ZOTAC ZBOX EN760 Benchmark & Review - DIY Steam Boxes Arrive

By Published July 24, 2014 at 1:21 pm
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Additional Info

  • Component: System
  • Awards: Editor's Choice
  • Original MSRP: 540
  • Manufacturer: ZOTAC

The delay of Valve's Steam Machine (or Steam Box) has forced the hand of systems manufacturers. Alienware, Gigabyte with the Brix, and now Zotac have all begun shipping their would-have-been Steam Machines as DIY mini-PCs. Steam has disallowed the shipment of officially branded Steam Machines until the completion of its haptic controller, leaving system manufacturers scrambling to untie the resources dedicated to machines that were originally slated for a 2014 launch.

zotac-en760r-1

In an official capacity, Gigabyte's BRIX Pro and Zotac's EN760 are not "Steam Machines" -- at least, not by branding -- but they might as well be. The EN760 (Newegg page) ships in two models: The EN760 and EN760 Plus. The base model ships without RAM or permanent storage at $540; the Plus edition includes a single 8GB stick of 1600MHz RAM and 1x1TB 5400RPM HDD. Both units are outfitted with an 860M mobile GPU, i5-4200U mobile CPU, and custom board design to fit in a 7.4" x 7.4" x 2" (188 x 188 x 51mm) shell. 

And we arrive to the review. Today's review of Zotac's EN760 gaming ZBOX and 860M benchmark aims to look at thermals, build quality, gaming performance, and scalability to 4K displays.

Zotac EN760 ZBOX Video Hands-On & Review

Zotac EN760 ZBOX Specs

Spec ZOTAC EN760 ZOTAC EN760 Plus
SKU ZBOX-EN760 ZBOX-EN760-P
Memory Compatibility 2x204-pin DDR3L SO-DIMM
Up to 16GB DDR3-1600MHz
2x204-pin DDR3L SO-DIMM
Up to 16GB DDR3-1600MHz
RAM None. 1x8GB DDR3-1600.
Storage None.
Supports 1x2.5",
1xmSATA
1x1TB 5400RPM HDD
Supports 1xmSATA
CPU Intel i5-4200U 1.6GHz / 2.6GHz TB
3MB L2 Cache
Intel i5-4200U 1.6GHz / 2.6GHz TB
3MB L2 Cache
GPU GTX 860M
2GB GDDR5 / 128-bit bus
1020MHz BCLK / 1097MHz Boost CLK
GTX 860M 2GB GDDR5 / 128-bit bus
1020MHz BCLK / 1097MHz Boost CLK
I/O - HDMI
- DVI-I
- SD / SDHC / MMC / SDXC
Card Reader.
- 2xEthernet
- 802.11ac
- Bluetooth 4.0
- 4xUSB3.0
- 1xHDMI Audio
- 1x3.5mm Audio
- HDMI
- DVI-I
- SD / SDHC / MMC / SDXC
Card Reader.
- 2xEthernet
- 802.11ac
- Bluetooth 4.0
- 4xUSB3.0
- 1xHDMI Audio
- 1x3.5mm Audio
MSRP $540 $690
Release Date July, 2014 July, 2014

Zotac provided the EN760 non-Plus ZBOX for review purposes, so we were able to install our own RAM and SSD in the unit. The company has also noted that it intends to promote the DIY solution most heavily -- and for our audience, before even getting into the review, I'd agree with that. There just isn't a lot of value added in a single DDR3-1600 / 8GB stick and 1TB 5400RPM HDD; actually, the HDD is slow enough that it detracts from gaming performance when compared against the option of installing a 7200RPM or budget SSD alternative. A 5400RPM HDD will also operate much louder -- a noteworthy factor when building a home-theater PC.

The EN760 hosts 2x204-pin DDR3L SO-DIMM memory slots (effectively laptop memory), capable of operating at 1600MHz with 16GB capacity. A single 2.5" drive sled is present, mounted just above the memory, and is joined by a single mSATA slot for slimmer devices.

Consider the following: the DIY model of the EN760 costs $540; the pre-installed model ships at $690. This $150 difference is better spent on a 128GB MX100 SSD ($75) and 2x4GB DDR3-1600 RAM ($80) for a significantly quieter, faster HTPC / mini-gaming PC. If 1TB of spindle storage is desirable, it can be had at $80 while retaining a 7200RPM operating speed -- significantly better and $5 more than the EN760 Plus. It takes about 7 minutes to install the RAM and HDD the first time. Seconds the next time.

That out of the way, let's look at the other specs.

Networking capabilities include an 802.11ac Intel Gigabit wireless card (as found in laptops) with an antenna, so you won't need an external USB wireless adapter. The ZBOX also hosts native Bluetooth 4.0 support (along with an antenna) for easier mobile connectivity. Two RJ-45 ethernet jacks are present for those who prefer a more stable and wired connection.

I/O is pretty standard affair -- see the specs table above for all that. I sometimes felt limited on the 4xUSB3.0 ports (mouse, keyboard, controller, external Blu-Ray or storage), but it was survivable.

zotac-en760r-3

EN760 Build Quality & Installation 

The ZBOX measures in at 7.4" x 7.4" x 2" (188 x 188 x 51mm), making it smaller than what is possible to be built by hand for a similar price. The outer shell is a sturdy plastic held together with a few screws; removing these screws allows the side panel to slide off, revealing the proprietary board layout, (empty) RAM and HDD slots, and the relatively large semiconductor cooler.

Plastics quality isn't anything to complain about. It's sturdy and ventilated throughout, and although fingerprint smudges abound, the shell feels as if it'll hold-up to regular open/close cycles.

The layout of the system is interesting, but tight, and set off concern for thermals (which I test below). Our GPU (and presumably the CPU) is hosted underneath a large aluminum and copper heatsink, actively cooled by a single push fan. Heat exhausts out the back of the unit, slotted for better ventilation. These are the hottest components in the system, naturally.

Immediately adjacent to this heatsink is a split-level compartment for storage and RAM -- think of a split-level home, I suppose. The RAM lives slightly below the rest of the components, the 2.5" storage lives above the RAM. Close quarters.

Installation is pretty straight-forward. I've already done a video on how to install RAM & an SSD in the EN760, but we'll briefly cover it here. The steps include:

  • Open up the ZBOX by removing the two screws on the rear side. Pop the panel off.
  • Ensure you are grounded.
  • Remove the retention screw for the 2.5" sled. Remove the sled.
  • Install the RAM modules into the SO-DIMM slots. Do so carefully and do not force anything. Wait for the latches to pop into place.
  • Install the SSD/HDD on the sled with the SATA header on the opposite side of the retention screw.
  • Mount the SSD. Screw it back down. Close the box.
  • Done!

Anyone can handle this, really. System builder or not, the "mainstream" buyer would be plenty capable of this installation. Very easy and straight-forward. No screws to lose. No complaints.

Zotac EN760 as a Steam Box - DIY Steam Machine 

Setting up the EN760 as a DIY Steam Machine would be a pretty trivial task. The EN760 may as well be a Steam Machine, anyway -- it's just missing the OS and controller. A quick drop of nVidia's new GRID controller or the mainstay Xbox 360 wireless PC controller, though, and that problem is solved. To install SteamOS, follow these steps:

  • Format a bare flash drive to FAT32.
  • Download the SteamOS installer zip and extract it to the flash drive.
  • Boot the ZBOX to the flash drive.
  • Run through the installer and configure as desired.
  • Boot to SteamOS. Done.

Very easy to do, you're just missing that haptic controller -- but there's no reason the more standard Xbox 360 or new GRID controllers can't do the same job for gaming from a couch.

Continue to page 2 for the full thermal and FPS benchmarks to see gaming performance.


Last modified on July 24, 2014 at 1:21 pm
Steve Burke

Steve started GamersNexus back when it was just a cool name, and now it's grown into an expansive website with an overwhelming amount of features. He recalls his first difficult decision with GN's direction: "I didn't know whether or not I wanted 'Gamers' to have a possessive apostrophe -- I mean, grammatically it should, but I didn't like it in the name. It was ugly. I also had people who were typing apostrophes into the address bar - sigh. It made sense to just leave it as 'Gamers.'"

First world problems, Steve. First world problems.

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