An immense amount of thought has gone in to the design of the new XPC and if the SB81P is anything to go by, it will be very interesting to see what Shuttle has in store for us in the future.
Unfortunately I encountered a snag with the SB81P, as I couldn’t get it to run SYSmark 2004, no matter how hard I tried. This didn’t seem to be an issue with the system as far as we could tell, as we’ve encountered this issue in the past on other machines. As with all benchmarking suites, occasionally they take a dislike to certain hardware configurations, and this appears to be the case with the SB81P.
Apart from the SYSmark problem, performance was quite impressive, although I would recommend a third party graphics card - even the new Intel GMA 900 solution doesn’t offer enough grunt to play the latest games, DirectX 9 support or not. This is a shame, but it tends to be a fact of life with integrated graphics. The scores improved massively with the PCI Express 5900 graphics card that we used and there is no problem fitting a large card such as the 6800 GT in the SB81P. You might not be able to fit in a 6800 Ultra, but as we didn’t have one to hand at the time, we were unable to find out for sure. Likewise, we were unable to check whether the 350W power supply could cope with nVidia‘s top of the range monster.
It’s a little hard to judge how well the SB81P actually performs, but looking at the PCMark 2004 numbers, it seems slower than the i925X boards that we are currently testing. The noise level is slightly higher than other SFF systems, but as long as you‘re not looking for something super-quiet, you‘ll be happy with the SB81P. The final question is how much will it cost? Being on the cutting edge of technology has never come cheap, and at £310 you're definitely going to have dig deep for this little box. But despite the high price, the SB81P is a fantastic SFF box, that truly redefines the genre.
The new XPC SB81P is the first of a new generation of SFF systems from Shuttle and it has a lot on offer. If you need extra hard disk space, RAID capability and PCI Express support, the SB81P has it all. It may be expensive, but there but it's worth every penny.