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AOpen XC Cube EZ18 - SFF Barebone
It might seem odd that we are reviewing a Socket-A based small form factor system, but with the price of AMD Athlon XP processors coming down to bargain basement levels the AOpen XC Cube EZ18 could be the ideal platform for anyone that wants to build a low cost PC. The EZ18 comes in pearl white, like our review sample, or black, which means that you can even colour coordinate it with your peripherals.
Personally I think I would have to go for the black version rather than the white one here, as I’m not a fan of the iMac design scheme. But fear not, colour coordination is not the only thing that the XC Cube EZ18 has going for it, and it's good to see that this is definitely a well constructed cube. The only minor flaw is that the flaps at the front could get damaged if you forget to close them, but to be fair, this is a common problem with cases that cover ports in this way.
Gaining access to the internals of the EZ18 is fairly simple - just remove the three thumb screws and then slide the casing cover backwards and lift it off. Inside you’ll find space for one external 5.25in and one external 3.5in drive – the latter is more likely to house a memory card reader than a floppy drive these days. There is also a 3.5in drive cage for your hard disk. This might not be as impressive as the new XPC SB81P from Shuttle, but unless you need masses of storage space or a performance boosting striped RAID array, this is hardly an issue.
At the bottom of the case is the custom-fit motherboard and AOpen has left plenty of space to fit all the components in place. There are similar issues with the EZ18 as with the XC Cube EY65 we looked at previously, with the floppy drive connector being in an awkward position, but apart from that most things are pretty easy to get to.
Installation is straight forward and apart from the usual amusing translation hiccups AOpen has supplied first class instructions that make setting up the EZ18 the simplest of procedures. As with the EY65 most of the cables are pre-routed, except the IDE and floppy cables.
The EZ18 is messier inside than the Biostar iDEQ 200N as there are several cables that run from the rear of the case to the front – all these cables occupy a fair amount of space where the back of the optical drive ends up. This is not a major issue, but it makes it harder to install the optical drive than it should be.
The motherboard is based on the nForce2 IGP chipset and features integrated GeForce 2 MX class graphics, although if you plan to use the EZ18 for games, I recommend that you get a stand alone graphics card for it. The integrated graphics are however fine for everyday Windows tasks and video playback. The choice of chipset limits the CPU compatibility to 333MHz bus speed chips, so forget about fitting a 3200+ Athlon XP to this box.
The MCP-T adds 5.1-channel Dolby Digital hardware decoding, which is a great feature if you plan to use the EZ18 as a DVD player while it also adds that extra bit of realism in games. Other onboard features include integrated 10/100Mbit/sec Ethernet which is also a part of the MCP-T.