ZOTAC ZBOX HD-ID11
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.
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.
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.
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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