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.