Zotac ZBOX CI523 nano Fanless Skylake-U mini-PC Review


Zotac ZBOX CI523 nano Fanless Skylake-U mini-PC Review

Passively cooled computing systems are popular amongst consumers worried about noise from fans and their associated maintenance requirements (particularly, for industrial use-cases). Traditionally, fanless high-performance PCs have come with a high price tag. However, with the focus on low-power Core-series CPUs by Intel, we have many vendors targeting this market segment with affordable models. Zotac started a new lineup of passively cooled ultra-compact form factor (UCFF) machines in the C-series back in mid-2014. Initially, the members of the series utilized either Atom-class or -Y series CPUs (with a sub-10W TDP). With Skylake, Zotac has re-engineered the design to accommodate 15W Skylake-U CPUs. This review focuses on evaluating the performance and thermal design of the Zotac ZBOX CI523 nano, a fanless NUC-style machine designed to go against the Intel NUC6i3SYH (based on the Intel Core i3-6100U).


Zotac’s fanless C-series mini-PCs have been generally been well-reviewed and can be credited with bringing affordable passively-cooled high-performance computing systems to the average consumer. We reviewed the three different families in the first-generation – the Haswell-Y-equipped ZBOX CI540 nano, the AMD A6-1450-equipped ZBOX CA320 nano and the Bay Trail-M-equipped ZBOX CI320 nano. Out of these three, the Haswell-Y probably put the most stress on the thermal design with a 11.5W TDP / 6W SDP. However, our thermal stress test showed that the design was able to handle that without any hiccups. With the latest C-series announced in tandem with other Skylake mini-PCs, Zotac has gone in for a slightly larger and heavier solution to handle the higher TDP of the Skylake-U series. In order to maintain affordability and price-competitiveness against the corresponding actively-cooled Intel NUC, Zotac has opted for DDR3L SO-DIMM slots (instead of DDR4) and support for 2.5″ SATA drives only (no M.2 slot).

Hardware Design and Platform Analysis

The Zotac ZBOX CI523 nano comes in a barebones configuration as well as PLUS configurations. The latter includes a single RAM stick (one slot left empty for future upgrade by the end user) and a SSD. We were sampled the barebones configuration. In order to complete the build, we used Corsair’s Vengeance DDR3L 2133 MHz 2x 8GB kit and a 500GB Crucial MX200 SSD.

Zotac ZBOX CI523 nano Fanless Skylake-U mini-PC Review

The specifications of our review configuration are presented in the table below.

Zotac ZBOX CI523 nano SpecificationsProcessorIntel Core i3-6100U
Skylake, 2C/4T, 2.3 GHz, 14nm, 3MB L2, 15W TDPMemoryCorsair Vengeance CMSX16GX3M2B2133C11
9-9-9-28 @ DDR3L-1600
2×8 GBGraphicsIntel HD Graphics 520Disk Drive(s)Crucial MX200 CT500MX200SSD1
(500 GB; 2.5in SATA 6Gb/s; 16nm; MLC)NetworkingIntel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3165
(1×1 802.11ac – 433 Mbps)
Realtek RTL8168/8111 PCIe Gigabit Ethernet AdapterAudio3.5mm Headphone and Microphone Jacks (Realtek ALC892)
Capable of 5.1/7.1 digital output with HD audio bitstreaming (HDMI)Display1x DP 1.2 (3840×2160 @ 60 Hz)
1x HDMI 1.4b (4096×2160 @ 24Hz)Miscellaneous I/O Ports2x USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C
2x USB 3.0 Type-A
2x USB 2.0 Type-A
1x SDXC SlotOperating SystemRetail unit is barebones, but we installed Windows 10 Pro x64Pricing (As configured)$320 ($640)Full SpecificationsZotac ZBOX CI523 nano Specifications

Buy Zotac ZBOX CI523 nano on Amazon.com

The kit doesn’t come with any OS, but we installed Windows 10 Pro x64 for our benchmarking purposes. The package does include a CD as well as a read-only USB key with the Windows 10 drivers. Other than the main unit, we also have a 65W (19V @ 3.42A) DC adapter, a user manual and a quick start guide, metal tabs and screws for VESA mounting, a thermal pad for the 2.5″ drive and a dual-band Wi-Fi dipole antenna.

Zotac ZBOX CI523 nano Fanless Skylake-U mini-PC Review

The dimensions of the CI523 nano come in at 146.4mm x 126.5mm x 60.5mm, making it slightly larger than the NUC6i3SYH at 115mm x 111mm x 48mm. The internals get an upgrade compared to the previous C-series units: instead of the thermal pad over the SoC / CPU, we now have a substantial heat-sink (pictured in the gallery below, courtesy of ComputerBase.de). The underside of the chassis also has a metal plate with ridges to aid in VESA mounting. The ridged plate is part of the thermal design to take away the heat from the DRAM and the 2.5-inch drive on the bottom side of the board. This is aided by thermal pads that are affixed to those components and make contact with the bottom part of the chassis. Otherwise, the chassis and thermal design are similar to the previous generation units – a honeycomb design with a mesh inside to help in the convective cooling process.

Gallery: Zotac ZBOX CI523 nano – Chassis Design and Internals

Zotac ZBOX CI523 nano Fanless Skylake-U mini-PC Review

Moving on to the other features of the CI523 nano, we have two USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C ports in the front panel that are enabled by an ASMedia ASM1142 controller. A USB 3.0 Type-A port is placed vertically above these two Type-C ports. Audio jacks and a SDXC card slot, along with the power button and some status LEDs round out the front panel. The rear panel has two USB 2.0 ports and a USB 3.0 port (all Type-A), a RJ-45 Gigabit LAN port, HDMI and Display Port (full-size) outputs and a RP-TNC connector for the Wi-Fi dipole antenna.

The Zotac ZBOX CI523 nano is based on the standard Skylake-U platform with the Sunrise Point-LP PCH integrated in the same package as the CPU. There are a maximum of 16 possible high-speed I/O lanes in a Skylake-U system, and they can be configured in a flexible manner.

Zotac ZBOX CI523 nano Fanless Skylake-U mini-PC Review

The PCIe lanes in our configuration of the ZBOX CI523 nano are distributed as follows:


PCI-E 3.0 x2 port #4      In Use @ x1 (Realtek RTL8168/8111 PCI-E Gigabit Ethernet Adapter)PCI-E 3.0 x1 port #5      In Use @ x1 (Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3165 AC HMC WiFi Adapter)PCI-E 3.0 x1 port #12    In Use @ x1 (ASMedia ASM1142 USB 3.1 xHCI Controller)

In the table below, we have an overview of the various systems that we are comparing the ZOTAC ZBOX CI523 nano against. Note that they may not belong to the same market segment. The relevant configuration details of the machines are provided so that readers have an understanding of why some benchmark numbers are skewed for or against the ZOTAC ZBOX CI523 nano when we come to those sections.

var pclist_cpus = new Array(“Intel Core i3-6100U”,”Intel Celeron N2930″,”Intel Core i5-4210Y”,”Intel Celeron N3000″,”Intel Core i5-4250U”,”Intel Core M-5Y10c”,”Intel Core i5-5300U”); var pclist_gpus = new Array(“Intel HD Graphics 520″,”Intel HD Graphics”,”Intel HD Graphics 4200″,”Intel HD Graphics (Gen8-LP)”,”Intel HD Graphics 5000″,”Intel HD Graphics 5300″,”Intel HD Graphics 5500 (Broadwell-U GT2)”); var pclist_ram = new Array(“Corsair Vengeance CMSX16GX3M2B2133C11 DDR3L
9-9-9-28 @ 1600 MHz
2×8 GB”,”Crucial CT51264BF160B (Micron 8KTF51264HZ-1G6J1)
11-11-11-28 @ 1600 MHz1x4 GB”,”Corsair Vengeance CMSX16GX3M2B1600C9
9-9-9-24 @ 1600 MHz1x8 GB”,”Team Group TI9B8S05H41159
11-11-11-28 @ 1600 MHz
2×2 GB”,”Transcend TS1GSK64W6H
11-11-11-28 @ 1600 MHz
2x 8GB”,”SKHynix H5TC8G63AMR-PBA 8Gb x16 DDR3L
11-11-11-28 @ 1600 MHz
4 x 8 Gb (4 GB)”,”Transcend TS1GSK64WSH
11-11-11-28 @ 1600 MHz
1×8 GB”); var pclist_hdd = new Array(“Crucial MX200 CT500MX200SSD1
(500 GB; 2.5in SATA 6Gb/s; 16nm; MLC)”,”FORESEE S600S064G
(64 GB; 2.5in SATA 6Gb/s; MLC)”,”Samsung SSD 840 EVO
(120 GB; 2.5in SATA 6Gb/s; 19nm; TLC)”,”Team Group TIM3F49128GMBA04S6
(128 GB; mSATA 6Gb/s; 20nm; MLC)”,”Emphase Enterprise mSATA G5RM3G032-M (32 GB)
Emphase Wide-Temp SATA T6VM6G060-2 (60 GB)”,”Intel SSD 535 Series SSDSCKJW120H6
(120 GB; M.2 Type 2280 SATA 6Gb/s; 16nm; MLC)”,”Transcend TS128GMTS800
(128 GB; M.2 Type 2280 SATA 6 Gb/s; 20nm; MLC)”); var pclist_wifi = new Array(“Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3165
(1×1 802.11ac – 433 Mbps)”,”Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3160
(1×1 802.11ac – 433 Mbps)”,”Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3160
(1×1 802.11ac – 433 Mbps)”,”Realtek 8821AE Wireless LAN 802.11ac
(1×1 802.11ac – 433 Mbps)”,”Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6235
(2×2 Dual-Band 802.11n – 300 Mbps)”,”Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3165
(1×1 802.11ac – 433 Mbps)”,”Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260
(2×2 802.11ac – 867 Mbps)”); var pclist_price = new Array(“$640″,”$240″,”$518″,”$220″,”$1100″,”$453″,”$914″); Comparative PC ConfigurationsAspectZOTAC ZBOX CI523 nanoZOTAC ZBOX CI523 nanoZotac ZBOX CI320 nanoZotac ZBOX CI540 nanoASRock Beebox N3000-NUCLogic Supply Core-ML320ECS LIVA CoreLogic Supply ML100G-30CPUIntel Core i3-6100UIntel Core i3-6100UGPUIntel HD Graphics 520Intel HD Graphics 520RAMCorsair Vengeance CMSX16GX3M2B2133C11
9-9-9-28 @ DDR3L-1600 MT/s
2×8 GBCorsair Vengeance CMSX16GX3M2B2133C11
9-9-9-28 @ DDR3L-1600 MT/s
2×8 GBStorageCrucial MX200 CT500MX200SSD1
(500 GB; 2.5in SATA 6Gb/s; 16nm; MLC)Crucial MX200 CT500MX200SSD1
(500 GB; 2.5in SATA 6Gb/s; 16nm; MLC)Wi-FiIntel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3165
(1×1 802.11ac – 433 Mbps)Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3165
(1×1 802.11ac – 433 Mbps)Price (in USD, when built)$640$640

Source: anandtech.com


5 thoughts on “Zotac ZBOX CI523 nano Fanless Skylake-U mini-PC Review

  1. Bought one of these, trying to figure out whether to return it based on poor thermal performance and some problems with coil whine. (When silence is the main selling point they ought to be extra careful about coil whine.) Any thoughts on that?Mystified about why the power consumption at the wall is so high compared to competitors.Any thoughts about how the high temperatures may affect the SSD?

  2. No dual LAN, no interest. I'd really like Zotac/Gigabyte/Intel to make a SFF NUC-like PC with dual LAN so that I can buy one to be used as a pfSense router. I'd highly prefer not to be stuck with an anemic pentium/celeron chinese off-brand pfSense router…

  3. Wow yeah. That is a big difference. I looked at the price and couldn't believe that it was an i7. Then I kept reading and realized it wasn't an i7.

  4. “Processor Intel Core i7-6500U”Eh, maybe that's supposed to read 'Intel Core i3-6100U'

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