Zotac – Zbox HD-ND22 review

small form factor barebones PC with ION graphics
Photo of Zotac – Zbox HD-ND22
£240

The Zotac HD-ND22 is part of the Zbox mini PC range that measures a mere 188mm x 188mm square and 44mm thick. That’s a tiny form factor for a PC but Zotac has managed to pull off the trick by housing the innards of a netbook in a desktop chassis. These are barebones designs that come with the motherboard, CPU, chipset and graphics in place, however you need to add SO-DIMM system memory, a hard drive or SSD and then install an Operating System to complete the build.

Your choice of model of Zbox dictates whether you have an Intel or AMD processor paired with a chipset and graphics chip from either Intel, AMD or Nvidia along with either DDR2 or DDR3 RAM and, of course, the price. You’re given a clue about the spec of the hardware when you turn on the power and an LED ring in the side cover lights up. It is orange for Nvidia, blue for Intel and green for AMD.

In the case of the Zbox HD-ND22 we’ve got a relatively high performance model that packs a dual core Intel Celeron U2300 CPU that runs at 1.2GHz along with Nvidia ION chipset and graphics. There are two memory slots that support laptop DDR3 running up to 1066MHz. We don’t have the correct type of of memory lying around so we put in a call to Crucial and swiftly received a packet of CT1539969 RAM. This 2x2GB kit of PC3-8500/DDR3-1066 RAM sells for £63 so it’s a significant percentage to add to the price of the HD-ND22.

Installing the RAM and HDD/SSD is a simple matter as the ventilated bottom cover is retained by two thumbscrews. The drive is held in place by another thumbscrew and we have to applaud the way that Zotac has made the job tool-free.

With the cover removed we could plainly see the tiny cooler that covers the CPU and graphics chip. When you’re surfing the web or writing email the Zotac is effectively silent, no doubt thanks in part to the 10W TDP of the Celeron CPU, and the hardware can run the Windows Aero desktop and decode HD movies with ease. On the other hand, the fan can get quite noisy if you work the GeForce 9300 graphics in the ION chipset hard by playing games.

Installing the Operating System adds to the cost unless you plump for Linux. We chose 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium which will cost about £85 for an OEM copy. You’ll need to figure out a way to install the software as the tiny Zbox doesn’t have a DVD drive. We took the easy option and plugged in a USB Samsung SE-S084 drive that costs about £35.

With the installation sorted we turned to the ports and connectors which are common across the Zbox range. For communications there are 802.11b/g/n wireless and Gigabit Ethernet and for input/output there is a single-slot card reader for SD/SDHC/MS/MS Pro/xD/MMC media, a total of six USB 2.0 ports (four at the rear, one on the top and one on the front), one eSATA port, analogue headset jacks and optical S/PDIF audio. The Nvidia ION graphics have native DVI-I and HDMI outputs and there is an adapter in the box to convert the DVI port to VGA.

The combination of a Celeron CPU and ION chipset delivers more grunt than a typical netbook but falls short of what you might expect from a PC or laptop. Our benchmark tests generated all manner of performance figures but the gist is simple; you can use the Zotac HD-ND22 for pretty much any task including HD movies, but you’d best avoid serious gaming.

What we especially liked about the Zbox HD-ND22 was the way that the tiny form factor makes this PC so easy to accommodate. You can simply place it flat on your desktop on four rubber feet or you can clip it into a base that allows it to stand vertically. We especially liked the third choice where you attach the supplied VESA mount to the rear of your TFT display and snap the Zbox into place, thus keeping it off your desk and out of sight.

Company: Zotac

Contact: 08701 288303


Verdict
The Zotac Zbox HD-ND22 PC is a serious piece of kit that does a decent job and is so small that it is easy to keep out of the way. Our only concern is that you need to finish the barebones with some DDR3 RAM, a laptop hard drive or SSD and an Operating System as well as a screen, keyboard and mouse. That takes the price past £400 and probably closer to £500, which is rather expensive for a PC that doesn't have a DVD drive. Nonetheless we are won over by this cute small form factor PC.