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.
An HTPC that can’t play Blu-ray discs might seem gimped, but Vudu’s on-demand service is a much better alternative to renting Blu-ray movies from Netflix; and if you’re a collector, you should rip your movies, store the disc images on a server, and put the originals away for safekeeping anyway. The AD10 has plenty of horsepower for watching HD video and running lightweight applications, but don’t expect to play anything beyond the least-demanding games on this box. The AD10 is based on AMD’s dual-core Fusion E-350 CPU, running at a stock 1.6GHz. The E-350 features an integrated 500MHz Radeon HD 6310 GPU.
You can disable the green, glowing “O” on the top of the chassis with a BIOS change when you tire of it.
There’s but one SO-DIMM slot on the motherboard, which Zotac populates with 2GB of 667MHz DDR3 memory (the device can support up to 4GB, but it’s limited to running in single-channel mode which hurts graphics performance). There’s room inside the enclosure for a single 2.5-inch drive, and Zotac provides a slow (5,400 RPM) 320GB Samsung mechanism. When it comes to adding the AD10 to your network, you can go gigabit wired or 802.11n wireless (using an Atheros AR9002WB-1NG chipset). The Atheros part is limited to a single 150Mb/s stream on the 2.4GHz frequency band, which is fine for media streaming and web browsing, but large file transfers will require patience. The same chipset also delivers Bluetooth 3.0 connectivity, useful for connecting a wireless mouse and keyboard.
This is a barebones system, but the only parts you’ll need to supply are a mouse, a keyboard, and operating system (we benchmarked it using Windows 7 Professional). Zotac provides plenty of extras that you don’t usually find in a barebones kit, including a Windows Media Center-compatible infrared remote and a USB infrared receiver, so you can stash the box out of sight. There’s no TV tuner, but adding a USB model would be trivial. And if you’d like to add additional storage, there’s one eSATA, two USB 2.0, and two USB 3.0 ports in back.
The AD10 supports both HDMI and DisplayPort monitors, but the only way to get analog audio out of it is through its front headphone jack (there’s a mic input there, too). The front panel also sports a six-in-one media card reader, an IR receiver lens, and indicators for hard disk and Wi-Fi activity. We would have welcomed a front-panel USB port, but it’s not difficult to reach the back the diminutive device.
Bolt the ZBox Nano AD10 Plus to the back of a monitor and you’ll have an inexpensive all-in-one PC. But if you’re looking for a low-power home-theater PC, we think Acer’s Revo RL100-UR20P delivers a better deal (read our review here). It sells for $550 and has less processor power, but it comes with a Blu-ray drive, a 750GB hard drive, 4GB of memory, a slick wireless trackpad/keyboard combo, and Windows 7. It’ll cost you an additional $250, but that’s about what you’d pay to add Windows and a wireless mouse and keyboard to the AD10.
Zotac ZBox Nano AD10 Plus
Good CPU choice; tiny; can be mounted to the back of a display.
No optical drive or OS; single-channel memory; small, slow hard drive.