Desktop computers are required for all kinds of purposes - everything from data entry to gaming. There's a somewhat small market for HTPCs (Home Theater PCs) but there's hardly ever been a product that fits perfectly in that slot.
Compact, but menacing in its own little way
AMD recently launched their Brazos platform which is sold as a mini-ITX format board. It's compact, it's low on power consumption and it's somewhat affordable. ZOTAC has taken that board and built a HTPC around it. Let's see what they've come up with.
Design and Build Quality
One of the key problems with HTPCs all this while is their bulkiness. They've always looked like PCs more than anything else. The older ZOTAC MAG was a pretty compact thing but it had a somewhat unconventional design. The new ZBOX AD03BR PLUS is a larger (in area) but ultrathin chassis. It looks more like a really sleak Blu-ray player more than anything else, which is what a HTPC ought to be. It's compact enough to be hidden away behind a TV or kept right next to it.
Ultra-slim design for what is a desktop PC
The body is predominantly plastic but the build of the product is pretty good. There is no squeaking and sliding of panels whatsoever. It's not a bad looking device either. A glowing blue circle on one side and a brushed metal-like finish the plastic on the other half gives it a very attractive look. If you don't like lights on your HTPC, you can even turn it off through the CMOS. The buttons used on the case are very plain and simple. The slim Blu-ray drive's eject button for example, is really tiny and easy to miss. The small size chassis means that the ZBOX uses an external power supply to operate. The adapter is somewhat bulky and is of the same size of a regular laptop.
In term of specifications, the ZOTAC ZBOX AD03BR has a similar set of specifications that you find on any other Brazos board. There's a HDMI and a DVI connector at the back for video connectivity, so you can use it with a TV or a monitor if you'd like to.
Connectivity options at the rear
USB 3.0 is supported through the single port at the back and so is eSATA. The second USB 3.0 port can be found at the front. An Ethernet port is available at the back along with an integrated WiFi 802.11n adapter. Optical audio connectivity is present at the back and 3.5mm analog jacks at the front alongside the memory card reader. So in that aspect, a lot is covered by this product.
Blu-ray drive and memory card reader
The ZOTAC ZBOX doesn't come with a wireless keyboard and mouse kit, which we sorely missed during the review. There isn't a bundled operating system either or even a remote control for that matter. You do get a VESA mount bracket using which to mount the PC on a wall or behind a LCD monitor. You also get a slim slot-in Blu-ray player which is handy, since this is an HTPC and that's what you would like to do - watch HD movies on it.
The BIOS is neatly laid out with easy to understand menus and while allowing a decent of amount of control over the system. One of the important characteristics of an HTPC is that it ought to be silent and the ZOTAC ZBOX is, at least for the most part. Users can take manual control over the fan speed through the BIOS and spool it up to 100 per cent where it peaks at somewhere around 6500 rpm, and things get noisy. It's almost as bad as a high-end graphics card's exhaust while playing a game of Crysis. Bring the speed down to about 40 per cent and things go dead silent. The only thing you hear is the occasional read and write activity by the hard drive's head.
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