ZOTAC ZBOX HD-ID11

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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.
OS Installation

Installing Debian on the box was the only time the Intel Atom processor felt slow. This step took more than twice as long as I was expecting. After booting into Ubuntu via the USB memory stick, I formatted my internal hard drive and ran debbootstrap to install Debian Squeeze on the hard drive. Once debbootstrap is complete, do not forget to fix the fstab, networking and install GRUB before rebooting.

H.264 Decode Acceleration

The main reason to opt for a Atom/ION box is for watching high-definition content. The ION GPU supports full hardware decode acceleration of all H.264 content (1080i/p) with HDMI out. With the right software, you can watch both Blu-ray and ripped BD content.

I installed both XBMC and Boxee on the HD-ID11 to access my content. Both software packages provide a great user experience and give you the ability to play virtually any type of content. They both provide easy-to-use interfaces into your own content and give you access to content available on the Internet. Boxee is a fork of XBMC, adding social networking to your home-theater experience.

My greatest struggle with my HD-ID11 was getting the digital 8-channel audio to work over HDMI. Although instructions are located several places on the Web (including ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?p=6589810), I was not able to get the audio over HDMI to function properly. This was not a deal-breaker, as the box does support audio out via the 3.5mm headphone jack.

Day-to-Day Use

I have used the HD-ID11 for about a month to play back my local content and to stream content from the Web. I must admit, I love the experience. With few exceptions, the ZBOX has been able to handle any type of content I've thrown at it from inside XBMC and Boxee.

The only content the ION GPU struggles with is Flash video. According to Anadtech.com, the problem stems from the NVIDIA driver requiring too much data to be copied back and forth between the system memory and the GPU framebuffer. There is not enough bandwidth over the single PCIx1 lane to handle this load, which leads to the video stuttering. Even a 480p window does not play smoothly once full-screened. The good news is that NVIDIA is working on an updated driver to fix this problem.

Conclusion

When I started looking at the ZOTAC ZBOX HD-ID11, I wanted to build an affordable system to watch my high-definition content—one that looked nice, was quiet and user-friendly. With a little work, the HD-ID11 fits the bill. Its sleek design and quiet fans allow it to fit into my entertainment center without being noticed. The combination of the Intel Atom processor with the NVIDIA ION GPU provide all the power necessary to make for an enjoyable entertainment experience. Although I would prefer the sound going over HDMI and better Flash video playback, those are issues that should be addressed via driver updates in the future. I'm enjoying the media box so much, I am planning on purchasing a second ZBOX for my bedroom to give me more access to my content.

Steven Evatt is an IT manager in Houston, Texas, and has been using Linux for more than 16 years. He is active in the local technology community and regularly can be found at barcamps in Texas and Louisiana. In his spare time, he enjoys playing with Ruby on Rails on his site: pricechirp.com.

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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

audio

Anonymous's picture

This is working solution I found online:
http://wiki.xbmc.org/index.php?title=HOW-TO:_Install_XBMC_on_ZBOXHD-ID11
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:
http://wiki.xbmc.org/index.php?title=Minimal_NVidia_xorg.conf

https://wiki.ubuntu.com/X/Config/Resolution

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!

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