Zotac is one of the most prominent companies in the world of small-form-factor PCs, and its latest ZBOX is one of its most distinctive thanks to a bold departure from the firm’s usual design documents.
Most of its existing small PCs are built around traditional square or rectangular designs, but the Sphere uses a rounded shape to attract attention. As usual, Zotac sells this system with components installed or as a barebone system, which improves versatility.
The Sphere sits on a solid base, but most of its body is dominated by curved edges. The orb-like design of this PC is distinctive, and it’s given a splash of colour with an angled band of blue to illuminate the circumference when the Sphere is turned on. It’s a distinctive-looking PC – the only thing we can remember looking similar is Google’s Nexus Q digital media player, which has the same spherical design and circumference illumination.
The top half of the Sphere’s shell, above the glowing ring, can be twisted and removed to give access to the internals. The tiny motherboard is attached to a metal bracket and is installed upside-down, so the hard disk and memory slots face upwards. It’s designed to make these components accessible, and it works – the second memory slot requires a steadier hand, but that’s our only minor criticism.
This PC has an mSATA slot, for small-form-factor SSDs. It’s on the underside of the board and protrudes from the case, so it’s just as easy to access as the memory and hard disk slots. The Wi-Fi chip is also here, and can be removed. The only major component that isn’t removable is the processor, which is soldered to the underside of the board.
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Elsewhere, daughterboards are deployed to fill out the Zotac’s feature set. At the rear of the system a small board is used for the power button and a card reader, and a second small PCB at the front of the machine houses the audio chip and a couple of jumpers.
The Zotac won’t take up much room: it’s 160mm wide and 155mm tall, and it weighs just 780g. Combine its small size with its good looks, and it makes for a system that will look good in the most stylish of living rooms and offices without taking up much space. It’s a sturdy little PC, too; the thick plastic feels like it’s able to withstand numerous knocks.
The Zotac’s back panel is home to four USB 3 ports and two USB 2 connections, and there’s a further USB 2 port on the side. The card reader supports the high-capacity SDXC standard, and there are full-size HDMI and DisplayPort outputs, but no DVI.
Audio fans won’t be sated by just two 3.5mm jacks, and there’s no room for any ports on the front of this machine – presumably they would have damaged the Sphere’s minimal looks.
On the inside there’s dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi that’ll only be outpaced by triple-aerial units, and there’s Gigabit Ethernet. Bluetooth 4.0 is also included.