Zotac Zbox AD03BR Plus U review

Compact home theatre PC with built in Blu-ray drive
Photo of Zotac Zbox AD03BR Plus U
£419

Zotac is well known for its Zbox range of compact, feature-packed nettop machines – but until now, most of them been based around Intel’s low-power Atom CPU. The latest addition to the range, the Zbox AD03BR Plus U is based instead around AMD’s Fusion platform. With an AMD Zacate E350 APU clocked at 1.6GHz and the M1 chipset, it would make an ideal compact home theatre PC (HTPC).

Small and neat
The first thing that strikes you about the AD03BR Plus U is its striking design. It looks more like a standalone Blu-ray player than a PC – which shouldn’t come as that much of surprise, given that one on the major selling points of this unit is its built in Blu-ray drive.

Nevertheless, the look and size of the AD03BR Plus U make it stand out from most nettops . You’d be hard pressed to find anything else as compact as this version of the Zbox , measuring as it does just 280x187x40mm (wdh). The top half of the chassis in finished with a silver brushed metal effect, while the base is in black. The top of the unit features a glass panel that displays a blue circle when the AD03BR Plus U is in use. Zotac even bundles a VESA mount for it, enabling you to attach it to the back of a TV or display, or even wall mount it. The compact design of the unit means it has to use a laptop-sized external power brick.

Easy to upgrade
Turn the unit upside down and you’ll see that the bottom panel is held on by just six screws. Removing these allows access to the two DDR3 1066 SODIMM memory slots. As standard, the AD03BR Plus U comes with just one of these slots filled by a 2GB memory module. Given the low price of memory these days, that’s a bit mean – especially as the motherboard supports up to 8GB in total. The review unit came with a 250GB standard hard drive, but as the motherboard supports SATA 6 you could opt for much faster disk performance by swapping it out for one of the latest SSDs.

Ports aplenty
Despite its slim design the Zotac offers a decent number of connections. Sitting under the Blu-ray drive at the front of the unit is a 6-in-1 Flash card reader. At the other side of the front is a single USB 2.0 port, a USB3.0 port and headphone and microphone sockets. All the other ports sit at the rear of the unit. There’s a single USB 3.0 port, a USB 2.0/eSATA combo port, a dual-link DVI output, HDMI port and finally an optical out. To communicate with the outside world, you get 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi as well as wired gigabit Ethernet.

Performance
Zotac supplies the AD03BR Plus U without an operating system, so to test its performance we loaded it with Windows 7 64-bit. To give the system a workout we first tested it with PCMark Vantage, a benchmark that tests a system with a variety of tasks. The AD03BR Plus U managed an overall score of 2584 – fairly respectable, at least for this type of system.

You’d never buy a system like this to play games on, but we tried it out anyway. Running the Dark Tower map from Just Cause 2′s built-in benchmarking tool at a resolution of 1,680×1,050, the AD03BR Plus U produced an average frame rate of just 13.5fps – far from playable.

Of course, the main reason you would buy the AD03BR Plus U is to watch HD movie content, and here it excels. The system played back 720p and 1080p content with no problems at all – and as a bonus it also supports both Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, although the lack of any sort of a remote control is disappointing.

Company: Zotac

Positives
  • Great design and build quality; built-in Blu-ray drive; VESA mounting bracket.
Negative
  • The 2GB memory allocation is a bit stingy.

Verdict

A cleverly thought-out and well designed system that would make an ideal basis for a home theatre PC, but it could really do with more memory and a better hard drive.