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Over the last year small form factor PCs or SFF PCs have taken the world by storm, but with so many to choose from, it is not easy to pick the right one. The one company that has impressed me the most recently is Biostar, even though you wouldn’t necessarily consider it a top player in this market place. But by some miracle of ingenuity Biostar has come up with some of the best designed and good looking SFF barbone systems currently available.
The whole range is referred to as the i-DEQ brand which makes things a bit confusing when you’re looking at Biostar’s website. All models also belong to the 200 range but the specific model on test here is the 200P. This is one of the first SFF barbone systems available for the Athlon 64 platform. It is also the first i-DEQ to come in black and it looks very stylish. The black finish does however carry with it a downside, any smudges or any dust shows up very easily, but as long as you keep it well polished this is not a huge issue.
The single most impressive aspect of the i-DEQ is the solid construction. Building the i-DEQ was easier than any other PC I’ve ever put together. It didn’t take me much longer than 10 minutes to fit the processor, memory, hard drive, floppy, CD-ROM and graphics card. I don’t know of any other barbone system that you can do this with. One of the reasons that construction is so simple is that all the cables are pre-routed in the chassis. The only cable that doesn’t come this way is the S-ATA cable, but this is not very hard to fit.
This is also the most spacious SFF chassis I have encountered, with loads of room for the air to circulate and no messy cables blocking the air flow. The cooling system is also well thought trough and it makes remarkably little noise. The heatsink for the CPU features heat pipes to improve the cooling while maintaining low noise levels. The side mounted fan blows across the heatsink and the hot air is directed out towards the back of the case. It is then sucked out by a second fan which has plastic ducting to further channel the hot air out of the case. The power supply does also have a small fan in it, but it doesn’t add much to the overall system noise.
Fitting hard drives is a doodle. To remove the hard drive cradle, all you have to do is remove a thumb screw and release a small latch on the side of the cradle. There’s space for up to two hard drives in the cradle which are mounted sideways inside the case. On top of the hard drive cradle is a bigger space for the external drive bays, with one 3.5in and one 5.25in drive bay available. These are common specs for SFF systems. As I mentioned earlier all the IDE and power cables are routed neatly inside small chutes which are part of the chassis. All of the connectors are clearly labelled to avoid any mistakes and all of the cables a secured in place with retention clips.
If you however decide to fit an S-ATA hard drive you’ll find that the cable routing won’t be quite as elegant, as the supplied S-ATA cable is somewhat on the long side. It does however have an angled connector to make it fit better in the tight space. The S-ATA power connector does yet again add a significant length to the cable. The connector on this is also angled to make it fit better.
One common feature of all the i-DEQ barebones is the small sliding panel on the front. This hides any exposed drives when it’s closed, so you don’t have to get drives that match the colour of the chassis.
But a case alone doesn’t make a PC, it’s what’s inside that really counts and Biostar hasn’t skimped here either. The proprietary Biostar K8NBP motherboard is based on the nVidia nForce3 150 chipset and this saves a lot of space on the motherboard for additional components. Biostar has fitted a Gigabit LAN controller from Realtek, 5.1-channel sound, again from Realtek and an S-ATA and FireWire controller from VIA.