ZOTAC ZBOX Nano XS AD11 Plus Review

👤by Tim Harmer Comments 📅11-04-12
Conclusion

It's very hard not to love ZOTAC's ZBOX nano XS AD11. A tiny footprint coupled with high quality components and impressive feature set - including mSATA SSD, USB 3.0 and HD Audio/Video add up to a formidable product that is hard to beat within the form factor constraints. It won't look out of place in any front room either thanks to the brushed-metal finish and gentle illumination.

As you would expect from this proven platform video playback was smooth and audio quality was high where the HD6320 graphics of the E-450 APU can be taken advantage of, adding up to a good HTPC package. The inclusion of bit-streamed audio over HDMI, supported by AMD's E-450 APU, will be of key interest to enthusiasts with external AVRs. On the other hand a lack of CPU horsepower puts software decoding of HD video beyond the reach of the AD11, impacting on web streaming performance especially. Consequently poorly formed or supported video which requires software decoding, such as 10-bit encoded h.264 used by a few but growing number of sources, is a problem that AMD, Webmasters and Media Player developers will need to keep pace with by swift integration of iterative driver improvements into software.

As a general use PC the AD11 works far better than your average Nettop or Netbook, thanks largely to the inclusions of a fast SSD rather over a mechanical HDD. The typical Windows 7 installation of 21GB still leaves over 35GB for a wide range of applications, or just more video. Though you won't be playing the very latest FPS or RPG, indie titles with very modest requirements and older titles should be playable at low resolutions. Note however that memory constraints on the system are high the 2GB is shared between the system and GPU, limiting you to ~1.6GB rather than the 4GB + 512MB Video RAM you'd see on a low-end gaming desktop PC and will limit the system performance even with an SSD.

ZOTAC's attention to detail is striking. From options to disable case lighting in BIOS, tablet fast-charging under Windows and having the foresight of providing an HTPC OS built for and verified on the AD11 available as a free download, there seems to be very little that hasn't been thought of. Also pleasing to note is that the IR Remote/Sensor package, often the weak link of bundled home media devices, is robust and responsive and works seamlessly with both Windows Media Center and XBMC. The lack of a keyboard and mouse is felt only upon initial system configuration and when performing standard 'PC tasks', allowing the end-user to choose peripherals they are comfortable with and keeping the overall price down.

The chief issue we had with the AD11 was not one of performance or feature set, but rather noise. The claim of 'near silent operation' didn't really pan out during playback even when CPU loads were relatively low, and certainly not during use as a desktop PC. That's not to say that fan noise is a deal-breaker, anything but - for an HTPC set-up in a living room the AD11's fan noise isn't too problematic, indeed as long as CPU loads stay at or below the 25% mark the it is barely noticeable above typical video volume. We would not however recommend it as a study or bedroom PC variable CPU load levels increase noise and make it all the more distracting at ~1m distances from AD11 to ear. The ability to set-up fan profiles, keeping noise levels relatively stable if not whisper quiet, would be a welcome addition.

Finally we come to the price of 299, placing the AD11 Plus towards the higher-end of the market for mini-PC they begin to compete with self-assembled near-silent desktop PC's. However the long list of features of the AD11 PLUS, especially an SSD which would retail for a hefty chunk of change itself, make it an excellent option if you can take advantage of all it has to offer and value space and aesthetics at a premium.



The balance of performance, price and features is strong and the form factor they have shrunk this fully-fledged PC down to is outstanding. Unfortunately as much as we would love to we cannot quite give the ZOTAC ZBOX nano XS AD11 PLUS an overall Gold award as noise is too sensitive an issue for savvy HTPC and audio enthusiasts. With that said, bundled accessories in the form of a great IR remote and 802.11n WiFi round out a package well worth both a very high Silver and Creative Awards.

Pros

+ Tiny 100mm x 100mm footprint
+ Hardware accelerated h.264 playback
+ Extensive feature set
+ Bundled accessories
+ Highly responsive for general PC use
+ Free XBMC OS
+ 2 Year Warranty in the EU

Cons

- Fan noise under load or following extended use
- Patchy website support for hardware h.264
- Awkward OS installation



Click here for an explanation of our awards at Vortez.net.


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