★★★★☆ £1,440 • From www.scan.co.uk
The Zotac MEK1 avoids the usual pitfalls of pre-built compact gaming PCs: it’s as powerful as a full-sized desktop, and the bundled peripherals offset a high price
It’s svelte for a gaming PC, but the MEK1 doesn’t compromise on graphical power
THE SKINNY MEK1 is new ground for Zotac, which has produced some great compact barebones systems such as the Magnus ER51060 (Shopper 360) but until now hadn’t applied its knowledge to a fully built tower.
It’s still on the small side, to put it mildly. At 418mm tall and just 118mm thick, it’s narrow enough to grab either side with a single hand, yet it includes an 8GB GTX 1070 Ti graphics card – and that’s no small-fry GPU.
In fact, it’s a gaming powerhouse, delivering the 4K performance that its price of £1,440 essentially demands. In Dirt Showdown, running on Ultra settings, the MEK1 produced 110fps at 1,920x1,080, 109fps at 2,560x1,400 and 86fps at 3,840x2,160, so whatever your monitor’s resolution it will be able to handle less demanding games with ease.
A much tougher test came in the form of Metro: Last Light Redux, but the MEK1 still impressed with 76fps at 1,920x1,080 and 44fps at 2,560x1,440 – again, with the highest possible graphics quality. 3,840x2,160 proved too much at these settings, dropping to 19fps, but by changing to High settings and turning off SSAA, we were able to get a far smoother 53fps with only minimal impact on fidelity. The MEK1’s perfect score of 11 in Valve’s Steam VR Performance Test cements it as a fully qualified premium gaming rig.
It’s not all the latest and greatest hardware, however. While it’s been paired with a healthy 16GB of DDR4 RAM, the 7th-gen Intel Core i7-7700 is starting to show its age in our application benchmarks. Specifically, the MEK1 scored 133 in the image test, 148 in the video-encoding test and 156 in the multitasking test for an overall score of 150. That’s hardly slow going, but even mid-range components in the 8th-gen Intel and 2nd-gen AMD Ryzen ranges outdo these scores by big margins.
As a case in point, the Palicomp i5 Cosmos (Shopper 366) is a few hundred pounds cheaper and has a Core i5-8600K, but this hexa-core chip thrashes the MEK1’s quad-core Core i7-7700 by 49 points. The i5 Cosmos also has a GTX 1070, so it’s a reliable 4K-ready gaming system as well – next to it, the MEK1 doesn’t seem particularly good value, at least not from a strictly performance-focused standpoint.
The Zotac PC’s SSD write speed is also disappointing, measuring a mere 377MB/s in the AS SSD benchmark. This is in contrast its ferocious write speed of 1,930MB/s.
Still, speed isn’t everything, and this is a remarkably practical PC for one that’s so small. For instance, unlike many compact systems, you can easily take off the side panels and access the components within, and while there isn’t really scope to add new parts (there are no empty RAM slots or spare storage drive bays), upgrade-conscious users should be able to replace what’s already there. Connectivity is well covered, too, especially networking, with dual Gigabit Ethernet ports on the rear and built-in 802.11ac Wi-Fi. Also at the back are two USB2 ports, three USB3 ports and a legacy PS/2 port for peripherals, while the graphics card provides three DisplayPort outputs and one HDMI port. C/SUB and S/PDIF outputs allow for high-end audio gear to be used, and if the back panel fills up, there are two USB3 ports at the front as well. In another neat touch, these can be concealed behind a small sliding cover, which also masks the power button, mic jack and headphone jack for a cleaner look. Speaking of looks, RGB fans will appreciate the thin lighting strips running around the side panels. Zotac’s Spectra software could be more intuitive, but we were soon using it to customise the colours and effects on our MEK1; we’re particularly fond of the subtly pulsing ‘Breathe’ effect.
Also included in the box are a mouse, mousepad and a full-sized mechanical keyboard. Although the first two are nothing special – the mouse has some extra side buttons, but is too light and plasticky for our tastes – the keyboard is light years ahead of most bundled keyboards. Its off-brand switches aren’t quite as stable and consistent as the clicky Cherry MX Blues they’re clearly emulating, but there’s still a pleasant tactile feel to each press, and there’s even a detachable wrist rest. If you’re looking to buy a complete desktop setup from scratch, this keyboard has two major benefits: one, it makes the price premium much easier to swallow; and two, it helps make the MEK1 a particularly good starter pack of sorts.
Combined with its top gaming performance and space-saving build, this quality ensures that even if it does have an older processor, the MEK1 is still a fine choice for anyone looking to jump into PC gaming at the deep end. The i5 Cosmos is better value, and is far more customisable, but it’s also bulkier and comes without a mechanical keyboard.