Zotac ZBOX CI540 Nano Fanless Barebones Mini-PC

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ZBOX CI540 Nano Fanless Barebones Mini-PC

November 4, 2014 by Lawrence Lee

Zotac ZBOX CI540 Nano
Barebones Mini PC
Street Price

Zotac is no stranger to the smaller side of desktop computing. The Macau-based company was notorious for quickly pushing out compatible mini-ITX motherboards whenever a new desktop CPU architecture was released. Though no longer in the motherboard business, they retain an impressive catalog of USFF systems under the ZBOX moniker. It's been some time since we've tested one, the last being the HD-ND-22 in 2010, which featured a Core 2-based CULV (consumer ultra-low voltage) processor with NVIDIA ION graphics. At the time, most of the competition featured first generation Atom CPUs, popularized by ASUS' Eee PCs.

However, as Atom was primarily based on Pentium III technology, the performance it provided was dismal. The HD-ND-22 delivered a much needed speed boast, but the genre stalled until Intel pushed the performance envelope higher with the NUC. Gigabyte's BRIX series uses a similar foundation, as does Zotac. The newest ZBOXs are offered in a wide variety of configurations with just about every low voltage processor on the market. Of most interest is the C-series, which can boast zero-noise operation.

Specifications: Zotac ZBOX CI540 Nano
(from the product web page)
Product Name ZBOX CI540 nano
GPU Intel HD Graphics 4200
CPU Intel Core i5 4210Y (dual-core, 1.5 GHz) Intel Turbo Boost up to 1.9 GHz
Memory DDR3L
1600 MHz
1 x 204-pin SODIMM
up to 8GB
Networking 10/100/1000Mbps
802.11ac + Bluetooth 4.0
Audio Analog Stereo output
Digital 8-ch via DVI-HDMI adapter, S/PDIF
Storage Support 2.5-inch SATA 6.0 Gb/s HDD/SSD
Memory Card Reader 3-in-1 (SD/SDHC/SDXC)
Ports HDMI x 1
DisplayPort x 1
SATA x 1 (SATA 6.0 Gb/s)
USB 2.0 x 2 on front, 3.0 x 4 on back
eSATA x 1 (not officially specified)
Consumer IR receiver (not officially specified)
Passive cooling without cooling fan
Packaging Content 1 x ZOTAC ZBOX CI540 1 x WiFi antenna 1 x VESA mount 4 x Mounting screws 1 x AC adapter 1 x Power cord 1 x Warranty card 1 x User manual 1 x Quick Install Guide 1 x Driver disc

There are three base barebones models in the family, all with the same feature-set but differing processors. The CI320 uses a Bay Trail Atom, the Celeron N2930, the CI520 touts a Haswell-based Core i3-4020Y, and our review unit, the CI540, packs the slightly faster Core i5-4210Y. These three models are also available fully configured with RAM and SSDs, as well as with Windows 8.1 and Bing pre-installed. Compared to Haswell-powered NUCs, the CI540 is somewhat underpowered. Its clock speeds of 1.5~1.9 GHz are noticeably slower, though with this comes a lower 11.5W TDP (vs. 15W) which should reduce its cooling requirements. Memory support is halved, with only one SODIMM up to 8GB in size, but if you need 16GB, it's unlikely the CPU would be sufficient for whatever you have planned.

It does have more features though, with a wireless NIC included in addition to gigabit, and there's a memory card reader, and two extra USB 2.0 ports. Storage is limited to one 2.5-inch drive, which the larger NUC variants support in addition to mSATA. eSATA and consumer IR are also included and well-publicized on the box and pamphlet but these details are strangely absent from the official specifications.

Box and contents.

Assembly guide.

Support disc and flash drive.

Power adapter.

Unlike most fanless systems the CI540 Nano doesn't use its chassis for cooling, at least not directly. The main heatsink is inside and the plastic case around it is heavily ventilated. Included in the package is a power adapter, a WiFi antenna, VESA mounting bracket (not pictured), screws, an impressive fully-illustrated assembly guide in multiple languages, and both a disc and small USB flash drive containing the necessary drivers. The flash drive is a surprising but welcome addition that should be more common, especially as many modern PCs, especially notebooks, lack optical drives. The power brick is a Delta model with a class V efficient rating, and can output 19V/2.1A for a total of 40W.

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