|Specs at a glance: Zotac Zbox EN1060 (barebones)|
|CPU||Intel Core i5-6400T|
|GPU||Nvidia GTX 1060 (mobile)|
|Networking||Dual gigabit LAN, 802.11ac/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Ports||Microphone, headphone, 2x USB 3.0, 1x USB 3.1 Type-C, 1x USB 3.1, 2x USB 2.0|
|RAM||2 x DDR4-1866/2133 SODIMM Slots (up to 32GB)|
|Storage||1x 2.5-inch SATA 6.0 Gbps HDD/SSD bay, 1x M.2 PCIe x4 slot (22/42,22/60,22/80)|
Nvidia blurred the line between desktop and laptop graphics earlier this year when it replaced its mobile-centric “M” line with nearly full-blown GTX 1080, GTX 1070, and GTX 1060 GPUs. But impressive thin, light, gaming-ready laptops and wallet-busting desktop replacements aside—I’m looking at you, Razer Blade Pro—there’s another small-but-compelling computer that’s benefited from all this graphics goodness: the mini PC.
For the first time (Gigabyte’s awful Brix Gaming range and Alienware’s modest Steam Machines notwithstanding), you can buy a PC that’s smaller than a game console, yet packs in enough processing power to run games at ultra settings and 60FPS.
Enter the Magnus EN1060, the latest model from mini PC champions Zotac. Inside its tiny 20cm-by-20cm footprint sits a quad-core Intel Core i5 processor and an Nvidia GTX 1060 graphics card, giving it enough graphics grunt to power games at the highest settings, even at resolutions above 1080p. It makes for a mean, highly portable, VR-ready PC. Unfortunately, stuffing such powerful components into a chassis barely bigger than a DVD case was always going to result in some compromises—and the EN1060 isn’t quite the desktop powerhouse its spec sheet promises.
Pragmatic, not pretty
But let’s start with the more obvious problem: this thing isn’t a looker. The Zbox, with its metal chassis flanked by robust plastic top and bottom covers, definitely feels like it could take a few knocks, but aesthetically it feels awfully dated. Indeed, Zotac has been using the EN1060’s chassis design for a few years now, and outside of a few small tweaks and internal changes it remains largely the same. It’s the little things that do it: the large, highly visible vents that have been carved into its naff, textured black plastic; the entirely pointless glossy circle on the top cover; and the oversized power button sunk into the piano-black front. It’s a mishmash of design elements that fails to form a cohesive whole. For something that costs £875 (or $1,000) before you put an SSD or RAM in it or load an OS, I expect better.
The flipside is that, while the EN1060 isn’t something you’d actively show off to people like you would a Mac Mini or even Intel’s Skull Canyon NUC, its mundane appearance doesn’t attract attention either. You could leave it out in the open in a living room and most people would assume it’s a router, rather than a fully-fledged PC. Measuring a mere 210mm by 203mm, with a height of just 62mm, the EN1060 fits into spaces where even a PS4 Slim or Xbox One S would have a tough time, and while there’s an external power brick, it’s roughly half the size of the one that came with the original Xbox One.
The design is practical too. Up front, to the right of the power button, is an SD card reader, a standard USB 3.1 port, a microphone jack, a headphone jack, and a USB 3.1 Type-C port, which covers pretty much every peripheral eventuality. Round the back is another large vent that gives you glimpse of the large copper heat-sink inside, along with two USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, two DisplayPort 1.3 ports, two HDMI 2.0 ports, an external aerial socket for the internal 802.11ac/b/g/n WiFi, and—in an odd but welcome inclusion—dual gigabit Ethernet ports. The lack of USB 3.1 on the rear is disappointing, particularly if you’re interested in hooking up fast external storage, but the dual Ethernet ports mean the EN1060 can pull double duty as a DIY router or a server.
Barebones or go home
The EN1060 is available in a few different configurations, coming with or without RAM, storage, and an OS. If you’re comfortable with a small amount of PC DIY (we’re talking very small here), then the barebones version is the way to go. To get inside the EN1060 you undo two thumb screws from the back of unit, then slide the bottom panel off—that’s it. Inside is space for a standard 2.5-inch hard drive or SSD, an M.2 slot for super fast storage like Samsung’s latest 960 Pro NMVe SSDs, and two laptop-style SODIMM slots—good for 32GB of RAM, until someone releases some larger SODIMMs. You can also get at the Intel wireless card if you prefer to swap it out for another model (read: anyone attempting to make a Hackintosh out of this thing).
The rest of the EN1060 is standard across all configurations, starting with an Intel Core i5-6400T processor. While this is a quad-core chip, it comes from Intel’s power-optimised range, with a TDP of just 35W, and is clocked considerably lower than a typical i5—at 2.2GHz with a 2.8GHz boost clock. It’s an understandable inclusion given the small chassis, but bear in mind you won’t be getting quite the same performance as you would from a chip with a higher TDP and clocks. It’s a similar story for the GTX 1060, which sports the exact same specs as its desktop counterpart, but is clocked at a lower 1404MHz, with a 1607MHz boost clock.
Its desktop counterpart has a 1505MHz core clock and a rated boost clock of 1708MHz. While that 100MHz difference might not seem like much on paper, it doesn’t take into account the far more aggressive boost clocks you get with a well-cooled desktop GPU. Indeed, in our review of the GTX 1060 Founders Edition—which sports a simple blower-style design rather than the more extravagant cooling systems of partner cards—it comfortably boosted up to just over of 1900MHz without overclocking. That’s a hefty 300MHz more than the boost clock for the mobile part, and, as the benchmarks show below, it makes quite a big difference to performance. The mobile GTX 1060 simply can’t boost as high due to its far more constrained thermals.