They say that size matters, and in the world of computing that’s always taken literally. Companies are always gunning for the fastest, thinnest, lightest laptops, or the biggest most powerful desktops. But caught in the middle are the bevy of users who just want a PC that they can use for some simple tasks like watching endless YouTube clips, tidying up their resumes, or streaming media from their network.
Zotac have for a while been making small-form PCs that seem to grow smaller with each one they put out. The latest one to head to our offices is the Zotac Zbox Nano XS AD11 Plus (whew!), a ridiculously tiny PC that Zotac bills as the perfect companion for anyone looking for a small PC to take care of their media needs in the living room.
Build quality & design
While the box that the Zbox Nano XS came in was quite large, I was absolutely floored when I actually opened the box and looked at the unit itself. When I say this thing is small, I mean it – I could just about fit it in the palm of my hand. As a size comparison, here’s the Zbox Nano XS next to a standard du SIM card box:
As you can see, the device is really tiny and would go relatively unnoticed no matter where you set it up.
Taking a quick tour of the device, on the front you have the power button and IR receiver for the media remote, a SD card slot, USB 2.0 port, and ports for headphones and microphone. On the sides of the device are two ventilation grills, one side takes in air and the other side pushes warm air out. At the back you’ve got a nice selection of ports on offer with an HDMI port, two USB 3.0 ports, Ethernet, and two USB 2.0 ports, one of which can be used for the included Wi-Fi dongle. I would have preferred if Zotac had moved the audio ports to the back of the device and put another USB port on the front, as the rear ports can be used up quite quickly once you start connecting other peripherals such as your keyboard and mouse. The top of the device features a glossy black finish, which as the name suggests is an instant fingerprint magnet. There’s also a large green ring that glows when the device is on, which you can thankfully turn off in the BIOS.
Overall the device feels quite sturdy in its casing, and flipping the unit over reveals an interesting aspect about it’s underside. The four raised legs are actually screws, which you can twist open to remove the bottom plate and expose the memory slot and hard drive if you want to do a quick hardware upgrade. Other than these two components, there’s nothing else that you can tinker around with unless you void your device warranty.
Like many of its previous mini PCs, the Zbox Nano XS comes with a metal plate that can be used to mount the device to the back of any standard LCD monitor equipped with a VESA mount, so you can hide it away – the downside of this is that it might get a little difficult to switch around hardware or unplug USB devices.
Specs and Comparisons
Despite its compact size, Zotac were able to adjust the specs inside the Zbox Nano XS to deliver a respectable amount of performance. Having looked at a few of Zotac’s PCs in the past, I chose to compare this model to the Zotac Zbox Nano AD10 Plus. Here’s a quick comparison sheet between the two:
The overall result from the benchmarks proved that the Zbox Nano XS is designed purely for media consumption or some non-taxing PC tasks. Games will run on it, but only at lower resolutions and textures – cranking any games up to medium gave an impressive 17fps at times.
I benchmarked the Zotac Zbox Nano XS AD11 to the AD10 Plus, and the results were just marginally better as illustrated below.
As you can see, the Xbox Nano XS AD11 just about pulls ahead of its previous model, thanks in part to the use of an SSD. I then moved on to the media tests to see just how well this unit would be able to perform when streaming media from my network.
While streaming high-def videos across the network was no problem when the Zbox was connected via an Ethernet cable, things started to get a bit dicey when I used the supplied wireless dongle. With a distance of just a couple of meters away from my wireless router, playback of a 1048p copy of “The Day After Tomorrow” was choppy at various times, no matter how I adjusted the direction of the antenna. So I suggest that you either keep this unit very close to your router or connect it via an Ethernet cable.
The box also includes a media remote and an additional IR receiver – in the event that the front panel is obscured or the device is mounted at the back of your display, you can connect the extra IR receiver to one of the USB ports . The remote itself can mainly be used to navigate around Windows Media Centre and other media software, though if you install a non-Windows OS then you might be stuck with an unusable remote control. Speaking of the OS, the Zbox Nano XS doesn’t come with any installed OS, and with no optical drive you’ll need to spend some time setting up the OS and installing drivers from the include CDs. It would have made more sense to include the drivers on a USB stick than on CDS, so hopefully this is something that Zotac take into account on their future models.
For the most part the Zbox Nano XS does a good job of keeping itself cool despite just having one internal fan. Only when I ran the benchmarks in rapid succession did the system fan kick in a little louder than usual. Thanks to the SSD you won’t hear any noises from the hard drive, so overall the system can be installed almost anywhere and forgotten about.
The Zbox Nano XS AD11 Plus is a nice little HTPC that can handle most file formats and streaming needs, as long as it’s placed close to your router or connected via an Ethernet cable. While the upgrade options and graphics might be a bit limited, the inclusion of an SSD in this revision is certainly a welcome addition. If you’re looking for a compact HTPC to setup in your living room and are cut for space, then this is the unit for you.