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Looking at the connection configuration around the back you’ll find two PS/2 ports, two D-SUB connectors, a serial port, a parallel port, two USB 2.0 ports, a single FireWire and LAN connector, S-Video out, optical and coaxial S/PDIF out and three audio connectors. The audio connectors can be configured either as line out, line in and microphone or as 5.1-channel analogue outputs. The parallel port and the coaxial S/PDIF connector are mounted above the other ports in the chassis as there is not enough space for these on the motherboard. Around the front are a further optical S/PDIF out, headphone and microphone sockets, two USB 2.0 ports and two FireWire ports - one six-pin and one four-pin.
The supplied CPU cooler might not be the most impressive or innovative I’ve seen, but it does a good job and if you enable Silent Tek in the BIOS it is virtually silent during operation, even with a 3000+ Athlon XP. Do be careful when you install the heatsink though, as it has a couple of sharp pins sticking out on one side which could damage the CPU if you’re not careful.
As the EZ18 is an older model there is no support for SATA, but this is again no major issue as there is still little gain in terms of performance when using SATA as opposed to IDE. Apart from this, there is very little to complain about, although I’m personally not overly fond of the flap that covers up the front 3.5in drive bay.
Benchmark scores are pretty good overall, but due to its age the Athlon XP 3000+ CPU can’t quite keep up with the Athlon 64s or Pentium 4s in SYSmark 2004, but this is to be expected. The PCMark 2004 numbers are very good, especially in comparison to other nForce2 boards we have tested in the past. The 3D scores for the integrated nVidia graphics are not going to impress anyone, but such is life with integrated graphics. There is an AGP slot available, so you can install your graphics card of choice if you want to play games.
At £169.98 it is close to £35 more expensive than the Biostar iDEQ 200N and this is the major flaw in the EZ18's armour. Also I still prefer the Biostar internal design and unless you desperately need a serial and parallel port there’s little on offer here to make the EZ18 look like a more attractive proposition. There is of course the external design, which is radically different to that of the iDEQ 200N, but this is a matter of personal preference rather than real value for money. At the end of the day the XC Cube EZ18 is a quality barebone system but the asking price is just a little too high to make it a great buy for anyone after a budget small form factor box.
The AOpen XC Cube EZ18 is a well built SFF barebone system with plenty of features and good performance; it’s a shame that the price isn’t more competitive though.