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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  • Teknobug - Tuesday, September 29, 2015 - link

    How is the Alpha's i3 4130T slower than a mobile i5 5200U? i3 2.9Ghz vs i5 2.2-2.7GHz and i3 having a slighly faster IPC which matters for games. Reply
  • meacupla - Tuesday, September 29, 2015 - link

    I think he said that the GTX 860M was slower than the GTX970M.
    For gaming purposes, GPU > CPU
    Reply
  • smorebuds - Tuesday, September 29, 2015 - link

    I guess it depends on what you value more from your living room gaming device... i3-4130T is a bit faster, but also uses more than twice the power, meaning it'll need bigger/noisier fans and a bigger enclosure. Reply
  • Teknobug - Monday, September 28, 2015 - link

    The CPU and GPU combination doesn't really make sense here. Reply
  • barleyguy - Monday, September 28, 2015 - link

    For the thermal constraints it makes perfect sense. Zotac had an i7 ZBox, but it had the fan noise of a jet engine. For 1080p gaming in a small quiet box, the lower power i5 and GeForce 970m is a good choice IMO. Reply
  • boe - Monday, September 28, 2015 - link

    I'd love to see something in this general design but optimized for home theater - no fans - big heat radiators if necessary, HDMI 2.0a well suited for 4K, DTS-X and Dobly Atmos. I'm not terribly concerned about gaming. Reply
  • angrypatm - Monday, September 28, 2015 - link

    Audio is always overlooked by manufacturers and reviewers. Power consumption, short of a high end gaming rig that sucks power like a refrigerator, seems irrelevant to me. Example; does anyone really take power consumption int account when buying a tv? "This one has a better picture but that one uses less power, so we'll take the more energy efficient model." --?! Reply
  • boe - Monday, September 28, 2015 - link

    Is there any way to get the writers to consider an article on HT PCs? I think building HT servers is pretty standard but building quiet HTPC to play the streamed media can be expensive as the cases I've found can run up to $1500. Technically the entire HTPC could probably be done for about $450 but I haven't found anything that really is SILENT, and has HDMI 2.0a, and supports high end audio. Doesn't mean they don't exist, I'm just not sure who makes them. Reply
  • DanNeely - Monday, September 28, 2015 - link

    Anandtech does review a lot of HTPCs. If you're looking for a DIY build guide, they seem to be very infrequent even for general use systems (vs sites like Arstechnica doing them yearly). A general build your own guide might be interesting; but I wonder if this wouldn't be a better subject for a future Build-a-Rig competition.

    http://www.anandtech.com/tag/htpc
    Reply
  • SpartyOn - Monday, September 28, 2015 - link

    I built a Steam streaming PC/HTPC with this embedded solution which seems to fit your requirements: http://www.asrock.com/mb/Intel/N3700-ITX/

    Just put it in a fanless chassis or a really good box with a silent fan and you're good to go. Doesn't meet your high-end audio requirement per se, but there is an open x1 slot for adding whatever audio solution is needed.

    I've been rocking this for the last month and a half and it's been a great game and video streamer (though I'm not doing 4K output - don't have a 4K TV).

    I think I paid $200 for the parts (board & CPU, 8GB ram, 64GB SSD, case w/ incl. PSU).
    Reply

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