The appearance of nettops around 2008 kick started the small form factor HTPC craze. Until that point of time, SFF HTPCs were restricted to the DIY crowd. However, the anemic nature of the Atom platform on which most nettops were based was a downer for many. The ION platform led to the appearance of a slew of SFF HTPCs which garnered widespread market acceptance. However, the core Atom processor left many people still disappointed.

A couple of years back, mobile CPUs from both AMD and Intel began to achieve the required performance within approximately the same power envelop as the processors being used in the nettops. Acer took the plunge first, introducing the Acer X1200 mini-PC in 2008, but it wasn't in the mini-ITX form factor.

Dell was, in fact, the first to introduce a mini-ITX SFF HTPC build with their first generation Zino 400 HD HTPC. The mobile CPUs, combined with the AMD chipset having an integrate GPU (3200) / option of a discrete 4330 mGPU created a lot of interest amongst the HTPC enthusiasts. Despite being well received, the units did have problem with poor thermal design.

Between the appearance of the Zino 400 and the Zino 410 that we are currently reviewing, companies like ASRock caught on to the trend and started offering mini-ITX SFF HTPCs with varying degrees of capability. Dell seems to be committed to AMD for their SFF HTPC solution, and the approach they have taken for the Zino 410 is the same as the one for the Zino 400. The Zino 410 is offered in various configurations, and users can pick and choose components as they see fit.

Let us take a look at the configuration of the review unit sent to us by Dell:

Dell Zino 410 HD HTPC Specifications
Processor AMD Phenom II X4 P940
(4x1.70GHz, 45nm, 2MB L2, 25W)
Chipset AMD M880G + SB820
Memory 1x4GB + 1x2GB DDR3-1333 (Max 8GB)
Graphics ATI Mobility 5450 1GB DDR3
80 SPs, 675/675/800 MHz Core/Shader/RAM clocks
Hard Drive(s) 750GB 7200RPM 3.5" HDD
(Western Digital Caviar Black WD7501AAES)
Optical Drive Blu-ray/DVDRW Combo
Networking Gigabit Ethernet
802.11n (Dell WLAN 1520)
Audio Microphone and headphone/speaker jacks
Capable of 5.1/7.1 digital output with HD audio bitstreaming(SPDIF/HDMI)
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Extras THX TruStudio Pro Audio Certification
Interchangeable colour lid
IR receiver and MCE remote
Wireless Keyboard / Mouse
Pricing Starting Price: $300
Price as configured: $775

Dell maxed out their Zino 410 HD specifications in the review unit. It comes in at $775, and lies in between the ASRock Core 100 and the ASRock Vision 3D that we had reviewed earlier.

Do the capabilities of the system fall in between the two? Is the Dell system worth the cost? Before we get into the details, let us take a look at the unboxing impressions.

Unboxing Impressions
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  • aylafan - Monday, February 21, 2011 - link

    Wouldn't the motherboard have to be grounded to the case? I don't think many manufactuers has designed the motherboard to be hanging in the middle of the case. If you flipped the motherboard upside down; it would be practically the same thing, but less efficient. Now, you can put the motherboard on the side of the case, but then it would be a normal size desktop PC and wouldn't be a HTPC anymore. I'm just visualizing this in my head. I could be wrong. Futhermore, they would need to redesign the heatsink with less space they have to work with. We're talking about a compact HTPC here and not one of those no cover, Antec custom cases.

    Also, I don't see the point of having a hard drive underneath the motherboard because the motherboard would practically cut the HTPC in half; trapping all the heat coming from the hard drive on the bottom half of the HTPC. They could reengineere the entire thermal design, but this would mean starting from scratch again. Like adding a bottom fan to pull out hot air and making holes on the sides of the cases, etc. There are just too many variables to this.

    Just my opinion. Don't take it too seriously.
    Reply
  • cjs150 - Tuesday, February 22, 2011 - link

    The reason I ask is that I have a Morena case that works as I have described.

    Now the Morena case has a number of flaws (cheap plastic being the least of the problems) which with a bit of "apple" design could be seriously improved but it runs 24/7 as my atom server without any problems and you can feel the convection working.

    Neither HD or optical drive get that hot - at least not compared to the CPU!

    It is not as though you need to cut the case in half because the height of a slim line optical and a 2.5" HD is something like 15mm max - it also allows for better cable management.

    It is just I have this nagging feeling that the designs are based on "this is how we have always done it" rather than looking at it logically - or maybe because the designers expected all cases to be placed vertically rather than horizontally

    Maybe it is also because I am looking to build an HTPC and keep wanting to put a slow running fan in the top to keep memory and CPU cool - with a case that is barely 100 mm tall
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Tuesday, February 22, 2011 - link

    Technically you could build something mostly like this with off the shelf components, though it might well be more expensive.

    http://www.logicsupply.com/products/nf98_lf
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, February 22, 2011 - link

    The mobile processors are not cheap at all, and trying to find them on sale at Newegg or one of the top e-tailers is a tall task.. Reply
  • vol7ron - Tuesday, February 22, 2011 - link

    $775 for this? I don't see what HTPCs are more expensive than laptops and desktops. Reply
  • lenkiatleong - Monday, March 7, 2011 - link

    Hi Ganesh,
    1) Thanks for your excellent review on this Dino and ASRock Vision.
    2) The points that i missed from your review are:
    a) Using BluRay disc, are they able to stream Dolby TrueHD or DTS HD Master codec from HTPC (Dell/ASRock) to your Onkyo TX-SR606 via HDMI? You should be able to see the codec being display on your Onkyo set.
    b) Are they able to stream blu ray and dvd iso files from NAS or HDD?

    Regards
    Len
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Sunday, May 15, 2011 - link

    Sorry for the late reply, but the answers to your questions are:

    1. Yes, but don't expect the bundled PDVD to play nice with your requirements. You are better off investing in a full featured BR software player than what Dell bundles. Otherwise, make a backup of your BR with MakeMKV and play with open source players. Bitstreaming works fully well.

    2. Yes, it can easily stream from NAS or external HDDs provided you have the appropriate software players. [ PowerDVD / TMT / WinDVD ]
    Reply
  • alexn - Thursday, June 30, 2011 - link

    I purchased this unit in January 2011,received in February. For two months I was fighting on my own with:
    1.Dropping WiFi signal 5 feet away from 802.11 N router;
    2.Extremely poor HDMI video.

    Then I decided take it to Dell tech support. After many hours wasted on phone they decided to replace motherboard, sent tech to my house, who replaced motherboard and sent back my motherboard with external video card. Neither the person who sent m/b for replacement, nor tech himself did not know, that there is external video card, which went away. No surprises, there was no video after this 'repair". They sent another tech with another m/b, replaced it... no video. Only the third tech with the third m/b asked me, where is you video card??? Afetr long fighting they sent me refurbished system, which is working, but the HDMI output is as awful, as it was, so I connected it via VGA output and sound cable and it works.
    By the way, wireless card replacement fixed connectivity problem.
    So my moral: Dell's service in India and techs in the USA usually don't know anything, HDMI output in this system is really bad.
    Reply
  • myangeldust - Tuesday, January 24, 2012 - link

    I used this as a home theater PC and it works great. It records four shows simultaneously via a couple of HDHomeRun external dual tuners. I can even watch a TV show as this is happening with no issues. And thanks to gigabit networking I can listen to music streamed from a media server. It includes PowerDVD integrated with Windows Media Center to play Blu-rays and [upscaled] DVDs.

    Changing the optical drive from a nonmotorized tray model to a slot-load model. The current tray only extends part way and requires a bit more effort to load/unload than a user would expect. One can easily move the HTPC while doing this and even damage the tray.
    Reply

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