Zotac’s ZBOX HD-ID11

Zotac struck gold with its first desktop mini-ITX ION board, and since then the company has been on a roll with very tiny, highly integrated motherboards and barebones systems designed for HTPC use.

The ZBOX is Zotac’s barebones small form factor system line. The HD-ID11 is the first ZBOX to use NVIDIA’s Next Generation ION paired with Intel’s Pine Trail Atom platform.

For $259.99 the HD-ID11 will give you a dual-core Atom D510, a 16-core GT218 GPU with 512MB of DDR3 memory, WiFi, a single 2.5” HDD/SSD bay and a single DDR2-800 SO-DIMM slot. Remember the memory controller here branches off the Atom D510 and it’s only a single channel 64-bit controller. The original ION used a dual-channel DDR2/DDR3 controller so you actually get less total memory bandwidth with this platform. Unlike the original ION however, the GPU gets its own dedicated frame buffer - so the CPU and GPU don’t have to share the bandwidth.

The chassis is all plastic, but it’s a fairly thick/dense plastic so it doesn’t feel overly cheap. I’d say we’re smack in the middle of the cheap to luxurious plastic spectrum.

You can lay the chassis flat or slide it into a stand and roll with it Wii-style. The front of the ZBOX has headphone and mic jacks, a SD card reader and a single USB port. You get network and drive activity indicators and a power button. Turning the machine on lights up a blue O on the top of the case.

On the side you get another USB port, and on the back you’ve got four more bringing the total count up to six. That’s more USB ports than a Mac Pro on something smaller than an old Xbox 360 HD-DVD drive.

You get DVI and HDMI outputs, 10/100/1000 Ethernet, eSATA and optical out. As I mentioned earlier, WiFi (802.11b/g/n) is included but there’s no external antenna. There are two antennas inside.

Getting inside the ZBOX is pretty easy. Remove two thumbscrews and push the cover away to reveal the spacious motherboard. Another thumbscrew will hold the 2.5” HDD/SSD in place.

The 2.5” bay (if you can call it that) is sort of in the thermal shadow of the CPU/GPU/chipset heatsink, and it does get warm during use. I’d strongly recommend using a SSD not only because it does keep the system cool, but it makes using an Atom far more bearable. Pairing a slow CPU with a slow hard drive doesn’t make things any better surprisingly enough. With an SSD however, it feels more like you’re using a slow CPU in a modern system rather than a slow machine.

On the other side of the motherboard you’ll find the WiFi card as well as an open mini PCI Express slot for expansion. Zotac uses two of the NM10’s PCIe lanes to feed these ports, leaving only a x1 lane for the NVIDIA NG-ION GPU.

The fan is audible under heavy CPU load but overall the system is pretty quiet. In a room that by itself had an ambient noise of 32dB(A) the ZBOX HD-ID11 measured 33 - 34dB(A) an inch away from the system while playing back H.264 content. If you’re sitting across the room you’d be hard pressed to hear it. Fire up a bunch of CPU intensive applications however and the tiny internal fan will spin up and get annoying very quickly. I measured as much as 55dB(A) an inch away from the system with the fan at full bore.


The NM10 Express chipset (top), Intel Atom D510 (left) and NVIDIA NG-ION GPU (right)

The more audible part of the system was actually the power adapter. I got a constant whine from the power brick whenever it was plugged in with the machine turned off. Zotac tells me that the shipping models will have a different power cable, and they can't reproduce the issue so perhaps it's a problem with my unit.

Wake on USB works...sort of. I can wake the ZBOX up with USB mouse hooked directly to the machine but when going through my iogear switch box no USB perhaps will wake the machine. On top of that, any keystrokes/mouse clicks I perform while the machine is asleep seem to get buffered and all fire as soon as I get back into Windows. Again this only happens going through my iogear KVM, a direct attached mouse works as expected.

Terms of Ndearment General Performance: Better than the Original ION
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  • Rayb - Thursday, May 06, 2010 - link

    I'll go with the ION1, since the flash 10.1 patch everything else became a non issue. Reply
  • QChronoD - Thursday, May 06, 2010 - link

    Are there any tiny systems like this out there which have something faster than an Atom that use the ION chipset? Reply
  • sprockkets - Thursday, May 06, 2010 - link

    Yes, but only if you want an LGA775 processor. It uses the 9300/9400 chipset, which is basically the same thing.

    Works great. Except I really, really want fanless.
    Reply
  • icrf - Friday, May 07, 2010 - link

    I've got a Wolfdale HTPC now with one of the Zotac NV9300 Micro-ATX boards, and it works, but it's noisy. The lack of wake-on-USB from S3 and the lack of fan control access from Windows pissed me off about the board enough I'll probably avoid Zotac boards for the foreseeable future. I can live without the wake on USB from S3, but not being able to dynamically control fan speeds is just terrible. Every motherboard I've bought for more than the last five years have had that. I didn't even think to look for it.

    More than a little OT, but for me, the big competition for this is something like the Boxee Box, which I haven't heard a peep about since CES. Anyone know any more details about it? I thought it was originally slated for 1H10 but I've seen a bare 2010 quoted, too. I'd probably pick one of those up just to see how well it'd work. I'd be on the pre-order list if I knew I could get XBMC running on it. I've got Boxee, XBMC, and Hulu installed on my HTPC now and can flip between them. Boxee is the one run least often because the other two do what they do much better.
    Reply
  • hpmoon - Friday, May 07, 2010 - link

    My suspicion about the Boxee Box delay is quite simply that the media assholes are standing at the ready (and have scared Boxee to this effect) for suing them with full force as soon as the hardware hits the market. They must believe (or at least their questionably schooled lawyers must believe) that the legal ramifications suddenly change when it's not just a PC running the Boxee software and thus framing Firefox Web site visits anymore, but an actual non-PC device doing something very different without full-blown Firefox PC functionality.

    Of course, if this were the backstory, no one would tell you this.
    Reply
  • icrf - Friday, May 07, 2010 - link

    The experience of running Hulu through Boxee is bad enough I'm not sure I'd worry about it too much. You can play/pause it, but that's it. Seeking forward or backwards isn't supported. If the stream dies halfway through and you need to restart, or you have to pause it for a long time and the connection times out, or if you just want to repeat what someone said, you're SOL.

    If I'm wrong and some of this got fixed, someone holler, but Boxee seemed more about the social aspect than anything else. You can get these little clip videos from all over the internet, publicize what you're watching and what you like or don't, etc.
    Reply
  • ClagMaster - Thursday, May 06, 2010 - link

    I wonder if the memory controllers on board the AMD and Intel CPUs are as optimized as those found on the P965, P35 and P45 ?

    The P965/G965 has a wonderful memory controller that was far more efficient than that on the AMD 64.

    How can one evaluate this ?
    Reply
  • aj28 - Thursday, May 06, 2010 - link

    A bit off topic, but I think it's worth pointing out that AMD64 (754/939) was a DDR controller, while Intel's P965 was a DDR2 controller. I miss the old nForce controllers, which were some of the more feature-rich, error-free (at least in my experience) chipsets out there. It's a shame that Intel has designed their new platform the way they have... Reply
  • Calin - Friday, May 07, 2010 - link

    NVidia chipsets had that issue with the disk controller (the possibility to totally trash the content of your hard drive). Other than that, they were for quite a time the high point in chipsets. The only "hotter" chipset I remember was the "BX-100" variant (Intel's 66MHz 440BX chipset, made to run with the Pentium !!! processors on a front side bus of 100MHz). Reply
  • rnjeezy - Thursday, May 06, 2010 - link

    yes, i know there's a point in having it, but it's probably good to have another m.b which removes it, and then add one more lane to the gfx Reply

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