Zotac Zbox Plus ID45 Review
It's difficult to fault the Zbox Plus in terms of aesthetics. The sleek, gloss black sides and stand allow the Zbox to fit in to almost any usable location, whether it's attached to the back of a monitor or on your desk or TV stand. Zotac have realised that the people who want to buy these require the versatility of the incredibly small form factor and so want the ability to locate it wherever is convenient. Because of this, Zotac include a separate bracket in order to VESA mount this to the back of a monitor, and also the option to lay this flat on its side, or with another included stand, put it upright.
On the front of the unit, we see the power button at the top. Below this, there's the receiver for the onboard infrared which allows you to use a remote if you're using it as a media PC. Following that, we see the hard drive and WiFi LEDs, and then a single front USB 3.0 port. There's also a memory card reader, as well as the usual microphone and headphone jacks. Considering how attractive this is overall, it's a shame that these parts are on show all the time. It would have been nice for them to have a removable cover in order to hide the unsightly array of ports. Also, as a very minor criticism, it's a shame the engravings regarding the related port's functions on the front panel don't all face the same direction. The power button, audio jacks and LED indicators are only in the correct orientation if the unit is standing upright, whilst the opposite is true for the USB port and memory card reader. For a lot of consumers, I'm sure this wouldn't make a difference, however, it would have been nice to see a little continuity, or options to rotate certain things such as the power button.
Moving onto the top of the unit, we see an another USB 3.0 port, complete with a cover to hide it away when not in use. The rest of the top is occupied by a large amount of honey comb mesh ventilation.
As you'd expect, on the back of the case we see the majority of the IO ports. We have two antennas for the built in WiFi, an optical audio port, dual ethernet ports, two more USB 3.0 ports, a DVI port, an HDMI port and finally the DC power input. Overall, there is a pretty good variety of options for connecting external accessories. The dual LAN ports are great if used for a media PC, since you can set up one to bring in your internet, and the other as a passthrough to another nearby device. The DVI and HDMI ports offer enough choice for video outputs, and also Zotac include a DVI to VGA adapter so you should be fine for compatibility regardless of the monitor or TV you're running this with. The dual antennas offer great range and stability, however, it would have been nice to see these side by side, rather than at opposite sides of the unit. If you lay the Zbox flat, then having them at opposite sides actually looks nice and symetrical, and also very router-esque. However, if running the unit upright, then the bottom antenna will interfere with both the DVI and HDMI ports, and so you're forced to put the aerial out straight, or off to a side, which does detract from the aesthetics.
We do think it's a shame that Zotac have left us with an optical audio port on the rear, but no standard analogue audio outputs. If this is used as a media PC, then running audio through your TV via the HDMI port won't be an issue. But if you're wanting to run a better solution, such as an external set of speakers, then the ID45 won't allow for that unless you plug the speakers in through the front panel port. Considering one of the main uses of this would be for media purposes, it does seem lacking in audio options, and for the elegant design on the outside, it's definitely a shame that aesthetics would have to be spoiled for a simple concept such as adding speakers.
On the bottom of the case (assuming we've taken the removable stand off), we see a bracket to fit the stand, and more honey comb mesh. We also have two thumbscrews which allow for one of the side panels to be removed to reveal the interior. We think it's great that Zotac understand consumers may want to swap out the hard drive for an SSD, or add more RAM, so it's great to see that even on a product like this, they let you do it very simply, and without voiding your warranty.
After removing the side panel, we get our first look at the internals. We see a rather large heatsink for cooling the i3 3227U, along with the dedicated Nvidia GT 640 graphics chip. We also see the 500GB mechanical hard drive, running through SATA 6GB/s, and also the Intel wireless card behind the heatsink. Underneath the hard disk, we find two slots for SO-DIMM RAM (laptop memory), one of which is occupied with the included 4GB stick of RAM. This is obviously upgradeable if you so wish. Next to that, we see the mSATA 3GB/s port, which would allow you to install an mSATA Solid State Drive in order to speed up the system. It's worth noting that the unit we are reviewing is the ID45 Plus version which comes with 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive. The standard ID45 is the same unit, but without a hard drive or RAM so you can add your own.