Zotac is one of the major players in the SFF PC space, having launched ultra-compact form-factor machines even before NUCs took off. The growth in that segment has broadened the available market for their mini-PCs, allowing them to experiment with a wide variety of models for different use-cases.

Zotac markets their passively-cooled SFF under the 'C-series' tag. These 'nano' units used to adopt a NUC form-factor (100mm x 100mm) with similar chassis dimensions, which provided performance and thermal efficiency commensurate with their size. Starting with Intel's Kaby Lake-Refresh series, the company started adopting a larger form factor and added some platform features. Having reviewed the Core i7-8550U-based Zotac ZBOX CI660 nano in that generation in early 2019, we concluded that it was a promising HTPC platform, albeit with a few loose ends.

Comet Lake-U (CML-U) made it quite simple for vendors to take their KBL-R-U systems and perform a quick turn-around by just replacing the internal processor with the newer one without having to tinker too much with the board design. Zotac has done exactly that in the Zotac CI662 nano that we are looking at today.

Introduction and Product Impressions

Zotac introduced their line-up of passively cooled mini-PCs back in 2014, and has been continuously iterating on them over several generations of products from both Intel and AMD. Having realized the limitations of what the form-factor could achieve in the ZBOX CI523 nano (where the thermal design could sustain the rated TDP of the Skylake-U processor for only 10 minutes before throttling), Zotac went back to the drawing board and came up with a fully re-imagined design in the ZBOX CI660 nano. With a slightly larger footprint, the CI660 nano was able to handle a 25W cTDP-up for the integrated KBL-R U-series SiP before settling down to a sustained 15W package power consumption under continuous stress. Our main complaint about the CI660 nano was that it wasn't entirely noiseless due to coil whine (and some noises that appeared to be resulting from the heat-sink fins responding to variations in thermal load). That apart, the CI660 nano completely resolved the issues seen in the CI523 nano. This has prompted Zotac to release a CML-U version with the same chassis design and almost the same internals in the ZBOX CI662 nano.

Zotac's passively cooled CML-U series (the ZBOX CI6x2 nano) has three members - the CI622 nano comes with a Core i3-10110U processor, the CI642 nano sports a Core i5-10210U, and the flagship CI662 nano that we are reviewing today based on the Core i7-10510U. The specifications in terms of I/Os and internals of the three members are otherwise the same.

Zotac supplied us with a barebones version of the CI662 nano, and we opted to complete the build with a SK hynix Gold S31 1TB 2.5" SSD and a TeamGroup-SD4-2666 2x 8GB DDR4 SODIMM kit. After completing the review, we realized that the SODIMMs had been operating at 2400 MHz (the 2666 Mhz was a XMP profile) - however, given that we are looking at a low-power fanless PC using a U-series processor, we opted against repeating the benchmarks with a SODIMM kit running at 2666 MHz (Zotac indicates DDR4-2666/2400 as supported configurations in the product page for the CI662 nano). The specifications of our review configuration are summarized in the table below.

Zotac ZBOX CI662 nano Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-10510U
Comet Lake-U, 4C/8T, 1.80 GHz (4.90 GHz), 14nm, 8MB L2+L3, 15W (10W-25W)
Memory Team Group TEAMGROUP-SD4-2666 DDR4 SODIMM
18-16-16-39 @ 2400 MHz
2x8 GB
Graphics Intel UHD Graphics
Disk Drive(s) SK hynix Gold S31
(1 TB; 2.5" SATA III; SK hynix 72L 3D TLC)
(SK hynix Quartz SH87830CC In-House Controller)
Networking Intel Wireless-AC 9462
2x Realtek RTL8168/8111 Gigabit Ethernet Controller
Audio 3.5mm Headphone Jack
Capable of 5.1/7.1 digital output with HD audio bitstreaming (HDMI)
Miscellaneous I/O Ports 2x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C (10Gbps)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A (5Gbps)
4x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A (10Gbps)
1x SDXC
Operating System Retail unit is barebones, but we installed Windows 10 Enterprise 20H2 x64
Pricing (As configured) USD 550 (barebones)
USD 715 (as configured, No OS)
Full Specifications Zotac ZBOX CI662 nano Specifications
 

The Zotac ZBOX CI662 nano kit doesn't come with any pre-installed OS, but does come with a read-only USB key containing the drivers. In any case, we ended up installing the latest drivers downloaded off Zotac's product support page. In addition to the main unit, the other components of the package include a 65 W (19V @ 3.42A) adapter, a US power cord, a VESA mount (along with the necessary screws), a single 2.4 GHz / 5 GHz antenna for the Wi-Fi feature, user's manual and a quick-start guide.

The external hardware appearance and build quality of the system, as well as the I/Os are essentially the same as the CI660 nano we looked at in 2019. The differentiating aspects (compared to other mini-PCs) continue to be the full-sized SDXC card slot and dual RJ-45 LAN ports. The honeycomb design of the chassis with liberal perforations allows for the heat drawn away by the heat sink to be convectively dissipated.

The rubber feet on the underside of the chassis can be removed without the use of a screwdriver (Zotac touts tool-less installation as a plus point for the system). Opening up the underside allows for the installation of a 2.5" SATA drie and DDR4 SODIMMs. The base itself has thermal pads mounted for the RAM sticks as well as the SSD.

The plastic film over the thermal pads need to be removed prior to finalizing the installation of components. The ASMedia ASM2142 daughterboard that enables the two USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C ports can also be seen adjoining the SODIMM slots.

BIOS Features

Zotac has a functional GUI-based BIOS interface. The gallery below brings out the various features in the BIOS.

The main screen provides system information at a glance. The OC section allows for enabling / disabling cores, activation of turbo modes and C-states, as well as controlling the Intel SpeedStep dynamic frequency scaling option. By default, the system makes beeping noises when starting up or rebooting - this can be turned off in the 'Features' section of the BIOS. Advanced options such as SGX (Software Guard Extensions) can also be controlled from here. The 'PC Health' section gives a view of the temperature and voltages in the system. ACPI settings are handled in the 'Power' section. The 'Boot' section allows configuration of boot order, selection of UEFI or legacy mode for the OS, fast boot control, secure boot configuration, etc. Single-time boot overriding is also possible.

Platform Analysis

Intel's Comet Lake-U processor has a wide variety of IO configurations, and we start with the configuration used on the ZBOX CI662 nano board by Zotac.

The SDXC card reader is enabled by a Realtek USB card reader controller. The two USB 3.2 Gen 2 (10Gbps) ports in the front are enabled by the ASMedia ASM2142 controller connecting to the built-in PCH through a PCIe 3.0 x4 link. The two Gigabit Ethernet controllers also take up a single PCIe 3.0 lane each. The Wireless-AC 9462 WLAN controller talks to the CML-U SiP using CNVi, while using one of the USB ports for Bluetooth functionality. The four Type-A ports in the rear are all USB 3.2 Gen 2 (10Gbps) directly from the built-in PCH. The single USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A port (marked helpfully by Zotac as USB 3.0 to differentiate from the USB 3.1 tag on the other USB ports) is also behind the same root hub as the other USB ports off the built-in PCH.

Benchmarks and Performance

In the table below, we have an overview of the various systems that we are comparing the Zotac ZBOX CI662 nano 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 CI662 nano when we come to those sections.

Comparative PC Configurations
Aspect Zotac ZBOX CI662 nano
CPU Intel Core i7-10510U Intel Core i7-10510U
GPU Intel UHD Graphics Intel UHD Graphics
RAM Team Group TEAMGROUP-SD4-2666 DDR4 SODIMM
18-16-16-39 @ 2400 MHz
2x8 GB
Team Group TEAMGROUP-SD4-2666 DDR4 SODIMM
18-16-16-39 @ 2400 MHz
2x8 GB
Storage SK hynix Gold S31
(1 TB; 2.5" SATA III; SK hynix 72L 3D TLC)
(SK hynix Quartz SH87830CC In-House Controller)
SK hynix Gold S31
(1 TB; 2.5" SATA III; SK hynix 72L 3D TLC)
(SK hynix Quartz SH87830CC In-House Controller)
Wi-Fi Intel Wireless-AC 9462 Intel Wireless-AC 9462
Price (in USD, when built) $550 (barebones)
$715 (as configured / No OS)
$550 (barebones)
$715 (as configured / No OS)

All of the above systems other than the ECS LIVA Z3 Plus and the Frost Canyon NUC are passively cooled. We include those two actively-cooled systems to get an idea of the performance of the CI662 nano against other Comet Lake-U mini-PCs. LIVA Z3 Plus Out of these systems. In the remainder of this review, we will first look at BAPCo's SYSmark 25, followed by various UL benchmarks and miscellaneous workloads. We also present some storage and networking performance numbers. A detailed look at the HTPC credentials of the system is followed by testing of the power consumption and thermal solution.

BAPCo SYSmark 25
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  • wr3zzz - Tuesday, January 5, 2021 - link

    I am a huge fan of passively cooled PC but at this price point there is not much value proposition. I understand that there are no more Y-series CPU at the moment (love my HP Folio) but most notebook at $700 price point today has a silent fan profile if one were to use it as a HTPC. Also, this thing is not a looker either and for aesthetics I would rather have a notebook with display off as HTPC. For everything else its performance is no better than a notebook of equivalent value and I would trade the fan noise for actual utility of having the display and inputs in one unit.

    NUC has no chance if its value proposition is inferior to notebooks.
    Reply
  • Operandi - Tuesday, January 5, 2021 - link

    Yeah, I have to agree the value of this as a HTPC is absurd which is a shame as lit looks like it works quite well. And from the pics I think it actually looks alright (at least from pics) from ID perspective; much better than the ugly AF Intel NUCs.

    I got a pretty good deal on a older 8000 series NUC and put it in a passive Akasa case. Looks very cool, cools decently but still pretty expensive even if the NUC was way under retail.
    Reply
  • Hulk - Tuesday, January 5, 2021 - link

    My thoughts exactly. You can buy a laptop for less money. The price point is way off.

    Beside that huge miss it also needs a Tiger Lake processor for better performance and thermals/efficiency.
    Reply
  • jeremyshaw - Tuesday, January 5, 2021 - link

    I would even argue as a forward looking HTPC, the lack of Tiger Lake kills it. No hardware AV1 decode on these old Skylake+++ CPUs. Reply
  • Jorgp2 - Tuesday, January 5, 2021 - link

    There's always the Atom based NUCs if you just want an HTPC.

    Hopefully the Tremont based NUCs will have 4K 10bit HDR output this time.
    Reply
  • npz - Tuesday, January 5, 2021 - link

    I have yet to hear a laptop that is actually quiet under load. Who says this mini-PC purpose is for HTPC only? There are much cheaper options for HTPC only PCs.

    You are paying a premium for true silence under total load for actual work e.g. Adobe Creative Suite, etc. that you won't find on any laptop or a fanned NUC/mini-pc. Speaking of which, NUCs are also loud, like all laptops, under load. I personally can't stand my notebook when it's doing encoding or anything video processing related.
    Reply
  • npz - Tuesday, January 5, 2021 - link

    Custom fitted heatsink pieces like this are just not mass produced:
    https://www.zotac.com/download/files/page/Ci660/ci...
    Reply
  • wr3zzz - Tuesday, January 5, 2021 - link

    The Y-series 5W chips are always passively cooled and totally silent but are only for premium products easily over $1000+. Intel just hasn't made one for 10nm yet. The last one was from two years ago.

    Nobody is going to run Adobe Creative Suite or doing any content creation on this machine for that matter. Besides HTPC it's just productivity softwares which you can certainly run silently in no fan mode in recent notebooks if the the design is decent.
    Reply
  • npz - Tuesday, January 5, 2021 - link

    The Y chips are also correspondingly much weaker, and those are used in the lower end Surfaces if I recall. The higher end laptops/tablets don't use Y series chips

    And why not run Adobe software on a machine like this, with laptop class latest gen i7 cpu?! Even Intel advertises their i7 NUCs with explicit Adobe Premiere editing in their marketing.
    This isn't a low end Celeron or Pentium or Bay Trail class cpu that would be HTPC . Even productivity sotware / office suites can put heavy load on the cpu. Try some heavy spreadsheet calculation for example. PDF software like for OCR would also ramp up fans. Even if you're not editing movies, just editing photos can put 100% load on all cores. Or are you saying no one should edit photos on these machines?
    Reply
  • npz - Tuesday, January 5, 2021 - link

    And if I can use Adobe CC suite and Handbrake and others on my old Broadwell laptop, I would certainly do the same on this type of machine. Think about movie editing apps in Google Play that's running on much weaker Android devices Reply

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