- Review Price: £1099.00
Small form factor or SFF PC’s are all the rage these days and there is a wide range of options available from several different manufacturers depending on your personal needs.
The most famous SFF PC company today is Shuttle, which more or less launched the SFF craze. However, things have moved on since then and the market is now full of competition. One such competitor is the new ZPC from Armari.
The first thing you notice about the ZPC is its diminutive size; it’s about the size of a small shoebox, but not nearly as high. The next thing that hits you is how great it looks, with the main system unit constructed from aluminium and clear acrylic. The small base unit together with the silver and black Samsung 15” TFT display and the complementing Logitech keyboard and mouse make a great impression.
The build quality of the system unit is excellent, although the see-through acrylic could easily be scratched if you’re not careful. The ZPC is not the kind of computer that would be considered user upgradeable, as there are very few components that can be swapped out. You could, in principle upgrade the processor, hard drive, memory and even the optical drive to something larger or faster, but this means that you’ll loose the current component as there is no spare space inside the ZPC, not even for an extra stick of RAM.
You might not expect such a small computer to have the features of a desktop system, but just about everything you could want and more is present in the ZPC.
Around the back is a proprietary power socket that connects to an external power brick similar to those supplied with notebook computers. This also helps reduce the overall noise produced by the ZPC. Next to that you’ll find the standard PS/2 connectors for a keyboard and mouse, serial port, D-SUB monitor connector, RJ-45 for LAN, two USB ports and audio jacks for speakers and a microphone. Additionally there is another set of USB ports on the front together with two more audio ports for headphones and microphone as well as two IEEE-1394 ports.
All of the USB ports are USB 2.0 compliant and the onboard networking supports 10/100Mbit transfer rates.
The ZPC is based on the Intel 845GV chipset with integrated graphics. This is hardly cutting edge today, but it’s perfectly adequate for something this size, especially as the ZPC was never intended as a gaming device. The processor in this review unit is a 2.4GHz Pentium 4, which makes for quite a powerful machine for its size. System memory consists of 512MB of PC2100 DDR SDRAM, but 8MB of this is constantly shared with the integrated graphics, with more allocated when needed.
A 2.5in laptop size 40GB hard drive is the main storage device and this is backed up by a Lite-On DVD/CD-RW combo drive capable of reading DVDs at eight-speed and writing CD-Rs at 24-speed, CD-RW’s at 12-speed and finally reading CDs at 24-speed.
A little disappointing is the integrated sound, as the integrated sound chip on the motherboard supports 5.1-channels, but the outputs on the ZPC are limited to two channel stereo. There is also no S/PDIF digital output, so the ZPC can’t be used with a Dolby Digital amplifier making it a poor choice as a DVD playing machine.
Surprisingly the ZPC emits a fair amount of noise for a PC so small. There is only one fan inside, but it’s fairly noisy and can be disturbing in a quiet environment. It is also hard to resolve this issue as the fan fitted is not standard size and finding a quieter replacement could be difficult.
The notebook style DVD/CD-RW combo drive can be difficult to use, especially with the system unit placed on its side. Like all notebook style drives the disc has to be pressed into place which could cause the unit to topple over or put undue stress on the tray. The best solution would be for Armari to incorporate a slot loading device instead.
The supplied Samsung SyncMaster 152T 15in TFT is a stylish unit, although some might find it a bit on the small size. It features D-SUB and DVI inputs, but sadly the ZPC doesn’t offer DVI output, so you’re stuck using the analogue D-SUB input. A pair of small, but decent sounding speakers are built in to the base of the display as well, but it does lack an integrated USB hub.
The Logitech desktop cordless MX keyboard and mouse are first-class inclusions and add to the quality feel of the whole system. The lack of cables draped across the desk makes the package look even more stylish than it already is.
The performance of the ZPC isn’t bad but you’re not going to be playing the latest 3D games on it. That said, a machine like this is all about looking good and being unobtrusive, and on both counts Armari has done a great job. That’s not to say that you can’t run the majority of general software on the ZPC because you can. You’d have no problem running office applications, email or Internet browsers, which make up the staple software diet of most PCs.
Armari offers the ZPC in several different configurations with larger displays, faster processors and both larger and faster hard drives. You can even buy the ZPC as a barebones system with only the optical drive fitted. Armari has also said that there will be a version with slot loading optical drive available by the time you read this review.
Overall the ZPC gives an impression of a well designed piece of hardware that wouldn’t look out of place in your living room or anywhere else in the home or office.
The only real gripe is the fairly steep price at £1,099. But you are getting a small stylish system that most people wouldn’t even think was a PC.
The ZPC definitely looks good and would suit a stylish modern living room. Unfortunately it’s very loud in operation which may put some home users off.
Score in detail