Zotac has been making small systems for quite some time, progressing from small form factor to Nano, and now even smaller.
Many companies made small computers, often for embedded applications or for media players, but the arrival of the Intel NUC machines turned many into what eventually became a lucrative market.
One direction these devices have taken is that they can be mounted on the back of a monitor, effectively turning that screen into a system.
That’s the part of the market that Zotac has targeted with the impossibly small ZBOX PI336 Pico.
Being small can have advantages for computer hardware, but is a PC this small and powerful really practical?
Price and availability
The Pico has yet to arrive in sales channels, but is expected to do so in the coming weeks. The UK MSRP is £319, including VAT, which equates to about $300 or 320 euros.
Once this hardware is released, it should be widely available through online retailers.
Many computers are marketed as “small,” some that are not significantly smaller than conventional desktop systems.
But the ZBOX PI336 Pico, or Pico as we’ll call it from this point on, is almost improbably small.
Measuring just 115mm long by 76mm wide and 20.7mm deep, this is incredibly small for a machine with an Intel X86 compatible processor.
However, the fact that it is so small has inevitably led to some compromises regarding the number of ports and the upgradability of this device.
The back has a full-size HDMI and DisplayPort, allowing dual output to 4K, according to the marketing material. In addition, there is a gigabit Ethernet port, headphone/microphone combo and a type-C USB 3.1 port.
There are two more USB 3.1 ports on the left side of the Type-A variety, but disappointingly no USB 3.2 ports at all. The only functions on the right side are a power button and its LED, and the front has a single MDHC/SDHX card slot for those with small fingers.
Each Pico comes with a plastic bracket to mount the machine VESA to a monitor and a power outlet PSU to power the unit.
The construction appears to be mostly metal, with fins on the top and bottom and a ceramic plate bearing the maker’s name. This surface modeling is critical as the Pico is passively cooled, making it both quiet in operation and in dire need of airflow.
More on thermals later, but as you’d expect with such a compact design, everything is packed tightly inside, and while it has a removable bottom, this machine isn’t made for owners to tinker with the inside.
The machine comes with Windows 11Pro N preinstalled and a USB recovery key that can restore the operating system if something catastrophic happens to that installation.
Here is the ZOTAC ZBOX PI336 Pico configuration sent to Ditching for review:
PROCESSOR: Intel Celeron processor N6211 (dual-core 1.2 GHz, up to 3.0 GHz)
Graphic: Intel UHD graphics
RAM: 4 GB LPDDR4x internal memory
Storage: 128 GB eMMC memory
Ports: 1 x USB 3.1 Gen 1 USB-C, 2 x USB3.1 Gen 1 Type-A, 1 x HDMI 2.0, 1x DisplayPort 1.4, 1 x universal audio jack, 1 x micro SDHC/SDXC slot
Connectivity: Intel WiFi 6E, Gigabit LAN Adapter, Bluetooth v5.2
Mate: 115 x 76 x 20.7mm (W x D x H)
Building such a small computer requires very deliberate part choices, and Zotac engineers went into the Pico with Intel’s Celeron N6211 dual-core processor.
Launched in 2021, this is probably one of the lowest specification processors Intel makes and is ideally designed for IoT, not personal computers. The silicon inside is Elkhart Lake generation built for low-power use of PCs, tablets and client systems. But this chip is the lowest rung on the Elkhart Lake ladder, with dual cores clocked at just 1.2GHz, boosted to 3GHz until the thermal dynamics choose otherwise.
The TDP of this chip is a very low 6.5W, has up to 8 PCIe lanes and the integrated Intel UHD Graphics for 10th Gen Intel Processors GPU.
And critically, for the Pico, the maximum operating temperature is 70C.
The Zotac SKU sent for review came with 4GB of LPDDR4X RAM and 128GB of eMMC onboard storage. Networking is via the wired LAN or Intel WiFi 6E adapter, and the device has Bluetooth 5.2 for those who like to keep their USB ports empty.
Based on this specification, it is easy to imagine that this equipment is intended for light or very light duties. Because the processor can only handle two threads (no hyperthreading) and the speed of eMMC storage does not come close to SSD levels.
There’s plenty of power to do one job well, and this device would be ideal for a rapidly deploying firewall or surveillance sensors.
What’s not realistic is the idea that you could use this for gaming or use the dual outputs in 4K for a lot that would make sense. This CPU/GPU combo isn’t built to run two 4K displays smoothly until it’s a slideshow you need.
It can drive one if the source is a media file, but streaming 4K content from the web is a very stop-and-go exercise.
We’ll discuss the overall performance shortly, but those expecting something dramatic here will likely be very dissatisfied.