Tuesday, February 1, 2011

# 8: Zotac MAG Intel Atom N330, NVIDIA ION, 2 GB DDR2, 160 GB HD, eSATA, HDMI, HD-ND 01-U Mini PC-No OS

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

73 of 74 people found the following review helpful: 4.0 out of 5 stars I was going to give it 5 stars, until I saw the Acer Revo 3610, January 25, 2010 This review is from: Zotac MAG Intel Atom N330, NVIDIA ION, 2 GB DDR2, 160 GB HD, eSATA, HDMI HD-ND01-U Mini PC - No OS (Personal Computers) **************************************************
UPDATE - 10/21/2010

This HTPC is still running fine after almost a year with daily use. A few additions to my previous review:

1. HDMI Audio - The audio channel mapping across HDMI is wrong. The nvidia driver has swapped the side and rear surround channels. To work around this, I am now using the optical out for audio, which is handled by the realtek driver and maps the channels correctly. 5.1 audio seems fine, while the support for 7.1 audio is another matter. I haven't been able to confirm as Media Center doesn't seem to know how to test 7.1.

2. NETFLIX/Silverlight - While Netflix has normally worked flawlessly through Windows Media Center on this unit, the addition of HD streams from Netflix doesn't work well. Apparently Silverlight, the control that Netflix uses to render video, doesn't support FULL hardware acceleration. As a result, the stream has to be manually forced back to standard, or else stuttering and choppiness will occur.


The only reason I don't give this five stars is that it doesn't come with Windows 7 like the Acer Revo 3610 does for $29 more.

With that being said, if you have your own OS to put on this little gem, then consider it worthy of 5 stars and save yourself the $29. I don't consider the lack of the wireless keyboard/mouse combo a factor because the set included with the Acer isn't really useful for a HTPC.

The Pros:

* Small form factor - sleek look, packed with capabilities.
* Atom 330 + nVidia ION - a match made in Heaven.
* HDMI out.
* Built in N Wifi.
* 2GB RAM, 160 GB HD included
* Windows 7 Pro 64bit installs without a hitch - driver support is superb.
* Shows 4 CPU's in Task Manager.
* VESA mounting + vertical stand included
* Plenty of ports - USB, digital audio out, HDMI, VGA, card slot, eSATA, audio

The Cons:
* Has small fan on chipset heatsink - makes some noise when in use.
* Gets a little hot.
* Silver plastic is really coated black plastic - can scratch.
* Vertical mounting stand attachment is a little difficult.
* 5400 rpm drive may be a little slow for intensive tasking.

I purchased this unit to act as a HTPC running Windows 7 Media Center to replace the cr*ppy WD HD TV Live and Asus O!Play units that I bought and returned because they don't work.

Within two hours I was watching streaming media on this device. I created a bootable USB key using diskpart, copied the Win7 DVD to the key, and installed from it. I then updated to all the drivers available from the Zotac website, and was in business.

I added a generic Windows MCE remote USB IR key and was streaming recorded HD TV content from one PC to this one, watching flawless 1080p HD with multi-channel audio through HDMI.

Miscellaneous Notes:

* It moves in and out of sleep pretty quickly, and draws little power in any mode.

* The NVidia display drivers as well as Media Center also have the capability for compensating for any HDMI overscan your TV might experience.

* Has a cool orange ring on the side for power status, but also has a lighted power button that indicates power/sleep states.

Is this a desktop replacement? No. Is it the perfect HTPC? Just about. If it were silent and included a wireless keyboard/trackball combo, it would be indeed perfect.

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84 of 104 people found the following review helpful: 3.0 out of 5 stars Decent as Half an HTPC, Still Lacks in Meeting Expectations, March 6, 2010 This review is from: Zotac MAG Intel Atom N330, NVIDIA ION, 2 GB DDR2, 160 GB HD, eSATA, HDMI HD-ND01-U Mini PC - No OS (Personal Computers) I recently had a chance to compare this Zotac MAG to the to its most popular competitor from Acer (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0030L3ASU?tag=a52-20&ie=UTF8) and I have a bit to say about both. I've broken down my comparison by specific sections, detailing often-overlooked characteristics of computers.

As someone who has been involved in mini-PCs, having owned one since ASUS first started vying to draw attention away from Apple's still-visually-unchanged Mac Mini, I hope you find my review helpful and that the insight I share positively impacts your buying decision.

You may have noticed that no operating system is included with this unit. While some may see this as a limitation or a caveat, true HTPC junkies know that the best home theater programs are truly found on Windows. Windows Media Center is a decent looking application and it indeed works, but it has limitations (mostly due to the legalities of Digital Rights Management). Open source applications like MythTV, XBMC and Boxee (the latter two being front-end only, meaning no recording capabilities) give you a bit more freedom with what you can do with your media, including flexibility and where your media is viewed (e.g. on an alternate computer, media extender, burned to DVD, transferred to a mobile device, etc).

So, there's a bit of logic to the exclusion of an operating system such as Windows 7 with this unit. But if you're still a sucker for Windows, the least I can do is save you a bit of money by suggesting you get the OEM edition (32-bit: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B002NGJO92?tag=a52-20&ie=UTF8 or 64-bit: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B002NGQLSY?tag=a52-20&ie=UTF8) which comes without the fancy (read: pricier) rounded-corner packaging that intrigues us consumers. On the other hand, the Acer model (linked at the beginning) comes with Windows 7 Home Premium pre-installed. It saves you time, costs you an extra thirty, and doesn't help you much unless you really want Windows 7 Home Premium. At least Home Premium has Windows Media Center though.

Unfortunately, however, the operating system wasn't the only thing to be left out so that failed to deliver on a CD/DVD drive, as well as a decent way to implement some form of TV capture card (whether mini PCI-E, onboard hookup, or otherwise). The missing media drive can be an annoyance, especially considering it is annoying sometimes to get USB drives to work, especially on bootup when you're starting out with a machine that's missing its most essential component, the OS, which needs to be installed in some form or another. For such a sexy box, a viable solution might be to grab one of these thin, sexy external drives (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B002C1BBU8?tag=a52-20&ie=UTF8) which won't detract from the all-important visual appeal, if your box will ever have eyes laid upon it and you still want to play and burn CDs and DVDs, or ever want to install CD/DVD based software from time to time without too much hassle.

However, between the (forgiveable) missing media drive and the (inexcusable) missing TV capture solution, I really can't recommend this for use as an HTPC, in full or part, because it makes this device pretty limited. Technically, if you have digital cable, you could get a remote dual-tuner (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0010Y414Q?tag=a52-20&ie=UTF8). Otherwise, about all you be able to do is use it more as a media extender for another PC already set up to act as the main media server/TV-capture source. Of course, if you're only after this unit for use as a media extender, it may just suit your needs perfectly. Be sure to snag a good media-center remote (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00123UGWQ?tag=a52-20&ie=UTF8) if that is indeed the case. From my experience and perspective Zotac is great at making gear *almost* good enough to be used as an HTPC.

=== POWER ===
Is it powerful? Sure. Is it efficient? Absolutely. That's what the Nvidia ION is all about: pairing the power of the central processor with the graphics processor for an economical yet potent combination. Media will benefit from the ION core, which is why Nvidia ION boards and boxes are so popular for use with HTPC implementations.

Can you call this a multi-tasking beast, on the other hand? Not really. While indeed you do benefit from the multi-tasking capabilities provided by dual-core hyperthreading Atom processor that Zotac chose to use with this unit, there are reasonable limits, especially if media is playing (including in the browser). You probably don't want to be browsing the Web with more than a handful of tabs open, especially since Flash-based media is placed on and over-abundance of websites these days. So, leaving browser tabs open will begin to bog down the machine rather quickly, especially if you tend to browse the web fiendishly like I do (opening as many Google results as I can in separate tabs, and similar antics).

If you use multiple apps or programs at once, you probably don't want to run more than 2-3 (and try to keep background processes and system-tray utilities to a minimum as well). The system can withstand the graphics intensive Aero interface Windows Vista and 7 provides pretty well, but when you start to accrue several windows, all which employ the same translucent effects, they can degrade the performance of the machine over time as well.

=== HEAT ===
I must admit, I almost took this for a device encased in heat-friendly metal. Turns out it's just the fancy product-marketing graphics that portray it as something shiny and sleek. While, indeed it is, it's just shiny and sleek in plastic form. That being considered, the amount of venting is not quite as adequate as is to be desired, but proper venting is an obstacle to many of today's mini-pc form factors. Unit is warm when idle, but can heat up a bit during moderate to heavy use (watching movies, etc). Both the Zotac and the Acer had about the same heat radiance.

=== NOISE ===
Noise can also be a concern when considering using a machine as an HTPC, but audiophiles wouldn't be caught using cheap gear anyway. With the Zotac MAG, you'll hear it running if you try (e.g. stick your head up to it), but to say it's noisy would be a mistake. The noise generated by the system is pretty much on par with or less noticeable than anything else you're probably running at home. VCRs were noisier. The static from your speakers are probably even noisier. Plus, if it's mounted to the back of your TV, the TV itself would block most of the sound in the unlikely event that the fans were to start roaring up.

=== SPACE ===
The size and flexibility of the Zotac MAG are quite unique. Zotac offers you multiple configurations, three to be exact. The first is to position the box flat (no stand). Position option two is to stand the device straight up, using its stand. Option three is for those who have a flat screen TV, but aren't using the VESA mount: there's an attachment that fixates itself to the VESA mount screws on the back of your TV, to which you will attach the Zotac MAG, essentially hiding it from view behind your TV. In some configurations, this may make it annoying for you to access the box easily, but if not, it can be a convenience.

Some might be considering this unit for purposes other than an HTPC, such as web browsing, a home music and file sharing server, even as a spare computer for the kids (with proper parental controls, of course). The idea of these small PCs is really to allow you to equip just about every room in the house with the 'digital experience' ...whatever that may encompass for you.

Just keep in mind that with the Zotac MAG, you'll need to make sure you grab a keyboard and mouse (I snagged this beauty: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001HZUPD4?tag=a52-20&ie=UTF8) if you want to use as more than just a media player. Meanwhile, the competition (Acer) comes with a keyboard and mouse, but it is bulky and not very attractive.

Hope this review has been helpful!

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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful: 5.0 out of 5 stars Does Everything I'd ask of it., February 1, 2010 This review is from: Zotac MAG Intel Atom N330, NVIDIA ION, 2 GB DDR2, 160 GB HD, eSATA, HDMI HD-ND01-U Mini PC - No OS (Personal Computers) For a HTPC this is great. Small almost silent and powerful enougth for XBMC, Boxee, and Hulu Desktop with newer Flash 10.1 all while running Windows 7.

The only issues I have is that it doesn't come with an OS and then It must be installed with a usb device. Not a huge problem for me but for others perhaps.

Also while it does have a fan and make a little noise I feel that doesn't matter as the fans on my sata external drive is louder than the actual pc.

For the cash and size this is a perfect machine for me.

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