Tech Review: Zotac ZBOX Nano VD-01

I built an HTPC several years ago using a Zotac Mini ITX motherboard.  It worked well. Got the job done and handled anything I threw at it (within reason.)  Since then I’ve developed a kind of fetish for acquiring smaller and smaller PCs, eschewing the mammoth desktop systems of the past (which these days are only practical for PC gaming, and even then have suitable competition from laptops.)

I was pretty psyched when Zotac announced the VD-01.  It was tiny, power efficient, and based off of Via hardware which I’d looked into using to build small PCs in the past but never got around to because once you added up the cost of buying parts from various sources they just weren’t cost-effective.  This sucker clocked in at just $200 for the bare bones plus RAM (I have plenty of hard drives, and even a SSD, lying around to pop into this machine.)

When this bad boy went up for order on their site I quickly bought one.  I had to wait a little while for the RAM to come in and then on Thanksgiving I decided to put everything together.

That was a little bit of a headache.  I hadn’t worked with a computer that only had HDMI and displayport as monitor connection options.  That seemed to be a problem because HDMI apparently doesn’t play well with non-standard resolutions, which things like bios or even just warnings seemed to trigger.  At first I thought the damn thing was busted because it wasn’t outputting anything to the TV I’d connected it.  I only started making progress when I plugged it into a proper monitor.

After that installation wasn’t too much of a problem.  I had to do it a couple of times due to my less-than-legal copy of Windows 7 recognizing it wasn’t legitimate.

All’s well that ends well?

Hell no!

This piece of shit doesn’t work!

If, in your announcement, you’re going to tout a device as an “energy-efficient mini-PC that is ideal for digital media consumption” you’d better be able to deliver on that promise!  As it is, this device is just too under-powered to stream from anywhere (well, Hulu and Netflix) in 1080p.  You end up with a slideshow.  It can play HD video files just fine (there was a little tearing) but streaming gave the machine a lot of trouble.  Sure, you COULD set the resolution to 720, but that’s less-than-ideal for the OS if it’s not your LCD’s native resolution.  

Shoot, my three year old Macbook can stream from those sources at 1080p with no problem.  I think?  (Quickly hooks it up to this monitor.)  DAMMIT! It can!  It was a complete waste of money to buy this VD-01. I really wanted to have a nice, silent little PC for streaming media (as streaming from the gaming PC is also less-than-ideal since its fans are loud, to say the least.)

Sorry, I have no benchmarks to back up my claims.  Just real world experience trying to get the device to do what it’s purportedly meant to do. It’d be an awesome office PC, though. 


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