The problem with having a PC in the home is that it looks ugly and spoils whichever room you happen to put it in. Well that has traditionally been the opinion of the PC as a consumer product, and it’s something that Apple has capitalised on with its range of iMacs. Apple’s jibes at the PC being a boring beige box may have annoyed PC owners, but few of them could justifiably contest the remarks. But that image is changing now, and very few PCs are beige or boring anymore.
The size of a PC can still make it an eyesore to some consumers though, even if it’s built in a stylish aluminium case like the CoolerMaster WaveMaster that I reviewed a few months back. Even from a pragmatic point of view, I sometimes find myself questioning my decision to build my current PC in a tower case. With almost every thing I need integrated on the motherboard, the only expansion card I have in my PC is the graphics card. Add to this the fact that massive hard disks are so cheap now that you don’t need to have more than one (RAID arrays aside), and with DVD writers covering just about every optical disc duty, a single 5.25in bay is more than adequate for most users.
So, it was with all this in mind that I decided to build my wife’s new PC in a small form factor chassis. I am in no doubt that SFF PCs are going to be huge over the coming months and years. Gone are the days when you had to sacrifice power and features to have a small PC. Now you can have a small cube system that’s every bit as powerful as large desktop system. And it’s not just the size that matters, SFF PCs are becoming more stylish by the day, which goes a long way to tempt the décor conscious home user.
Although it was Shuttle that really pioneered the small form factor PC, it seems that almost every hardware manufacturer out there has an SFF system on offer. Having recently spent a few days wandering around CeBIT, I can testify to this fact. After much deliberation I decided to build my wife’s new PC in a Biostar iDEQ 200N.
Having already reviewed a P4 version of the iDEQ and an Athlon 64 variant, I thought I would go for the Athlon XP flavour of cube. With the Athlon 64 gaining momentum, Athlon XP chips can be picked up at bargain basement prices. I also managed to get hold of a 2500+ CPU that would happily clock to 3000+. Unfortunately, the clock multiplier in the iDEQ didn’t go high enough to push the chip into 3000+ territory, but it did tick over nicely as a 2800+.
The iDEQ 200N is a great looking box, finished in a kind of translucent silver. It also comes in black, but I have to say that I prefer the silver. The front fascia has a sliding panel that hides a single 5.25in bay and a 3.5in bay. As already mentioned, you’re unlikely to need more than one optical drive these days, and the 3.5in bay can be used for a floppy if you feel you need one, although I think that most users will put a memory card reader in there. Below the sliding panel is a large silver power button and a smaller silver reset button that’s flanked by power and HDD indicator lights.
At the bottom of the front fascia is a full array of ports, and since the iDEQ comes with its motherboard pre-fitted, you don’t have to worry about having to connect them all up. Here you’ll find two USB 2.0 ports, a six-pin FireWire port, an optical S/PDIF and headphone and mic sockets.
The array of connections at the rear of the iDEQ is no less impressive with two more USB 2.0 ports, another six-pin FireWire port, PS/2 ports for keyboard and mouse, a connector for the 10/100 Ethernet adapter and another optical S/PDIF. You’ll also find mic, headphone and line out sockets, which also double up as 5.1-channel outputs. Finally, there are D-SUB outputs in case you want to utilise the integrated graphics.