Introduction and Setup Impressions

 

Over the last couple of years, mini-PCs in the ultra-compact form factor (UCFF) have emerged as one of the bright spots in the troubled PC market. Zotac is no stranger to this segment. Even though the Intel NUC is credited with kicstarting the UCFF trend, the Zotac nano xs units actually came to the market before them. With the nano xs, Zotac redefined the small form-factor (SFF) PC. The nano series units use slightly bigger motherboards, but they are still small enough to mount discreetly behind monitors with the supplied VESA mounts.

Along with the emergence of the UCFF PC market, tablets also gained popularity. The industry also saw an overall push towards power-efficient computing for the average user. These two trends resulted in Intel creating a new Y series for their Core microprocessors, starting with Ivy Bridge. Unfortunately, the impact of these SKUs in the tablet market has been minimal. However, Zotac has repurposed the Haswell Y series CPUs for the 'ZBOX C Passive Cooling Series' of mini-PCs. The ZBOX CI540 nano, equipped with a Core i5-4210Y, is currently the most powerful unit in the lineup and that is what we will be looking at today.

Zotac usually samples the PLUS models (which come with a 2.5" drive as well as DRAM). This has always been mentioned as a minus point in our previous reviews (either due to the usage of a hard drive instead of a SSD, or leaving one of the DIMM slots empty). However, the PLUS models of the C series come with a SSD and there is only one memory slot in the units. This is one of the few ZBOX models where purchasing a PLUS model might actually make sense. In any case, Zotac is putting more emphasis on the barebones models, letting users choose their own 2.5" drive and DDR3L SO-DIMM stick. We were sampled the barebones version of the ZBOX CI540 nano. The unit was configured with a few additional components to end up with the following specifications:

Zotac ZBOX CI540 nano Specifications
Processor Intel Core i5-4210Y
(2C/4T x 1.5 GHz (1.9 GHz Turbo), 22nm, 3MB L2, 11.5W TDP, 6W SDP)
Memory 1 x 8GB DDR3L-1600
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 4200
Disk Drive(s) Samsung SSD 840 EVO 120GB 2.5" SSD
Networking 1x Gigabit Ethernet, 1x1 802.11ac/Bluetooth mPCIe
Audio Capable of 5.1/7.1 digital output with HD audio bitstreaming (HDMI)
Operating System

Retail unit is barebones, but we installed Windows 8.1 Pro x64

Pricing (As configured) ~$350 (barebones) + $168 (DRAM + 2.5" SSD)
Full Specifications Zotac ZBOX CI540 nano Specifications

The ZBOX CI540 nano kit doesn't come with any pre-installed OS, but does come with a CD and a read-only USB key containing the drivers. In any case, we ended up installing the latest drivers downloaded off Zotac's product support page. In addition to the main unit, the other components of the package include a 40 W (19V @ 2.1A) adapter, a US power cord, a VESA mount (along with the necessary screws), a single 2.4 GHz / 5 GHz antenna for the Wi-Fi feature, a driver CD / read-only USB key, user's manual and a quick-start guide.

The gallery below takes us around the hardware in the unit.

The dimensions of the ZBOX C series units are quite close to that of the standard Intel NUC. The gallery below shows the smallest actively cooled Intel NUC (i.e, the one without support for a 2.5" drive) and the ZBOX CI540 nano side by side. Despite having support for a 2.5" drive, the differences in the dimensions are minimal.

In the table below, we have an overview of the various systems that we are comparing the ZBOX CI540 nano against. Note that they may not belong to the same market segment. The relevant configuration details of the machines are provided so that readers have an understanding of why some benchmark numbers are skewed for or against the ZBOX CI540 nano when we come to those sections.

Comparative PC Configurations
Aspect Zotac ZBOX CI540 nano
CPU Intel Core i5-4210Y Intel Core i5-4250U
GPU Intel HD Graphics 4200 Intel HD Graphics 5000
RAM Corsair Vengeance CMSX16GX3M2B1600C9
9-9-9-24 @ 1600 MHz
1x8 GB
Corsair Vengeance CMSX8GX3M2B1866C10
10-10-10-32 @ 1866 MHz
2x4 GB
Storage Samsung SSD 840 EVO
(120 GB, 2.5in SATA 6Gb/s, 19nm, TLC)
Intel SSD 530 Series
(240 GB, 2.5in SATA 6Gb/s, 20nm, MLC)
Wi-Fi Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3160
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260
(2x2 802.11ac - 867 Mbps)
Price (in USD, when built) $518 $671
Performance Metrics - I
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  • MadMan007 - Friday, October 31, 2014 - link

    Please disassemble and see if the plastic is in place on the thermal pad or not. Since this seems to be a retail unit and not a pre-production sample, it could help to answer the question posed on those links and verify that it is not a production unit issue.

    Also, while the relatively higher idle power draw could be fixed, when we're talking a difference of 2-4W it's not really that big a deal in absolute terms.
    Reply
  • noelbonner - Tuesday, November 11, 2014 - link

    Why don't people get a "real" mini-PC instead (such as they ones that are rated highly at http://tinyurl.com/obzllgb for example)? Reply
  • BinaryTB - Friday, October 31, 2014 - link

    An IR port would have been nice, for use with remotes and such, but an external usb adapter is usually the only option these days it looks like.

    Also, would Steam In-Home Streaming benchmarks be worth testing on these devices? I know I use my HTPC sometimes in my living while my gaming desktop is elsewhere in the house (both devices on gigabit ethernet and nvidia hardware encoding on the host and intel hw decoding on the htpc client). Latency and such would be a good measure, assuming it would vary statistically for each device.
    Reply
  • nathanddrews - Friday, October 31, 2014 - link

    The external IR will probably be your only option for he foreseeable future. Newer HT gear can usually be networked and controlled via apps or browser sessions. Steam IHS is pretty solid even on wireless Atom devices, so it's probably pointless to review on an i5 with GbE. I'm with you, though, and would like to see a proper review of the IHS feature someday. Reply
  • meacupla - Saturday, November 01, 2014 - link

    IR is so outdated.

    BT remote should be standard already.
    Reply
  • Alexvrb - Sunday, November 02, 2014 - link

    IR works and is probably the lowest power option there is. The less often I have to change remote batteries, the better. Reply
  • cjb110 - Monday, November 03, 2014 - link

    Unless you want to use a universal remote...IR works and is lower power...the only advantage BT offers is less reliance on Line of Sight. Reply
  • BuddyRich - Monday, November 03, 2014 - link

    IR is good for learning but if line of sight is a concern get an RF -> IR blaster and a remote that supports both IR and RF, some Harmony's, URCs, Philips do. Reply
  • jmorey - Monday, November 03, 2014 - link

    Zotec says it has an integrated IR receiver and visually it appears that it does (see the transparent black plastic area between the WiFi LED and the memory card reader slot). Can someone confirm that? It is a required feature for me as I already have Harmony remotes that are IR only. Reply
  • josue16 - Friday, October 31, 2014 - link

    Is this the only fanless pre-built Haswell based UCFF PC available? Reply

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