A great Mac Mini alternative for gaming (Zotac EN760)

Discussion in 'Mac mini' started by miretogo, Sep 12, 2014.

  1. miretogo, Sep 12, 2014
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2014

    miretogo macrumors newbie

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    Aug 19, 2014
    #1
    Being disappointed by the Mac Mini's limited graphics power and Apple's apparant lack of dedication for the device, I searched, found and ordered a very interesting alternative: The Zotac EN760. It has about the same size as the Mac Mini but features, amongst others, the following hardware:

    CPU (good): Intel Core i5 4200U (dual-core, 1.6 GHz) (Turbo up to 2.6 GHz)
    GPU (fantastic): NVIDIA GeForce GTX 860M (Maxwell) 2GB GDDR5

    To provide a context, the latest and most expensive iMac only has a significantly slower GeForece GT 775M. Also, in one of the reviews I read/watched, the Zotac achieved a graphics performance that is on the same level as the Playstation 4. See benchmarks here: http://www.notebookcheck.net/NVIDIA-GeForce-GTX-860M.107794.0.html

    Moreover, it is very quiet and can be easily opened to install or replace the hard disk or RAM.

    Anyway, I ordered the following parts:

    Zotac EN760: 485 €
    Kingston 8GB DDR3 1600MHz RAM: 57 €
    Seagate 2.5 inch 500 GB SSHD: 59 €
    ------------------------------------------
    Total: 601 € + shipping

    In other words, it costs about the same as the 2012 Mac Mini.

    I will install both Linux Mint 17 and Windows 7 on it and will use Mint for everything except those games from my Steam library that only support Windows or Mac. When I have finished playing all my non-Linux games, I will delete the Windows partition.

    Thankfully, the number of Linux games is rapidly increasing. Early this year, less than 300 Linux games were available on Steam, now there are almost 700. With the imminent public release of a non-beta version of Valve's Linux-based Steam OS, I expect this trend to continue.

    The only drawback I see is that I have to abandon Mac OS X after nine years since a "Hackintosh" is no option for me.

    What do you think? What do you like or dislike about this alternative?

    PS: I will post an update as soon as I have received and tested the Zotac
     
  2. Serban Suspended

    Joined:
    Jan 8, 2013
    #2
    i think they can put in the mac mini only the iGPU to be very quiet and very energy efficient
    Or put even a dGPU like 850M or even 950M
     
  3. scottsjack macrumors 68000

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Arizona
    #3
    I've been looking at Small Form Factor PCs. The tiny PCs always seem to have a few technical disadvantages. The mini also has its disadvantages like a mobile CPU, no dGPU possibility, lousy user accessibility, no internal Blu-ray possibility and only up to 16GB RAM.

    As long as I have to look at Mac mini alternatives I'll pass on the the PC Mini and Ultra-slim form factors and move to the larger, but still reasonably sized, Small Form Factor. That size offers desktop Haswell i7 quads, expansion of up to 32GB RAM, tonnes of USB 3 ports, slightly better standard Intel HD 4600 graphics and limited dGPU possibilities.

    The nice part is that an i7 SFF PC often costs about as much as a well equipped Mac mini. In a couple of weeks we'll get to find out if Windows 9 is going to be a Windows 7 (really good but dated), a Windows 8 (sucks big-time), a Windows 8.1 (not too bad at all but still has a certain crapiness about it) or a real alternative to the final versions of Windows 7.
     
  4. Googlyhead macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Apr 19, 2010
    #4
    Same here. Probably also true of many people in this forum.
    Unfortunately, zotac seem to be one of the better compromises, which isn't saying much.
    If you're looking for opinions; it'll be mostly a list of the reasons I haven't got one yet, rather than positives:

    + The advantage it has over the mini is simple processing power.

    - All zotacs (and others) seem to use an external PSU brick; instant doubling of size, ramp up the ugly factor, more wires and equipment everywhere.
    - And reduced efficiency and reliability of a single low voltage connection that is then converted again for all the internal voltages required.
    - Physical design isn't a strong point: ignoring the mini vs. black plastic; external wifi antennae and curving the case for no reason? We're obviously not allowed to stack anything on or near it.
    - Still the same HD form factor restrictions as the mini. Part of the form factor, I know...
    - Same memory restrictions. (2x8GB = 16GB max)
    - Essentially less expandability without thunderbolt. An extra USB port / DVI port doesn't really offset this at all.
    - Before anyone else points it out; OS(X)

    As was said before; if you don't need the mini form factor, a more standard PC is probably better (price, performance, components, design).
    While if you do; there's no actual alternative to the real thing.
    If you want both performance and the form factor, you're out of luck.
     
  5. Crosscreek, Sep 14, 2014
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2014

    Crosscreek macrumors 68030

    Crosscreek

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Margarittaville
    #5
    X99 motherboard with Haswell E and 32GB DDR4. Lightning in a fairly small box.

    just thinking out loud and couldn't make use of it anyways.
     
  6. miretogo thread starter macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Aug 19, 2014
    #6
    It is true that I could have assembled a more powerful PC for the 600 € I spent on the Zotac (including hard drive and RAM).

    At first I wanted to build a small PC using the Coolermaster Elite 110 mini-ITX case (http://www.coolermaster.com/case/mini-itx/elite110/). However, even this relatively tiny case measures 260 x 208 x 280 mm. To get an impression of these dimensions, I stacked several books on my desk to imitate the case's size. I found it way too large and started looking for a smaller alternative.

    Also, I want a PC that is not only powerful and small but also quiet and power-efficient. Therefore, I like the fact that the Zotac uses a mobile CPU and a mobile GPU.
     
  7. Crosscreek, Sep 14, 2014
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2014

    Crosscreek macrumors 68030

    Crosscreek

    Joined:
    Nov 19, 2013
    Location:
    Margarittaville
    #7
    I seen the reviews on Youtube by some gamers and it ran real well. It's a nice PC and I also like Mint 17.

    It's a good plan.

    I would like to hear your results.

    If you can wait for about 6 months, Broadwell may offer more in mobil CPU performance also.
    Looking at Core M benchmarks, it looks like not only GPU performance has increased, CPU performance was doubled so U series mobil Broadwell may be an animal.
     
  8. miretogo thread starter macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Aug 19, 2014
    #8
    In the meantime I finally received and tested the ZBOX:

    + Very, very fast for games
    + Boots Linux Mint in less than 10 seconds!
    + Nice appearance

    - Way to loud for me (knockout criterion)
    - External PSU

    Unfortunately, I found it annoyingly loud. Despite significant efforts to make it less noisy (compared temperatures of vertical and horizontal position, adjusted fan settings in BIOS, placed the ZBOX in a half-enclosed space under my desk, underclocked the GPU), I still found it too loud. While many reviewers praised its "silent operation", it is still several times louder than a Mac Mini.

    Thus, I will send back the ZBOX and probably return to my original plan of building a custom mini-ITX PC for less than 500 Euros - now with an emphasis on buying the quitest parts available.
     
  9. Cape Dave macrumors 68000

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    Nov 16, 2012
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    Northeast
    #9
    Probably a jet engine. No thanks! Noise pollution is the scourge of humanity.
     
  10. iMacFarlane macrumors 65816

    iMacFarlane

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    Apr 5, 2012
    Location:
    Adrift in a sea of possibilities
    #10
    With a tiny form factor, the fans have to spin faster to achieve the same active cooling (air flow), and will therefore give off higher pitches and volume. I am leaning toward something like the coolermaster, that has several large, slower spinning fans, resulting in lower frequencies and acoustics, while maintaining superior cooling to the CPU and a full sized GPU card. Just need to pull the trigger.
     
  11. miretogo thread starter macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Aug 19, 2014
    #11
    I agree ;-)

    ----------

    Yes, this is also my rationale now. Except that I want to use AMD's A10 7850k, which combines CPU and GPU. The reason is that discrete graphics cards tend to be very noisy. I have not found a really quiet one. Also, the typically consume a lot of electricity.

    Since you are interested in a custom and quiet PC configuration, I can tell you that I have found these interesting reviews of PSUs (http://uk.hardware.info/reviews/4329/9/39-300-450-watt-psu-group-test-cheap-and-good-noise-levels) and CPU coolers (http://www.techspot.com/review/707-best-cpu-coolers), which include noise level measurements. Based on these reviews, I want to use the be quiet! Straight Power E9 450W (which uses a 135 mm fan) and the Noctua NH-U12S (which uses a 120 mm fan).
     
  12. haravikk macrumors 65816

    Joined:
    May 1, 2005
    #12
    The specs seem similar to the upcoming Alienware Alpha, which I'm thinking of getting for a gaming PC, while I make a small, quiet i7 Hack Mini for working on. Although the Alpha has a proper desktop i3 (so 2 core with hyper-threading), but is that the same for the Zotac box (which might have a mobile i5 which is basically the same)? They'll both only be relatively modest gaming machines, but I'm not really fussy about high end gaming; I mostly want to run games a few years old (or even older stuff off of GoG) and things like mods are more important to me than FPS (so long as it's still playable).

    I'd never really expect a Mac Mini or equivalent to be a great gaming machine, but I think I can easily make a good i7 based hack mini for processor performance and very light gaming, meanwhile one of the bespoke Steam Machines (like the Alpha) is very enticing for gaming, either that or like you say something with an AMD APU.

    You can actually get AMD A8's for a lot less than the A10's, and there should be a model that still has the same integrated graphics. I was looking into it myself, but with all the Steam Machines on the horizon there's less reason to go DIY if one of those meets your needs (regardless of whether you actually run SteamOS on it).
     
  13. miretogo thread starter macrumors newbie

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    Aug 19, 2014
    #13
    Alienware may produce good gaming PCs, but I wouldn't buy anything from them simply because their product descriptions are way too unspecific. For example, the Alpha is described as having a "NVIDIA® GeForce® GPU 2GB GDDR5", which doesn't say which model it is or what its clock and memory frequencies are. Also, I wouldn't be surprised if they are quite loud, at least compared to Apple's PCs.

    Regarding the AMD A8, I know that it is significantly cheaper than the premium A10 7850k, but even the latter is relatively cheap (about 140 € for both a CPU and GPU) and I wouldn't want to sacrifice a lot of gaming performance just to save maybe 50 €.
     
  14. haravikk macrumors 65816

    Joined:
    May 1, 2005
    #14
    True, it's described as custom but it's most likely the same as the NVidia GeForce GTX 860M in the Zotac machine; it's definitely a NVidia Maxwell GPU in any event, so it should be a good performer. The few people that have seen the machine in person suggest it may run quite quietly, though that may be just the i3 model, but for a modest gaming rig I'm not sure you need the expense of the i5 or i7 anyway.

    In any event I'm not suggesting you rush out and get one, I myself am waiting for some reviews of the production model first to get some proper values for the performance and noise.

    I'm not sure you'd be sacrificing a lot, but I thought I'd mention it as it'd be my choice for a budget and/or small form factor build over the A10, as some of the A8's can run pretty cool but are still great performers (as opposed to the A6's which I don't think I'd consider for gaming at all). It just depends on your focus really; APUs are ideal for smaller systems since you don't need the separate graphics card, but depending upon your case your might struggle to cool the A10's.

    If you are going for a Cooler Master case then the A10 may be just fine, and it could be a good way to start a system simply using the integrated graphics for now, and getting dedicated graphics later when you need more performance. My inclination is to go smaller personally as my lounge and office setup are a bit too awkward for anything bulky, but it makes cooling limited.

    Oh, if you're looking for a small but fully featured case you might try the NCase M1; it's a Mini-ITX case with room for a full sized graphics card and plenty of cooling, and it was developed by enthusiasts looking for more from small cases. Also, for fans, I'm currently using a bunch of Prolimatech Ultra Sleek Vortex fans in a home-made RAID chassis, they're thinner than most fans (15mm rather than 25mm) but still work well with low noise. My case has one 140mm and two 120mm fans and they're only just audible in an otherwise silent room; the drives themselves make far more noise. Just wanted to mention them, as they're great for smaller cases where space is tight, I think that there are some thin Scythe fans too, but I've never used them so can't comment.
     
  15. miretogo thread starter macrumors newbie

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    Aug 19, 2014
    #15
  16. Neodym macrumors 68000

    Neodym

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    Jul 5, 2002
    #16
    The Maxwell Generation from nVidia is the exception from the rule. The mid-class 750(Ti) does neither of the things you mention - it is quiet even under load, does not need external power (TDP: some 65 Watt) and still delivers solid performance.

    The upcoming 8xx & 9xx series will also be a significant improvement over commons graphic cards in all the factors you mention, while delivering high-end performance!
     
  17. miretogo thread starter macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Aug 19, 2014
    #17
    @ Neydym

    Sounds interesting. I really don't want to have a "hair-dryer" sitting on my desk ;-)

    @ Everyone

    I decided to give the ZBOX another another chance and came to the conclusion that it is really not that loud and most of the time not even audible while playing due to the music and sound effects of the games.

    However, I experienced numerous problems with Linux Mint which I failed to solve, even with posts on the official Linux Mint forum. In the end, I was so annoyed that I decided to go back to Mac OS X, which makes me dependent on Apple's uncertain and expensive hardware releases but at least works well and thus saves me a lot of time configuring and problem-solving.
     
  18. blanka macrumors 68000

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    Jul 30, 2012
    #18
    I don't know where you get the idea the 775M is slower than the 860M. It is the other way around. The 860 is an entry level card, the 775 a mid level one with double the shaders and memory bus width.
     
  19. miretogo thread starter macrumors newbie

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    #19

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