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.