Zotac’s ZBox QK7P5000 (starts at $2,999, as tested) is a mini workstation with an extraordinary amount of professional graphics performance for its size. This tiny (2.5-by-8.3-by-8-inch) bare-bones desktop has an Nvidia Quadro P5000 graphics card with 16GB of its own memory, the kind of GPU you usually wouldn’t see in anything smaller than a standard desktop tower. Its older Intel Core i7-7700T quad-core processor lets it down, however, as the HP Z2 Mini G4, our current Editors’ Choice pick for petite workstations, is available with Intel’s latest-generation six- and eight-core CPUs. The Zotac is still a good choice if graphics performance is a priority, but the HP’s superior feature set and more flexible configuration choices keep it as our top recommendation in this category.
Smaller Than You Think
The ZBox QK7P5000 is a little PC. For perspective, consider that its 2.7-liter case volume is less than one-quarter that of the 12-liter, small-form-factor Corsair One Pro i180, let alone a mid-tower desktop that can be 34 liters or more.
That’s just for the PC itself, though; like most mini desktops, the ZBox uses a laptop-style external power adapter. Given the overall compact nature of this setup, it’s a shame it doesn’t offer VESA mounting options like some of Zotac’s other mini PCs (or its HP rival).
The frame and sides of the QK7P5000 are sturdy-feeling aluminum. The plastic top doesn’t come off without total disassembly, which I didn’t attempt, but you can access all the user-serviceable components through the bottom panel. It slides to the rear after you remove the two thumbscrews at the back. The panel has a nifty thumb impression for getting a grip, which you can see at the top here…
My review unit arrived as a barebones model without RAM, storage, or an operating system…
We installed a 16GB DDR4-2400 module (about $70 street) in one of the two SO-DIMM slots, a 500GB Mushkin PCI Express solid-state drive (about $64) in the M.2 Type-2280 slot, and Windows 10 Pro ($149). Another 16GB SO-DIMM could be installed to reach the Zotac’s 32GB memory ceiling.
There’s also a 2.5-inch drive bay for additional storage expansion …
We left it empty, but installing a drive in there is a tool-less operation thanks to its plastic caddy, secured by a single thumbscrew.
The standard Intel 3165AC wireless card is also visible under the bottom panel; it supports 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2.
What’s not upgradable in the QK7P5000 are its processor and graphics card. This is a notable downside on an expensive workstation like this, one you wouldn’t have with a standard desktop tower. The situation is made worse by the fact that its Core i7-7700T quad-core CPU is already two generations behind; the current equivalent is the Core i7-9700T, an eight-core part with much better performance.
The Quadro P5000, while no slouch, is also an older GPU, having been replaced by the newer Quadro RTX 5000. The Zotac is still a force to be reckoned with, as you’ll see later in this review, but I suspect it’s only a matter of time before Zotac refreshes the QK7P5000 or introduces a new model.
Plenty of Ports
Port selection is an area where the ZBox isn’t lacking. The front panel holds a full-size SD card slot, USB 3.1 Type-A and Type-C ports, and separate headphone and microphone jacks.
The rear panel is practically bristling with connectivity. There are two USB 3.0 Type-A ports, two USB 2.0 ports, four video connectors (two DisplayPort 1.4 and two HDMI 2.0), and dual Gigabit Ethernet jacks. You are well-equipped for multidisplay output in a creative-workflow environment.
The included wireless antenna, not connected in our photos, is on the right, while the power jack for the external AC adapter is on the left.
A Kensington-style cable lock slot is on the left side.
This is a system well worth locking down if you intend to use it in a public area.
Testing a Mini-Powerhouse
The QK7P5000 gave me no thermal-related performance problems. Two main cooling fans inside the unit handle cooling duties from the processor and graphics card, while a tiny one under the bottom access panel keeps the M.2 SSD from overheating…
The fans run even while the system is idling; I could just hear them above normal household background noise. The sound, fortunately, doesn’t increase much when the system is under load. When the graphics card is stressed, an impressive amount of hot air exits the cooling grates on the left edge and the rear.
Although the hardware inside the QK7P5000 is dated, it put up a good fight in our benchmarks. I compared it to the following workstations for our charts…
Some of these will be unequal comparisons, especially the behemoth Dell Precision 5820 tower. The closest comparison, not surprisingly, is the HP Z2 Mini G4. The Zotac has by far the slowest CPU of the bunch.
Productivity and Storage Tests
PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet work, web browsing, and videoconferencing. The test generates a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better.
PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the system’s boot drive. This score is also a proprietary numeric score; again, higher numbers are better. (A couple of the tests were not run on the Dell and HP machines; thus the missing bars.)
The ZBox is well suited to demanding everyday tasks, scoring north of the 4,000 points we consider excellent in PCMark 10. I expected the HP Z2 Mini G4 to outperform it in that test, but the Zotac’s faster graphics card helped it narrow the gap. Neither unit was bound to catch the Asus and Corsair desktops. Meanwhile, the PCMark 8 storage scores are consistent with what we usually see for systems using fast SSD boot drives like these, but the Zotac’s score will hinge on what specific drive you install. Note that you can install as your boot drive a PCI Express M.2 drive, like we did, or a 2.5-inch SATA SSD or hard drive. Or you can install both kinds of drive, with one or the other as secondary storage.
Media Processing and Creation Tests
Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
That little bar on the left is all the Zotac’s Core i7-7700T processor can muster. Its performance is constrained by its low 35-watt thermal design power (TDP) rating. The HP’s Xeon E-2176G chip is an 80-watt part, and the Xeon W-2155 in the giant Dell tower is rated for a whopping 140 watts. Given that the HP has a similar form factor, the Zotac’s CPU choice is far from impressive.
We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and, at the end, add up the total execution time. As with Handbrake, lower times are better here. The Photoshop test stresses CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters, so systems with powerful graphics chips or cards may see a boost.
The Zotac’s processor also dragged it down here, finishing dead last. Let’s give it some credit, though; the Core i7-7700T is more than powerful enough for general Photoshop usage. However, it pays to have a faster CPU if your workflow involves processor-intense operations, like bulk RAW processing or applying complicated filters.
3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores.
Excluding the Corsair and its consumer-grade GeForce RTX-class graphics card, these machines aren’t intended for gaming duties. Nonetheless, the Fire Strike benchmark provides insight into how much brute 3D power they have. It’s the Zotac’s turn here to lay some serious hurt on the HP; its Quadro P5000 card makes it a monster performer for a system its size. It’s a mobile version of the card, so it can’t quite match the traditional desktop Quadro P4000 cards in the Dell and Asus towers, but it’s scary close.
Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it’s rendered in the company’s eponymous Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario than 3DMark, for a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess.
This test works in the Zotac’s favor since it’s not as processor-dependent as some of the other tests we run, so the system’s slower processor doesn’t hurt it as much. This time, the ZBox ties or beats the Asus and Dell systems and continues to dominate the HP.
I also ran a series of workstation-specific benchmarks on the QK7P5000. It took 180 seconds to finish the POV-Ray 3.7 rendering and ray-tracing benchmark, an underwhelming time next to the 105 seconds I measured for the HP. On the other hand, its powerful Quadro graphics helped it produce an impressive 161fps in the Cinebench R15 OpenGL test, besting the 157fps served up by the Precision 5820 tower.
Finally, I ran a series of tests in the SPECviewperf 13 benchmark to simulate professional independent software vendor (ISV) application workloads. The QK7P5000 managed 160fps with the Creo viewset, 212fps with Maya, and 132fps with SolidWorks. The Asus ProArt PA90 outperformed it, delivering 189fps, 205fps, and 150fps respectively, with the help of its faster processor.
A Powerful, But Uneven, Approach
Zotac seems to have the market cornered when it comes to tiny workstations with extraordinary graphics performance. The Quadro P5000 card in the ZBox QK7P5000 gives it the power to rival full-size workstation towers in 3D-centric workflows that rely on the GPU, but the machine loses some steam when processor performance is brought into play. Two generations behind the times, its Core i7-7700T is outmatched by the newer six- and eight-core processor options in the HP Z2 Mini G4. There’s only so much thermal headroom in a system this small, and clearly Zotac earmarked it for the graphics card. It’s a slightly unbalanced setup, though it can still make perfect sense if you know your workflow will leverage the Quadro more than the CPU.
Zotac did a lot right with the QK7P5000, like its plentiful port selection and easy-to-upgrade memory and storage, but it doesn’t have a significant edge over the HP in those areas. The Z2 Mini one-ups it by offering VESA mounting options and full factory customization. The QK7P5000 is available as a barebones unit (as we reviewed it), meaning you add your own RAM, storage, and operating system, but the processor selection is fixed.
Overall, the QK7P5000 needs a CPU uptick to earn a full recommendation. It’s unmatched when it comes to graphics performance in a system this small, but for more general workstation-computing scenarios, the HP Z2 Mini G4 remains our top pick for mini workstations.