HardwareWhat a pleasant surprise when we unpacked this little guy. Nestled inside a rather conventionally shaped box, we found a mini PC with a less-than-conventional form factor (10.6 x 10.6 x 3.7 cm, for a total of 336 g). We were also delighted to see that the sides of the chassis are made of metal rather than plastic. That gives it a certain solidity and definitely dissipates heat better. The top side, however, is made of a glossy black plastic that practically guarantees you'll smudge it every time you touch it.
What's also slightly irritating is that the adapter is almost as big as the mini PC it powers. It's too bad Zotac seems to have neglected this, because it somewhat spoils the whole "mini" idea.
As connectivity goes, there's nothing major lacking. Distributed on the front and back of the machine are two USB 3.0 ports (blue), two USB 2.0 ports (yellow), a combo USB 2.0/eSATA port, an audio out (which also serves as an optical digital output), a mic input, a memory card slot, an RJ45 port and an HDMI output. For Wi-Fi there's a small antenna included which plugs into a USB port. So you lose the use of one of these ports when connected with Wi-Fi.
Like the ZBOX Blu-ray HD-ID34, the Nano XS AD11 comes without a keyboard or mouse. We suggest opting for wireless peripherals connected to a single USB dongle so as to maximise your free ports. Wireless peripherals will also allow you to control the computer from your couch if it's connected to your TV.
Another accessory you can use from the comfort of your couch is the remote control (included). The remote allows you to launch Windows Media Center, navigate through it and play content you have stored on your Nano XS.
Zotac has included an external infrared antenna just in case the integrated sensor fails to pick up the signal from your remote. Like the Wi-Fi antenna, this one plugs into a USB port. The infrared antenna comes in especially handy when you have the Nano XS hooked to the back of your TV or monitor. (There's a mounting mechanism that's compatible with any 100 x 100 mm or 75 x 75 mm VESA mount.)
PerformanceNote: Like all of Zotac's mini PCs, the Nano XS is delivered with no pre-installed operating system. That means you'll have to add the cost of a Windows license to the overall price. For this review we used Windows 7 Ultimate 32 bit. The process of installing the OS and drivers took approximately one hour.
We were already familiar with the Nano XS's CPU because it's an E-450, the same one you find in netbooks and some aggressively priced 15.6-inch laptops. That limits the computer to activities that don't eat up too much power (editing Word/Excel documents, browsing the web, watching videos...). For more CPU-intensive activities like video encoding and 3D modelling, it lags big time.
The CPU alone isn't powerful enough to decode 1080p HD videos (equivalent to Blu-ray movies). Luckily the AMD Radeon HD 6320M GPU is there to handle this type of work and free up the CPU for other tasks. Actually, that's its primary function.
And you can see this in action when playing video games—that's when the computer tends to get in over its head. Nearly any game on the market right now will require you to lower the resolution and details just to make it playable. And even that doesn't always do the trick.
The integrated SSD adds a welcome little kick to the machine's speed—the Nano XS starts up in less than 35 seconds and shuts down in 10 seconds. The downside is it has a maximum capacity of 64 GB, which is a little light on the octets for a whole video collection.
AudioDespite the XS form factor, Zotac didn't skimp on audio performance and the circuit integration wasn't rushed. The inputs/outputs are as clean as a whistle and pretty much flawless, and the audio out is powerful enough for most multimedia headphones.
Anyone intending to use the Nano XS for their home cinema system has two options: the HDMI connector, naturally, and an optical digital output, just in case you don't feel like replacing your whole speaker system (for non-HDMI-compatible amps).
Energy Consumption, Noise Levels & HeatThe Nano XS consumes 0.6 W when turned off and 18 W on the Windows desktop. With intensive usage, that goes up to around 30 W. When playing a Blu-ray disc our wattmeter read 22 W. That means this Zotac consumes less power than an ordinary PC.
Temperatures on the ZBOX Nano XS AD11 Plus with the components under stress.
Thermal images taken with a Fluke Ti25.
Another great thing about the Nano XS is how silent it is, even when you push the components to their limits. And same goes for heat. It never gets too high, which is admirable considering how little space there is inside the chassis.