Zotac is no stranger to the world of mini-PCs, and their latest – the Zbox MI553 – shows just how versatile these little boxes can be. There’s a plethora of uses for it thanks to some decent internals and an easy-to-access chassis, so no matter what you’ve got in store, the MI533 can adapt accordingly.

Price and availability

The Zbox MI553 is priced at $480 (approx. £365, AU$662, AED 1,790) which gets you a barebones system equipped with a 7th Gen Intel Kaby Lake Core Processor. Just add in your other essentials such as RAM and storage, and you’ll be ready to go.

It may seem that it’s priced a bit higher for a barebones system, but given that the system has support for Thunderbolt, USB-C, Intel Optane Memory, and 4K displays, it’s a fair price to pay.

Design

The Zbox MI553 is slightly larger than other similar machines we’ve seen from Zotac, but the increased size also means that you can pack a good number of components into it as well. The boxy, black appearance is nothing new, but thankfully there’s no shiny surfaces that could attract dust or fingerprints. A deep groove runs along the top cover of the unit, which helps draw cool air inside, while ventilation grilles on the side help expel warm air.

SPEC SHEET

Here is the Zotac Zbox MI553 configuration sent to TechRadar Pro for review:

CPU: Intel Core i5-7300HQ quad-core 2.5GHz

Graphics:  Intel HD Graphics 630 

Ports: 2 x USB-C (Thunderbolt 3), audio jack, SD card reader, 4 x USB 3.0, 1 x HDMI 2.0, 1 x DisplayPort 1.2, Ethernet

Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2

Size: 184.6mm x 184.6mm x 71.5mm   (W x D x H)

There’s a great selection of ports on the Zbox MI553, which we’ve come to expect from Zotac. At the front you have a USB 3.1 Type-C port, SD Card reader, and audio ports. At the back you have the bulk of connectivity, including a Thunderbolt 3 port, DisplayPort, HDMI, 4xUSB 3.0, Ethernet, and an antenna connector for Wi-Fi. 

We would have definitely liked to have some USB ports on the front as well to make connectivity easier if the Zbox MI553 is set up in a scenario where you can’t access the rear ports easily. On the plus side, you’ll be able to run up to three displays on the Zbox MI553, including 4K resolutions via Thunderbolt or DisplayPort, which is more than enough screen space.

Zotac has always made it fairly easy to get inside their devices, and the Zbox MI553 is no exception. Simply push two tabs at the back, and the device’s cover pops off. You can then slot in some RAM and storage to bring the device to life, and even here you’ve got options you wouldn’t expect from a PC this tiny.

For one, there’s support for Intel Optane Memory, should you opt to use a traditional HDD for storage instead of an SSD. There’s also a spare slot for an M.2 SSD SATAIII slot (22/42) as well, so when it comes to storage you can really play around with what works best. 

The system also supports up to 32GB of DDR4-2400/2133 RAM, which again is more than what we’ve seen on other mini PCs. Everything is easy to remove and adjust by hand, without needing to use a single screwdriver – even the hard drive simply snaps into a holding plate which you can then slide into the motherboard.

Since the Zbox MI553 is a barebones system, we installed a WD Green 128GB SSD for storage, and tacked on 8GB of RAM, which ise enough to run Windows 10 as well as perform some basic tasks and benchmarks.

Performance

The Zbox MI553 did fairly well in our benchmarks, though we did run into a few technical issues with 3DMark constantly crashing during our gaming tests, so we had to resort to real-world gaming tests instead. The system doesn’t get too loud when under stress, so even if you’re trying to open multiple browser tabs or doing a furious bit of file copying, the Zbox MI553 remains fairly quiet and cool.

Zotac says that the Zbox MI553 is capable of driving a 4K display, and in practice we found there were some caveats with this. We fitted 8GB of RAM into our review unit, so when we ran a 4K display via Thunderbolt, everything looked great. Connecting more displays and running them in addition to a 4K screen proved a little challenging, especially with media performance. 

BENCHMARKS

Here’s how the Zotac Zbox MI553 performed in our suite of benchmark tests:

Geekbench: 4,215 (single-core); 12,125 (multi-core); 20,711 (compute)

Cinebench CPU: 522

PCMark 8: 4673

For example, we ran a 4K video on one screen, and when we replicated the same video across two additional screens, we saw a slight framerate drop on one of the monitors, so it’s best to run multiple monitors at FHD resolutions instead.

Applications such as Office ran pretty well, and even multiple tabs on Chrome didn’t slow down the Zbox MI553. Gaming is technically possible, but we wouldn’t recommend it – you’ll only be able to get a smooth gameplay experience on very low graphics settings, which will hamper your overall experience. We managed to play Overwatch at around 52fps on very low settings, so perhaps older games will run more efficiently.

Final verdict

The Zotac Zbox MI553 is a great mini PC that can fulfill a variety of purposes. It’s strong enough to handle everyday office tasks if you install enough RAM and storage, or can simply be tucked away as a thin client in an office or even as a simple PC for browsing or coding in a classroom. 

The flexibility to configure it with exactly what components you need is a definitive plus, and with low power consumption and a small footprint, it’s a PC that you can easily tuck away in your living room as a dedicated media streaming box, or for some light couch gaming.



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