Introduced back at CES 2023, Intel’s Alder Lake-N platform is the company's newest and latest budget platform for entry-level PCs. With the hardware now shipping, Zotac is among the first well-known PC makers to offer use the platform for its Zbox Edge MI351 mini-PC. Though it's not as small as some of its competitors, it offers a degree of upgradeability and plenty of ports.

The Zotac Zbox Edge MI351 is based around Intel's N100 processor, which offers four Gracemont CPU cores operating at 800 MHz – 3.40 GHz and an Intel Xe-based iGPU with advanced media decoding (AV1, H.264, H.265, etc.) and encoding capabilities. From performance point of view, Intel's N100 should offer performance comparable to that of quad-core Skylake-class processors from 2015 – 2018, albeit with much more sophisticated multimedia engine. The latter of which is important not only for HTPCs, but also for various other applications N100 devices are aimed at, including kiosks and digital signage.

Looking at the MI351's design itself, it's interesting to see that Zotac opted to use an active cooling system with a fan to cool down the N100 processor. The official TDP of the N100 is just 6 Watts, but as Intel's modern TDP mantra means that chips are allowed to consume much more energy than that when turbo boosting, manufacturers are increasingly designing their boxes to sustain higher thermals in order to keep performance up.

The PC also offers a decent degree of upgradability for a budget, Atom-class box. Zotac hasn't soldered down any memory or NAND storage – a common sight in these devices – so the Zbox Edge MI351 offers a DIMM slot for a DDR5-4800 memory module as well as an M.2-2280 PCIe 3.0 x4 slot for a standard NVMe SSD.

Zotac's Zbox Edge MI351 also offers above-average connectivity for a low-end mini-PC. Besides a GbE port, four USB 3.2 ports Type-A ports are available (one on the front), as well as two 4Kp60-capable display outputs (DisplayPort 1.4, HDMI 2.0), and the usual 3.5mm audio in/out connectors. Wireless connectivity is also available via an integrated Wi-Fi 6 + Bluetooth 5.2 controller – though an external antenna (included) is needed to make use of them.

The trade-off for including room for DIMMs and M.2 SSDs, however, is that it requires a slightly larger footprint for the PC. Zotac's Zbox Edge MI351 system measures 149.5 mm x 149.5 mm x 28.5 mm (5.89 in x 5.89 in x 1.12 in), which is a tad smaller than Apple's M1 Mac Mini, but which is larger than many Atom-based systems. Still, the box is more than small enough that it offers VESA mounts, allowing one to hide it on the back of the display.

Finally, Zotac is not disclosing pricing for its Zbox Edge MI351 at this time. Keep in mind that this is being sold as a barebones unit, so buyers will need to include RAM and storage in their budget, as well as a copy of an OS.

Source: Zotac (via Liliputing)

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  • lemurbutton - Sunday, April 16, 2023 - link

    Why would anyone buy this over a Mac Mini M2?
  • meacupla - Sunday, April 16, 2023 - link

    You say this when Mac sales are down by 40.5% compared to last year.

    But here, let me break it down a little bit more.
    Mac Mini M2, base model 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD costs $600.
    N100 mini PC, with 16GB ram and 500GB SSD costs around $180~$220, includes a VESA mounting bracket, can playback 4K video, and is more than capable of handling a kiosk or Point-of-Sales program, email, and web browsing.

    So why would anyone pay $400 extra, when they aren't even going to use all the extra features on the M2? And then, for $400 extra, there are x86-64 mini PCs that are faster than the base model M2.
  • The_Assimilator - Sunday, April 16, 2023 - link

    Because not everyone is an idiot Mac fanboy.
  • TheinsanegamerN - Tuesday, April 18, 2023 - link

    Because why would you pay double to get a mac with less RAM, less storage, utter lack of upgradeability, and a fundamental incompatibility with windows software?
  • PeachNCream - Sunday, April 16, 2023 - link

    This is a genuinely interesting idea. Though I would prefer passive cooling, the decision to add a fan makes sense if the aim is to keep CPU clocks on the higher end and Intel is Intel so its certainly become something of a necessity over the years even for CPUs designed to operate sans fans. I have minor reservations about single channel memory, but as others have already pointed out, there is a healthy amount of bandwidth available thanks to DDR5 and Zotac's small form factor computing devices are usually designed rather well.
  • nicolaim - Tuesday, April 18, 2023 - link

    Zero USB-C ports in 2023! ROTFL

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