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Zotac Zbox Nano

By Matt Simpson - Saturday, April 21, 2012

The small form factor PC. It has come into its own in the last few years. Originally, as a novelty form factor, then as a more solid segment with the rise of the home theater pc. Now, small form factor PC’s represent a significant and still growing segment in the PC world. Home theater PC’s are as popular as ever, and many people are using these small PC’s for things that they simply couldn’t in the past.

History

The first true small form factor PC’s were based on the Atom processors from Intel. It was an early attempt at a low power CPU. These were primarily used in the net top PC’s for browsing the internet. The Atom PC platform allowed for tiny power consumption requirements, but it didn’t have the horsepower to do much else. For many websites, it was even insufficient for comfortable browsing. The advent of the ion chipset from Nvidia improved this situation significantly. It used an Nvidia GPU in conjunction with the atom processor to accelerate not only the functions of the web that are now usable directly by graphics hardware, but also allowed the Atom platform to playback video in high definition, which was previously well out of reach for the Atom processors.

The Ion platform improved with a second generation, allowing not only Blu-ray quality movie playback and smooth web browsing, but some degree of game play ability as well. Intel couldn’t hold the low power market forever and soon AMD and VIA both had entries into the market. Much like the Atom, they sacrifice pure processing power for electrical power savings. These processors require a GPU to be much use but do draw only a tiny amount of power from the wall. As processors have become more efficient, there has been a push to get more power into the small form factor PC segment.

Form Factors

The mini ITX form factor has long been the most prominent of the small form factors. It is significantly smaller than the mini or micro ATX standards. In recent years however, the form factors have been ever shrinking. The introduction of the nano-itx and pico-itx flavors have not been extensively utilized, but still come in at a tiny size. Some of the confusion, which is both the fault of the form factor standards and the board makers themselves, has led to non-standard sized boards being more prevalent than before. Via and AMD have both released small form factor boards that do not follow any standardization, but are in fact fully proprietary designes. This isn’t so out of place when you already have a chipset and CPU dedicated to the motherboard you are using.

The Zotac Nano XS AD11 Plus

Besides being a lot of name to swallow, we’d hope that the new release from Zbox would have something to it. Zotac has been making small form factor PC’s for years, and while they have had more than their share of reliability issues, mostly due to poor thermal designs, they have been very innovative on several occasions.
Understand that when we say this is a small form factor PC, we mean small. The dimensions on the system come in at 10.6cm x 10.6cm x 3.7cm. This is literally a PC that fits in the palm of your hand. It’s so small in fact that one of its touted uses is to be Vesa mounted on the back of HDTV’s. One of the biggest drawbacks in the past to such a small pc, or at least a limiting factor has always been the hard drive size. The 2.5” HDD used in notebooks had been the smallest available for most practical considerations. SSD makers are now showing that even the space that is taken up by a 2.5” HDD package is more than is often needed and it is only used to maintain backward compatibility. The new standard of MSATA is allowing for tiny PC’s flourishing.

The specs of this PC don’t say palm sized either. It’s running with a dual core AMD E-450. Both cores run at 1.65 GHz and the total power draw of the CPU remains under 18 watts. It’s got a 2GB DDR3 stick of RAM installed and uses a 64GB version of the Kingston MSATA SSD. There is still room left over for gigabit Ethernet and 802.11N wireless connections. The only real problem is the lackluster performance, the terrible thermal issues, and the high cost. If Zotac is able to resolve some of these issues, the Nano could be one of the most versatile small form factor PC’s available.




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