After Hours

Geek Gifts 2010: ZOTAC ZBOX HD-ID11 living room PC

The ZBOX HD-ID11 is great for living rooms, bedrooms, or anywhere you need a mini-PC. However, some assembly is required.

Internet connected TVs and streaming media boxes might be fine for the average gadget enthusiast. But many hardcore geeks, like yours truly, are disappointed by the limitations these systems have. Some won't play certain media file formats. Some only offer programming from approved providers. And, none of them can play PC games. Even the Web browsers on third generation game consoles leave a lot to be desired.

ZOTAC ZBOX HD-ID11Steve Jobs doesn't think most people want a computer on their TVs. And, he may be right. I'm not most people. I want the a complete PC experience on my TV. I want to be able to watch anything on the Web, play the latest games, and run common PC applications on my big, living room TV. And, I bet a lot of hardcore geeks feel the same way.

If you're in the same boat or will soon be buying a gift for a someone who is, you should take a serious look at the ZOTAC ZBOX HD-ID11. This mini-PC is prefect for living rooms, bedrooms, or anywhere you need a small-form-factor computer.

Some assembly is required with the HD-ID11, and you'll also need to supply your own operating system. But hey, this is a geek gift. What self-respecting gadget nerd doesn't want to put there gifts together?

Check out my related gallery, for a step-by-step guide on installing the HD-ID11 in your living room.

Specifications

  • Dimensions: 7.4 inches wide x 7.4 inches tall x 1.73 inches deep
  • Weight: 4.0 lb
  • CPU: Intel Atom D510 1.66 GHz Dual Core
  • Chipset: Intel NM10 Express
  • Memory: 1 x 200 pin DDR2 SO-DIMM slot (supports DDR2 800 SO-DIMM up to 4GB)
  • GPU: NVIDIA Next-Generation ION w/ 512MB DDR3 memory
  • Audio: Analog stereo high-definition audio/ 7.1-Channel LPCM digital audio (HDMI)
  • Networking: LAN 10/100/1000Mbps, WiFi 802.11n/g/b
  • SATA port: 1 SATA (3.0 Gbps)
  • USB ports: 6
  • Video Ports: HDMI + DVI-I
  • Audio Output: Optical Digital S/PDIF
  • Cost: $249.99 (US)

What I like

Small size: At just under seven and a half inches wide/tall and two inches thick, the ZBOX HD-ID11 fits neatly on a bookshelf, TV stand, or even your bedroom dresser. Depending on the length of your cables and the configuration of your room, you can place the HD-ID11 near the TV or near the spot you're likely to sit and use it.Quietness: The HD-ID11 is so quiet you might forget it has a cooling fan. I never once heard the fan while using the machine in my living room--even when right next to it. Variety and number of ports: The HD-ID11 has a ton of external ports--1x eSATA port, 6x USB ports, 1x Ethernet port, 1x DVI port, 1x HDMI port, 1x optical audio port, headphone jack, microphone jack, and a multimedia card slot. Performance: Don't get me wrong. The HD-ID11 can't complete with the a $3,000 gaming PC. But its 1.66 GHz Intel Atom CPU and NVIDIA ION GPU (with dedicated memory), let it run most current PC games well. For example, I was able to play World of Warcraft (4.0.2) with most video options set to  "good". The NVIDIA ION GPU also lets you play HD video at 1080p. Something you can't do on many similarly-price netbooks. Price: The HD-ID11 is available from several online retailers, including Amazon and Newegg for about $249.99 (US). The unit does not include a hard drive or RAM. So, you'll need to purchase those two critical components separately. We got our test machine, a 250 GB Seagate HDD, and 2GB of RAM from Newegg for $304 (delivered). If you're starting from scratch, you'll also need to purchase a keyboard and mouse. Lastly, you'll need to provide your own operating system. If you have a spare Windows license laying around or go the Linux route, the OS won't cost you anything. Otherwise, you'll have to pony up a bit of extra cash. Despite these extra costs, I think the HD-ID11 gives you a lot for around $300.

What I don't like

Poor 802.11g WiFi performance: My only real disappointment with the ZBOX HD-ID11 is the unit's lackluster 802.11g WiFi performance. In my house, the unit shows only a single bar of single strength when other WiFi devices, such as my iPad and MacBook Pro, show two or three bars when placed in the same location. High-gloss plastic case: This is more of a personal preference than a complaint. The HD-ID11's shinny, plastic case looks nice sitting on your shelf, but it's a smudge magnet--not that you'll likely touch it a lot. Bare-bones kit: As I mentioned above, the actual ZOTAC unit does not include a hard drive, RAM, operating system, keyboard, mouse, speakers, or monitor. But like the glossy case, being a bare-bones kit isn't truly a complaint. The ZOTAC is what it is. I only list it under the "What I don't like" section because the lack of a hard drive and RAM adds a few extra steps to the purchasing process and could confuse a non-techie who's buying the gift for someone else.

Bottom line

For those who want a full computer experience on their television, the ZOTAC HD-ID11 works extremely well. It's small, priced right, and is powerful enough to handle average computer tasks and moderate gaming. Just remember, you'll need to budget a few extra dollars for the hard drive, RAM, and input devices.

Check out my related gallery, for a step-by-step guide on installing the HD-ID11 in your living room.

Geek gift score (out of 5)

  • Fun factor: ***
  • Geek factor: *****
  • Value: ****
  • Overall: ****

About

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

4 comments
me4833
me4833

Really like the idea - most especially the part where I can watch almost any kind of video. I would be most interested in the final OS and programs that were put on this unit. Amazing Idea - Jerry

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

Steve Jobs doesn't think most people want a computer on their TVs. And, he may be right. But, I'm not most people. I want the a complete PC experience on my TV. I want to be able to watch anything on the Web, play the latest games, and run common PC applications on my big, living room TV. And, I bet a lot of hardcore geeks feel the same way. If you feel the same way, take the poll in the above blog post and let me know. Poll: http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/itdojo/?p=2170

PSer
PSer

Been running a Mac mini this way for years now. Hooked up to the LCD HDTV, got rid of the bulky DVD player, cabled to surround sound system. Blue tooth KB/Mouse ... LOVE IT! I just upgraded my old mini for the latest model ... my in-laws loved my set up but did not want to spend any $$$. So, I won me some son-in-law points buy hooking them up with the old so ... I could get the latest and greatest! ;) After you purchase the H.D.D, Mem., Keyboard, mouse, O.S. (if you so choose) ... I'd say the mini is as cheap if not cheaper, if you go w/M$. From one *Geek* to another ... just sayin'

Br.Bill
Br.Bill

I get the full computer experience with my mini, and it runs Boxee, Plex and Netflix. It plays any video I want, DVDs in surround sound, as well as any regular computer work I care to do on my TV. It's a win and I've never regretted it.

Editor's Picks