVI-to-VGA converter, and a full version of CyberLink’s PowerDVD 9 for Blu-ray playback.

There is a glaring omission here, and that is the lack of a remote control. It is strange that the other two nettops we’re testing include a remote, despite the lack of an integrated Blu-ray drive—this seems like an obvious must-have for the ZBOX. Once again, Zotac is probably counting on users opting for a wireless keyboard and mouse to drive this PC.

Editor's note: I actually have a tendency to toss the cheap-feeling media center remotes that most HTPC-oriented devices include. Instead, I prefer to use a program called Mobile Mouse Pro for my iPod Touch, which is convenient, responsive, Wi-Fi-based, and best of all, affordable.

The ZBOX sports the easiest mechanism for motherboard access in our test group, with six screws fastening a cover on the bottom of the unit. Getting to the hard disk and memory is a simple affair. 

  • reprotected
    Nettops fail.
  • DjEaZy
    ... it may be a good mac mini hackentosch...
  • hmp_goose
    Retest the N20's playback with a RAM drive for the temp files; I suspect the drive system is the issue . . .
  • dEAne
    Overall it is good. The benchmark is fair enough - And it is presentable too.
  • cushgod
    SHould test results with a SSD complared to a "mechanical" HDD to see how much that can help an Atom move along :)
  • fullcircle_bflo
    So if I wanted a computer simply to stream internet videos to a television via HDMI(such as Hulu or CBS website), would any of these be a good candidate?
  • kriminal
    ^^ guess so.. fullcircle
  • mchuf
    For $150 - $200, you can buy a used Pentium D or C2D pc off of craigslist. Add a $50 HD5450 gpu and a $40 wireless KB/M combo and your all set. That would be a more capable box than one of these things and at a lower price (even if you upgrade to Win 7 HP). Hell, even a used Mac Mini (old model) might be a more cost effective solution. Unless you're extremely tight for space, I don't see the appeal for an overpriced "net" device.
  • nonameworks
    ^^ Only if you ignore the cost of electricity
  • tipoo
    Zino HD review, please! At close to the cost of many of these nettops, it blows them away in performance and is almost as small and consumes almost as little power.