Typical mini-PCs are basically laptops minus the screen and battery. It’s great because it means they don’t draw much power, they can be titchy and they operate quietly - but the disadvantage is that they’re not humungously powerful.
With the IQ01 Zotac goes against the grain and rams a full-blown quad-core Intel processor into a small PC, which also means this mini PC comes with a mega price tag.
The Big Little PC
The Zbox’s new form factor is quite a bit bigger than its predecessor, and approximately the same size as four Big Mac cartons placed in a square.
It’s still pretty small, though, and if you’d told us 10 years ago that PCs this small would be powering humungous screens we probably would have burned you at the stake. The larger size isn’t an issue here - mini PCs aren’t designed for walkabouts.
Its side panels are so incredibly shiny that you’ll want to break out the Kiwi to keep them that way, but it’s let down by cheap-looking silver plastic for the outer panels. If this mortally offends you Zotac includes a bracket so you can mount it out of sight on the back of your television. We rather like the overall look, though, and the illuminated blue ring adds a touch of Portal-like class to proceedings.
One of the reasons for the Zbox’s resizing is its Intel Haswell processor, which is mounted on a Mini-ITX motherboard. Popping open the Zbox reveals a large cooling unit that it appears the Zbox has been designed around. We like the fact that the inlets on the cooling unit make it look like a smiley ghost, too.
The Zbox we were sent is a ‘Plus’ model, which means it comes with a 500GB hard drive and 4GB of RAM, as well as the de facto quad-core Intel Core i7-4770T processor. This is a proper desktop processor, with Intel’s HD 4600 graphics built in, and it’s an interesting choice.
As our Cinebench CPU tests attest (that’s why they call them tests) it’s a powerful little blighter, but it’s let down by the Intel HD 4600 graphics. While it ploughs through Grid 2’s detailed streets in 720p, up it to 1080p and you’ll experience unplayable frame rates.
We’re not entirely sure why Zotac didn’t just stuff a dedicated graphics chip in there - matching such a beefy processor with such middling graphics results in a bottleneck bigger than a nebuchadnezzar of champagne.
CPU - Intel Core i7-4770T
GPU - Intel HD Graphics 4600
RAM - 16GB DDR3 (also available without)
Storage - 500GB HDD (also available without)
Connectivity - 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0, Memory Card Reader, DVI, 2 x DisplayPort, 2 x SATA, 4 x USB, 2 x Ethernet
Dimensions - 188 x 188 x 51mm
Where the chip comes into its own is in the media stakes, and it’s capable of 4K playback without breaking a sweat. Although if a computer did start sweating we’d be worried.
It’s well suited to a media environment, with dual Displayport outputs, DVI, and adapters for HDMI and VGA. It’s whisper-quiet, too, barely raising a decibel when it’s decoding even the meatiest of 4K files. There’s also an optical audio output and an infrared sensor, but, alas, Zotac doesn’t include a remote.
Quad-core processors don’t come cheap, and the £550 price mark is testament to that. You’ve also got to add in the price of an operating system, which is fine (free) if you like Linux, but an extra £100 if you want Windows.
You can knock £100 off the price tag for the barebones IQ01, but you’ll have to add your own hard drive and memory. That's not a bad way to go, as you can opt for an SSD instead of the HDD - it'll speed things up significantly.
The price puts it roughly in the same ballpark as the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 then, but those consoles are designed for gaming and entertainment, whereas you can do just about anything with the Zbox and its powerful processor.
It doesn't play games like a next-gen console, but you could turn it into a superfast NAS drive, or use it for Photoshopping your snaps to picture perfection, or access any video or music streaming service you can think of, or do some work if you're feeling particularly productive. The sheer array of inputs and outputs (it includes two ethernet ports) makes it ideal for tinkerers who like to make their media centres super smart.
The big ‘4K’ sticker on the Zbox made us hope that this would be the mini-PC that could take on the latest consoles, so its middling games performance has left us feeling deflated.
In terms of processor power, upgradeability and media performance it’s a powerful wee computer, though, and it’s perfect for people who like to toy with alternative operating systems and interesting set ups. One for the tinkerers, then.