Zotac ZBOX CI540 nano Review: A Fanless Haswell-Y mini-PCby Ganesh T S on October 31, 2014 11:00 AM EST
Introduction and Setup Impressions
Over the last couple of years, mini-PCs in the ultra-compact form factor (UCFF) have emerged as one of the bright spots in the troubled PC market. Zotac is no stranger to this segment. Even though the Intel NUC is credited with kicstarting the UCFF trend, the Zotac nano xs units actually came to the market before them. With the nano xs, Zotac redefined the small form-factor (SFF) PC. The nano series units use slightly bigger motherboards, but they are still small enough to mount discreetly behind monitors with the supplied VESA mounts.
Along with the emergence of the UCFF PC market, tablets also gained popularity. The industry also saw an overall push towards power-efficient computing for the average user. These two trends resulted in Intel creating a new Y series for their Core microprocessors, starting with Ivy Bridge. Unfortunately, the impact of these SKUs in the tablet market has been minimal. However, Zotac has repurposed the Haswell Y series CPUs for the 'ZBOX C Passive Cooling Series' of mini-PCs. The ZBOX CI540 nano, equipped with a Core i5-4210Y, is currently the most powerful unit in the lineup and that is what we will be looking at today.
Zotac usually samples the PLUS models (which come with a 2.5" drive as well as DRAM). This has always been mentioned as a minus point in our previous reviews (either due to the usage of a hard drive instead of a SSD, or leaving one of the DIMM slots empty). However, the PLUS models of the C series come with a SSD and there is only one memory slot in the units. This is one of the few ZBOX models where purchasing a PLUS model might actually make sense. In any case, Zotac is putting more emphasis on the barebones models, letting users choose their own 2.5" drive and DDR3L SO-DIMM stick. We were sampled the barebones version of the ZBOX CI540 nano. The unit was configured with a few additional components to end up with the following specifications:
|Zotac ZBOX CI540 nano Specifications|
|Processor||Intel Core i5-4210Y
(2C/4T x 1.5 GHz (1.9 GHz Turbo), 22nm, 3MB L2, 11.5W TDP, 6W SDP)
|Memory||1 x 8GB DDR3L-1600|
|Graphics||Intel HD Graphics 4200|
|Disk Drive(s)||Samsung SSD 840 EVO 120GB 2.5" SSD|
|Networking||1x Gigabit Ethernet, 1x1 802.11ac/Bluetooth mPCIe|
|Audio||Capable of 5.1/7.1 digital output with HD audio bitstreaming (HDMI)|
Retail unit is barebones, but we installed Windows 8.1 Pro x64
|Pricing (As configured)||~$350 (barebones) + $168 (DRAM + 2.5" SSD)|
|Full Specifications||Zotac ZBOX CI540 nano Specifications|
The ZBOX CI540 nano kit doesn't come with any pre-installed OS, but does come with a CD and a read-only USB key containing the drivers. In any case, we ended up installing the latest drivers downloaded off Zotac's product support page. In addition to the main unit, the other components of the package include a 40 W (19V @ 2.1A) adapter, a US power cord, a VESA mount (along with the necessary screws), a single 2.4 GHz / 5 GHz antenna for the Wi-Fi feature, a driver CD / read-only USB key, user's manual and a quick-start guide.
The gallery below takes us around the hardware in the unit.
The dimensions of the ZBOX C series units are quite close to that of the standard Intel NUC. The gallery below shows the smallest actively cooled Intel NUC (i.e, the one without support for a 2.5" drive) and the ZBOX CI540 nano side by side. Despite having support for a 2.5" drive, the differences in the dimensions are minimal.
In the table below, we have an overview of the various systems that we are comparing the ZBOX CI540 nano against. Note that they may not belong to the same market segment. The relevant configuration details of the machines are provided so that readers have an understanding of why some benchmark numbers are skewed for or against the ZBOX CI540 nano when we come to those sections.
|Comparative PC Configurations|
|Aspect||Zotac ZBOX CI540 nano|
|CPU||Intel Core i5-4210Y||Intel Core i5-4250U|
|GPU||Intel HD Graphics 4200||Intel HD Graphics 5000|
|RAM||Corsair Vengeance CMSX16GX3M2B1600C9
9-9-9-24 @ 1600 MHz
|Corsair Vengeance CMSX8GX3M2B1866C10
10-10-10-32 @ 1866 MHz
|Storage||Samsung SSD 840 EVO
(120 GB, 2.5in SATA 6Gb/s, 19nm, TLC)
|Intel SSD 530 Series
(240 GB, 2.5in SATA 6Gb/s, 20nm, MLC)
|Wi-Fi||Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3160
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
|Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260
(2x2 802.11ac - 867 Mbps)
|Price (in USD, when built)||$518||$671|