In the world of gaming, the PC has always been considered the most superior machine, with the class earning the name ‘The PC Master Race’. The relatively cheap build costs, high performance and easy upgradability have been factors that contribute to this. Of late, this dominion has come under threat, as efficient chipsets and cooling solutions have narrowed the divide between high-performance laptops and their desktop counterparts, and increasing prices of components like video cards have made upgrades difficult as well.
This trend has seen an increase in the number of takers for pre-built mini-PCs; small, yet powerful machines that most game peripheral manufacturers offer to customers. While they are more expensive than building a PC yourself, increasing component prices have seen this price gulf narrow, and with the right deals, sometimes the mini-gaming PC can be a tough proposition to pass up.
This balance is what Zotac has struck with its pocket powerhouse, the MEK1. We put it through its paces to see how it stacks up.
Space age design
No one will argue that the MEK1 is a good-looking machine. Slim and sleek, with an angular design and shark-like gills on the sides, this one is a head turner. Two LED strips run along the edges of the chassis, lighting up in a default blue shade. The MEK1 comes with two plastic feet that clip on to the bottom of the case, and help it stand upright. Even in this position, it is barely taller than the average subwoofer in a home entertainment system, and substantially narrower.
The front of the case houses a sliding panel, under which the power button resides, accompanied by a couple of USB 3 ports and a 3.5mm jack and microphone input for audio. The rest of the I/O is on the back, where the included antennas for WiFi connectivity can be screwed in. Connectivity is well covered here, with six more USB ports (four USB 3, two USB 2), PS/2 ports for legacy mice, keyboards and sound outputs, as well as HDMI, DisplayPort and DVI out for display.
On the inside
Do not let the small frame fool you, the MEK1 is no slouch. The version we tested came with an Intel Core i5 7400 chip and 16 GB RAM, with a 6 GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 1060 providing the graphics firepower. The MEK1 runs Windows 10 Home, which resides on a 256 GB SSD. A one terabyte HDD takes care of all other storage requirements.
Our version of the MEK1 also came with a bundled gaming keyboard and mouse from Zotac. The keyboard, which is the clicky mechanical variety, uses MX Blue switches, features a range of adjustments to the backlight, and comes with a roomy handrest, while the mouse has sensitivity levels going up to 3,600 DPI, which is pretty handy. What sweetens the deal even further is the mousepad that is included in the bundle.
Plenty of performance
With specs like these, the MEK1 is not too perturbed by gaming. We tried our favourite titles like Rise of the Tomb Raider and The Witcher 3, with everything turned all the way up, and the 1060 chugged along merrily. Even the demanding Hitman did not trip the MEK1 up, despite us outputting to a 49-inch Full HD screen.
Zotac also bundles in a couple of its own applications, FireStorm and Spectra. The former allows for monitoring system temperatures and adjusting fan speeds, allowing gamers some basic control over how the PC performs under load. Spectra is all about the lighting, and allows for changing the colour and behaviour of the LED light strips, which can breathe and strobe or cycle through colours, and even change colour based on the load on the machine.
The MEK1 offers some room for upgradability, with the GPU, memory and storage all being accessible, though getting to them could have been easier, no thanks to the tight packaging.
This packaging does not impact performance however, and FireStorm reported temperatures around the 80-degree mark even when we pushed the system, running Hitman maxed out while copying some large files in the background with a bunch of tabs open in Chrome. This was achieved at stock fan settings, and the system remains quite silent even under load. Turning up the fans using FireStorm is also easy enough, and accessible to those who prefer not to tinker with the BIOS.
The couple of gripes we had were that the WiFi speed reported on the MEK1 was lower than our usual average, and that the feet, once attached to the chassis, can be incredibly difficult to remove.
Is it worth buying?
The asking price for the MEK1 on most websites is around the ₹1 lakh mark, but there are some exciting bundles available geared towards gaming and video editing, which throw in ultrawide or high refresh rate monitors with fast response times for around ₹15,000 extra, on top of the mouse and keyboard. This essentially means you get a full-fledged yet compact gaming PC and peripherals with some scope for upgradability under ₹1.2 lakhs, which makes it cheaper than a lot of high-performance laptops. If you are looking for a fast, compact, gaming-based machine with some RGB LED action, the MEK1 has our vote.