With the arrival of the NVIDIA ION GPU, you can build a media server that will fit in the palm of your hand. And, of course, it runs Linux.

For years I have toyed with the idea of setting up a media server for my entertainment center. The challenges in my way included cost, features, aesthetics, background noise and user-friendliness. All of those things are important because I'm not the only person who will be using the system I build. Hardware and software technologies are coming together to address all these challenges. With the advent of the Intel Atom processor and the NVIDIA ION GPU, affordable hardware now is available that allows for an HDTV media server. Likewise, software, such as XBMC and Boxee, has matured and provides a fun and friendly user experience for all levels of users.

For $249.99, the HD-ID11 is small, quiet and looks slick. The chassis is all plastic and feels a bit flimsy when deconstructed. However, the plastic is fairly thick and has tight tolerances. When the cover is in place and set screws tightened, it feels solid.

The front of the HD-ID11 has a 3.5mm headphone jack, a 3.5mm microphone jack, a USB port, an SD card reader, a power button and activity LEDs. The top of the case has a large blue O that lights up while the machine is on. It looks nice, but it can be turned off in the BIOS if it is bothersome. On the side, there is a USB port with a rubber stopper, and on the back, there are four more USB ports. The back also sports HDMI and DVI outputs, 10/100/1000 Ethernet, eSATA, optical out and a port for the power brick.

Figure 1. The ZOTAC ZBOX HD-ID11 with dual-core Atom D510 CPU, NVIDIA ION GPU and HDMI output makes a great low-cost home-theater media box.

Figure 2. Back panel of the HD-ID11 has eSATA, four USB, 10/100/1000 Ethernet, DVI and HDMI outputs, optical out and a connector for power.

Figure 3. The front of the HD-ID11 has a 3.5mm headphone jack, 3.5mm microphone jack, SD card reader, USB port, activity LEDs and power button.

Figure 4. HD-ID11 motherboard with 2GB of Kingston RAM installed. Mount and thumbscrew is for the 2.5" HDD/SSD.


What makes the ZOTAC ZBOX HD-ID11 special is all the power that's packed into the small package. The machine is only 7.4" x 7.4" x 1.73" (188mm x 188mm x 44mm). Here are some of the main technical specs:

  • CPU: Intel ATOM D510 (dual-core, 1.66GHz), 667MHz front-side bus.

  • Chipset: Intel NM10 Express chipset.

  • GPU: NVIDIA ION GPU (with 512MB DDR3 memory).

  • Networking: Gigabit (10/1000/10000 Mbps), 802.11b/g/n.

  • Audio: onboard 8-channel digital audio, stereo analog audio.

  • I/O: HDMI, DVI (DVI-to-VGA dongle included), S/PDIF, mic/headphone, 6 x USB 2.0, RJ45, eSata.

  • Memory slot: 1 x 200-pin DDR2-800 SO-DIMM slot.

  • Hard drive slot: 1 x 2.5" hard drive (SATA 3.0Gb/s).

One thing separating the ZBOX from the competition is that it does not ship with memory or a hard drive. This allows you to tailor the computer to your needs without buying too much hardware or paying an inflated price for those components.

The HD-ID11 has support for up to 4GB of memory by using a single 200-pin DDR2-800 memory module. I installed 2GB of Kingston DDR2 RAM, which performed flawlessly. If you plan on using the ZBOX for playback only, 1GB of RAM should be sufficient. With the extra RAM available, I decided to use a 640GB hard drive and went with local management for the media. The Intel Atom processor is powerful enough to do a good job with video playback (via the NVIDIA ION GPU) and manage the library at the same time.


The ZBOX uses a standard American Megatrends BIOS that can be entered by pressing the Delete key during the boot phase. The settings I felt worth changing included the boot priority, turning off the ZBOX logo at boot time and having the ZBOX restart after a power failure. The other BIOS settings had sane defaults.

The first thing I noticed when I booted the ZBOX with Ubuntu was it did not take long before the CPU fan would spin up to maximum and start to sound like a jet engine. This was worrisome, as I intended to keep the ZBOX in my living room. Fortunately, there is a BIOS update available to fix this problem. As with most BIOS updaters, the updater used by the ZBOX requires a DOS boot disk to run. See wiki.fdos.org/Installation/BootDiskCreateUSB for some easy-to-follow instructions for creating a free DOS USB boot drive. Once the free DOS image is booted, you can switch to the drive with your BIOS flasher and follow the updater instructions.



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Just bought one today!

'Mash's picture

Thanks for the great article, totally convinced me to go for the Zotac!

I have just bought: ZOTAC ZBOX HD-ID11 + Kingston Value RAM 800Mhz DDR2 CL6 SO DIMM + Western Digital Scorpio Blue 500GB Sata 8MB Cache 2.5 Inch from Amazon.co.uk for £230.00. I spent some time looking around for other options for HDD and RAM but to be honest from the reviews and overall pricing the current "customers also purchased" options were best value. Also beat ebay.co.uk, ebuyer.co.uk, and play.com prices.

It will be my first "desktop" machine in about 8 years, to exist alongside my trusty IBM Thinkpad x31. Running Debian + Stumpwm + Emacs + Conkeror use such low overhead, so looking forward to seeing how it all performs as my web-development and writing platform.

fdos link is not working

Anonymous's picture

wiki.fdos.org/Installation/BootDiskCreateUSB link is broken


Anonymous's picture

This is working solution I found online:
Step 6: Fix Audio

When I booted it up, audio wasn't being outputted over HDMI. I fixed it with the below commands. Either do the ALT-F2 to get to a command prompt as I explained in the paragraph above, or ssh into the machine to do this. I got the info from here.

NOTE: I use vi as my editor of choice. You may like nano, vi, or something else. Feel free to use whatever you like.

* Edit the alsa-base.conf file

vi /etc/modprobe.d/alsa-base.conf

* Add this to the very last line of that file.

options snd-hda-intel enable_msi=0 probe_mask=0xffff,0xfff2

* Reboot the machine and go into the XBMC System Audio Setup area.
* Change the following...

change audio output: hdmi
speaker config: 5.1
boost volume: check
ac3: check
dts: check
audio output device: hda nvidia hdmi
passthrough: hda nvidia hdmi

* Congratulations, you should have audio over HDMI now. PS, you might have to reboot for it to work.

Xorg file

Anonymous's picture

Could you please post Xorg.conf file settings?
I am having problems to run Xserver on XBMCLive. I found these links below:


Great review!

Cory Comer's picture

This was a fantastic review, thank you very much for taking the time to write this up. I've been wanting to dabble with some home media hardware lately in lieu of my reluctance to purchase Apple TV, and this article is spot on. I'm really looking forward to this year giving up better HD homebrew options for WIDI/AirPlay hopefully too.

Anyways, the greatest appeal of the ZBOX, to me at least, seems to be the ability to really hack it up. The fact that it's sans HDD and memory out of the box is a huge plus as many hardware mfg. like to really rip into you on those components. The cost seems about right, I'm going to have to really sit down and look this thing over.

Thanks again for the write up!