Zotac ZBHOXHD-ID11 Case Positioning Impact on Fan Noise

As I was testing the ID11, I noticed differences in the thermal behavior based on how the case was positioned.
I tested three positions; case open, case vertical, and case horizontal.

This is the fifth post in a series of posts related to the Zotac ZBOX ZBOXHD-ID11.

Summary:

  • Place the case in a vertical position for best cooling.

 

I used the Beta BIOS for testing. I let the system sit idle, placed it under load, then back to idle, while I recorded the fan speed and temperatures. The ambient temperature was 21C / 70F.

 

Below are the CPU temperature and fan speed graphs for an open case:

CPUTIN.Case.Open

CPUFANIN0.Case.Open

 

Below are the CPU temperature and fan speed graphs for a vertical case:

CPUTIN.Case.Vertical

CPUFANIN0.Case.Vertical

 

Below are the CPU temperature and fan speed graphs for a horizontal case:

CPUTIN.Case.Horizontal

CPUFANIN0.Case.Horizontal

 

Summary:

Case Placement

Max CPU Temp

Max Fan Speed

Open Lid 55C 1700RPM
Vertical 59C 2350RPM
Horizontal 66C 3300RPM

 

From the data we can see that the fan does not appear to have sufficient ventilation, and that in the horizontal position the air flow appears to be severely restricted.

I am tempted to mod the case to allow for better airflow, maybe cut a larger opening for the intake, or replace the centrifugal blower fan with a conventional fan, something like the Scythe KAZE JYU SLIM.

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Zotac ZBOXHD-ID11 Beta BIOS Reduces Fan Speed and Noise

In a previous post I measured the fan speed and noise under load, and I found it to be unacceptably high.
Zotac support notified me that a new Beta BIOS is available that address the issue.
In this post I measure the difference between the release BIOS and the Beta BIOS.

This is the fourth post in a series of posts related to the Zotac ZBOX ZBOXHD-ID11.

Summary:

  • The Beta BIOS reduces the fan speed and noise significantly.
  • The default BIOS values need some adjustment to get acceptable results.
  • Similar results may be possible with the current BIOS by setting the target temperature to 65C.

 

The Beta BIOS was first announced on the global Zotac site, it only later appeared on the US site. I would recommend that ID11 owners look for updates on the global site instead of the US site.
The Beta BIOS is available for download from here.

As with the 4GB BIOS update, the update tools included in the Zip file do not work on Windows 7 x64. I downloaded the latest BIOS update tools from the AMI site, and used the AFUWinx64.exe application to update the BIOS.

Below are two screenshots of the BIOS, first the Beta BIOS, then the current BIOS:
Beta.BIOS.PCHealth

Health.Monitor

The new [CPUFAN Mode] Setting is called [SMART Mode].
Several of the parameters changed, and the fan ratio settings are no longer 0-255, but a percentage value.

I changed the BIOS values to:
[Smart FAN start Temperature] = 50C
[CPUFAN Tolerance Value] = 2C
[CPUFAN Lowest Value] = 30%
[CPUFAN Maximum Value] = 100%
[CPUFAN Step Value] = 4%

I ran a series of tests to determine what the minimum fan speed is in relation to the [CPUFAN Lowest Value] setting:
20% = No value reported by BIOS.
30% = 1000RPM
40% = 1800RPM
50% = 2500RPM

At 20% the BIOS did not report a fan speed. Visual inspection showed the fan was spinning, but very slow. I think too slow for such a small fan, so I set the value to 30%.

At idle the CPU runs at or just below 50C, so I set the [Smart FAN start Temperature] to 50C.

I left the [CPUFAN Tolerance Value] and the [CPUFAN Step Value] values at the BIOS defaults of 2C and 4%.

I placed the system under load with the [CPUFAN Maximum Value] value at 90% and 100%, but in both cases the maximum fan speed never exceeded 3300RPM, so it appears as if the 90% throttling value was not reached in my tests. To be on the safe side I set the [CPUFAN Maximum Value] at 100%.

 

Although the latest Beta version of Lavalys EVEREST now correctly detects the Winbond controller, it still does not report accurate readings. So in order to measure values under load, I used CPUID Hardware Monitor Pro to measure, and Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (GIMPS) to place the system under load.

As in my previous test, I let the system sit idle, placed it under load, then back to idle, while I recorded the fan speed and temperatures.

Below are two graphs showing fan speed under load, first the Beta BIOS, then the current BIOS:
CPUFANIN0.Beta.Stability

CPUFANIN0.Stability

Comparing the graphs, the Beta BIOS maximum fans speed is around 2400RPM, while the current BIOS maximum fan speed is around 5300RPM. The Beta BIOS made a significant improvement in reducing fan speed and noise.

Below are two graphs showing CPU temperature under load, first the Beta BIOS, then the current BIOS:
CPUTIN.Beta.Stability

CPUTIN.Stability

Comparing the graphs, the Beta BIOS lets the CPU temperature reach around 65C, while the current BIOS limits the CPU temperature to around 50C. In the Beta BIOS the [Smart FAN start Temperature] is set to 50C, and in the current BIOS the [CPUFAN TargetTemp Value] was set to 50C. The 50C [CPUFAN TargetTemp Value] was the value recommended by Zotac support. I wonder if the value was set to 65C if the fan would have been comparable to the Beta BIOS?

Zotac ZBOXHD-ID11 4GB RAM

In this post I describe my experience while upgrading the BIOS, in order to support 4GB of memory.

This is the third post in a series of posts related to the Zotac ZBOX ZBOXHD-ID11.

Summary:
– 4GB is supported after upgrading the BIOS.
– BIOS has to be updated using less than 4GB, else ID11 fails to post.

[Update: 20 May 2010]
After writing this post, the machine started bluescreen / BSOD crashing.
Mostly MEMORY_MANAGEMENT / 0x0000001A errors, with occasional 0x000000BE and 0x0000003B crashes.
When I initially installed the 4GB RAM, I ran memtest for one cycle, and the RAM tested fine. I just reran memtest, and it is reporting that the memory as bad.
I replaced the memory with a new stick, I ran memtest overnight, and everything seems back to normal.
I hope it was just a bad stick, and not the ID11 that killed the memory.

When I ordered my ID11, I also ordered a 4GB Kingston SODIM RAM stick.
When I received the ID11, the specs said 2GB only, and after contacting Zotac support, and posting in their support forum, they confirmed that 4GB is not supported.
I reverted to using a 2GB Kingston SODIM RAM stick.

I was pleasantly surprised when Zotac announced a BIOS update that added 4GB support.

The BIOS changes are described as follows:
Version 05/11/10
.Added support on 4GB memory modules
.Added CMOS selection on Logo LED

I downloaded the BIOS update, extracted the contents, and tried running the AFUWIN AMI BIOS update utility. After a warning message appeared telling me to not run other apps and not to power down, on clicking ok, nothing happened. I tried again this time running AFUWIN.exe as administrator, still nothing.

I went to the AMI site, and downloaded their latest Windows BIOS update utility. Since I was running Windows 7 Ultimate x64, I ran AFUWINx64.exe, this binary automatically UAC prompted for elevated access, and presented this warning:

I opened the A140PA19.rom file, and the information tab showed the following:

I started the flash, and got this warning:

I accepted, and the flash completed:

I rebooted, and the POST screen showed a CMOS Checksum Bad error:

I pressed F1 to enter setup, and I made the following changes:
[Exit] [Load Optimal Defaults]
[Advanced] [PC Health Monitor] [CPUFAN TargetTemp Value] = 50
[Advanced] [IDE Configuration] [Configure SATA as] = AHCI
[Advanced] [PCIPnP] [Plug & Play OS] = Yes

The two BIOS changes are visible under these sections:
[Chipset] [North Bridge Configuration] “PCI MMIO Allocation: 4GB to 3072MB”
[Chipset] [South Bridge Configuration] [LOGO LED indicator:]

I rebooted, and everything worked fine.

Next I powered down, and replaced the 2GB RAM with 4GB RAM.

On reboot the following changes were visible on the POST screen and in the BIOS:

Booting into Windows, the following 4GB related changes were visible:

So far everything appears to work fine.
One of these days I will really get to testing media playback performance.

By the way.
In my first impressions post I reported that the ID11 came with the wrong power cable. Zotac support sent me the correct replacement cables free of charge:

Zotac ZBOXHD-ID11 First Impressions

Untitled Page

I am sharing my experiences and first impressions of the Zotac ZBOXHD-ID11-U mini PC.
In the coming days I will connect the device to my home theater, and review the behavior running Windows Media Center, XBMC, and Media-Portal.

This is first post in a series of posts related to the Zotac ZBOX ZBOXHD-ID11.

Summary:
– To enter the BIOS, cold boot and press DEL.
– To select a boot device, cold boot and press F11.
– To enable Aero, run the Windows Experience Index assessment.
– To improve performance, install updated drivers from the hardware vendor site.
– To correct HDMI audio output, install updated drivers from the hardware vendor site.
– To reduce fan noise, change the BIOS temperature thresholds.
– The fan is loud and the box runs hot.

After reading about the new ID11 on several news sites, I was eagerly awaiting its availability.
As soon as the ID11 became available, I ordered three units from NewEgg.

I am currently using a two self built HTPC’s, one is in a Lian-Li media center case, and the other is an AOpen miniPC MP945-VDR.

I am particularly interested in the ID11 because of the small form factor, the HDMI output, and the ability to reliably play 1080p content.

There is a review of the ID11 on AnandTech.

You can watch a video, created by Zotac, of the ID11 on YouTube.

The first thing I noticed when unpacking was the strange power cable.
There is a three-pin power plug on the power brick side, and a two-pin power plug on the wall side, with a loose ground wire.
This did not seem safe to me, I contacted Zotac support, and they said they will mail me proper three-pin power cables.
Below is a picture of the plug:

[Update: 18 May 2010] 
Zotac support sent me the correct replacement cables free of charge:

The ID11 comes with everything included, except for a hard drive and memory.
I installed a 80GB Intel SSD (SSDSA2MH080G2R5) hard drive, and a Kingston 2GB (KVR800D2S5/2G) SODIM RAM module, I ordered the SSD and the RAM from Amazon.

Below is a picture of the case before the SSD and memory installation:
Below is a picture of the case after the SSD and memory installation:

I wanted to install from a USB key, but it took me a while to figure out how to boot from the USB key, and how to enter the BIOS.

On booting there is just a Zotac logo, no BIOS instructions or POST messages.
The instruction manual included in the box makes no mention of how to enter the BIOS.
I tried a variety of keys that normally lets you enter the BIOS; ESC, DEL, F2, F10, F12, and eventually I was able to enter the BIOS.
I changed the BIOS configuration to not show the logo, and on the next boot I could see that F11 lets me choose a boot device, and DEL enters the BIOS setup.
I later read in the Zotac support forum that DEL only works on a cold boot, that explains why it would not work for me when I just did a Ctrl-Alt-Del.
I installed Windows 7 Ultimate x64, and the install completed reasonably fast.

The default Windows installation included drivers for all devices, and there were no unrecognized or non-functional devices listed in device manager.

Below is a picture of device manager:

After installing Windows I ran Windows Update, the first update pulled down 4 updates totaling about 140MB, after a reboot a second update contained 26 updates totaling about 34MB.

The Atheros wireless driver, and the NVidia graphics drivers were updated as part of the update, the NVidia driver accounts for about 130MB of the first update.
After all updates were applied I ran the Windows Experience Index assessment, and got a score of 3.4, limited by the processor score.
I noticed that after running the assessment, the UI became Aero enabled.

Below is a picture of the experience index:

I noticed that the device manager listed five high definition audio devices.

The playback devices list shows four HDMI devices, speakers, and a S/PDIF device.
I don’t know why there are four HDMI devices when there is only one HDMI port.

Below is a picture of the playback devices:

The Zotac support site lists downloads for the ID11.

Several of the downloads failed with 503 server too busy errors, after several retries they did download, but the ZBOXHD-ID11 INF update is permanently 404.
Some of the drivers on the Zotac site were older than those installed by Windows.
The packaging did include a driver CD, a cursory inspection showed the drivers to be the same or older than those on the Zotac download site.

Below is a summary of the drivers installed by Windows, available from the Zotac support site, and available from the driver manufacturer site:
Device Name Windows Zotac Manufacturer
NVidia ION Graphics 8.17.11.9745 8.17.11.9666 8.17.11.9745
NVidia HD Audio 6.1.7600.16385 (Microsoft) 1.0.0.63 1.0.9.1
Realtek HD Audio 6.1.7600.16385 (Microsoft) 2.40 / 6.0.1.6013 2.47 / 6.0.1.6101
Realtek RTL8111D Ethernet 7.2.1127.2008 7.5.730.2009 7.018 / 7.18.322.2010
Atheros AR9285 Wireless 8.0.0.238 7.7.0.231 9.0.0.173 *
Intel AHCI Storage 6.1.7600.16385 (Microsoft) 8.9.0.1023 9.6.0.1014

*Atheros do not make their drivers available for direct download, I used Google to find an updated driver.

Below is a picture of the device manager after the driver updates:

Below is a picture of playback devices after the driver updates:

Below is a picture of the experience index after the driver updates:

Note the difference in performance after installing updated drivers:

Graphics: 4.5 to 4.6
Hard Disk: 5.9 to 7.7

The ID11 is supposed to be used as a HTPC, and as such it needs to be very quiet.

At boot the fan is quiet but during normal operation the fan gets louder, and under load the fan gets very loud. The small physical size of the fan probably contributes to the high pitch of the fan noise and makes it more noticeable.

I contacted Zotac support about the noise, and they recommended that I change the BIOS settings as follows:
[Advanced][PC Health Monitor][CPUFAN TargetTemp Value] = 50
[Advanced][PC Health Monitor][CPUFAN Tolerance Value] = 3

The default value for [CPUFAN TargetTemp Value] is 45C.
In the BIOS, with the CPU doing nothing, the temperature is 47C, and the fan speed is 6490RPM.

I changed the value of [CPUFAN TargetTemp Value] from 45C to 50C.
In the BIOS, with the CPU doing nothing, the temperature is 51C, and the fan speed is 5273RPM.

The fan is quieter, but not quite, and the case is getting hotter.
It seems that the fan is not very effective at cooling, and still does not run as quiet as I would like even at the higher thresholds.

Below is a picture of the PC health monitor page in the BIOS:
In order to monitor the fan speed and the CPU/GPU temperature I installed Lavalys EVEREST Ultimate Edition 5.50.2136 and SpeedFan 4.41.b9, both applications detected the CPU/GPU temperatures, but neither application detected the fan speed.
I also noticed that EVEREST reported the CPU temperatures much higher compared to SpeedFan, the SpeedFan measurements seemed closer to what the BIOS reported, so it may be a problem with EVEREST.
I will contact Zotac and Lavalys support to find out if the hardware is supposed to support fan speed monitoring, and what the correct temperature measurement is supposed to be, will report back later on my findings.

Below is a picture of the GPU and CPU temperatures in EVEREST Ultimate Edition:

Below is a picture of the GPU and CPU temperatures in SpeedFan:

[Update: 26 May 2010]
CPUID Hardware Monitor supports the ID11 hardware.
The latest Beta version of EVEREST supports the ID11.

As I mentioned in the introduction, I bought three ID11’s.

Two worked fine, but the third one had a video corruption problem on the BIOS and boot screens.
I tried various outputs; DVI-D, DVI-I, VGA, and various monitors, same problem.
I filed a RMA with NewEgg, and returned the on ID11 for an exchange.

Below is picture of the screen corruption:
So far I have mixed feelings; the weird power plug, the fan noise, the heat, the screen corruption, are all negatives, but the device still shows promise.
In the coming days I will connect the device to my home theater, and compare the behavior while running Windows Media Center, XBMC, and Media-Portal.