Our Experience with the Zotac ZBOX Pico PI430AJ with AirJet

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Zotac ZBOX Pico PI430AJ with AirJet

Image: Mark Pickavance

A small computer that uses solid-state cooling

Although other NUC vendors have boasted about making the tiniest PC, the ZBOX Pico PI430AJ with Airjet is remarkable in size. The pico is hardly more significant than a standard deck of playing cards with dimensions of 114.8 mm x 76 mm x 23.8 mm.

Within this diminutive chassis, engineers from Zotac have managed to cram an Intel Alder Lake i3-N300 processor, 8GB of DDR5 RAM, an M.2 NVMe SSD, and their groundbreaking Airjet solid-state cooling system.
Included in the package is a wall socket power supply unit (PSU) with adapters for all the standard regional power outlets, an extra M.2 screw, and a VESA mounting bracket for attaching it to the back of a display.
Zotac offers this equipment in two different stock-keeping units (SKUs), which is curious. Both the “Barebones” model and the one with Windows 11 pre-installed come with RAM and storage, which is a bit of a mystery. The system accepts a full-sized 2280 module; thus, storage may be expanded to 2TB at least, even though the DDR5 RAM is soldered to the mainboard. The M.2 slot can be accessed.

With its improved UHD Graphics GPU and support for DDR5 memory, the N300 is an intriguing Intel CPU that provides superior multitasking compared to devices in the N100/N105 class. This system’s chip can’t hold a candle to Ryzen 5 or 7 systems in terms of performance, and its price tag is more than that of many AMD-powered NUC PCs.

Its main selling point is its minimal and noiseless design. The metal build and Airjet cooling system have made it more expensive than less ambitious alternatives, making it less competitive.

Price and Availability

Image credit: Mark Pickavance

While you can usually locate Zotac items at most major retailers, we had a little issue tracking down the Pico PI430AJ on several internet marketplaces. Even though it’s not always in stock, you can get it from Zotac in the US. We have been informed that the UK shop Scan will receive some stock soon.

The “barebones” and “Windows 11 Pro” versions come with 8GB of DDR5 RAM and 512GB of storage. However, there are only two SKUs available. We may propose switching to Linux, ChromeOS Flex, or a less expensive version of Windows due to the significant price difference between the barebones SKU and the Windows edition in the UK, where the former costs £399 and the latter £549. Zotac’s Windows edition (ZBOX-PI430AJ-GLB) retails for USD 599 directly from the company.

Minisforum’s N300-powered Mini PC with 8GB RAM and 256GB storage costs only $250, highlighting the ZBOX’s relatively high price tag.

Design

Image credit: Mark Pickavance

Even compared to Mini PCs, the Pico PI430AJ’s diminutive size—roughly that of a deck of cards—is astounding. Due to the compact design, the number and placement of the ports are severely constrained to the front and rear.

The design’s most vital points are the case’s all-metal construction and obvious relief pattern for heat dissipation. This device also employs a novel solid-state cooling method to transfer internal heat to the exterior, as we will discuss later.

The Pico PI430AJ’s lack of external ports is a drawback compared to other past NUC designs. This compact device could benefit from a hub or docking station due to its three USB ports, one of which is USB-C.
It has two HDMI and one DisplayPort output, but no USB 4.0 or Thunderbolt connectors and a gigabit LAN port instead of 2.5GbE.

The fact that the SD card reader is a microSD card only and not full SDXC is another size-dependent decision. Frore Systems’ AirJet active cooling, however, is the main attraction. It is a solid-state method of heat extraction that employs ultrasonic waves to propel air across the serrated surface of each chip. It accomplishes this without making a sound and uses less energy than conventional fans because it doesn’t get clogged with dust. To disperse heat to the case or eject up to 10W of power, the Pico PI430AJ uses two AirJet modules, each of which can eject up to 5W.

Based on our experience, this solution is effective—perhaps to an unhealthy degree. During our testing, the Pico PI430AJ’s exterior temperature reached 62 degrees Celsius, which is dangerously close to the point where it would be burnt to the touch. Getting the heat out to the case and outside is a brilliant idea, but that only works if there’s airflow to disperse it. Depending on the deployment, that could be a bigger problem in some areas than others.

Hardware

Image credit: Mark Pickavance

• Intel Core i3-N300

• DDR5 RAM

• PCIe 3.0
One of Intel’s Alder Lake-N mobile chips, the Core i3-N300, debuted in early 2023, and your reviewer has just seen a machine with it in the Pico PI430AJ.

This CPU has a retro vibe since it does not employ the P and E core concept. In its place, it uses solely E cores and is a traditional eight-core CPU that does not engage in hyperthreading. As we mentioned in our benchmark findings, this chip is said to be superior to the N100 and N95, but it will be OK for an actual desktop CPU.

The UHD Graphics GPU supports DDR4, DDR5, and LPDDR5 memory, and it has 32 Execution units instead of 24 on the N100. Having only E-cores, a power budget of 7W, and 9 PCIe 3.0 lanes significantly color the performance envelope.

Performance

Not knowing the average statistics an N100 chip may produce, seeing benchmarks in isolation isn’t helpful. We have compared the Pico PI430AJ to the NiPoGi AK2 Plus and the Geekom A5 to provide a clearer picture of the offered performance grade. While the Geekom A5 uses an AMD Ryzen 9 5900HX from an earlier generation, the NiPoGi features an Intel N100 CPU.

Starting with the graphics tests, we can see that the N300 outperforms the N100 by a significant margin, despite the N100’s use of DDR5 to support its UHD graphics and more Execution Units.
Neither gamers nor desktop CAD users would be interested in these specs when contrasted with Ryzen 9’s Radeon Vega 8 Graphics.

The Geekom A5 has Windows, 32 GB of DDR4, and a 2.5GbE LAN connector, all for around the same price as the barebones Pico PI430AJ—which may make some readers question the validity of the comparison to Ryzen.

But for about $169, you can get the NiPoGi AK2 Plus—enough to buy three to replace a single Pico.
Neither the graphics results nor the CPU-intensive benchmarks showcase the Pico’s full potential. We would choose four P-cores over eight E-cores if we had to choose between the two because the N300’s multitasking is so bad. On top of that, the N100 outperforms it in the single-core GeekBench benchmark.
In most cases, the N300 outperforms the N100, while the difference is not significant. With all the benefits provided by Ryzen 9, even without DDR5, it’s unfair to compare it to something more performance-oriented from AMD.

Even while these specs don’t reveal the N300’s power efficiency, that won’t help much when trying to edit a video or crunch figures.

The Final Verdict

We don’t know who will buy the Pico PI430AJ except people who are really into tiny things. Although it’s not nearly a desktop CPU, and the active cooling could be overkill, the N300 processor delivers more than N100 computers.

Let’s start a discussion

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