There are occasions where 'bigger is better' doesn't necessarily apply. One of these is the computer case. Sure, bigger allows for better cooling and more expandability and features, but it's not exactly ideal for taking your PC to a LAN party or your parents' place for a holiday. Quite aside from which, there is great appeal in having a very powerful system in a deceptively small case, similar to sticking NOS in a Ford Ka. Being largely responsible for making the small form factor (SFF) PC the success it is today, Shuttle has a tradition of producing some of the most desirable barebones SFFs around. Will the company succeed yet again with its SP45H7?
Part of the XPC Prima series, the SP45H7 is aimed at gamers and enthusiasts who are willing to settle for less than the top-end. As its name suggests, it's based around Intel's P45 chipset, and falls between Shuttle's premium SX48P2 machines and its bottom-of-the-range SP35P2 Pro. The major factors to keep in mind are that it only supports mid-range graphics cards due to a 300W power supply but should be able to cope with most Core 2 processors and, unlike the DDR3-sporting SX48s, it uses more affordable DDR2 memory. Most importantly, for some, it's of the smaller chassis type that Shuttle offer, measuring 32.5 x 20.8 x 18.9 cm.
The SP45H7 comes securely packaged and with a nice bundle. This includes 18 spare screws of various types, two cable-ties and an L-connector SATA cable. There are also two rubber screw-in feet, which raise the Shuttle slightly higher at one end for better ventilation, a spare EIDE cable (though since there is a slim one pre-installed in the case this has no obvious use) and best of all, one of the most comprehensive system-building guides we've seen.
Getting onto the machine itself, as you'd expect from Shuttle it is a very attractive and well-built beast. Aside from a small plastic surround at the front, the entire exterior is brushed black aluminium, with chrome highlights. Two hinged panels on the front give access to an unoccupied 3.5in bay (always handy for a memory card reader or the like) and below this are various connections including two USBs, headphone and microphone jacks, a recessed reset button and best of all, an eSATA port. Thankfully, the hinges seemed to be fairly robust so shouldn't break as easily as some we've previously encountered.
The SP45H7 might not be the easiest or most intuitive system to build, since the small space means everything has to be done in a very specific manner and order. But thanks to the aforementioned excellent full-colour system-building guide it's a painless process, with clearly-marked illustrations and photos guiding you through every necessary step to turn this shuttle from a barebones into a fully working machine.