Zimaboard 832 Server Kit Review
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Zimaboard 832 Server Kit Review

Apr 11, 2023

The Zimaboard is a new SBC or single board computer, but it's one with a difference. All SBCs are small, some are quite powerful, and some can do things that big computers can do. But the Zimaboard is something a little bit special. While most SBCs are content to style themselves as a computer, a low-powered basic computer, Zimaboard, has a claim that few others can assert with a straight face. It calls itself a server.

Is this the first server you can put in a coat pocket? Let's find out in this review.

This is a sponsored article and was made possible by IceWhale. The actual contents and opinions are the sole views of the author, who maintains editorial independence even when a post is sponsored.

The Zimaboard Single Board Computer is nicely packed in an origami style box, which starts to give you the idea this is not a normal SBC. Unfolding the box reveals the actual box, which is responsibly easily recycled. Inside the inner box is the Zimaboard itself and a SATA cable for attaching any outboard storage.

The power supply has detachable heads to suit U.S., European and U.K. plug sockets. For some reason, the U.K. plug is what I would call {as a UK resident} upside down, and this is a mistake most non-UK manufacturers make. It's okay on a floor-mounted four-way, but plugged into a wall, the cable comes out of the top. But this is a very minor problem.

Inside the box, you’ll find:

In addition to these items in the main box, I also received a bracket or stand for a hard drive and a SATA Y-cable, which I assume is for attaching more than one drive to the server.

One thing I didn't receive, which I was expecting, was the little brass standoffs I saw on the website when the unit was in use, which raised the body of the computer off the desk. The underside of the computer is shiny acrylic plastic, susceptible to sliding about and scratching, so I was very surprised these weren't included. You could put the Zimaboard upside down on its cooling fins, but that seems weird.

Setup is easy: just plug the power and Ethernet cables in, and it starts up. After a fast boot, you can access the machine on any computer on your local network, but if you type "casaos.local," you are shown the desktop.

Initially, you are asked to pick a username and password. After this point, you’ll just be asked for the password.

What you do with it after that is entirely up to you. It has CasaOS (casa meaning home, of course) to allow it to function as a home cloud server, and that is its primary out-of-the-box use. But you can add almost any OS you like, with Windows, Ubuntu, Debian, Raspberry Pi OS, and CentOS being the primary candidates other than CasaOS.

They’ve gone to much trouble to make this single board computer easy and quick to maintain and use, and the surface level of the server out of the box is very simple to use with CasaOS. It's all pretty locked down, so you can wander about in the system without messing things up, an approach we’ve gotten used to with makers like Apple.

There are, however, hidden depths. If you want, you can totally wipe the thing and start afresh with a new OS. This is where it becomes a hackable media server.

However, it's not immediately obvious (and there's no documentation to help, apart from the Discord community) how you would go about opening a terminal or wiping the computer and installing your own OS. It's possible, of course, but it's not obvious.

If I have any major criticism, it's that although it's a very robust, fast and easy-to-maintain system out of the box, the advertised hackability isn't very easy to access. But if hacking stuff is your focus, then a few roadblocks in your way wouldn't pose a problem to you.

The Zimaboard runs an Intel Celeron 1.1GHz N3450 processor with four cores, and the Geekbench single-core scores were typically in the range of 280 to 322, with the multi-core score in the region of 903 to 1105. It has some juice, shall we say. That compares favorably to another computer I have here in my office: my Mac Mini (late 2012). Compare it to a Raspberry Pi 4, which scores around 200 for a single-core and 600 for multi-cores, and you can see that the Zimaboard is a respectably fast computer for its size.

The version I was sent is the ZimaBoard 832 package, with 8GB of RAM and 32GB of onboard storage. That package will cost you $199.90. There are two levels lower than that: the $159.90 Zimaboard 432 package with half the RAM, and the base level unit: the $119.90 Zimaboard 216 with 2GB of RAM and just 16GB of solid state disk space.

If I had to sum up the Zimaboard in a few words, I would say this: Zimaboard is a small, fast and robustly built little server system for all your home cloud, media server, file server and home automation needs. Is it hackable, yes, but you may have to work a little bit to figure that out.

Of course, most people won't want to nuke it from the start and install an all-new operating system. For my money, it's a tremendous turnkey home server system that is open to hacking but also nicely buttoned up in case your aspirations outstrip your technical savvy.

Phil South has been writing about tech subjects for over 30 years. Starting out with Your Sinclair magazine in the 80s, and then MacUser and Computer Shopper. He's designed user interfaces for groundbreaking music software, been the technical editor on film making and visual effects books for Elsevier, and helped create the MTE YouTube Channel. He lives and works in South Wales, UK.

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