Today we are taking a look at one of Zotac’s latest ZBOX CI321 nano barebones system that is packing a dual-core 2961Y CPU. Something that makes this CI321 nano stand out of the crowd is that it carries dual Gigabit LAN and is completely silent with its passively cooled design. With the inclusion of an onboard IR receiver, this makes it an interesting option for a silent HTPC. With it being a barebones kit, you can use some memory or 2.5″ drives that you have on hand to keep the final build costs down. There has been a lot of growth in the mini PC market and Zotac has been in it for a long time with its ZBOX lineup.
- Name: ZBOX CI321 nano
- CPU: Intel Celeron 2961Y (2C/2T, 1.10 GHz, 22nm, 6W)
- RAM: User Supplied – We tested with Crucial Ballistix 2x4GB DDR3-1600 9-9-9-24 1T 1.35v
- SSD: User Supplied – Crucial MX200 SSD 250GB
- GPU: Integrated – Intel HD Graphics
- LAN: dual 10/100/1000/Gigabit Base T
- WLAN: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Built-in Bluetooth™ V4.0
- I/O: 4x USB3.0, 1x USB 2.0 , 1x HDMI, 1x DisplayPort, Headphone-out, Microphone in, 2x 1Gb LAN
- OS: Supplied Barebones, Windows 10 preview used in this review
- Warranty: 1 Year
- Price: $149.99
Printed materials that the CI321 comes with
The hardware that you get with the CI321 allows you to mount the unit via the VESA mount of a monitor or TV. You also get an optical audio adapter for use with a Toslink connection, a dual band WiFi antenna, and screws to mount your 2.5″ SSD or HDD.
A Closer Look
The barebone comes with an external antenna, power supply, power cord, VESA mount, and an optical Toslink adapter for audio.
Optical audio adapter and screws to mount a 2.5″ SSD or HDD.
The case is built to passively cool the system and it seems to have done a decent job with that in the testing.
Rear I/O panel which you can see that the unit has dual Gigabit Ethernet adapters. There is also Displayport, HDMI, dual USB.3.0, a single USB 2.0 and the antenna connector.
On the front you can see that the unit has a SD card reader, heaphone port, microphone port, IR reciever, and dual USB 3.0 ports.
The inside is accessible from the bottom of the unit.
The bottom is held in place by these rubber feet screws that you just twist in and out.
The whole case is designed to help maximize the passive cooling ability of the unit.
Here we see the inside of the barebones CI321, there are two slots for DDR3 SO-DIMMs, room for one 2.5″ SSD or HDD, and a pre-installed WiFi card.
Here is the SSD with the hard drive plate installed.
The SSD installed into the CI321, users will need a small screwdriver set to install parts into the CI321.
We used Crucial Ballistix 2x4GB DDR3 1600 SO-DIMMs for this review.
The DDR3 installed into the CI321 unit, and everything is ready for an OS install now.
To test each system or notebook, we want to stress every component to check stability and performance, giving us an idea as to why those particular components were picked for this particular system or notebook. We use a wide variety of software applications to gain the broadest spectrum of results for comparing multiple aspects of performance.
- Acoustic dBA meter
- Belkin AC power meter
- AIDA64 Engineer
- Cinebench R15
- Passmark PerformanceTest 8.0
- PCMark 8
- Super Pi
- Hyper Pi
System Performance – PCMark 8
The PCMark 8 Home benchmark includes workloads that reflect common tasks for a typical home user. These workloads have low computational requirements making PCMark 8 Home suitable for testing the performance of low-cost tablets, notebooks and desktops. Home includes workloads for web browsing, writing, gaming, photo editing, and video chat. The results are combined to give a PCMark 8 Home score for your system. Download here.
CPU Performance – Cinebench and SuperPi
Cinebench R11.5 and R15
Cinebench is a widely respected benchmark for testing the performance of x86 CPUs. The program allows you to test single and multi-threaded performance as well as GPU performance by rendering with Open GL. Download here.
Super PI is a single threaded benchmark that calculates pi to a specific number of digits. Super PI is a single threaded benchmark ideal for testing pure, single-threaded x87 floating point performance and while most of the computing market has shifted towards multithreaded applications and more modern instruction sets, Super PI still remains quite indicative of CPU capability in specific applications such as computer gaming. Download here.
SSD, HDD and USB 3.0 Performance
CrystalDiskMark is a portable storage drive benchmark utility that enables you to measure sequential and random read/write speeds on different block size data. CrystalDiskMark will work with any storage drives including hard drives, SSDs and USB flash drives. Download here.
Passmark Performance Test 8.0
The PassMark Advanced Network Test (which is part of PerformanceTest) is designed to test the data transfer rate between two computers both of which must be running PerformanceTest. One of the computers must act as the server and will sit waiting for a connection. The other computer acts as a client. It connects to the server machine and sends data to it for the duration of the test. You can download a trial version of PerformanceTest from here.
For this test, we use the ASUS RT-AC87U wireless AC gigabit router and pump data from the test system or notebook through the ASUS router into our Intel Gigabit-enabled test system. We connect to the ASUS router with a Cat6 cable when testing ethernet and wirelessly when testing WiFi performance.
Noise, Power Consumption and Temperatures
Due to the system being completely passively cooled, there was literally no audible indication that the system was running. There was absolutely nothing to detect louder than the ambiance of a silent room, which was a great thing to behold.
To test power consumption, we measure the total system power draw during idle and load scenarios. For idle we allow the system to sit at the Windows desktop, for load we let Unigine Heaven 4.0 and Hyper Pi to loop together – we take the power measurements from the Belkin AC power meter 5 minutes into both of these scenarios at the same point.
To test thermal performance we measure average CPU and GPU core temperatures during idle and load scenarios. For idle we allow the system to sit at the Windows desktop, for load we let Unigine Heaven 4.0 and Hyper Pi to loop together – we take the temperature measurements from within CPUID HWMonitor 5 minutes into both of these scenarios at the same point. For load, we take the average of the maximum temperatures, for idle we take the average of the minimum temperatures.
Zotac CI321 nano is priced at $149.99 and I think that it is a decent and fair price for such a barebones kit. Being a barebones kit this allows you to adjust what memory and SSD or HDD that you put in for your budget or needs. We chose to test the system with two 4GB DDR3-1600 SO-DIMMs of Crucial Ballistix and a 250GB Crucial MX200 SSD. So the total for the system we used as tested was $329.96 which for a full entry-level system isn’t that bad.
When using the Zotac CI321 nano you must keep in mind that this is a system that is made for being dead silent and using very little power. This means that the system won’t be that powerful and will not multitask that well due to trying to be very power efficient. The System is ideally suited to run a light desktop that won’t be overloaded with lots of processes and apps running all at once. It would be best suited I think for an HTPC and it even has an IR receiver for use with a controller if you were to use it that way.
One thing I quickly learned when using the CI321 nano was that you will need a 1080P display for use with it during setup. I used an HP ZR2720w monitor that has a set resolution of 2560×1440 and the 1080P output that the CI321 puts out without the driver installed didn’t get recognized. I then took the little box into my living room and hooked it up to my TV via HDMI. It then worked flawlessly and I think that it excels where I put it as an HTPC. I installed Media Player Classic and chose hardware decoding and with large .MKV movie files the playback was great. You can even use the Toslink adapter to use with a home receiver though it might be preferential to go with a USB DAC. I had a little bit of trouble when I had multiple programs running since it is a low power system and it definitely struggles when multitasking. With an average draw of 15.5W it will be very affordable to run even if you have pricey electricity. The dual gigabit LAN could make this an ideal choice for someone who wants to run it as something like a firewall with Linux. It may even suit your needs as a little home server though it would seriously lack the power to do things like transcoding files if used as a PLEX media server. You will want to keep it in a place that gets some air movement, and definitely not in a sealed off area since the unit starts to throttle at 65C.
Overall the CI321 nano is a great little box that proves its value as an HTPC or a system for daily tasks that can easily hide behind a monitor with the included VESA mount. It could be used as an office workstation for general business tasks and would help reduce the power usage by a substantial amount. The system would definitely respond to a few tweaks that you can make to reduce the amount of apps and processes that will run. This little bit of work will make your experience with the CI321 much better.
- Sips electricity
- Dead silent
- Itty Bitty form factor
- Dual Gigabit LAN
- Easy to assemble
- Good price point
- WiFi Antenna not that resilient
- Some displays may not work correctly
- Will start to throttle at 65C which it can easily hit
- No OS
Thank you Zotac for providing us with the review sample.