ZOTAC has been regularly releasing small form factor ZBOX PCs over the years, and we have seen that the design hasn’t changed much. You get ZBOXes in the regular rectangular size or the smaller square (nano) size. But with the ZBOX Sphere OI520, ZOTAC has decided to take a completely new approach as far as the design goes, moving to a semi-spherical design. So will this new approach make the ZBOX more popular? Let us find out.
Build and Design
At first glance, you can’t help but think that the design is heavily inspired by the now discontinued Nexus Q. But while that was a low power system, the Sphere is a small form factor PC with decent configuration options. As compared to the flatter ZBOXes we have seen in the past, the ZBOX Sphere is definitely taller and is certainly a conversation starter.
The ZBOX Sphere comes in a matte black plastic body with the base resting on five rubber feet. These aren’t really glued properly though; during testing, a couple fell off. The top spherical surface acts like a cover which can be removed to access the internals. Just rotate the semi-circular plastic in front to unlock the Sphere and you can swap components. We got the Plus model for review, which has components such as hard drive and RAM attached. The non-plus model comes without HDD and RAM.
Inside, you have the Nano ITX board that is seen in the ZBOX nanos. The glowing blue light around the Sphere is an inspiration from the regular ZBOXes which all feature a circular glowing aesthetic.
ZOTAC ZBOX Sphere OI520 features an Intel Core i5-4200U processor which is a dual-core processor with hyper-threading clocked at 1.6GHz. The turbo clock can go up to 2.6GHz. This also houses Intel HD 4400 internal graphics. The Sphere comes with 4GB of RAM. On the capacity front, there is a Samsung Spinpoint 500GB HDD which has a rotational speed of 5400RPM.
On opening up the ZBOX Sphere, you have the RAM and HDD placed on top. On the underside of the board, you will find the processor. ZBOX Sphere uses an Intel dual-band wireless AC 3160 adapter.
On the rear side of the ZBOX, you have the battery of ports and all the cooling vents. Starting from the left hand side, you have the power port, audio and microphone jacks, HDMI and DisplayPort, four USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports and a LAN port. On the top, you have an SD card slot beside which you have the power button. On the left hand side corner you have an extra USB 2.0 port and on the right hand side corner there is the Kensington lock. On the underside of the ZBOX Sphere, you have a vent which takes in cool air.
As the ZBOX Sphere does not come with an OS, the very first thing we did was install a clean copy of Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit. Thankfully, you get the drivers on a USB drive as well as the CD which makes driver installation convenient. Although you should always check for the latest drivers on the website. The BIOS setup utility is quite user-friendly and has the yellow/black colour theme. Under the OC section of the BIOS, you only have memory voltage adjustment option. We wonder why ZOTAC even bothered to put that as we don’t see any reason why anyone would want to overclock the ZBOX.
We ran the standard synthetic as well as real life benchmarks. Cinebench R11.5 gave a multi-core CPU score of 2.46 which is comparable to the 2.63 score we got on ZOTAC ZBOX ID65 Plus which comes with an Intel Core i7-3537U. The PC Mark 7 overall score was 2615, which is better than most ZBOXes we have tested. Transcoding a video file using AVIDemux took 76 seconds which was slower only than the ID65 Plus which took 57 secs and compressing a 100MB file using 7Zip at 256-bit encryption and ultra settings took 83 secs (70 seconds on the ID65 Plus). So as far as the ZBOXes go, the Sphere is slower only than the ID65 Plus among the ones we have tested.
In the graphics department, the Intel HD 4400 outshines the Intel HD 4000 seen on the ID65 Plus. In 3D Mark 11 we got 1694 on the Sphere as compared to 986 on the ID65 Plus. But in this department, the ZBOX Nano ID45 Plus goes ahead, thanks to the NVIDIA GT640 it comes along with. In terms of real-life gaming performance, the Resident Evil 5 gave a score of 40fps (5fps over the ID65 Plus) at 1280x720p resolution. In terms of purely internal graphics performance, the Sphere is impressive.
We played back some full HD clips and there were no issues with frame-skipping or slowing down of the system. In fact CPU utilisation while an HD movie was running was around 15-20 per cent. We even installed Adobe Lightroom 5 to edit images. This utility ran smoothly as well.
Verdict and Price in India
ZOTAC has priced the ZBOX Sphere OI520 Plus model at Rs 32,219 whereas the non-Plus ZBOX Sphere OI520 (without the HDD and RAM) will come to around Rs 29,999. Unlike its previous offerings, the ZBOX Sphere OI520 has decent pricing for its performance and the form factor it comes in. You will have to spend money to get the OS, mouse, keyboard, so the total pricing may go up. Compared to previous ZOTAC ZBOXes where we felt the pricing was ridiculous, the ZBOX Sphere is a refreshing change.
In terms of performance, we found it to be second only to the ZOTAC ZBOX ID65 Plus, which is priced over Rs 50,000. So for Rs 32,219, the ZBOX Sphere makes a good buy. With the Sphere it makes sense to go for the Plus model, as the non-Plus model does not offer much in savings.
If you are looking to get an HTPC which can also work great as a PC, allowing you to play casual games once in a while and work on office and photo editing applications, then the ZBOX Sphere OI520 Plus is a good choice. Its form factor makes it particularly interesting. For a change we have a ZBOX which we have no hesitation in recommending.
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ZOTAC ZBOX Sphere OI520 Plus review: New wine in a brand new bottle
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Feb 7, 2016