Zotac releases second-generation mini-PCs -

US outfit Zotac has announced its second-generation family of Zbox mini-PCs, and it might be reaching a point where the concept's time has come.

Mini-PCs are handy, portable PCs which are pretty useful as media centres. Apple released one a while ago and it proved popular.

Zbox has been out for two years and it gives you a low-power processor in a nice box. The new Zotac Zbox ID81, ID80, AD04 series has been heavily improved.

The top-of-the-range ID81 series has a 1.2GHz dual-core Intel Celeron 857 Sandy Bridge-family chip. This means that it can deal with HD Graphics technology and has dual-display output capabilities. The ID80 series uses a dual-core 2.13GHz Intel Atom D2700 Cedar Trail processor paired with Nvidia's GeForce GT 520M graphics processor.

The AD04 series uses a dual-core 1.65GHz Fusion E-450 Accelerated Processing Unit with and integrated AMD Radeon HD 6320 graphics.

All of them have two USB 3.0 ports, four USB 2.0 ports, integral gigabit Ethernet, and 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 3.0 connectivity. There is a bundled remote control.

The Intel systems offering HDMI and DVI connectivity and the AMD model featuring HDMI and DisplayPort outputs.

They are pretty much bare-bones systems and you still need to come up with a hard-drive and an operating system. Zotac suggest using Windows 7 but you could also use the free OpenELEC Linux-based media centre OS.

Bit Tech was at the launch, but said there was no word on price yet, but the older range was all sub £200 in the UK if you bought the needed hard-drive and RAM to go with it.

While Mini-computers have not had much of a good press, usually because of their speed, sticking something with this sort of spec to an HD telly and connecting it to the net makes a lot of sense, particularly if you plug it into your stereo.