HTPC Credentials

The absence of any moving parts inside the ZBOX CI540 nano enables a completely silent PC irrespective of the workload. This makes it an ideal HTPC. While acoustics form one part of the HTPC story, there are a few other aspects that we will cover in this section.

Refresh Rate Accurancy

AMD and NVIDIA have historically been able to provide fine-grained control over display refresh rates. The default rates are also quite accurate. Intel used to have an issue with 23 Hz (23.976 Hz, to be more accurate) support, but that was resolved with the introduction of Haswell. As expected, the Zotac ZBOX CI540 nano has no trouble with refreshing the display appropriately in the 23 Hz setting.

The gallery below presents some of the other refresh rates that we tested out. The first statistic in madVR's OSD indicates the display refresh rate.

Network Streaming Efficiency

Evaluation of OTT playback efficiency was done by playing back our standard YouTube test stream and five minutes from our standard Netflix test title. Using HTML5, the YouTube stream plays back a 720p encoding, while Adobe Flash delivers a 1080p stream. Note that only NVIDIA exposes GPU and VPU loads separately. Both Intel and AMD bundle the decoder load along with the GPU load. The following two graphs show the power consumption at the wall for playback of the HTML5 stream and the Adobe Flash stream in Mozilla Firefox v32.0.1. The GPU load while playing back the HTML5 version is around 23.46%. In the Adobe Flash case, it is a bit lower at 18.84%.

YouTube Streaming - HTML5: Power Consumption

YouTube Streaming - Adobe Flash: Power Consumption

Netflix streaming evaluation was done using the Windows 8.1 Netflix app. Manual stream selection is available (Ctrl-Alt-Shift-S) and debug information / statistics can also be viewed (Ctrl-Alt-Shift-D). Statistics collected for the YouTube streaming experiment were also collected here. The GPU load during playback averaged around 4%.

Netflix Streaming - Windows 8.1 Metro App: Power Consumption

Despite being passively cooled, the ZBOX CI540 nano (as we configured it) is not particularly power efficient when it comes to network streaming. This is in part due to the powerful DRAM component (8 GB, clocked at 1600 MHz). That said, we did see the CI540 nano come out better in the benchmarks sections. It is clear that there is performance to be exploited in the Y-series CPUs, but the obvious penalty is the power consumption.

Decoding and Rendering Benchmarks

In order to evaluate local file playback, we usually concentrate on EVR-CP and madVR. We already know that EVR works quite well even with the Intel IGP for our test streams. madVR performance hasn't been great with the Intel HD Graphics 4400-equipped PCs. Instead, we decided to focus on a more common use-case for this PC: XBMC. For EVR-CP, the decoder used was LAV Filters bundled with MPC-HC v1.7.7. The latest stable XBMC version (XBMC 13.2) was used with default configuration for the second set.

Zotac ZBOX CI540 nano - Decoding & Rendering Performance
Stream EVR-CP XBMC 13.2
  GPU Load (%) Power (W) GPU Load (%) Power (W)
480i60 MPEG2 29.29 13.07 16.73 11.00
576i50 H264 27.21 12.98 15.26 10.63
720p60 H264 37.46 14.79 39.62 14.01
1080i60 MPEG2 46.55 16.14 23.43 11.87
1080i60 H264 45.91 16.59 27.24 12.56
1080i60 VC1 43.86 16.26 22.23 12.34
1080p60 H264 47.46 16.74 46.4 15.37
1080p24 H264 19.01 12.55 18.88 11.40
4Kp30 H264 43.47 13.46 23.53 12.21

One of the surprising aspects with XBMC was that the default home screen resulted in a constant GPU loading of around 35.68% and idle power consumption at the wall of 13.52W (and the GPU loading / power consumption actually decreased during playback of most of our test streams). This shows that there is plenty of scope for power optimization when it comes to XBMC on Windows. Coming back to the decoder / rendering benchmarks, both DXVA2 decoding with LAV filters and rendering using EVR-CP as well as XBMC get through our test suite (including 4K decode) without any issues. HD audio bitstreaming is also not a problem. For the average media playback application, the ZBOX CI540 nano is a winner in every aspect other than power consumption.

Networking & Storage Performance Power Consumption & Thermal Performance


View All Comments

  • p@nc@k3s - Friday, October 31, 2014 - link

    To me, it really is the footprint and fanless design that would make me buy this over a notebook. Reply
  • james16 - Monday, November 3, 2014 - link

    Same for me. From my own anecdotal experience and expecting to use a PC for 6+ years, fans can suck in a lot of dust over time. The dust can cause overheating and throttling issues. Sometimes, the fans fail at some point too. I'm done with opening up PCs to clean/replace things. It's just not worth my time anymore. Also, notebooks are even more time consuming to open up to clean/replace stuff.

    So far with my experience with fanless devices is that they don't attract as much dust and, of course, no fans that can fail. However, you have to choose the right device. I've encountered some devices where the thermal design wasn't very good and you get throttling under normal conditions.
  • Aikouka - Friday, October 31, 2014 - link

    Sure. Pretty much anything can be a HTPC as long as it meets your media needs. Some people just have different needs. For example, you probably cannot VESA mount a laptop on the back of a monitor/TV, but you can do that with a NUC/UCFF PC (I do that with my touch-based HTPC). Reply
  • Spectrophobic - Friday, October 31, 2014 - link

    Pretty sure it isn't that hard to DIY a mount for a laptop behind a monitor/TV. Reply
  • gopher1369 - Friday, October 31, 2014 - link

    In a corporate environment installing 500 of them at once? Reply
  • barleyguy - Saturday, November 1, 2014 - link

    In a corporate environment the solution would be to check the laptops out to employees and buy docking stations for the desks. My current corporate environment is primarily that way, as was my previous employer.

    They did have quite a few thin clients as well, but in general, people hated them.

    That said, my work laptop is WAY more powerful than this. It's a Dell mobile workstation with a Quad i7, an SSD, Radeon graphics, and 16 GB of RAM. Only downside is that it weighs about 10 pounds.
  • Johnmcl7 - Saturday, November 1, 2014 - link

    I'm not sure how we've suddenly jumped from a single HTPC to 500 devices in a corporate network however having been down both routes in a corporate environment, I preferred the laptop mounting option. There are standardised brackets available and it meant we could use a standard laptop that was properly supported (the company was a large one and standardised on a handful of models from a single supplier) making them much quicker to set up and much easier to get them fixed thanks to next day on site warranties.

    I immediately lost all interest in the Zotac when I saw the price, there's no way I'd pay such a huge premium when there's plenty of cheaper laptops with similar hardware that can do the job.

  • barleyguy - Monday, November 3, 2014 - link

    Keep in mind the retail price is probably temporary. The Gigabyte BRIX products tend to sell for about half of retail after they've been out for a while. This will probably be the same way.

    Right now Newegg is bundling a free 4 GB memory stick with this.
  • wintermute000 - Saturday, November 1, 2014 - link

    Absolutely correct, aside from aesthetics.
    my standard go to recommendation for semi-technical friends is to grab a 200-300 dollar laptop and leave it connected to the telly permanently.
  • Michael Bay - Saturday, November 1, 2014 - link

    And it instantly becomes a dust magnet.

    Not even mentioning how extremely nice cheap laptop fits into TV cabinet aesthetic.

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