In the course of our coverage of mini-PCs, we have seen offerings from vendors such as ASRock, GIGABYTE and Zotac targeting the gaming market. Usually, 'mini' doesn't fit the requirements of consumers in this space, but the appearance of power-efficient high performance GPUs have made the offerings in the gaming mini-PC space quite interesting. Zotac has been creating mini-PCs with a gaming focus by tying a mobile NVIDIA GPU with a Core U-series Intel CPU for a couple of generations now. Today, we will be taking a look at the Zotac ZBOX MAGNUS EN970 - a system combining a Broadwell-U CPU with a NVIDIA Maxwell GM204 mobile GPU.

Introduction and Setup Impressions

The ZBOX E-series targets the gaming market. In the previous years, the E-series adopted a tried and tested industrial design (for example, the chassis of the ZBOX EI750 was very similar to that of the PCs in the ZBOX ID series). The MAGNUS EN970 adopts a radically different industrial design. The unit is not as small as the NUCs, even though the height is similar. The area of the top side is around the same as that of the ASRock Vision series. However, the absence of an optical drive slot enables a chassis with considerably lower thickness.

The specifications of our Zotac ZBOX MAGNUS EN970 review configuration are summarized in the table below.

Zotac ZBOX MAGNUS EN970 Specifications
Processor Intel Core I5-5200U
Broadwell-U, 2C/4T, 2.7GHz, 14nm, 3MB L2, 15W
Memory 2 x 8 GB DDR3L @ 1600MHz
Graphics NVIDIA GTX 960 (as per drivers),
'a rebadged GTX 970M (hardware-wise)'
Disk Drive(s) 128 GB OCZ Vector
Networking 2x 1GbE Realtek RTL8168 +
1x1 Intel Wireless-AC 3160 802.11ac
Audio Capable of 5.1/7.1 digital output with HD audio bitstreaming (HDMI)
Operating System Retail unit is barebones, but we installed Windows 8.1 Pro x64
Pricing (As configured) USD $978, Barebones is $800
Full Specifications Zotac ZBOX MAGNUS EN970 Specifications

The Zotac ZBOX MAGNUS EN970 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 from Zotac's product support page. In addition to the main unit, the other components of the package include a 180 W (19.5V @ 9.23A) adapter, a US power cord, 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.

In the table below, we have an overview of the various systems that we are comparing the Zotac ZBOX MAGNUS EN970 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 Zotac ZBOX MAGNUS EN970 when we come to those sections.

Comparative PC Configurations
Aspect Zotac ZBOX MAGNUS EN970
CPU Intel Core i5-5200U Intel Core i5-5200U
GPU NVIDIA GTX 960 (3GB) [GTX 970M] NVIDIA GTX 960 (3GB) [GTX 970M]
RAM Panram Intl PSD3L1600C118G2VS
11-11-11-28 @ 1600 MHz
2x8 GB
Panram Intl PSD3L1600C118G2VS
11-11-11-28 @ 1600 MHz
2x8 GB
Storage OCZ Vector
(128 GB; SATA 6Gb/s; 25nm; MLC)
OCZ Vector
(128 GB; SATA 6Gb/s; 25nm; MLC)
Wi-Fi Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3160
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3160
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
Price (in USD, when built) $978
Barebones is $800
$978
Performance Metrics - I
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  • BrokenCrayons - Monday, September 28, 2015 - link

    Yeah, I'm kind of curious to see how the cooling is configured too and slightly worried about the 102 degree maximum CPU temp. Yes, I get that Intel says everything is awesome up to 105, but there's not much room to wiggle before the poor little processor has to back off which will probably happen as the computer ages and collects some dust in the HSF or if it operates in warmer ambient air. I'd be happy to see it get a good 5-10mm thicker for a cooler running processor with more tolerance for those naughty dust bunnies to build up a little. Reply
  • QinX - Monday, September 28, 2015 - link

    Addendum:
    Also please add the dimension of the device, I can't find them anywhere and although I can go an pixel measure it, having either physical measurements of manufacturer measurements is nice for visualizing size.
    Reply
  • donthatethesun - Monday, September 28, 2015 - link

    I was curious about the dimensions too. Found them on ZOTAC's website:

    L 8.27" (210mm) x W 7.99" (203mm) x H 2.07" (52.5mm)
    Reply
  • meacupla - Tuesday, September 29, 2015 - link

    2.23L, which makes it smaller and better equipped than Asus GR8/GR6 (2.5L). Reply
  • Meaker10 - Tuesday, September 29, 2015 - link

    Look at the backplates for the heatsinks, it's soldered on like the CPU.

    A proper gaming mini PC would use an MXM slot.
    Reply
  • milkod2001 - Monday, September 28, 2015 - link

    One could buy a laptop with the same specs and have extra portability or full desktop PC coming in small case ( mITX board, Full desktop Intel Quad Core and full 980 GTX all giving 3x better performance ) for $1000 easily. Why would anyone wanted to buy this crappy laptop with no screen or keyboard?

    I could understand the purpose of these machines as super cheap $200-350 office /streaming devices but at $1000 there is zero value in them.
    Reply
  • firewall597 - Monday, September 28, 2015 - link

    Seems like an amazing gaming solution for your living room to me... Reply
  • testbug00 - Monday, September 28, 2015 - link

    huh? You need a 970m laptop starting at around 1300-1350 currently.... Reply
  • Calista - Tuesday, September 29, 2015 - link

    Having looked at machines both similar to this Zotac and gaming laptops I tend to agree. Mini PC:s when looking at a pure value perspective seem to have a hard time competing. Which is obviously why they are still a niche segment.

    The Magnus in my country is $1150, while the MSIGE72 is $1350. The extra $200 for the laptop will give me the same GPU but a much faster quad core i7, 16GB instead of 8GB or RAM and not only a 128GB SSD but also a 1000GB HDD. It will of course also be easily portable and can be used as a laptop. The only problem is the slightly larger size, but since it's flat it can fit in most places.

    And if dropping down to a GTX 960M it's actually $100 cheaper to buy a laptop with otherwise similar components as the Zotac, but with a slightly faster CPU.
    Reply
  • Calista - Tuesday, September 29, 2015 - link

    What we need is a new standard for mini components. At the moment it's a huge delta between a mITX-build and these mini machines. We have in a nutshell a situation in where one size is fit for a system in the 50-100 watt range, another standard (mITX) which could deal with 500 watt of components without overheating or unbearable noise. At the same time a proper gaming system with few compromises seem to demand something in the 200 watt range, i.e. a quad core CPU and a GTX 960 or similar. Reply

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