Review: Zotac Zbox Nano AD10 Plus

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Review: Zotac Zbox Nano AD10 Plus

Zotac has been the recent master of the small-form factor motherboard. We’ve seen H67 boards rocking the mini-ITX style, with the top-end Intel Z68 and AMD A75 chipsets getting the same sort of treatment. These boards all had something in common (aside from the scale); a surprising amount of serious functionality in a frankly silly size.

Now Zotac has turned its shrink ray on full devices and has created a PC with what has to be one of the smallest footprints ever. The Zbox Nano AD10 Plus is absolutely tiny. It’s shorter than a Rubik’s cube and smaller than a CD case. Ickle.

But in there you’ve got a full PC. Well, so long as your idea of a ‘full PC’ means something sans optical drive and you have no interest in doing anything beyond multimedia playback and some light web browsing.

The Zbox AD10 is a very basic machine, essentially with all the internal organs of a netbook, but without a screen. The archetypal ‘nettop’ then. But the nettop is largely becoming anachronistic in today’s connected world. With more advanced media streamers hitting the market, capable of letting you browse the web and play online content, and TVs evolving with this functionality too, the low-powered mini PC doesn’t really have a lot of tricks up its sleeve any more.

Granted this AMD Fusion-powered version is more capable than its Intel Atom-based brethren, but still the gulf in performance between the low-end chips and the proper desktop options is huge. And that gap doesn’t shrink much with Fusion in the equation.

But if you’re just talking about a small homework machine then the Zbox isn’t a bad choice. That said a little netbook is going to give you more flexibility than something that has to be anchored to a desk and monitor full time.

Not a tiny price tag

There’s also the fact that the £255 price tag is more like £325 when you factor in a functional OS. A Microsoft Windows installation is really your only option here – we tried getting Ubuntu to play nice but it would take many long, tiring, frustrating hours and a lot of command line tapping to get anywhere near a responsive machine.

When you’re topping £300 you’re straying into proper Windows 7 laptop prices. And if you’re really interested in plugging it into your HDTV you’ll be able to find one with a HDMI port I’m sure.

In short there’s depressingly little to recommend the Zbox AD10 beyond the fact that it is a very, very small PC. It’s not even particularly easy to set up either as the lack of optical drive makes installing Windows a little problematic. Especially seeing as you can’t have anything plugged into the two USB 3.0 ports of the four ports that are available until there are Windows drivers installed.

And as we’ve mentioned, Ubuntu despite coming happily on a USB stick, doesn’t particularly like the hardware inside. So as small as the Zbox undoubtedly is, functionally it’s a little too late to the party.

Your humble media streamer, and soon your TV, is going to be doing everything you’d realistically want this box to do. And will probably do it in a more intuitive way as well.

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Review: Toshiba NB520-10U

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Review: Toshiba NB520-10U

From the lime-green rubberised lid to the integrated Harmon/Kardon speakers, the Toshiba NB520-10U is a netbook that demands attention.

Not content to be a standard black business appliance, the Toshiba NB520-10U wants to be the life and soul of the party. It’s cooler and louder than the Asus Eee PC and one of the best netbooks worth owning.

The Toshiba comes in a choice of colours; green, blue or brown. Your chosen hue extends to the lid, mouse buttons and speaker edging while the rest of the chassis is solid black. The textured rubber of the lid is pleasant to touch and won’t get covered in grubby fingerprints.

There’s no flex to be found around the chassis and the netbook is easily light enough to carry around without a problem. There’s also a little extra bulk given to the battery compartment so, when open, the netbook is slightly raised at the back giving you a nice typing angle to work with.

The only minor gripes we had with the design was a particularly thick bezel and an awkwardly placed power button that’s nestled in the hinge below the centre of the screen. These are some tiny niggles but overall the design of the Toshiba is catching and stylish with a Converse-cool kind of appeal.

Of course, most noticeable are the twin speakers built into the palm rest. They’ve been developed with Harman/Kardon technology and will reach a genuinely impressive volume for a netbook. We were also impressed with the bass we could get out of it.

The 120GB disk space will likely preclude you from loading your entire music collection onto the hard drive, but if you subscribe to a streaming service like Spotify, the Toshiba would be a great addition to any house party.

If you want to work with this netbook then using the keyboard isn’t immediately intuitive as it’s packed pretty tightly into the chassis. Frankly, we preferred typing on the Acer Aspire One or Asus Eee PC, but anyone using this netbook regularly will adapt to the feeling of the keys quickly.

Toshiba nb520-10u

The touchpad is neither too responsive nor sluggish and is positioned well – you can use your thumb without your fingers leaving the keyboard. Although, being a netbook, it’s a little on the small side.

The standard Intel Atom processor, 1GB RAM and Windows 7 Starter OS means this won’t rival a laptop for performance. But if you want to browse the web and type out an email while streaming some music, you won’t have any problems here.

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Battery Eater ’05: 220 minutes
Cinebench: 521
3DMark 2006: 151

On top of that, the battery life is exemplary. By far and away the most important feature for a netbook, Toshiba has ensured you won’t need to regularly charge and the NB520 lasted for 220 minutes under our barrage of tests.

Advanced features

Toshiba has thrown some nice features into the NB520 to make it an even better choice for a netbook purchase. Plug an MP3 player into the USB port and you can use the Toshiba’s speakers to play your music, even when the machine is in standby or switched off.

It also has built in sleep-and-charge facility, so you can charge up a USB device while the laptop is powered down and idle.

This is a netbook a little different from others available and Toshiba has put together a great product – highly recommended for anyone who wants to enjoy their collection of music when they are on the move.

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