Also available is the ZBOX Blu-ray HD-ID33, which comes without the hard drive and without any RAM. The rest is the same.
Hardware: small with excellent connectivity
When you get it out the box, there's a little surprise in store: the ZBOX Blu-ray HD-ID34 looks more like a TV box than a computer. It won't look out of place on your TV cabinet. Overall it looks quite elegant and well-made, a well finished product. It also comes with a fixture unit to attach it to the back of your TV where you would normally put the VESA bracket.
No major gaps in connectivity here. There are two USB 3.0 sockets (the blue ones), a USB 2.0 port, an eSATA, a headphones socket, a mic in, an optical out, a memory card reader, an RJ45 port, an HDMI out and a DVI out (DVI/VGA adaptor supplied). You can also connect it to the Internet without having to cable up as it has wi-fi n.
In contrast to the Dell Zino HD 410, the ZBOX comes without a keyboard or mouse. This is something to think about before you buy. Our advice: go for wireless peripherals that you can link up to a single USB adaptor. This means you'll only use one of the three USB ports on the machine and keep the two others for other peripherals (USB key, webcam, external hard drive and so on). You can also use them to control your mini PC from the couch, if your remote won't do it.
Back, USB 3.0 port, RJ45 port, eSATA port, DVI and HDMI out, optical out, power supply socket
Underneath, panel off
ZBOX Blu-ray HD-ID34 with power supply
Processing: a processor with limited capacity
Note, the ZBOX Blu-ray HD-ID34 comes without an operating system installed. We went for Windows 7 64-bit for our tests. It took around forty five minutes to install. It takes ten minutes to install the drivers of the various components supplied on CD for Windows. Otherwise you won't be able to use the USB 3.0 ports. That leaves just a single port (USB 2.0) for plugging in a keyboard or mouse.
The Intel Atom D525 processor gives the sort of performance you'd expect from a good netbook. It's powerful enough for office document processing and multimedia usage (audio and video playback), but it won't do much more. It scored 28 on our index. This can be compared to 100 for our reference machine, the Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Xi3650 (equipped with an Intel Core 2 Duo T9400). Photo retouching and video encoding are also within its grasp but you'll need to arm yourself with plenty of patience as processing times are pedestrian indeed.
The Intel Atom D525 unfortunately can't decode HD 1080p (equivalent to Blu-Ray films). Fortunately however, the NVIDIA ION chipset is there to take on this task and free up the processor for other work. You'll need to activate hardware acceleration with compatible sofware such as PowerDVD 9, Media Player Classic Home Cinema or VLC in order to benefit from the excellent video decoding capacities of the ION chipset. CPU occupation then drops to under 10% and fluidity is perfect.
Energy consumption goes from 1.4 W on standby to 32 W when you're on the Windows desktop. In intensive use, power consumption goes up even further to around 56 W. During Blu-ray playback, we were at 44W. The old version of Windows 7 runs at 3.4W.
With Windows 7, the ZBOX takes 46 seconds to start up and another ten seconds to finish loading the main pieces of software (antivirus uninstalled). It shuts down in 24 seconds.
Not too much 3D
The NVIDIA ION chipset - 16 CUDA units - is too limited to turn this mini PC into a real gamer PC. Forget most recent titles. Even Starcraft 2 lacks fluidity on a 1080p screen at medium settings.
It is however possible to play older titles and/or more demanding games if you're willing to limit your graphics settings: Half-Life 2, World of Warcraft, Warcraft 3 and so on.
Audio: something for everyone
The NVIDIA ION chipset allows you to send all the audio flows via the HDMI socket (PCM 8 channels, Dolby True HD, DTS HDMA, Dolby digital). This is the best solution on this machine in a Home Cinema configuration, especially if you have an amp with an HDMI in or a sound bar such as the Sony RHT-G11. You can also use the mini jack socket at the front to plug in your headphones (stereo). The mini jack gives a clean sound and can run with headphones such as the Sennheiser HD 650s, which draw quite a bit of power. You can also use the SPDIF optical out for your 5.1 and non HD formats. This is nice if you've got a kit like the Z-5500.
- Blu-ray player
- HDMI out for video and audio
- SPDIF optical out
- Comes without keyboard/mouse
- Limited CPU performance
- No operating system
The lack of OS and codecs limits the use of this machine to consumers who can at the very least load up the right drivers. If this installation isn't a problem, the ZBOX Blu-ray HD-ID34 constitutes a nice alternative to a media centre. It'll stand the test of time better and is relatively well-priced for a mini PC with built in Blu-ray player.