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The CPU cooler has also been given a re-work and is now located at the front of the case, taking in air on the left hand side, then blowing it across the heatsink, then onto the heat pipe radiator and finally being sucked out by a fan towards the right hand side of the case. This is a very efficient way of cooling the CPU and with added heat pipes and a copper base it had no problem with a 3.6GHz Prescott CPU. The system case does however get quite hot on the right hand side where the hot air exhaust is located, but it never got excessively hot.
The processor we used has already given away that the motherboard in the SB81P is based on Socket-T, and Shuttle has gone for the i915G chipset for this specific model. This means that you get the integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 900 as part of the package. More interestingly this is the first SFF system with a PCI Express x16 slot to appear, which means it is ready to accept the latest graphics cards from nVidia and ATI. There is no AGP port, but there is a single PCI slot for those that have need for it. There are no less than four S-ATA connectors and as Shuttle has fitted Intel’s ICH6R the board is capable of RAID 0 and 1 configurations - we configured two fast Maxtor drives in RAID 0 to test the SB81P. There is also a single IDE connector so you can use any optical drive in the SB81P as well as a floppy drive connector.
Curiously, Shuttle has opted for DDR rather than DDR2 support in the SB81P, but as DDR memory is cheaper and doesn’t seem to be any slower than DDR2, there is no real worry here. The chipset is passively cooled, which reduces the noise level. However, since the CPU cooler consists of two fans, the PSU has one fitted, while a further two reside at the top of the case to cool the hard disks, the passive chipset is unlikely to make a huge impact on cutting overall noise. Saying that, the SB81P is far from the nosiest PC I have encountered as all of the fans are controlled by the BIOS. The new four pin fan connectors allow for much more advanced fan speed control and this helps keep the noise level down.
In terms of connectivity there are plenty of options as Shuttle offers 7.1-channel high definition audio with optical S/PDIF input and output as well as coaxial S/PDIF output. A full set of discrete audio outputs is available around the back as well as a line-in port, with headphone and microphone sockets located at the front. There are two USB 2.0 ports at the back and a further two on the front as well as six-pin FireWire connectors at both the front and the rear.
The integrated Gigabit Ethernet comes courtesy of Broadcom and is connected to the PCI Express bus. The final rear mounted features comprise of a D-SUB connector for the integrated graphics, a serial port and the clear CMOS button, which is recessed to prevent it from being accidentally pushed in. This means that you don’t have to open the case to reset the BIOS which can be handy if you’re trying to overclock your PC.