Zotac Steam Machine ZBOX NEN SN970 Review
Published: 20th November 2015 | Source: Zotac | Price: £799.99 @ OCUK |
When we were asked to review the Zotac ZBOX SN970 NEN we were only expecting something that was moderately powerful with console grade hardware, after all this PC is only just 200mm x 200mm, you can't fit much powerful hardware in that form factor and keep it cool..... right?
When Zotac proudly told us the specifications of this PC and told us that it was "whisper quiet" I was understandably skeptical. This system has an Intel Skylake i5 LGA 1151 CPU inside and a GTX 960, which while efficient is still very powerful and requires a decent cooling solution. While testing this unit I found that Zotac's promise of silent operation held true, so much so that it is just as silent as my own PC, which I designed to run silently, using plenty of fan speed reducers and CPU underclocking.
On the hardware side this PC is simply a masterpiece, unlike many other Steam Machines the Zotac ZBOX NEN is very happy to look plain and simple, rather than look overly flashy with a multitude of coloured LEDs. This PC will look good anywhere you place it, be it in an office, a bedroom or in the living room where it is intended. The only thing that shouts gaming on this PC is the Steam Logo, which not only makes it obvious that this is a Steam Machine, but also allows it to look great as it matches this PC aesthetic perfectly, which is something that can't be said for many other Steam Machines.
The Zotac ZBOX NEN Steam Machine offers everything that you would want from a Living Room PC and more, being able to connect to 4K 60Hz TVs through HDMI 2.0, runs quietly so you can focus on the action on gaming and offers a great deal of performance for the price. For £799.99 it would be difficult to make a machine with much better specs, bearing in mind that this machine includes a Steam Controller, and impossible to make a machine if this spec in the same form factor, so Zotac really need to be applauded for that.
SteamOS is something that has a great deal of potential, it's free, simple to use and delivers an experience which is just as plug-and-play as any of the current generation consoles. On the other hand if offers a lot of the pros of being a PC gamer, like the ability to adjust your game settings and being able to decide for yourself if you want to deal with lower framerates for higher visual fidelity, though for most of the games we played we were simply able to max them out at 1080p.
One thing that has really cough me off-guard was the fact that I was able to play some games not just at 1080p, but at a 4K resolution, which was very satisfying given the price of this unit and how demanding 4K gaming can be. Having a GTX 960 inside means that plenty of games will not run well above 1080p, but without spending a lot more money on your Steam Machine that really isn't going to change. The fact alone that we have been playing all our games at 1080p or above here really shows the potential of Steam Machines over consoles already, no 900p nonsense here.
Being the first Steam Machine that we have reviewed, we simply need to talk about the Steam Controller and Steam's In-Home Streaming capabilities, which are no doubt a major selling point here. The Steam Controller is very functional, allowing you to aim easily and use it just as easily as any other controller after an hour or two of play, but adds the benefits of it's read paddles and fully rebindable controls through the Steam Client, even if the controls can't be modified in-game. One other benefit of the Steam controller is the fact that it can be used in games which do not feature controller support, which while it is very handy, can be difficult to master for some games.
Moving onto Steam's In-Home Streaming we were able to simply start a game on my Main PC just with a few clicks, though first I would recommend that you up the Steaming bitrate to 30Mbps, which will eliminate almost all visual artifacts. The Steam was consistent and playable for me on both a wired and on a wireless network, delivering me with a constant 60FPS framerate and controls which were still very responsive. On a wired network the framerate delay from Streaming was a mere 12-14ms, which places the Steamed image less than a frame of delay, which is almost nothing and unnoticeable to most gamers.
The only bad thing I really have to say about SteamOS is the lack of dedicated apps for services like Netflix, though the SteamOS integrated browser is able to display that content if you desire it. The user interface is very easy to use and is almost exactly the same as Steam's Big picture mode on the Steam Client, so it will be immediately identifiable to most Steam users.
SteamOS has been a very interesting new OS to test, as it is very different to what most of us would consider PC OS, you can access the Linux Debian start screen by simply enabling it in the settings, allowing you to do anything that you could want to do in Linux. While right now many people will say to you that there are not many games for Linux and that performance is not as good as Windows, only two things need to be said, first is that SteamOS has over 1000 games, more than the PS4 and Xbox One combined and secondly that newer GPU drivers and the arrival of the Vulkan API will take Linux gaming top the same level as on Windows.
The easiest was i can describe this is to say that SteamOS is like a new console, where at the start there is not as many games and developers are not quite used to it, but given a little time you will certainly have seasoned Linux developers and plenty of SteamOS compatible games.
What Zotac has created here with their ZBOX NEN SN970 is what I see as the ideal first generation Steam Machine, the hardware is modern, the form factor is perfect for the living room and it is capable of powering a 4K 60Hz display and even game at 4K on some titles. The machine is nigh on silent, is compatible with M.2 SSDs, able to power 4K screens with it's 4 HDMI 2.0 connections and is able to connect to USB 3.1 Type-C, making this system not just perfect as a somewhat future-proof device but also makes it ideal for installing Windows on if they want a powerful, yet tiny multi-screen office PC.
When compared to a console this machine provides options and compared to a normal PC it provided tiny simplicity, delivering exactly what the SteamOS experience is supposed to be. For this reason the Zotac ZBOX NEN Steam Machine has received the OC3D innovation award.