One of the things I specifically like about the Zen is the way the hard drive tray fits in place. Once you’ve screwed the hard drive into the cartridge like tray, it slides into place via four rails towards the front of the case. This moves the hard drive out of the way, as it would otherwise prevent access to the heatsink and CPU.
Speaking of the heatsink, this is one of Shuttle’s trademarks in the SFF market. Its Integrated Cooling-Engine (I.C.E.) consists of a specially designed heatsink with heatpipes that attaches to the rear of the case. A radiator is attached to the other end of the heatpipes on which sits a fan. This then blows across the radiator expelling the hot air out of the case.
The chipset used in the Zen is ATI’s Radeon 9100 IGP, which performs fairly equal to the Intel 865G chipset. However, the Radeon 9100 IGP does offer the advantage of supporting dual display output, although in the case of the Zen you can only use this with a monitor and a TV or projector at the same time.
With the Zen being so quiet and with built in TV-out and 5.1-channel sound, it doesn’t take a genius to realise that it could be the ideal machine for a home entertainment PC. With something like a low cost Celeron processor and a good helping of RAM you could easily put together a cheap system for just this purpose with the Zen. Shuttle offers an optional remote control for all its barebones that enables you to control your media player of choice. It has also supplied an S-Video to composite video adapter in the box, in case your TV doesn’t support the former higher quality input.
A little while back we reviewed the Biostar iDEQ 200A based on the same chipset, although that system featured an AGP slot. Comparing the results of the two with integrated graphics, the Shuttle Zen is faster in SYSmark 2004, but not by a whole lot, while it falls behind in PCMark 2004 and 3DMark 2001, though only by a small margin. This shows that the Zen is an able machine, despite its limited expandability.
The Shuttle Zen is, for now, in a league of its own. It’s very quiet and very small, yet able to accept a fast processor and ample amount of memory, which should make it appeal to a wide range of PC users. It’s definitely not suited for 3D applications, although the Radeon 9100 IGP does offer acceptable performance for an integrated chipset.
There is however one problem and that is the asking price. The best price I could find online was £185.69. This is over £45 more than the iDEQ 200A, which makes it quite expensive for a SFF barebone. It’s questionable how many will go for the Zen over the iDEQ as both system features excellent build quality and very similar features. The main consideration is whether the Zen’s low noise levels are worth the loss of being able to add a graphics card.
The Shuttle Zen is one of the most compact SFF barebones around, with next to no noise pollution and very good base specifications. It does however lack an AGP slot and the price is quite high, but nonetheless this is a great little machine.