Regular readers will recall a few months ago we reviewed the Penguin Wee – a compact PC that packed a powerful components into a tiny body.
The Zotac Zbox Nano ID68 Plus is a similarly small-form PC – in fact it’s quite a bit smaller than the Wee.
But while the Zotac ZBOX Nano ID68 Plus comes with some decent components that will easily run the distro of your choice, along with office and media software, as well as the odd game, its specs still pale in comparison with the impressive Penguin Wee.
For a start, the Zotac ZBOX Nano ID68 Plus comes with a dual core Intel Core i5 4200U running at 1.6GHz, a perfectly good and relatively recent fourth generation processor (which you’ll hear referred to as Haswell).
The Wee model we reviewed, however, came with a quad-core Intel Core i5-4430 – a full desktop processor.
Not only is it clocked higher (3GHz), but the additional cores make it much better at multitasking, among other improvements. The Zbox’s integrated graphics is the Intel HD Graphics 4400, which is perfectly adequate for casual games and watching HD media, though not as good as the Penguin Wee’s Intel HD Graphics 4600.
Rather helpfully, certain parts of the Zbox Nano ID68 Plus are upgradable.
For example it comes with 4GB of DDR3 RAM, which is perfectly adequate for most day to day computing but you can add more RAM (to a total of 8GB).
You can also swap out the 500GB hard drive for an SSD, or even a pair of mSATA drives in a RAID array. The case itself is a small Intel NUC- like (127mm x 127mm x 45mm), and even comes with a mounting bracket for attaching the PC to the back of a flat screen TV or monitor, and there are plenty of connection ports, such as HDMI, DisplayPort and USB 3.0s.
Because of the size of the Nano, it makes sense that Zotac has gone for mobile components, and while they help reduce the overall size of the PC, along with the cost and power draw (which in a case this small is essential to keep the components from over heating), it does have an impact on the speed of the machine.
Steam Zbox Unlike the Penguin Wee, the ZBOX Nano ID68 Plus doesn’t come pre-installed with an OS, and for testing purposes we decided to see how Valve’s Debian- based SteamOS would perform on the machine. Installation was relatively quick and easy using Ye Olde SteamOSe (http://directhex.github.
io/steamos-installer), and once up and running we hooked the Zbox up to a 42-inch 1080p TV and tried out a few games.
Fez , a delightfully quirky platform game, isn’t the most graphically demanding game, but it looked great on the big screen, and the Zbox had no problems at all running it.
We even tried out SteamOS’s in-home streaming beta, which lets you stream and play games running off one machine on another. From a very powerful gaming PC in another room, connected via powerline adaptors we were able to stream recent games, such as Tomb Raider and Bioshock Infinite at impressive quality to the small PC. What wasn’t quite so impressive was the noise of the case fans – for a PC designed to sit in your lounge, it’s a bit too noisy. It’s a shame, as otherwise this would be an ideal media-streaming PC.
After running our benchmarks it was clear that Zbox’s mobile components were holding it back in pure power terms in comparison with the Wee’s desktop technology, but the gap isn’t quite as large as we thought. Aside from the noise, its an excellent little box that offers plenty of power for day-to-day tasks, and even a spot of gaming.