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 ZBOX C Series nano units were launched to cater to the demand for fanless mini-PCs. The nano series units use slightly bigger motherboards, but they are still small enough to mount discreetly behind monitors with the supplied VESA mounts.

Most of the mini-PC / UCFF PCs in the market are based on Intel CPUs. Interestingly, Zotac launched an AMD-based SKU with the C series - the Zotac ZBOX CA320 nano. Based on a Temash APU (originally meant for the tablet market), the product does stand out compared to the other alternatives at a similar price point (based on the Intel Bay Trail SoCs).

Traditionally, Zotac samples PLUS units for review, and the CA320 nano was no different. The ZBOX C Series is one of the few lineups for which a PLUS model makes sense - the bundled 2.5" drive is a SSD, and there is only one SO-DIMM slot. The fact that PLUS models come with only one memory stick is not an issue here. Other than being ready to go out of the box in terms of hardware, the unit does come barebones (no OS installed). The specifications of our Zotac ZBOX CA320 nano review configuration are summarized in the table below.

Zotac ZBOX CA320 nano Specifications
Processor AMD A6-1450
(4C/4T x 1.0 GHz, 28nm, 2MB L2, 8W TDP)
Memory 1x 4GB DDR3L-1600
Graphics AMD Radeon HD 8250
Disk Drive(s) FORESEE 64 GB 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) $270
Full Specifications Zotac ZBOX CA320 nano PLUS

The Zotac ZBOX CA320 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 unit is quite easy to open up (even without a screwdriver), but it is not necessary to do it unless one wants to replace either the memory or the disk drive.

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

In the table below, we have an overview of the various systems that we are comparing the Zotac ZBOX CA320 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 Zotac ZBOX CA320 nano when we come to those sections.

Comparative PC Configurations
Aspect Zotac ZBOX CA320 nano
CPU AMD A6-1450 AMD A6-1450
GPU AMD Radeon HD 8250 AMD Radeon HD 8250
RAM Crucial CT51264BF160B (Micron 8KTF51264HZ-1G6J1)
11-11-11-28 @ 1600 MHz
1x4 GB
Crucial CT51264BF160B (Micron 8KTF51264HZ-1G6J1)
11-11-11-28 @ 1600 MHz
1x4 GB
Storage FORESEE S600S064G
(64 GB; 2.5in SATA 6Gb/s; MLC)
FORESEE S600S064G
(64 GB; 2.5in SATA 6Gb/s; MLC)
Wi-Fi Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3160
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3160
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
Price (in USD, when built) $270 $270
Performance Metrics - I
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  • Ranari - Wednesday, November 26, 2014 - link

    Excellent review as always!

    May I make a humble request. I love HTPC's, and one metric I'd like to start seeing added, or possibly benchmarked, are Twitch TV 1080p 60fps streams. Not the encoding rate, but the decode rate, as if you were watching the stream. It's a bit of an all or nothing check, but the stream does allow you to see whether or not you're dropping frames. My Core i7 3770k (desktop) can decode 1080p 60fps Twitch streams with flying colors and then some, but my Core i7 2630QM (laptop) can only do so without dropped frames if I set it to an aggressive power setting (so it clamps it at 2.0ghz instead of 1.3ghz).

    I hate dropped frames! It ruins the fluidity of what you're watching. But out of all "HTPC-like" activities, Twitch.TV streaming would be my #1 usage. Love those Starcraft II tournaments! :)
    Reply
  • zodiacsoulmate - Wednesday, November 26, 2014 - link

    great idea +1 Reply
  • zodiacsoulmate - Wednesday, November 26, 2014 - link

    are you using chrome?? try IE11, it always perform way better than chrome. Reply
  • cbrownx88 - Wednesday, November 26, 2014 - link

    For anything hardware accelerated, IE often has quite the edge. Reply
  • Rezurecta - Wednesday, November 26, 2014 - link

    That is true, but Chrome has extensions like Better twitch tv and twitch now, which are essential to my experience.

    BTW the twitch.tv benchmarks are a great idea. Per browser?
    Reply
  • nevertell - Thursday, November 27, 2014 - link

    The only proper way to enjoy twitch streams is to use a python package called livestreamer, that grabs the stream and passes it on to VLC to be played 'natively' on the machine, circumventing the three million VM's anything executable has to deal with to operate on a modern browser. Reply
  • Nintendo Maniac 64 - Thursday, November 27, 2014 - link

    I can 1-up that - use livestreamer to pass the video stream into MPC-HC, the only downside being that it only works with 32bit MPC-HC. Reply
  • verballydecapitating - Wednesday, November 26, 2014 - link

    I would recommend using either XBMC (with twitch addon) or a Windows 8 app (I use game streams) since that should be hardware accelerated and be a lot smoother than the flash player. Reply
  • trynberg - Wednesday, November 26, 2014 - link

    Thanks again, I really appreciate the HTPC portion of these reviews. Very useful information, especially as you build up a review database. Reply
  • tential - Wednesday, November 26, 2014 - link

    So does this not work with 1080p Steam Streaming then? Reply

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