The biggest thing about Zotac’s new ZBox Nano XS AD11 Plus may in fact be its name. This new mini PC is so small, it makes the diminutive ZBox Nano AD10 look positively fat in comparison.
Hell, the only commercial mini PC we’ve seen that’s smaller is the Apple TV, which is about the same width and depth but a quarter-inch thinner. The Apple TV is ARM-based, though, and more in the class of a typical HTPC streaming device. The AD11, with its AMD E-450 APU and 64GB SSD is a full-on PC. While streaming boxes such as WD’s Live have come a long way in capability, it’s tough to beat a PC’s ability to go anywhere you want. From streaming sites that are restricted by cable providers to not-safe-for-work content, an HTPC streaming PC trumps all others if you’re willing to live with a mouse and keyboard controls.
Zotac’s ZBox Nano XS AD11 Plus is the smallest commercial PC we’ve ever tested.
THE DISPLAYS IN HP’s TouchSmart series top out at 23 inches. To get anything bigger, you must move over to HP’s Omni all-in-one lineup. The upper limit here is a ginormous 27 inches, but you won’t get that slick touch user interface, and you’ll need to sacrifice performance to keep the price tag in the same $1,250 neighborhood occupied by the TouchSmart 520-1070 we reviewed in March. We’re not convinced those are good trade-offs.
Both models feature an HDMI input that allows you to use the display independent of the computer, and that’s easily one of their best features. Plug in a set-top box or a gaming console, and the machines can serve double duty as a computer and a 1080p display for watching TV or playing games. There’s just one problem: You can’t use the wireless keyboard to control or mute the volume when the computer is being used solely as a display. Instead, you must push the PC/Game mode button to bring up an onscreen control panel, press the minus button three times to select the volume control function, and then repeatedly press the plus or minus buttons to adjust the volume. To mute the volume, you must turn it to zero—which takes 14 button presses from full volume—or switch the display back into PC mode. That will drive you nuts at every commercial break and every time the phone rings.
Move over game console, a PC is here to take your job
DON’T BLINK, it’s not a game console. It’s something far better—a PC that’s as small as the original Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 with the promise of pretty good gaming performance, too.
As we all know, making things small, fast, and also affordable is no easy feat. Yet Alienware engineers somehow managed to smash real graphics into a standard slimline tower without tacking on a huge price tag.
To be frank, this isn’t the first attempt at a small, powerful PC with a slimline shape. The X51 reminds us very much of Voodoo/Hewlett-Packard’s Firebird PC from 2009 (review at bit.ly/Delqq). The Firebird’s main failing was relying primarily on notebook technology for its GPUs, which killed upgrades.
EVEN HIGH-END gaming rigs, believe it or not, can get pretty rote. In the parlance of our times, it’s what’s called a “first-world problem.” It’s a bit like being bored because you want to drive something other than your Ferrari or Lamborghini.
The solution to this problem in PC terms is CyberPower’s Fang III Black Mamba box, which is anything but ordinary. The machine is literally a high-end gaming box with a second PC grafted on top of it. This is done using an Azza Fusion 4000 case that’s big enough to take an XL-ATX board down below and a Mini-ITX board up top. Down below, CyberPower installs an Intel Core i7-3960X, 16GB of DDR3, an Asus Rampage IV Extreme board, and two overclocked EVGA GTX 590 Classified Hydro Copper cards. All this is cooled with a custom cooling solution, to boot. Storage is handled with a 2GB HDD and a pair of 120GB OCZ Agility 3 drives in RAID 0. RAIDed SSDs aren’t new, but the case’s support for four SSDs in quick-release trays, is, um, très cool.
CyberPower takes advantage of the cooling to overclock both the CPU and the GPUs. The CPU goes from its stock speed of 3.3GHz to a nice 4.5GHz, and the Hydro Copper cards are also clocked up enough to give the dual 590s a healthy speed advantage.
Toshiba offers three SKUs in the DX735 line, two with Core i5 CPUs and one with a Core i7. All three models use mobile CPUs, and all three rely on integrated graphics. Whereas HP’s TouchSmart 520-1070 is somewhat capable of playing games, Toshiba’s DX735 series is not at all capable. If you really want to play games on this machine, we suggest plugging an Xbox 360 into its HDMI input.
HP once built its TouchSmart line using notebook components because they required much less active cooling. Limiting the number of fans inside the machine made it quieter. This TouchSmart not only uses a desktop CPU—Intel’s low-power Core i7-2600S, running at a stock 2.8GHz—but HP has also packed a discrete GPU inside this TouchSmart’s chassis. AMD’s Radeon HD 6550A might not be a barn-burner of a videocard, but it is vastly superior to the GPU core integrated into the Core i7. The Radon HD 6550A is DirectX compatible, but that doesn’t mean it will deliver a satisfying performance with highly demanding games. Playing Metro 2033 at 18 frames per second—in DirectX 10 mode—is not very satisfying. But no one will buy this type of a machine for gaming.
You can’t truly appreciate the paint job on Falcon Northwest’s Mach V unless you can fondle it. We mean it—you just can’t comprehend how damn smooth the paint is without lovingly stroking your hand on the side of this beauty as if you were a presidential candidate.
Inside the Mach V, you’ll find a pedigree of hardware to match its stunning exterior. So how does the Falcon stack up?
We’ll be the first to admit that system benchmarking has gotten downright boring in the last couple of years. It’s been a solid year and a half of Core i7-980X/990X procs followed by a year of Core i7-2600K rigs. Yawn, seen it.
We certainly can’t say that about Digital Storm’s latest Black Ops HailStorm. It’s the first machine to grace our Lab with Intel’s Core i7-3960X, so we were anxious to see if the new chip could actually walk the walk. We know from our testing of the chip in a controlled environment that it’s a bad mother, but what about when it’s in a high-end system and it’s being run against a slew of other super-fast rigs?
Next to a notebook, an all-in-one is the most difficult type of PC for a DIYer to build, simply because no one’s manufacturing enclosures capable of housing both a large monitor and the guts of a computer. Pick up Zotac’s ZBox Nano AD10 Plus and you can put together the next best thing: A computer that can hang off the back of almost any display you like, thanks to the included VESA mounting plate. The AD10’s dimensions, near-silent running, low power consumption, and generous I/O options render it a good choice for a disc-less home-theater PC, too.