A tiny barebones system that can be clamped to the back of a TV or monitor
Services such as the BBC’s iPlayer have popularised the idea of watching TV on a computer.
One problem remains, however: few of us want to watch TV on a small display or connect an ugly computer to our television. Zotac’s Zbox is one answer to the problem.
The Zbox is a tiny PC that measures less than 20x20x5cm. It comes with a desk stand, but more importantly there is also a special mount for fixing it to the back of any monitor or television that has a standard ‘VESA’ mount. If your TV has this common set of four screw holes on the back you can attach the stand, then clip the Zbox neatly in place (note that if your screen is already attached to a wall you cannot mount the Zbox on it).
The Zbox has all the connections you would need for a media computer. It can connect to a TV or monitor using either the HDMI or DVI sockets, it has six USB ports and a memory card reader and both wired and wireless networking connections are built in. And it costs less than £200 – so what’s the catch?
It's important to know that the Zbox is not sold ready to use. Instead it’s a ‘barebones’ system that requires the user to add some parts and install an operating system before it can be operated. To complete the Zbox you will need a stick of memory (2GB costs around £40) and a 2.5in SATA hard disk (prices start at around £30).
Fitting both was simple and does not even require a screwdriver, though, so it’s not an difficult task. You don’t need to add a processor or graphics card – these are both installed already. Installing Windows is simple as long as you own, or can buy or borrow a USB DVD drive – the tiny Zbox doesn’t have one built in.
With a copy of Windows XP installed we were impressed by the Zbox’s performance.
Although it uses a low-powered Intel Atom processor of the type found in many netbook computers, this is paired with an Nvidia Ion graphics chip that helps it with playing video. It’s not suitable as a gaming PC, but we found that the Zbox had no difficulty playing the best-quality high-definition (1080P) video files. And with the latest version of Adobe’s Flash player installed it could play high-definition Flash video from websites.
The finish-it-yourself approach of the Zbox will not appeal to everyone, but if you already own a copy of Windows it could be a real money saver, and the TV mount is very handy. It’s not for beginners, but for more confident users this is a great way to build your own media PC.
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Neat design that is ideal for use behind a TV, but in its kit form it’s not great for beginners Good points Includes VESA mount; HDMI output; graphics chip plays high-quality video Bad points Requires hard disk, memory and operating system need to be installed
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