Zotac to launch mini PCs with ARM chips, Android or Ubuntu for under $150

Zotac is adding two new computers to its ZBOX Nano lineup. But unlike most of the company’s mini PCs, these won’t feature x86 processors and ship as barebones systems. The new models are powered by ARM chips and will ship with a choice of Android or Ubuntu Linux software.

They’re expected to launch in the US in the second quarter of 2014, and while the pricing hasn’t been finalized yet, they’ll likely sell for more than $100, but less than $150.

Zotac freescale

Both models feature a 1 GHz Freescale i.MX6 ARM Cortex-A9 quad-core processors, 1GB of RAM, and 8GB of flash storage. There’s also a 2.5 inch drive bay and an SD card reader.

The box has 4 USB 2.0 ports, 802.11b/g/n WiFi, Gigabit Ethernet, and HDMI output.

Right now the Android model runs Google Android 4.0, but an Android 4.2 update is in the works. The Ubuntu model will ship with Ubuntu 12.04, but I suspect there won’t be much stopping you from upgrading to a newer version of the operating system.

Freescale’s i.MX6 processors have been around since 2012 and aren’t exactly the highest performance ARM-based chips around. But Freescale offers plenty of documentation for its chips, which has enabled developers to support Ubuntu and other Linux-based operating systems.

  • Stratum

    What are the chances of Bay Trail based fanless mini boxes going for $150 or less? I’m sick of ARM the proprietary Linux drivers that lose support too quickly.

    • digi_owl

      I think Freescale is better at that than the GPL skirting Chinese companies.

      • Noloqoq

        The worst in the closed world is the american company Broacomm. There is (still experimentl) GPL driver now for ARM Mali GPU used in some chinese (mainland and taiwan) and some korean SoCs (US companies prefer generally powervr that is the more closed of all). There are also experimental driver for ardreno GPU (used inside qualcomm Snapdragon), and for vivante (really few SoC use Vivante). There is also open source driver for G2D 2D GPU (used for blitting/compositing), on chinese allwinner gpu beside mali. Both are reverse engeenered. US company are all closed.

        As far I know, only Samsung (a korean one) worked with linux kernel dev to mailine their driver.

      • John Baker

        Better than Cubiboard A10/A20, CubieTruck, Radxa?

    • Jah

      It’s not GPU drivers too. Pretty much everything on many ARM SoCs have closed proprietary drivers that may not get updated to support new kernels (ie. Ethernet, WiFi, storage controllers, memory controllers, etc.).

    • freechelmi

      IMX from Freescale might be the only with GPL GPU drivers

  • bbkm

    Honestly, if you are using a desktop product, you are looking for a desktop experience, by which I want to say that in a product like this one would expect the most powerful available hardware. 1ghz freescale proc seems to be a poor choice.

    I wonder how much a top of the line Qualcomm, Tegra, or Exynos might add to the cost of such a box, and whether it is a software and driver issue or something else that keeps manufacturers from selling powerful little ARM desktop boxes. I do get the fact that the Freescale products are easier to get the OSes running, but I also wonder what kind of appeal something like this will have when even the little Android sticks are way more powerful and cheaper.

    • shaurz

      It is a driver issue, none of the fast SoCs support GNU/Linux, only Android/Linux. Maybe with Mer and libhybris it might be possible to support them if you don’t mind using binary blobs.

      • The_Cageybee

        Not quite true. It really comes down to cost. Hardkernel bought access to the ARM tools to build drivers for linux and as such have good support for linux.
        Most dev board manufacturers either can’t be arsed (prefer to concentrate on Android) or can’t afford/not enough return to buy the tools.

  • Guest

    I have an Acer C720 on the way. I’ll be using that as my desktop connected to a 24″ monitor. Why would anybody choose an ARM CPU desktop when the savings from the cheapest Haswell Chromebook is only $50 or maybe at most $100?

    • agumonkey

      Yeah it’s a bit misbalanced. It would start to be worthy if packed with more ram and a better SSD. That said, Google might be able to get prices for components and help manufacturers sell CBooks. Something that Zotac have not.

      • Noloqoq

        using ARM you have à 5W (in full usage) computer, using haswell, you have a 10W CPU (still need to add the remaining stuff of the system, so, probably more than 30W with fan nose, etc…). And using ARM you have a good workflow between chips. Using Intel, you are blotted in lot of 20 year old compatibility layers,

        This 5W computer is powerfull enough for most desktop usage :
        * browsing
        * Looking at video (and far better than crappy intel vpu, look at scrolling on HD only, where ARM Soc can decode 4K for less than 500mW since few years ).
        * most office task (if you are not bloatted by MS office, but use libreoffice.
        * In most of other desktop tasks you will not really fill the diff (if you use a Linux based system (gnu/linux, Android, Sailfish OS, Yun OS, etc…).

        This is the first box, but there will suerly have far more really soon (and lot of server motherboard where power efficiency is a priority) and intel will still loose lot of marketshare.

      • agumonkey

        I know ARM cpus have a cleaner design, but they’re less ‘powerful’ than Haswell. Second, I know that for most use cases, this is enough (I’m still using a 2006 laptop as my main one) but 1G of RAM is really small, you’re gonna hit the limit with a few tabs. AFAIK Intel ‘crappy’ vpu has still better driver support than most Arm SoC.

      • name

        From a driver support point of view ARM does not have a nice design due to no standardized platform. ARM vendors don’t do things the same. ARM OEMs also don’t work on a standardized model. It’s mess.

    • Tim Powell

      I found the TN display on the Acer C720 to be just awful.. dim/blurry and worst is viewing angles. I dont mind paying more and getting an IPS panel. I wish this was an option.

      • Guest

        I went to BestBuy last week to buy either the HP 14 Chromebook or the Acer C720. I was leaning towards the HP because of the bigger screen. They were both on display. I found the screen on the C720 to be better than the HP. It’s true that the colors were not as bright. But the text and image seemed pretty crisp. I liked the matte screen. There was this odd blurriness on the HP and the glare was noticeable. So I disagree about the C720 display being “awful.” I think it’s very usable.

  • BoloMKXXVIII

    I am looking for something like this to run Miro and Bittorrent Sync with HDMI output to my HDTV. While I don’t think this is exactly what I want, it is getting closer.

  • islevegan

    Not enough ram. That’s why this device will become unusable quickly. If they want to act like a desktop computer then at least some specs need to be improved. For longevity, sustainability, and general long term usefulness, a larger, or at least upgradable ram option is necessary. I wouldn’t consider a device that will ever have only 1gb of RAM. I’ve had a phone with 2gb of RAM for over a year. 1gb makes no sense except for specialized use cases – not general purpose.

  • anon

    I have been running a Minix Neo X5 over over a year, that has mostly similar specs, and is cheaper to boot ($100). For $140 (10 bucks less than this), you can get the Minix Neo X7 that has even better specs – 2GB RAM, 16GB storage, more ports, etc.

    http://www.minix.com.hk/Products/MINIX-NEOX7.html

  • http://bitkistl.blogspot.com/ Peter Bauer

    It is nice to see another box based on i.mx6, but 1G Ram is not much when you want to work with Linux.
    The Utilite pro has 2 GB Ram and built in SSD Drive and is available now.
    http://bitkistl.blogspot.co.at/2013/07/the-utilite-computer.html

    • ockhams barber

      I looked long and hard at the Utilite pro, I agree a great little box and ssd makes it very attractive BUT
      $219 US a little on the high side but manageable
      $88 US shipping

      Total $307 US – Forget it

      I went for the Odroid U2 instead and I have ordered a U3 also because of form factor.

      http://www.hardkernel.com/main/shop/good_list.php?lang=en

  • penguinx64

    Price? Availability? Can I get it with Linux Mint instead of Ubuntu?