No one does HTPCs as well as ZOTAC. Apart from graphics cards, this branch of Sapphire (the makers of AMD graphics cards) has been dabbling with mini PCs and micro-ATX motherboards for a while now. They constantly keep refreshing their line-up with new and updated models. Not too long ago, we tested the Zbox Nano AD10 Plus, a miniature-sized HTPC that literally fits in the palm of your hand. The AD10 Plus was powered by AMD’s Zacate APU, which delivered decent all-round performance for its size. The VD01 is pretty much identical to the former, except that it uses VIA’s new VX900H chipset, making it a little cheaper in the process.
Design and Build
Other than the orange LED ring in this one compared to a green power light in AMD’s offering, there aren’t any other visual cues to tell them apart. The HTPC is extremely small making it easy to install and setup in the most cramped of places. What’s more, you could also VESA mount it at the back of your LCD monitor. The black glossy top gives it a nice visual appeal along with the orange power ring.
Good connectivity options
The front panel houses the power button (no reset button), hard drive and Wi-Fi LED indicators, multi-card reader, headphone and microphone jacks. The exhaust vents are placed on the left side. Round the back, we have a power port, DisplayPort, HDMI, two USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0 ports, eSATA port, Gigabit Ethernet jack and finally a Kensington lock. ZOTAC bundles an antenna as well for better Wi-Fi reception. The bundle includes a media centre remote and IR receiver, too for use with XBMC.
Since this is the Plus variant, the Zbox comes with 2GB of DDR3 RAM and a 320GB hard drive. There’s no operating system, though, that’s something you’ll have to install yourself. You could opt for a barebones Zbox without the RAM and hard drive as well, if you have some spares lying around the house. The processor is a VIA Nano X2 U4025, a dual-core CPU running at 1.2GHz. The CPU supports 64-bit instruction set among others. The VX900H chipset houses the GPU, which is VIA’s homegrown Chrome 9 HC graphics chip. This bit is a little disappointing as not only is it based on the older ‘Pipeline’ model where pixel shaders and vertex shaders were separate entities, but also that it only supports DirectX 9. It does however support hardware decoding of HD videos in H.264, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, WMV9 and DivX up to 1080p, which is an important feature for an HTPC.
Snazzy power LED
The bundled remote comes with a IR receiver, so simply plug it in to a USB port and you’re good to go. You can either use this with Windows Media Centre, XBMC or any other HTPC software. This lets you control all your media right from the comfort of your couch.
We had to compare this to ZOTAC’s other offering, the AD10 Plus. Boot-up time is quick and the Zbox comes to life quietly, without much sound. We installed Windows 7 Ultimate, which the Nano X2 had no problem handling once all the drivers were in place. There is quite a bit of warm air that’s thrown out from the sides, but that’s good as the Zbox does not heat up too much. The performance however leaves a lot to be desired.
In CPU intensive tasks, the Nano X2 lags just slightly behind the E-350 from AMD. Sadly, we weren’t able to run most of our usual tests, due to the limitations of the GPU. Some of the tests like ‘Communication’ and ‘Productivity’ in PCMark Vantage didn’t give us a score and neither did 3DMark Vantage, since the GPU does not support DX10.
Small and compact
Games like Dirt 2 simply refused to start and repeatedly kept putting on error messages, while Resident Evil didn’t seem to work even in DX9 mode. Overall, the CPU portion of the chipset seems ok, but the graphics department needs a lot more work.
For a price tag of Rs.16,333, the Zbox Nano VD01 Plus does not make any sense when you have the AMD option available for a little more. Both the PCs are identical in terms of design, connectivity and build, but there's quite a big gap when it comes to performance. VIA had dropped out of the CPU scene years ago and I’m sure this wasn’t the comeback they were hoping for. AMD already has a strong CPU and GPU division, so it was a tall order competing with them from the word go. If you had the Zbox Nano in your sights, then we'd say skip the VD01 and go straight for the AD10.