Product Listing

The Zotac ZBOX Sphere OI520 is one funky Mini-PC

By Kenny Yeo - 5 Sep 2014
Launch SRP: S$659


Spherical Delight

As we have mentioned in our last review of the Zotac ZBOX IQ01, Mini-PCs have been experiencing significant growth in the past year. Specifically, vice president of Intel’s PC Client Group Lisa Graff said that sales of Mini-PCs have shot from nearly zero units in 2012 to over a million in 2013.

And if we are talking about Mini-PCs, one name that has come to the fore is Zotac. Recently, the company further stamped its Mini-PCs credentials by announcing the pocket-size ZBOX PI320 pico desktop PC, which measures 11.5cm long. 6.6cm wide and is 1.9cm thick - or roughly the equivalent of three iPhones stacked on top of each other.

Does this not look like the Death Star?

While these systems may be small, they are certainly not lacking in processing capabilities and thanks to Intel’s latest Core processors, they are more than capable of running productivity tasks, web browsing and watching high-definition videos. As a result, they are often employed by enthusiasts in living rooms as HTPC (Home Theater PCs). On top of that, the compact nature of Mini-PCs also mean that they lend themselves well to unusual designs, so as to better complement the living room environment. And one of the funkiest Mini-PCs we have seen thus far is the new Zotac ZBOX Sphere OI520.

Hardware & Design

Most desktop systems and Mini-PCs are predictably squarish or blockish, but not the Zotac ZBOX Sphere OI520. The name alone should give you a hint as to how it looks like and it stays true to its name. Decked in black, the ZBOX Sphere OI520 sports an unusual spherical design. It is not entirely spherical, however, and it is only upon closer inspection that one realizes that it has a square base that has been integrated into its spherical design. The square base helps keep it upright and it is quite subtle and not immediately apparent, unless you look at the ZBOX Sphere OI520 from its side.

The base is actually square-shaped to help the Zotac ZBOX Sphere OI520 stand on its own. Note the additional USB 2.0 port.

Power the system up and you will be greeted by the familiar blue glow of Zotac Mini-PCs.

The chassis is made of thick plastic and has been given a rubberized matte finish. This serves two purposes: for one, it helps reduce fingerprints, but more importantly, it provides additional grip for the times that you want o access the ZBOX Sphere OI520 innards. This is because to open it up, one would need to grip the upper half of the case and twist it open, not unlike opening a jar of peanut butter. However, it must be noted that this task would be accomplished easier if one has big hands, because the circumference of the lid is pretty big.

Here is the ZBOX Sphere OI520 next to the ZBOX IQ01, both are equally compact, though the Sphere does take up more space by virtue of its spherical design.

Speaking of size, the ZBOX Sphere OI520 is one of Zotac’s larger Mini-PCs, since it stands at around 17cm tall and 15cm wide. Even so, as far as desktop PCs go, the ZBOX Sphere OI520 is still remarkably compact and should slot into spaces easily.

Under the lid lies the hardware and the ZBOX Sphere OI520 comes powered by a dual-core Intel Core i5-4200U processor (1.6GHz, 3MB L3 cache) that comes with Intel HD Graphics 4400 integrated graphics, and also comes equipped with Intel’s AC-3160 WiFi module, which supports Wireless-AC and also Bluetooth 4.0.

Despite its compact size, the ZBOX Sphere OI520 has just about all the ports you would want or need. An additional USB 2.0 port is hidden to the left and out of view.

Users would need to supply their own memory and the ZBOX Sphere OI520 has two memory bays to support regular DDR3 SO-DIMM memory modules with support for speeds of up to 1600MHz and a maximum capacity of 16GB. Storage is another component that users would need to supply on their own and the ZBOX Sphere OI520 supports both regular 2.5-inch SATA 6Gbps drives and mSATA drives. This lets users install a mSATA SSD and a regular hard disk drive for the best combination of speed and capacity.

The best bit about the ZBOX Sphere OI520 is that despite its modest size, there is no shortage of ports and connectivity options. In total, it has seven USB ports (4 x USB 3.0, 3 x USB 2.0), an HDMI port, a DisplayPort, Ethernet port, a 4-in-1 memory card reader and headphones and microphone jacks. Very impressive for a device of its size.

Installation of the memory and storage components is straightforward and very easy, requiring users to only use a single screw to secure each drive in place after it has been installed, though it must be said that installing the mSATA drive, which is located on the underside is a little trickier because of the angle of entry. However, the most frustrating part of all, for us at least, is actually twisting off the cover. The cover locks into place but the locking mechanism is unreliable and can be frustrating to unlock. Apart from that, installation was an absolute cinch.

The locking mechanism is iffy to use and not exactly reliable, making it difficult to remove the top panel.

Once you succeed in removing the top panel, you are greeted by the twin SO-DIMM slots and 2.5-inch hard disk bay. Installing both components can be done in just mere minutes even if you are an absolute klutz.

The mSATA slot is hidden on the underside and installing this is a little trickier as you need to align the drive into the slot. The CPU is also hidden on the underside.

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  • Design 8.5
  • Features 8.5
  • Performance 7.5
  • Value 7.5
The Good
Funky design
Wireless-AC support
Lots of connectivity options
Support for mSATA & SATA drives
4K support via DisplayPort
Reasonably priced
The Bad
Average performance
Weak graphics performance
Cover is tricky to remove
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