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Zotac ZBOX Blu-ray HD-ID34 - Specifications, Performance and Noise

Ardjuna Seghers

By Ardjuna Seghers

Reviewed:

Summary

Our Score:

8

Getting onto specifications, the Zbox Blu-ray is actually one of the most powerful Atom-based computers around, thanks to its use of Intel's new dual core D525 CPU, which runs at 1.8GHz and utilizes an 800MHz front side bus. This means that – unlike most netbooks – it will play back the most intensive 720p video without any help from the graphics card, though high-bitrate 1080p will still present a problem for the Atom. However, this Zbox won't have the slightest problem with any high definition material you'd care to throw at it, thanks to Nvidia's latest ION graphics (if installing Windows XP or Vista rather than 7, just make sure to get a media player that supports video acceleration).

Equipped with 512MB of dedicated DDR3 video memory, the new ION (basically ION2) is the successor to that found in the Revo. But where that was a complete chipset solution, ION is now relegated to a graphics module added onto Intel's NM10 chipset. This does result in very little performance gain, with the Zbox managing a relatively paltry 22 frames per second in TrackMania Nations Forever (1,366 x 768, medium detail, 4x AA & AF); in other words, a true 3D gaming machine this Zotac is not. However, the original ION was already more than powerful enough to cope with any kind of video decoding, and its successor excels equally in this regard.

Only 2GB of 800MHz DDR2 RAM may seem a little stingy but again it's more than adequate for this machine's intended purpose, and Zotac has thankfully used a single 2GB stick, thus leaving one slot free for an easy upgrade. Its 5,400rpm hard drive isn't exactly generous either, with 250GB being what most netbooks offer these days. If this isn't enough for you and you have some know-how, the barebones unit might suit you better than this pre-built system (model number HD-ID34). It's also worth noting that one mini PCIe slot is left free for expansion or upgrades, though the closed nature of the case rather limits its potential.

While we're on a complaining streak, the ZBox Blu-ray is not passively cooled, and under load it does produce a buzzing hum that's annoying up close. However, at the average viewing distance from a 40in television it's not bothersome, and at least the PC stays cool even after running for a few hours.

Some might also dislike the notion of needing to install their own OS, though at least this does mean you don't have to pay for something you don't want. In fact, you could run Linux, though Blu-ray support is difficult to say the least. We would opt for Windows 7, with which you can use Zotac's provided copy of Cyberlink PowerDVD for flawless Blu-ray playback.

Petrov

October 12, 2010, 1:10 pm

Thanks for the review. I recently purchased the comparable (ex Blu Ray) Asus 1501P in the UK (ION 2, 1.8ghz Atom 525, 2GB, IR, slot DVD, win 7, etc). I have found watching HD content a mixed bag - watching 1080p content through, say, VLC is a joy as the player is able to take advantage of the ION 2.





However, watching HD (720p) through iTunes (TV rental, movies, etc) has been extremely sub-par - I've found the video performance jittery and stuttering whenever there is any action or material camera panning on screen. iTunes is notorious for this, but to be fair, they do say you need a 2+ghz dual core processor to watch their HD content - and iTunes doesn't use GPU acceleration. Given iTunes is the dominant legal content delivery mechanism in the UK for movies/TV shows, could you please comment on the Zotac's ability to watch HD content (full screen) through iTunes? All in all, I would struggle to recommend an Atom (D525 or worse) system for anyone that relies heavily on iTunes for their HD video content.





Also, can you please provide 3dmark06 scores (Asus 1501P scores c 2,700 pts)?

pimlicosound

October 12, 2010, 2:53 pm

Thanks for the review. Sounds like it's not quite the ideal HTPC I'd like. Is there any chance you could review the Asrock Vision 3D? Anandtech and Bit-tech have given it good reviews, so I'd like to know what you guys think of it.

Wildkard

October 12, 2010, 6:42 pm

Could you install, say, a PCIe DVB-S tuner card in this? It's not clear from the review.

TechVegan

October 12, 2010, 7:11 pm

@Petrov:


Thanks for your comment.


You're right: unfortunately iTunes (unlike YouTube HD and most media playback software) doesn't support graphics acceleration. Nor does it look like Apple will remedy this in the near future.


We only run PCMark on PCs, relying on game benchmarks to indicate real-world 3D performance.





@pimlicosound:


You're welcome. Though the http://www.trustedreviews.com/... is probably the better (or at least cheaper) bet if you're not after 3D capabilities, ASRock's Vision 3D does look like a great little machine and we should be getting one in soon. :)

pimlicosound

October 12, 2010, 7:46 pm

@Ardjuna:


I'd considered the Core-100HT-BD, but I prefer the Vision 3D not for its 3D capabilities but because it looks a lot nicer, the build quality is supposedly even better, it has a slot-loading drive and the GPU allows for some basic gaming - hopefully just enough for me to play SW: The Old Republic when it comes out!





If you do review it, the thing I'm most interested in is the noise it makes. I'm also very interested in the Tranquil PC iXL, which you reviewed a while ago, because I really want something I can't hear, even when no sound is playing. I have a very quiet living room, so a silent HTPC is important to me (currently, my PS3 is just too loud). If the Vision 3D can come close to the utter silence of the iXL while being cheaper, I'd be very interested in it.

TechVegan

October 12, 2010, 8:20 pm

@Wildkard:


Nope, as there are no card backplates in the chassis you're limited to an external USB tuner.





@pimlicosound:


I see, good reasons, though personally I wouldn't consider playing games on anything less than the http://www.trustedreviews.com/... :)





Yes, you can't beat passive cooling for a noise-free solution and the http://www.trustedreviews.com/... is a great little machine, just a pity it comes at such a premium.

Manni

October 13, 2010, 5:42 pm

Could you please comment on the ability of this HTPC to bitstream HD Audio (using either TMT3 or PowerDVD9/10)? As it's based on a Ion, I assume it's unable to do so (as far as I know only the Radeon HD5xxx family is supported to bitstream HD Audio, which means that you can't get the full audio quality from blurays).


Unless I've missed it, it's quite an important element that very often buyers will only realise when it's too late. I don't understand why this is never mentioned in any review or comparative test when it's such an important factor for HTPC.


Sure, you should be able to get PCM, but that's not bitstreaming and I prefer my Denon to do this part of the job rather than my PC (especially regarding levels)...


It would be great if TR could report on this feature in future reviews, as for some it's more important than 2 more fps in Crysis...


It's a shame nVidia doesn't seem to care for the HTPC market, I've left them for an HD5850 (in my HTPC / Gaming rig) and never looked back. I won't even consider coming back to nVidia until they provide proper HD Audio support.

Manni

October 14, 2010, 2:28 am

@pimlicosound:


Thanks for the heads up re the Vision 3D, I hadn't heard about it. It does look like a great machine, and apparently there is now at least one nVidia card that can bitstream HD Audio!





This may well be my next HTPC (it's the first SFF I see that ticks all the boxes for a proper Home Cinema setup), so looking forward for a test here.

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