In the course of our coverage of mini-PCs, we have seen offerings from vendors such as ASRock, GIGABYTE and Zotac targeting the gaming market. Usually, 'mini' doesn't fit the requirements of consumers in this space, but the appearance of power-efficient high performance GPUs have made the offerings in the gaming mini-PC space quite interesting. Zotac has been creating mini-PCs with a gaming focus by tying a mobile NVIDIA GPU with a Core U-series Intel CPU for a couple of generations now. Today, we will be taking a look at the Zotac ZBOX MAGNUS EN970 - a system combining a Broadwell-U CPU with a NVIDIA Maxwell GM204 mobile GPU.

Introduction and Setup Impressions

The ZBOX E-series targets the gaming market. In the previous years, the E-series adopted a tried and tested industrial design (for example, the chassis of the ZBOX EI750 was very similar to that of the PCs in the ZBOX ID series). The MAGNUS EN970 adopts a radically different industrial design. The unit is not as small as the NUCs, even though the height is similar. The area of the top side is around the same as that of the ASRock Vision series. However, the absence of an optical drive slot enables a chassis with considerably lower thickness.

The specifications of our Zotac ZBOX MAGNUS EN970 review configuration are summarized in the table below.

Zotac ZBOX MAGNUS EN970 Specifications
Processor Intel Core I5-5200U
Broadwell-U, 2C/4T, 2.7GHz, 14nm, 3MB L2, 15W
Memory 2 x 8 GB DDR3L @ 1600MHz
Graphics NVIDIA GTX 960 (as per drivers),
'a rebadged GTX 970M (hardware-wise)'
Disk Drive(s) 128 GB OCZ Vector
Networking 2x 1GbE Realtek RTL8168 +
1x1 Intel Wireless-AC 3160 802.11ac
Audio Capable of 5.1/7.1 digital output with HD audio bitstreaming (HDMI)
Operating System Retail unit is barebones, but we installed Windows 8.1 Pro x64
Pricing (As configured) USD $978, Barebones is $800
Full Specifications Zotac ZBOX MAGNUS EN970 Specifications

The Zotac ZBOX MAGNUS EN970 kit doesn't come with any pre-installed OS, but does come with a CD and a read-only USB key containing the drivers. In any case, we ended up installing the latest drivers from Zotac's product support page. In addition to the main unit, the other components of the package include a 180 W (19.5V @ 9.23A) adapter, a US power cord, a single 2.4 GHz / 5 GHz antenna for the Wi-Fi feature, a driver CD / read-only USB key, user's manual and a quick-start guide.

The gallery below takes us around the hardware in the unit.

In the table below, we have an overview of the various systems that we are comparing the Zotac ZBOX MAGNUS EN970 against. Note that they may not belong to the same market segment. The relevant configuration details of the machines are provided so that readers have an understanding of why some benchmark numbers are skewed for or against the Zotac ZBOX MAGNUS EN970 when we come to those sections.

Comparative PC Configurations
Aspect Zotac ZBOX MAGNUS EN970
CPU Intel Core i5-5200U Intel Core i5-5200U
GPU NVIDIA GTX 960 (3GB) [GTX 970M] NVIDIA GTX 960 (3GB) [GTX 970M]
RAM Panram Intl PSD3L1600C118G2VS
11-11-11-28 @ 1600 MHz
2x8 GB
Panram Intl PSD3L1600C118G2VS
11-11-11-28 @ 1600 MHz
2x8 GB
Storage OCZ Vector
(128 GB; SATA 6Gb/s; 25nm; MLC)
OCZ Vector
(128 GB; SATA 6Gb/s; 25nm; MLC)
Wi-Fi Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3160
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3160
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
Price (in USD, when built) $978
Barebones is $800
Performance Metrics - I
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  • Winterblade - Monday, September 28, 2015 - link

    I have to agree with milkod2001, specially if you compare it with the base alienware alpha that cames with storage, OS and even a Xbox controller for half the price of the Magnus barebones.
    In order to make the Magnus compeling I would like a Quad-core CPU (even if it is a mobile part) and about $150 discount of the barebones price, then I would be all over it.
  • smorebuds - Monday, September 28, 2015 - link

    The Alpha that you're referring to that's half the cost has a 2 year old i3 cpu, 860M gpu, spinning hard drive, and 4 gb of ram. So yes, the Magnus is a more powerful, smaller device, and it costs more money. What's your point?
  • Winterblade - Sunday, October 4, 2015 - link

    That 2 year old CPU is a desktop part, should be about the same performance compared to the 5200U, and the GPU is a 860M OCed, so it will handle 1080 gaming just fine, also it has Windows already installed and even an xbox controller, it is ready to use out of the box and it is half the price, that's my point, 400-500 USD is the price these gaming mini PC's have to hit to truly compete with gaming laptops and DIY gaming PC.
  • Jauffins - Saturday, October 17, 2015 - link

    The Alienware Alpha can be equipped with any size 2.5" SSD, up to 16GB RAM, and a 2.9 Ghz desktop Core i5 (or i7), all for less than the price of this barebones kit. And my 4590T runs at 65-70c full load, not 100+. The only downfall is the 860m, and I must say I've been very impressed with what it can do, and have yet to run into an issue. As long as you don't expect either of these systems to run The Witcher 3 on Ultra, you're good.
  • meacupla - Tuesday, September 29, 2015 - link

    FYI, mITX PC can get quite heavy, easily tipping past 7kg, and they are, at least, 4x as large.

    My RVZ01 build is 14L and around 8kg.
    Compared to a SFF that's 2.23L and probably not even 2kg fully equipped.
  • schizoide - Monday, September 28, 2015 - link

    FINALLY, a very small form factor gaming box with a GPU fast enough to handle all 1080p console ports for the current generation!

    Unfortunately, the price remains dramatically just way too high. If this came in around $500 like the Alienware Alpha, I would buy it instantly. Of course that would be an 80% discount so obviously Zotac isn't at all interested in fighting on price.

    That's what I really want-- an Alienware Alpha with a 970M GPU, as the 860M it comes with just isn't fast enough for solid 1080p gaming. Keep hoping the next-generation Alpha hits that performance level.
  • smorebuds - Monday, September 28, 2015 - link

    Ok but the Magnus has much better parts than the Alpha so why would it be the same price? The Alpha with the "comparable" specs is about the same price as the Magnus. And by "comparable" I mean the Alpha has a shitty spinning hard drive and a 2 year old Haswell cpu and 860M gpu...
  • schizoide - Monday, September 28, 2015 - link

    Nope. The CPU doesn't matter for gaming and the Alpha GPU is much slower.
  • smorebuds - Monday, September 28, 2015 - link

    What're you saying nope to? So what if zotac made an sku with an i3, 960M, 500gb HDD, and 4gb ram and sold it for $499 would you be happy? That's your alpha in 2015 except in a smaller package which is the whole damn point of this.
  • Jauffins - Saturday, October 17, 2015 - link

    I want to see the adoption of MXM. My Alpha is the perfect SFF system (2.9Ghz desktop i5, 16GB RAM, SSD) but in a few years, the 860m will start to show its age. Why nVidia isn't pushing this form factor, where I can spend maybe $200-250 to get an MXM form factor desktop 760 or 960, I don't understand.

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