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Anyone who’s been reading the site for a while will know that I’m quite a fan of small form factor PCs. These days there’s very little reason to have a big box sitting on or even under your desk. Few will argue that the company that really started the SFF revolution was Shuttle, but lately there have been some serious challenges for the SFF throne, with Biostar leading the charge. I was therefore pleased when Mesh sent me a small form factor PC based on Shuttle’s latest design.
There’s no denying that this is a good looking PC, in some ways even better looking than the Biostar iDEQs. The main body of the system is finished in matt black brushed alluminium, but the it’s the front that makes it look special. The centre fascia on the case has a dark mirrored finish, that looks seriously cool. Embedded in the mirrored fascia are the power and reset buttons which are interspersed with a bright blue power light and a yellow hard disk indicator light. Also integrated into the fascia is a 6-in-1 card reader, making it simple to transfer pictures from your digital camera or data from your PDA.
Above the fascia is a Sony DVD writer. When you’ve only got room for one optical drive, this is a pretty good choice. This drive will write DVD+R/-R at eight-speed and DVD+RW/-RW at four-speed, which is pretty much cutting edge right now. You can of course also burn CD-R and CD-RW media as well, which should cover pretty much all of your potential needs. The drive is also black to match the case.
Below the mirrored fascia is a decent array of ports. Here you’ll find two USB 2.0 ports and a four-pin FireWire port, as well as line-in, mic and headphone sockets.
Anyone who still uses legacy devices (like myself) will be glad to see both a parallel and serial port at the rear of the case. This is one area where I found the Biostar iDEQ lacking, although I’ve since found myself a parallel port cable to attach to my iDEQ. Also at the back you’ll find a 10/100 Ethernet port, two more USB 2.0 ports, a six-pin FireWire port, another set of analog audio connections and optical digital in and out ports.
Despite its small dimensions, Mesh has equipped this Shuttle X box with a formidable armoury of components. The CPU of choice is an AMD Athlon 64 3000+ backed up with 512MB of PC3200 DDR SDRAM. Not a bad base specification, but Mesh has really pushed the boat out with the graphics solution. Sitting in the single AGP slot is an ATI Radeon 9800XT graphics card. This card comes fitted with 256MB of memory and is currently top of the tree in the graphics arena. The graphics card alone shows that Mesh is aiming this PC at the home entertainment market, but there is a lot more inside this little box to make it appeal to the target user.
The single PCI slot is filled with a Black Gold digital TV tuner. This means that you can use the Cubex64 for watching TV and as a digital video recorder as well. Since this is a digital tuner you can access all of the freeview channels, just in case you want to watch multiple repeats at various times of the day. Of course you will need pretty good reception in your area to make full use of the digital tuner, but if you’ve got a strong signal you’ll be able to use this little cube as your TV and VCR combo. You can even download electronic programme guides from the Internet to make sure that you never miss an episode of 24. You even get an infrared remote control so you can control the TV tuner just like any other TV. The 160GB S-ATA Maxtor hard disk should be able to store a fair amount of recorded TV, but at least you can burn anything you want to keep off to DVD to make sure that your disk doesn’t fill up.