Every now and then, a gadget shows up in our labs that, once we take it out of the box and examine it, makes us marvel at modern technology. Granted, in recent years, we’ve reviewed plenty of mini-computers like the $299.99-MSRP Zotac Zbox Nano XS AD13 Plus we’re reviewing here today. But it seems that with each successive generation, they keep getting smaller. And each time, our initial response to holding a full-fledged PC in the palm of our hand is one of amazement. Not only do these tiny devices remind us of how far we’ve come, but they also conjure up a sense of wonder for what’s next—and how small PCs can get.
Of course, after this brief lapse into sentiment, we plug it in and get to work.
This Zbox Nano model, a refresh of theNano AD12 Plus we looked at back in November 2012, is one of a host of ultrasmall-form-factor PCs made by the Asian computer-component giant Zotac. It’s very possible you haven’t heard of the Zotac name before; it’s the consumer-facing brand of PC Partner, a large OEM maker of core PC parts such as video cards and motherboards. (See our 2011 tour of PC Partner’s facilities, “Inside a Mainland-China Factory: How a Video Card Is Made, in 100 Pictures.”) Though you may not have heard of Zotac, you may well own hardware that came from PC Partner in some computer you use.
At the core, the Zbox Nano XS AD13 Plus uses the same AMD E2-1800 processor as the AD12 Plus. However, this new Zbox’s array of ports is positioned somewhat differently, and Zotac has done away with the DisplayPort connection this time. And, with the AD13 Plus at just over four inches square, Zotac actually managed to make this newest Nano more, well, nano. (The AD12 model was about five inches square.) In our battery of benchmark tests (described in the Performance section later in this review), we did see some very modest improvements to overall system performance over the Nano AD12 Plus, but little in the areas of graphics processing and video encoding.
Either way, know that this PC is no processing powerhouse. The AMD E2-1800 processor is a 1.7GHz chip with built-in Radeon graphics acceleration designed for low heat and energy consumption. It comprises a dual-core AMD CPU and on-chip Radeon HD 7340 graphics on one piece of silicon. (AMD’s nomenclature for these combined CPU/GPUs is “accelerated processing units,” or APUs.) This energy-efficient combination delivers enough processing power to play back full-screen 1080p video and provide for light computing tasks, such as word processing and Web browsing.
That said, we can’t recommend the Nano XS AD13 Plus as a primary computing device. As we said about the Nano AD12 Plus last year, this tiny PC works well enough for use with a TV as a ready-made home-theater PC (HTPC), as well as for turning the living-room TV into a light-duty computer. But it’s not much of a productivity station, and it’s certainly not good for PC gaming.
In our Zbox Nano AD12 Plus review, we covered all the reasons why you might want to connect a Zbox to your TV, as well as why it could be a more desirable alternative to TV-playback solutions from Apple, Roku, or game consoles, so we won’t reiterate all of that here. (In a nutshell, HTPCs provide a much wider range of capabilities, beyond simply streaming music and video to your home entertainment center.) Plus, with an HTPC, you get a host of storage options, and you can perform familiar, everyday functions in the PC-style interfaces you’re used to: Internet browsers, e-mail clients, instant messagers, video conferencing apps, Facebook, YouTube…you get the idea.
However, while the Zbox Nano XS AD13 Plus is tiny, low-powered, and easy to situate—the things that make it ideal as an HTPC—it doesn’t come with everything you need. To do anything with it, you’ll have to install your own operating system, such as Windows or Linux, and the Zbox doesn’t come with a keyboard or mouse. (There is a remote in the box, however.) These essentials, which come with most other PCs, could, depending on which ones you choose, boost the cost of this mini-PC a good bit.
As you can see, deploying this Zbox as an HTPC is not a turnkey solution. Still, if you’re not intimidated by installing your own operating system, it’s an elegant one. And, as you’ll see on the next page in the Design & Features section, it’s loaded with connectivity and expansion options—indeed, more than you’d find on most laptops. The Zbox Nano XS AD13 Plus is not for everyone, but keeping in mind that it’s not designed to replace your everyday PC, it’s a great buy for what it is and what it’s designed to do.
See the full review at Computer Shopper.