Zotac Zbox ID89 Plus - The Power Of Desktop Ivy Bridge In A Compact Mini PC

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Desktop Ivy Bridge power in a tiny mini-PC chassis

Zotac is one of the leading names in the mini-PC market, releasing periodically updated Intel and AMD based systems under the Zbox moniker. This latest one, the Zbox ID89 Plus, uses an Intel Ivy Bridge desktop CPU and the H61 Express chipset.

The system is available in two flavors; the $560 barebones Zbox ID89, or the $680 Zbox ID89 Plus that includes RAM and a hard drive. The cheaper model of Apple's Mac Mini, by comparison, can be had for $760 including OS X. Therefore, unless you're opting for a Linux build (certainly a viable option here), factoring in the cost of Windows puts the ID89 Plus in direct competition with the Mac Mini should you be flexible regarding you choice of OS and ecosystem.

Zotac Zbox

The chassis is predominantly made from glossy black plastic, which gives the Zbox a suitable look for a home theatre. However, it does also look a little outdated and cheap, especially compared to the gorgeous, all aluminium Apple offerings.

What the ID89 Plus may lack in the aesthetics department, it more than makes up for with connectivity. As well as analogue headphone and microphone ports on the front panel, the ID89 Plus can output 7.1 digital surround sound via its S/PDIF port. It also supports dual displays via its HDMI and DVI connections, meaning its well suited to be a media companion.

What the ID89 Plus may lack in the aesthetics department, it more than makes up for with connectivity

Front and side-mounted USB 3 ports join a pair of rear USB 2 ports and a front panel 4-in-1 card reader, so expansion options are plentiful. Finally, the ID89 also supports Bluetooth and wi-fi, and has dual ethernet ports for wired networking and an IR receiver for the supplied MCE-compatible remote control Zotac hasn't been stingy when it comes to accessories either. As well as the aforementioned remote control, you'll find in the package two antennas for the wi-fi and Bluetooth, a plastic base that lets you stand the Zbox vertically, and a VESA mount so that you can attach it out of sight to the back of compatible displays. A USB extendable infra-red receiver is also provided, so even hidden units can make use of the remote control.

Finally, there's the Windows driver CD. This is a little strange for two reasons: a USB stick would be better for this given the lack of an optical drive, and the vast majority of people buying a system without an OS are likely to understand how to obtain the correct drivers from Zotac's website and install them manually. Still, there you go - what do we know?

The case is easy to open up thanks to just a pair of thumbscrews. The first thing you'll see when you do is the 500GB Toshiba 5400rpm hard drive. This is connected via a SATA 3Gbps interface (a limit of the H61 Express chipset), so users interested in installing an SSD instead will be capped by this. Beneath the drive is a single 4GB stick of 1,600MHz, but a second slot is also available should you need to add more at a later date.

For the $120 difference between the barebones and Plus packages, it's possible to build the same system as the ID89 Plus for a little less (using a cheaper 500GB drive), or upgrade to a 1TB drive for very little extra, so at current prices the barebones system offers the better deal.

Underneath the Plus' CPU cooler is an Intel Core i5-3470T, a dual core Ivy Bridge processor clocked at 2.9GHz and with a maximum Turbo Boost frequency of 3.6GHz. It's impressive to see such a modern and powerful CPU in so small an environment (Apple's Mac Mini systems use Intel Mobile CPUs), although overclocking isn't possible. The cooler draws air in from outside the chassis using its small fan, and blows it over the internal heatsink fins and out of the chassis again.

Underneath the Plus' CPU cooler is an Intel Core i5-3470T, a dual core Ivy Bridge processor clocked at 2.9GHz and with a maximum Turbo Boost frequency of 3.6GHz

Performance in CPUintensive benchmarks is impressive, and the Intel CPU is more than capable of handling photo editing and video encoding. However, as the 3DMark score shows, gaming performance is poor at best, and the system struggles even with older titles like Skyrim and Left4Dead 2 at low settings. Playback of HD videos in any format is silky smooth, however, so again as a media PC the Zbox ID89 Plus excels. However, the slow, mechanical hard drive can also be a bit of a bottleneck in use.

The cooler does a great job of keeping temperatures healthy, even with the CPU under full load in Prime95. Not only that, but it stays very quiet when doing so, and the system never draws more than 40W of power from the wall, which is great.

The Zbox ID89 Plus is a small but powerful alternative to the Mac Mini. The excess of connections, bundled remote control and powerful CPU make it a great choice for a HTPC, especially as it stays quiet too. Buying the $560 barebones package and adding your own hard drive and RAM is the better option, but the Plus model does a fine job itself and isn't terrible value either.


·         Chipset Intel H61 Express

·         CPU Intel Core i5-3470T (dual-core), 2.9GHz (max Turbo frequency 3.6GHz), 3MB L3 cache

·         Memory 2 x 204-pin SO-DIMM slots (1 x 4GB DDR3-1600 included)

·         GPU Onboard Intel HD Graphics 2500, 650MHz (max dynamic frequency 1.1GHz)

·         Audio Realtek ALC892 HD audio

·         Networking 2 x Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11n/g/b WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0

·         Storage 1 x SATA 3Gbs (1 x Toshiba MQ01ABD050 500GB 5,400rpm drive included)

·         Video Output 1 x DVI-D, 1 x HDMI

·         External Connectivity Power, 2 x USB 3, 2 x USB 2, stereo, microphone, 1 x S/PDIF, 4-in-1 card reader (MMC/SD/SDHC/SDXC)

·         Operating System None (user installed)

·         Dimensions (mm) 188 x 188 x 51 (W x D X H)

·         Warranty Two years


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