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Review: ZOTAC's MEK1 Gaming PC

We consider ourselves advocates, nay, evangelists, of custom PC building. That being said, we realize that not everyone gets quite as excited as we do about being elbow deep in computer parts, and we could maybe even be convinced that in some situations, for some people, a pre-built system might be the right choice.

Fortunately, ZOTAC has an outstanding pre-built option with their brand new MEK1 gaming PC, which presents itself as a half-form PC that doesn’t skimp on performance. Better yet, MEK1 systems come bundled with a gamer-quality keyboard, mouse, and mousepad. This is most of what someone looking to ascend to the PC Master Race needs, minus a quality monitor and a gaming headset.

Currently, the ZOTAC MEK1 is a Newegg exclusive, available for $1,599.99. It’s available in black or white, but only the one hardware configuration you’ll see here. Later on, ZOTAC will release other versions of the MEK1 with different specs, such as other cards in the Nvidia GTX series, and even 8th Generation CPUs.

Let’s jump into the system ZOTAC sent us.

MEK1 Appearance and Aesthetics

The first thing you’ll notice about the MEK1 are the bold RGB lighting strips that run along each side panel. They’re seamlessly integrated into the rest of the plastic shell, and don’t feel tacked on as chassis RGB sometimes do. There’s also a ring of RGB around the power button on the front, which looks kind of menacing when the plastic cover is slid into place over it. (I got kind of a HAL 9000 vibe looking at it, but it a good way.)

While the two side RGB strips can be fully customized by ZOTAC’s Spectra software, the power ring is locked into blue, which is also the default of the side strips.  It really feels like ZOTAC designed the MEK1 with a blue and black color scheme in mind, but built in some customization for all you rebels out there.

Right away we see that even under stressful conditions, the framerate stays well above 60 FPS until complex physics calculations are introduced. Even then, the MEK1 maintains a playable average of 30 FPS.

Most half-form cases are boring, purely utilitarian boxes, meant for collecting dust under a desk in some dreary cubicle farm. Not so for the MEK, which looks a little more like a drone housing that’s defined by lots of angular straight edges.

From straight on, the case has a little bit of a concave or even a little bit of an hourglass profile, complemented by a ridge that runs along the front and top plates. Also notable is the small sliding door that covers the power button, as well as all of the front I/O ports.

Both side panels are the same. The actual hardware for the RGB lighting strips run around the rims of the actual panels. ZOTAC designed the MEK1 with copious amounts of airflow, and each panel has a large airflow mesh covering roughly a fifth of the surface area. There’s also a medially placed vent on each side that’s covered by airflow blades that are likely cosmetic.

The MEK1 looks great oriented in either a vertical or horizontal position. To set it vertically, there are two little feet that clip into slots on the bottom side, for extra support. On a related note, when the MEK1 is on its side, some of the hardware on what would be the bottom is visible. Of course, this is a worthy tradeoff for the ability to put the MEK1 anywhere you could set up a modern gaming console. in mind, but built in some customization for all you rebels out there.

MEK1 Specifications and Benchmarks

As previously mentioned, ZOTAC currently offers the MEK1 in only one hardware configuration. Our test model doesn’t have the absolute highest specs possible, but nonetheless checks all the boxes for a high-end gaming PC.

  • Intel Core i7-7700K @ 3.60GHz
  • 16GB of Samsung DDR4-2400 (2x8GB Modules)
  • Nvidia GTX 1070 Ti
  • Seagate 1TB 5400RPM HDD
  • 256GB M.2 PCIe SSD
  • 80 Bronze PSU

The motherboard is a ZOTAC MEK1 Mainboard, which likely means that this is a proprietary ZOTAC-made system board designed specifically for the MEK1 series. Upon examination it looks to be a fairly standard mini-ITX board designed to accomplish exactly what it needs to exactly and only what it needs to make the MEK1 work.

Firmware for the M.2 SSD reports that the drive is simply a “PCIe SSD 256 GB” device, which means that ZOTAC likely contracted for anonymized drives for MEK1 production. Still, the device appears to be a fully functional NVMe drive: A quick benchmark revealed a highest write speed of ~825MB/s and read speed of ~1700 MB/s.

Removing the SSD to physically examine it revealed little else about its origin, but did reveal another detail power users will appreciate. ZOTAC has included a custom machined heatsink that sits above the M.2 slot, complete with a thermally conductive adhesive pad to make positive contact with an installed SSD.

A deeper look into the case shows how ZOTAC made clever use of available space. As I said above, the motherboard is a miniITX design, and the power supply is an SFX form factor.

There’s also a serious focus on cooling with the MEK1. In addition to that heatsink over the M.2 slot, there’s a robust air cooler over the CPU, and an airflow channel that appears positioned to help hot air move from the CPU out the rear of the case. In addition, the CPU-side panel has a pair of 80mm exhaust fans to help pull hot air out of the motherboard area.

Perhaps most interesting is how the GTX 1070Ti GPU is situated. Obviously the MEK1’s chassis is far too small to mount a GPU in any sort traditional method, so ZOTAC laid it flat, and flipped it around. The end result is that the GPU sits in its own compartment, with just a small cutout in the case’s framework for PCIe extenders to run through. A mesh air vent sits right above the 1070 Ti’s intake fan, and since the card is thermally isolated from the heat of the CPU/Motherboard area, it should be able to stay cool even under heavy load.

Very clever ZOTAC.

We also ran our standard benchmark for a gaming system with 3DMark’s Fire Strike test. Here are the results we got for the MEK1:

Right away we see that even under stressful conditions, the framerate stays well above 60 FPS until complex physics calculations are introduced. Even then, the MEK1 maintains a playable average of 30 FPS.

We ran a second benchmark in The Division, which we also spent some time with to get some impressions of the peripherals that come bundled with the MEK1. Our The Division benchmark mostly confirms what we saw in Fire Strike, which is mostly to say that even on some of the most demanding games on the market today, the MEK1 seems to be able to keep gameplay nice and smooth.

Finally, lets take a brief look at the I/O options on the MEK1:

Front Panel I/O:

  • 3.5mm Headphone/Speaker Jack
  • 3.5mm Microphone Jack
  • 2x USB 3.0 Ports

Rear Panel I/O:

  • PS/2 Port
  • 2x USB 2.0 Ports
  • 2x Wifi Antennae Mounts
  • 2x Ethernet Ports
  • 4x USB 3.0 Ports
  • 7.1 Surround Sound Audio Jacks with SPDIF

All video ports are on the GPU, so you can expect the standard three Displayports, and single DVI and HDMI.

MEK1 Gaming Peripherals

The MEK1 would already be a stand-out gaming PC even if it came by itself. However, ZOTAC takes it up a notch by bundling some high-quality peripherals in the box.

Our first accessory is the ZOTAC Gaming board, which is a 105-button mechanical keyboard with mono-color backlighting. It has off-brand key switches, which are “clicky” and have a tactile break, roughly in the same category as Kailh or Cherry MX Blues. The board has an Fn key, and some of the keys have special functions like changing lighting patterns, or as being media controls. The board itself is constructed with a metal top plate and a plastic housing underneath, both in black. As I said earlier, I think ZOTAC really had a blue and black scheme in mind with the MEK1, as the keyboard’s backlighting is all blue LEDs.

The included mouse is pretty standard fare, but is unarguably a gaming mouse. It’s a seven button input device: Left click, rIght click, two side button, and a scroll wheel button. The last two are situated just below the scroll wheel, and are on-the-fly DPI adjustment buttons. This is a standard feature for gaming-level mice, and I’m glad to see ZOTAC knows their demographic here.

One lighting zone is present, a color cycling ZOTAC Gaming logo situated on the palm rest. The bundled mousepad is cloth on one side, and rubberized on the other, with a stitched rim. Not much else to say, other than that the pad and the mouse complement each other nicely.

For a company that isn’t known for gaming peripherals, ZOTAC did a really good job with this KBM combo. The keyboard is responsive and solidly constructed. Even though the keys were kind of an unknown, I didn’t really have any issues with ghosting, or any failures to recognize a press. The mouse was a little on the small side for my tastes, but that’s mostly because I have big meaty hands and and a nasty case of carpal tunnel, so I like a mouse where I can have a really wide grip. The important thing is that I never experienced anything other than smooth tracking at every DPI level I tried. ZOTAC could probably get away with selling these peripherals as stand-alone items, and at the right price point, they could go toe-to-toe with better known brands.

MEK1 Conclusions and Wrap Up

Zotac has been producing a top-notch lineup of prebuilt rigs with its lineup of mini computers, especially its line of VR-capable Magnus PCs. It seems like the MEK1 is a worthy addition to that family.

Buying a MEK1 isn’t just buying a PC, however. The bundle includes high quality peripherals like a mechanical keyboard and gaming mouse with mousepad, which is half-way to a fully ascended battlestation setup. Add in a quality gaming monitor and a sound-system of choice, and you’re ready to take on just about any title on the market today.

Finally, consider that that buying a prebuilt system provides some protection from the rising costs of GPUs right now. Video card vendors tend to have specific agreements with OEMs to not calculate GPU street prices into the costs of their systems.

That alone should be reason enough to go with a prebuilt gaming rig like the Zotac MEK1, which is available now exclusively at Newegg for $1599.99.