Zotac is a major player in the SFF PC space, and the emergence of the ultra-compact form-factor (UCFF) NUCs has broadened the available market for ther mini-PCs. The company markets their passively-cooled machines under the C-series moniker. Their C-series nano units adopt a form-factor very similar to Intel's NUCs, providing performance and thermal efficiency commensurate with their size.

The company's latest models, the CI6xx nano units, are based on the Kaby Lake-Refresh U-series processors, and they aim to improve on the older C-series units by adopting a larger form factor and adding more platform features. The larger form factor should, in theory, be able to accommodate a better-performing cooling system. The added platform features should be able to broaden the addressed markets. But how well does Zotac fare with respect to these goals? This review aims to provide some answers.

Introduction and Platform Analysis

The Zotac ZBOX CI660 nano belongs to the company's passively-cooled C-series family. It is based on the Kaby Lake-R U-series SiPs (KBL-R U). We had reviewed the Zotac CI523 nano back in 2016. At that time, we had appreciated what Zotac had done by introducing an affordable fanless high-performance computing system for the average consumer. The CI523 nano, which was based on a 15W TDP Core i3-6100U, was slightly larger than the CI540 nano (based on a 11.5W Haswell-Y SiP).

Zotac's new CI660 nano, by contrast, eschews the square-base form factor of the previous C-series PCs for a rectangular board. The larger board area also allows Zotac to integrate dual gigabit Ethernet ports (compared to the single port in the CI523 nano). The larger heat-sink allows for the integration of the Core i7-8550U, a processor with a 15W TDP that can also be configured for operation at 7.5W or 25W.

The CI660 nano is available barebones, or, in a PLUS model with RAM and SSD (no OS). The latter is priced at $700. Zotac supplied us with a barebones model for review, and we utilized a Crucial BX300 480GB 2.5" SATA SSD and two Patriot Memory DDR4-2800 SODIMMs to complete the build.

The specifications of our Zotac ZBOX CI660 nano review configuration are summarized in the table below.

Zotac ZBOX CI660 nano Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-8550U
Kaby Lake Refresh-U, 4C/8T, 1.8 (4.0) GHz
8MB L2, 15 W TDP
Memory Patriot Memory 2800 C18 Series PV432G280C8SK DDR4 SODIMM
18-18-18-43 @ 2800 MHz
2x16 GB
Graphics Intel UHD Graphics 620
Disk Drive(s) Crucial BX300
(480 GB; 2.5" SATA III SSD; IMFT 32L 3D MLC)
Networking Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3165
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
2x Realtek RTL8168 (MAC) / RTL8111 (PHY) 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 5x USB 3.0 Type-A
2x USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C
Operating System Retail unit is barebones, but we installed Windows 10 Enterprise x64
Pricing $700 (PLUS model with a 4GB DDR4 SODIMM and a 120GB SSD)
$865 (as configured, no OS)
Full Specifications Zotac ZBOX CI660 nano Specifications

The Zotac ZBOX CI660 nano kit comes with a quick-start guide, user's manual, hardware for VESA mounting, bunch of screws for installing the storage drive, and a 65 W (19V @ 3.42A) adapter with a US power cord. A read-only USB drive with the requisite drivers is also bundled.

The gallery below takes us around the chassis design. Note that the unit is liberally perforated, allowing for easier convective heat dissipation.

Access to the SATA drive bay and the SODIMM slots is tool-less, as is typical of Zotac's mini-PCs. Unscrewing the base also reveals the ASMedia ASM2142 daughterboard that enables the two USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C ports. The base itself has thermal pads mounted for the RAM sticks as well as the SSD.

The heat sink fins revealed by the removal of the base fully envelopes the top segment of the board. The gallery below takes us around the unit as it is subject to additional teardown.

Platform Analysis

The Core i7-8550U package integrates an Intel Cannon Point-LP platform controller hub (PCH). While Zotac doesn't document the board layout in detail, the distribution of the PCIe lanes from the SiP is brought out in the system report summary generated by AIDA64:

  • PCI-E 3.0 x1 port #3 In Use @ x1 (Realtek RTL8168/8111 PCI-E Gigabit Ethernet Adapter)
  • PCI-E 3.0 x1 port #4 In Use @ x1 (Realtek RTL8168/8111 PCI-E Gigabit Ethernet Adapter)
  • PCI-E 3.0 x1 port #5 In Use @ x1 (Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3165 AC HMC WiFi Adapter)
  • PCI-E 3.0 x4 port #9 In Use @ x2 (ASMedia ASM2142 USB 3.1 xHCI Controller)

Unlike the Bean Canyon NUC's CNVi Wi-Fi built into the PCH, the CI660 nano has to use one of the PCIe lanes to support the Intel Wireless-AC 3165 WLAN adapter. The USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports also have to be enabled by a discrete ASMedia ASM2142 bridge. We have two gigabit Ethernet ports, and both are enabled by Realtek controllers.

The HDMI display output from the CI660 nano is not directly from the SiP's HDMI display output. Rather, Zotac uses a Parade Technologies PS175 LSPCon on board to convert the Display Port 1.2 output of the processor to a HDMI 2.0 port with HDCP 2.2. Theoretically, this also supports HDR. However, stereoscopic 3D is not supported.

In the table below, we have an overview of the various systems that we are comparing the Zotac ZBOX CI660 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 CI660 nano when we come to those sections.

Comparative PC Configurations
Aspect Zotac ZBOX CI660 nano
CPU Intel Core i7-8550U Intel Core i7-8550U
GPU Intel UHD Graphics 620 Intel UHD Graphics 620
RAM Patriot Memory Viper PV432G280C8SK DDR4 SODIMM
18-18-18-43 @ 2800 MHz
2x16 GB
Patriot Memory Viper PV432G280C8SK DDR4 SODIMM
18-18-18-43 @ 2800 MHz
2x16 GB
Storage Crucial BX300
(480 GB; 2.5" SATA III; Micron 32L 3D MLC)
Crucial BX300
(480 GB; 2.5" SATA III; Micron 32L 3D MLC)
Wi-Fi Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3165
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3165
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
Price (in USD, when built) $625 (barebones)
$865 (as configured, No OS)
$625 (barebones)
$865 (as configured, No OS)
BAPCo SYSmark 2018
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  • eastcoast_pete - Tuesday, April 16, 2019 - link

    Thanks Ganesh! Two comments, one question - question first:
    Was your choice of a SATA SSD based on the ability of the ZBOX to support (not support) an NVMe SSD, or based on what parts were available?
    As a comment, use of slower vs. faster storage (SATA vs NVMe) will obviously affect a number of performance benchmarks. Why not standardize on one unless the unit tested won't support the better option?
    My other comment is about the pricing of the ZBOX (bare bone): not a good value proposition for HTPC use, given that the current i7 NUC is cheaper, with a superior CPU/GPU. The presence of two gigabit ethernet connections in the ZBOX might be a plus in certain situations, but otherwise it's overpriced compared to the NUC.
  • ganeshts - Wednesday, April 17, 2019 - link

    No NVMe SSD support in the CI660 nano. I had to use a SATA drive, and chose the best one available at my disposal from a cost viewpoint (at the time I configured the review sample - sometime in early Q4 2018).

    You are right about standardizing the storage drive. However, we tend to choose a drive available in retail for a reasonable cost at the time of configuring the review sample. Since we review a system or two each quarter, it becomes difficult to use the same drive across a large number of reviews. That said, you can find that we either use Crucial SATA SSDs (MX200 / BX300) or Samsung / WD NVMe SSDs (950 PRO / WD Black / SanDisk Extreme Pro) unless the sample comes pre-configured with different SSDs by the vendor (eg. - Hades Canyon).

    The CI6xx nano platform is suitable for HTPCs, though, the i7 model might be a bit too pricey for that sole purpose. As one of the other commentators noted, Zotac does have i3- and i5- models in the series.
  • mooninite - Tuesday, April 16, 2019 - link

    $865 is $300 too much. Looks like most of this cost is tied up with the use of an i7, which is completely unnecessary in this form factor. CPU power is not the limitation here. The GPU is.

    I can't see this as a big seller over a NUC.
  • mooninite - Tuesday, April 16, 2019 - link

    Also, I wish Zotac had come out with their AMD mini-pcs with Vega graphics. Such a shame... that would have sold. I wonder why they backed out.
  • Haawser - Wednesday, April 17, 2019 - link

    Agreed, I'd rather have a 15W Ryzen 7 3700U in this form factor. Because UHD620 is going to be a severe limitation for anything beyond the most basic low res, minimum settings gaming. Whereas at 720p/med fullscreen, Vega 10 should play pretty much anything.

    No idea why Zotac don't offer a Ryzen APU version. Intel 'discounts' maybe ? Or rather, threats of removing them if Zotac don't play ball ? Wouldn't put it past them to offer 'inducemets' like that. Their history being what it is.
  • lukethedrifter - Tuesday, April 16, 2019 - link

    There are i3 and i5 versions as well, ci620 and ci640 respectively.

    This is a niche product for those who want something NUC-sized but fanless, for which there are relatively few options.That's the selling point, not that it's price competitive with regular NUCs.
  • Beaver M. - Monday, April 29, 2019 - link

    Or an Nvidia Shield, which is still the best and cheapest way to get what an HTPC is supposed to do.
  • mikato - Tuesday, April 16, 2019 - link

    Noise question here... Ganesh, you said you were disappointed in the fan noise of the Intel NUC8i7BEH though I didn't see much detail. How bad was it (idle and when streaming something), and is this ZBOX far better noise-wise because it's fanless?
  • ganeshts - Wednesday, April 17, 2019 - link

    The Bean Canyon NUC's fan is problematic because it is small and high-pitched when there is sudden load on the CPU. At idle, not that much. But, network streaming and even Kodi playback sometimes makes the unit hot enough for the fan to turn on. It is audible from 10 ft away, particularly during quiet scenes in the movie. The ZBOX noise is inaudible at that range - so, for the HTPC user who isn't very picky, it might work.

    That said, there are some passive chasses for the Bean Canyon NUCs in the market. Those might be worth a look. However, that is not a 'ready-out-of-the-box' solution.
  • mikato - Friday, May 3, 2019 - link

    Thanks! Please keep include noise as a concern in these mini PCs.

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