|A member of the Funky Media Group|
|Review: Zotac ZBox AD03 BR Plus Mini PC (AMD E350)|
|Posted by Winston|
|Sunday, 13 February 2011 23:02|
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Ever since the launch of Intel's Core Series of processors, AMD have been under the shadow of Intel. Their Athlon II, Phenom and Phenom II (dual, tri and quad core) processors were being outperformed in every department, clock for clock, by Intel's Core 2 Duo, Quad and Core i-Series. And to add to AMD's problems, their low-cost, low-power, mobile processors haven't faired much neither. The reason behind this is because, Intel's low-cost ATOM processors have been stealing the limelight and has literally wiped out every competitor in the netbook and mini PC market. However having said that, ATOM's overall graphics performance is in my opinion below par, but often overlooked by its popularity with PC manufacturers. Let me tell you this ... you'll definitely notice it when you're running a lot graphic intensive applications, such as watching HD movies, playing flash games and during simple photo editing.
With this mind, AMD knows they can capitalise on this, especially when they have extensive graphics knowledge and background from their Radeon graphics department. We've seen limited success with AMD's Athlon NEO and Athlon II NEO processors in some netbooks and mini PCs ... so what will AMD do now? Well, AMD have taken the initiative and lauched their new Fusion APU platform. This new Fusion APU platform is primarily designed for embedded systems, and is said to be the world’s first integrated circuit to combine a low-power CPU and a discrete-level GPU into a single embedded Accelerated Processing Unit (APU). In otherwords, a chip that has both CPU and GPU built-in. This all sounds great ... but unfortunately you won't be able to buy it as a retail-box product. As mentioned above, it's designed for embedded systems and system integrators. The first of the Fusion APU to emerge is the AMD E-350. It's dual core, low-cost, low-power processor (aka Zacate using the Bobcat core) running at 1.6GHz, and comes with built-in onboard Radeon HD 6310 graphics supporting DX11, OpenGL 4.1 and full HD. This is complemented by their new M1 chipset. So how's that for starters? Just to give you an idea what all this means in terms of graphics capabilities ... Intel's recently launched "desktop" processor, the Sandy Bridge plus Cougar Point (P67/H67) chipset, can only handle DX10.
Graphic capabilities aren't everything ... it's the performance of the whole package that counts at the end of the day. But I think AMD is heading in the right direction. The launch of their new mobile or APU (Accelerated Processing Unit) platform is surely something which has attracted some attention. Let's see if they can break the ice and capture some much needed market share. First to take advantage of AMD's new Fusion APU platform is Zotac. They have made a name for themselves in the past, for producing numerous nettops and mini PCs, using AMD's previous all-in-one chipsets and processors. Let's see what they can come up with this time.
Zotac is well known for its graphics card products. They have won numerous awards for their overclocked cards based on Nvidia's Geforce GTX series. They are among the only manufacturers to release mini-ATX, as well as mini-ITX motherboards using Intel ATOM processors. Having mastered this market, it's only natural for Zotac to expand their product lines to include nettops and now mini PCs. In fact, since early last year they have already released over 10 different models of their nettops. The older MAG series (all-in-one units), and the newer Zbox series, which are all customisable. For those who are not familiar with Zotac or their products, here's something taken from their website ...
In this review, we'll be taking a look at the Zotac Zbox AD03 BR Plus. It's one of the first mini-PC we've come across that features AMD's new Fusion APU platform. It's powered by an AMD E-350 dual core processor (aka Zacate using the Bobcat core) running at 1.6Ghz, and comes with built-in onboard Radeon HD 6310 graphics (BIOS configurable for frame buffer), supporting DX11, OpenGL 4.1 and full HD. All of this is complemented by their new M1 chipset. The unit comes with 2Gb of DDR3 ram, occupying 1 of 2 x SO-DIMM slots supporting upto a maximum of 8Gb, and there's also one spare mPCI-E slot. The extras include a large 250Gb 2.5" inch SATA hard drive, built-in WiFi, as well as a slim slot-loading x4 speed Blu-Ray drive and a 6-in1 card reader. Looking at this unit ... the specifications certainly sounds impressive.The Zbox AD03 Plus is literally identical in shape, size and appearance to the Intel ATOM-based, Zbox Blu-Ray HD (HD-ID34BR), which we reviewed late last year ... except this time of course, the internals are different. The unit looks and feel very much like a standard DVD player with its silver and black exterior. It's powered by a separate power supply, rather like a netbook/notebook with an output of 19v. As for connectivity, the Zotac Zbox AD03 Plus comes with HDMI, DVI, eSATA, RJ45, SPDIF Optical, 1x USB2.0 and 2x USB3.0 ports. The unit can be laid flat or wall mounted using the included VESA mount/bracket.
As an added bonus, Zotac has included a copy of Cyberlink's Creative Suite, which includes PowerDVD Blu-Ray edition, PowerDirector and other media software. But unfortunately ... Zotac did not include a copy of Windows 7, which is a shame really. You get a DVI-to-VGA adaptor for those still using the older 15-pin VGA monitors, but with native DVI and HDMI connectors, I think it's perfect as a media-center. The Zotac Zbox AD03 BR Plus is packed with great features and plenty connectivity, just like their other models, but I think the built-in DX11 graphics is definitely very appealing and should provide a better overall graphics performance. With so much emphasis on price these days ... can Zotac sell this unit at an attract price for the consumers? Will the Zbox AD03 BR Plus with AMD's new Fusion APU platform be a hit or a miss?
It will be interesting to see how well this unit will perform in our tests. If all is good ... we could be seeing one of the more powerful nettops on the market. I'm expecting the graphics performance to be much better than Nvidia's or Intel's solutions, especially when you have onboard graphics that's equivalent to a Radeon HD 6310 (with DX11 support). Right, let's take a closer look at the specifications of the Zotac Zbox AD03 BR Plus on our next page ...