My first experience with a barebone system from Shuttle was with the SB81P, its latest generation machine based on Intel’s i915G chipset. This time around the system we’re looking at is a bit older, but it’s none the less a very cool system.
But to get one thing out the way right now, if you’re a gamer looking for a Shuttle system look away now as the Zen is not for you as I’ll explain later. Now we’ve got that over done with, let’s look at who the Zen is targeted towards.
If you’ve been on the hunt for a small and powerful, yet virtually silent PC, then this could be your dream machine. It might support any Socket 478 Pentium 4, but I’ve yet to see, or rather hear, any fan equipped system that makes less noise than the Zen XPC ST62K. While there might be only one fan in the Zen you’d nevertheless expect it to make some sort of noise, but the little I could make out was very unintrusive.
The trick to this is that there’s no conventional internal power supply. Instead, the Zen uses an external 180W PSU. The downside is that it’s very bulky – in fact, it looks like an oversized power brick from a laptop. It does get warm during use, so make sure you don’t cover it up, although it should be perfectly fine under a desk or behind your TV. Another reason why the Zen is so quiet is that there’s no AGP slot, which means that there’s no extra noise from a graphics card cooler. Inevitably this is the reason that it’s not suitable for anyone but the most casual of gamers, as the integrated graphics are really up to the job.
Putting the Zen together was a little tricky, although most of the problems had to do with the manual being unclear and back to front. However, anyone with the any experience of building a PC should be capable of assembling the few parts that you have to add to the Zen to get it up and running.
It’s fortunate that the Zen is pretty well featured as expansion is limited to a single PCI slot, which could be used for something like a TV tuner card. Around the back you’ll find a six-pin power supply connector, a D-SUB connector for the integrated Intel Extreme 2 graphics, a serial port, an S-Video out connector, two six-pin FireWire ports, two USB 2.0 connectors, two PS/2 connectors, an Ethernet connector and three audio connectors for 5.1-channel output as well as optical S/PDIF in and out.
As with the SB81P the Zen also has a CMOS reset button at the back, which means that if there is a problem, you might not have to open the chassis to sort it out. The only thing missing is a parallel port, although you can purchase a connector as an optional accessory. Around the front are a further two USB 2.0 connectors as well as sockets for headphones, line in and a microphone.