It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a consumer in possession of a small form factor PC must be in want of a media centre system. Or at least, that’s what Jane Austen would say, and in most cases she’d be right. With their sleek, minimalist looks and compact dimensions, SFF systems, and Shuttles in particular, lend themselves to the task of the highly capable but aesthetically pleasing all-purpose lounge PVR.
Despite increasing competition, Shuttle has managed to retain its premier status in the SFF market and is continuing to release innovative designs. Meanwhile the 2005 version of Microsoft’s Media Center Edition (MCE) OS is its most polished yet. The combination of the two together should make for a fine match.
While Shuttle is predominantly known for its barebone systems, the G5 8300M is actually a complete finished solution. As I recounted here, creating your own box based on MCE 2005 is possible but can be quite a trial. It therefore does make sense to buy a preconfigured system, especially one that’s as pleasingly integrated with the OS as this Shuttle.
Despite it’s slightly baffling name, the G5 8300M has nothing to do with IBM’s G5 processor, used, at least for now by Apple. It’s actually based on the XPC SB83G5M, which supports Intel CPUs on a 915G chipset with the ICH6R south bridge and a Prescott Pentium 4 processor running at 3.0GHz is employed here. While you might think this overkill for a media centre machine, it’s not; it’s actually spot on, as this is the minimum speed required to comfortably run true high definition 1080p content, which will be welcome once such material is available. It also enables Media Center’s demanding effects and transitions to move along nicely, making using it a pleasurable experience. The CPU is backed with two 256MB sticks of PC3200 DDR RAM. The hard disk is a capacious 200MB, which is pretty much the minimum that you’d want for a machine such as this. However, it’s formatted as a single drive, which I always find risky. I’d create a second partition and place all the data and recorded programs on that, so that if you ever need to reinstall Windows you don’t have to worry about losing your stuff.
The 915G chipset does feature integrated graphics but sensibly the connector at the rear for this has been blocked off, so consumers won’t attempt to plug in their display to it, rather than the dedicated graphics card. This is an ATI Radeon X300SE so if you're looking for an all-in-one media and gaming solution – this isn’t it. Rather surprisingly though, the card isn’t passively cooled. This is something of an odd decision by Shuttle as it would seem to be something of a no-brainer for a media PC, which logically should be seen and not heard. The fan on the card isn’t particularly large or particularly loud but it still increases the noise floor. There are actually four fans in the Shuttle system, with the demon spinners located on the chipset, the PSU and on the rear fan that draws out the air from the I.C.E Heatpipe used to cool the CPU. Considering all this, the noise level is remarkably subdued but next to a Sky + box the presence of the Shuttle was quite audible.