TDP has been on the minds of most the industry's major players lately, it seems. Lower TDP (watt draw) has advantages that extend beyond just lower power consumption (and a lower power bill), including lower thermals and thus a more comfortable fit in small form-factor builds. Between Intel's G3258 CPU (53W) and nVidia's GTX 750 Ti (60W), we're able to build an ultra-low TDP gaming system for home-theater use.
This $665 gaming HTPC uses budget gaming components to create a highly power-efficient, graphically-capable Steam Machine that can play most games at high settings (1080). You've got the option of installing Windows or SteamOS (or both), though SteamOS is promising for HTPC use considering the growing compatibility with game titles.
We're looking at Zotac's new Pico PI320 mini-PC today which, despite its name, is not a Raspberry Pi derivative. The Pico is part of an invasion force of mini computers that has been flooding the market lately. Steam Machines are one thing – and Zotac has made those, too – but these are entirely different. Mini PCs are more targeted at low-end, TV-mounted used, generally favoring browsing and YouTube viewing over any heavy-duty tasks.
Most don't have enough storage to work as a long-term multimedia solution, demanding a more robust network-attached storage device if movie or TV file streaming is a requirement. Mini PCs also don't afford the gaming prowess required to run much more than a 2D platformer; with thanks to efforts made by Valve's Steam, AMD, and nVidia (GameStream), game streaming to a mini PC is a possibility, but even that has other throttles (network, OS / platform concerns). All these shortcomings noted, they're still viable computers – it just depends on what the user wants. For browsing, business use (documents, simple spreadsheets, day-to-day life), and down-streamed content, a mini PC has potential for deployment.
We remarked upon the GTX 750 / 750 Ti reveal that passive cards were a distinct possibility, given the low TDP and ability of the cards to operate solely on motherboard PCI-e power. Hovering at a 55W TDP, nVidia’s GM107-powered GTX 750 doesn’t draw any power from the PSU and has a lower thermal footprint than any of its higher-powered brethren. With the right heatsink design, it’s always been an ideal candidate for a passively-cooled, silent, low-profile HTPC video card.
ZOTAC announced its “GTX 750 ZONE” passively-cooled solution just a few weeks ago. Standard GTX 750 specs apply, the one exception being that Zotac has nixed the active fan in favor of a larger aluminum and copper heatsink with no active components. Thermals are always a concern when operating a passively-cooled device, and with GPUs, thermals will directly impact the throttling and performance (FPS) output in games.
We benchmarked Zotac’s passive GTX 750 Zone video card for temperatures and framerate (FPS) in Metro, GRID, Battlefield 4, Titanfall, Watch_Dogs, and FurMark. These results can be extrapolated upon for a wider-spectrum understanding of the GPU’s worth for gaming.
The new school year is upon us, and there's not much better time to build a PC that will enable both school-related tasks and also some light gaming. We put together a budget build that will not only allow the user to write those essays and build PowerPoint projects, but also play games like League of Legends, WoW, SW:TOR, and many other games that do not demand a great deal of power from the GPU. For only $414, you get a great PC that should be ideal for the student gamer.
This DIY gaming PC build guide aims to assemble a cheap, ultra-budget LoL and schoolwork system for under $500. As a bonus, a mini-ITX form factor ensures potential for use as an HTPC build or living room gaming PC / future DVR replacement.
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.
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.
Gigabyte first debuted its Brix Pro Steambox at CES 2014, where we got a powered-down hands-on with the device. Steam's recent delay in the SteamBox -- a result of a major controller redesign -- has caused manufacturers to reconsider branding of their pending devices. Because Steam has to give the green light on licensing its name for system makers, and because Steam machines have been delayed, manufacturers are stuck with products that can't be sold until an unset date. That's a huge risk, and so we're seeing these companies rebrand their products as "MiniPCs" and HTPCs. Case and point: Zotac's EN760 was originally slated to be a Steam Box of sorts, but ended up shipping as a mini gaming PC.
The newest addition to the world's lineup of gaming-grade home-theater PCs is Zotac's ZBOX EN760, which we first wrote about a few weeks ago. Zotac has been making its "ZBOX" product line for years now, though the EN760 is the first model to have serious competitive potential in the living room gaming market.
The original plan was to have our EN760 review and benchmark online by now, but issues encountered with nVidia's 337.88 drivers have stalled that temporarily. Zotac's new EN760 -- not yet shipping on the consumer market -- uses an nVidia GTX 860m mobile GPU for its graphics solution. The 860m ships in two SKUs: a Kepler-powered unit and a Maxwell-powered unit. According to the specifications provided by Zotac, it appears that the EN760 uses the Maxwell architecture 860m GPU in league with a portable i5-4200U CPU (1.6GHz / 2.6GHz turbo boost). These components together are what have created driver compatibility issues with 337.88, though nVidia and Zotac are working to resolve them rapidly.
The Steam Machine delay into 2015 imposed a set-back for hardware manufacturers hoping to license Valve's official branding and software, but hasn't stopped the release of systems under new names. With to-be Steam Machines like Gigabyte's Brix, Alienware's now-renamed Alpha, and Zotac's now-renamed mini-PC, hardware vendors have already invested resources heavily into HTPC platforms for gaming. The companies were originally expecting a holiday 2014 release, but recent delays by Valve pushed that into 2015; with resources tied-up in platform development, a few of these vendors have decided to release ahead of time with new names and Windows.
Alienware, a subsidiary of Dell, announced the "Alpha Console" at $550 starting, with various configuration and upgrade options for purchasers.
The rather artsy, spherical OI520 Zotac PC that was announced last week made for an interesting object, but didn't really have anything to get gamers interested. Equipped solely with an i5-4200U 1.6GHz / 2.6GHz TB CPU and an HD4400 IGP, the little orb isn't meant for much beyond generic HTPC and movie/stream viewing tasks. Zotac has addressed this with their beefed-up version, the EN760, announced earlier today.
Zotac's EN760 & EN760 Plus "mini gaming PCs" propel the ZBOX family forward with integrated GTX 860M Maxwell GPUs in a small form factor box. Before getting deeper into this, the specs:
Zotac has been pushing small form factor HTPCs for years now, but they arrived to the market a bit ahead of the mini-ITX & Steam Machine craze of CES 2014; it'd be fair to say Zotac was ahead of its time, shipping "Zboxes" even before the NUC existed publicly, and as a result saw perhaps lower sales than if they'd been a year later to market.
And now they're back.
The new Zotac ZBOX Sphere OI520 series SFF HTPCs ship in two models -- the OI520 and OI520 Plus (both of which have awfully annoying names to remember). Here are the relevant specs:
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