- Review Price: £200.00
Over the last year small form factor PCs or SFF PCs have taken the world by storm, but with so many to choose from, it is not easy to pick the right one. The one company that has impressed me the most recently is Biostar, even though you wouldn’t necessarily consider it a top player in this market place. But by some miracle of ingenuity Biostar has come up with some of the best designed and good looking SFF barbone systems currently available.
The whole range is referred to as the i-DEQ brand which makes things a bit confusing when you’re looking at Biostar’s website. All models also belong to the 200 range but the specific model on test here is the 200P. This is one of the first SFF barbone systems available for the Athlon 64 platform. It is also the first i-DEQ to come in black and it looks very stylish. The black finish does however carry with it a downside, any smudges or any dust shows up very easily, but as long as you keep it well polished this is not a huge issue.
The single most impressive aspect of the i-DEQ is the solid construction. Building the i-DEQ was easier than any other PC I’ve ever put together. It didn’t take me much longer than 10 minutes to fit the processor, memory, hard drive, floppy, CD-ROM and graphics card. I don’t know of any other barbone system that you can do this with. One of the reasons that construction is so simple is that all the cables are pre-routed in the chassis. The only cable that doesn’t come this way is the S-ATA cable, but this is not very hard to fit.
This is also the most spacious SFF chassis I have encountered, with loads of room for the air to circulate and no messy cables blocking the air flow. The cooling system is also well thought trough and it makes remarkably little noise. The heatsink for the CPU features heat pipes to improve the cooling while maintaining low noise levels. The side mounted fan blows across the heatsink and the hot air is directed out towards the back of the case. It is then sucked out by a second fan which has plastic ducting to further channel the hot air out of the case. The power supply does also have a small fan in it, but it doesn’t add much to the overall system noise.
Fitting hard drives is a doodle. To remove the hard drive cradle, all you have to do is remove a thumb screw and release a small latch on the side of the cradle. There’s space for up to two hard drives in the cradle which are mounted sideways inside the case. On top of the hard drive cradle is a bigger space for the external drive bays, with one 3.5in and one 5.25in drive bay available. These are common specs for SFF systems. As I mentioned earlier all the IDE and power cables are routed neatly inside small chutes which are part of the chassis. All of the connectors are clearly labelled to avoid any mistakes and all of the cables a secured in place with retention clips.
If you however decide to fit an S-ATA hard drive you’ll find that the cable routing won’t be quite as elegant, as the supplied S-ATA cable is somewhat on the long side. It does however have an angled connector to make it fit better in the tight space. The S-ATA power connector does yet again add a significant length to the cable. The connector on this is also angled to make it fit better.
One common feature of all the i-DEQ barebones is the small sliding panel on the front. This hides any exposed drives when it’s closed, so you don’t have to get drives that match the colour of the chassis.
But a case alone doesn’t make a PC, it’s what’s inside that really counts and Biostar hasn’t skimped here either. The proprietary Biostar K8NBP motherboard is based on the nVidia nForce3 150 chipset and this saves a lot of space on the motherboard for additional components. Biostar has fitted a Gigabit LAN controller from Realtek, 5.1-channel sound, again from Realtek and an S-ATA and FireWire controller from VIA.
Let’s take a closer look at the ports. The back of the 200P is very well populated. Here you’ll find two PS/2 ports, two serial ports, two USB 2.0 ports, a single FireWire port, an RJ45 connector, three audio connectors and an optical S/PDIF. The audio connectors are reconfigurable in software to allow you to use them for 5.1-channel audio or for normal usage if you need to use the line-in or a microphone. The only thing really missing here is a parallel port and I was told by Biostar that this is available as an add-on, but it’s currently not sold in the UK. There are ports on the motherboard for the parallel port and thus if you have the right connector you could fit this yourself. This could also be handy for anyone wanting to fit a small LCD display to the front of the i-DEQ as most LCD’s are controlled trough the parallel port.
Around the front of the 200P you’ll find a further two USB 2.0 ports, another FireWire port, a headphone and microphone socket and an optical S/PDIF input.
For those wanting to fit an internal card reader to the i-DEQ this is also possible thanks to Biostar being clever enough to fit an internal USB connector just below the hard drive caddy. Again this shows how well thought out the i-DEQ really is.
The 200P doesn’t have integrated graphics so you’re forced to fit a graphics card in it and this can be a bit tricky if you’re going for a larger graphics card, such as a GeForce FX5950. But it is possible to do this if you lift up the drive cage slightly when inserting the card. It is however a very tight fit and not something I would recommend. Smaller solutions like the FX5700 or a Radeon 9800 based card where much easier to fit and this also leaves the adjacent PCI slot free.
There are also two memory slots which will accept up to 1GB each of PC3200 DDR400 memory. These are easy to get to, making memory upgrades a simple procedure despite the small dimensions of the case.
In the accessories box you’ll find the aforementioned S-ATA data and power cables, blanking spacers for the exposed drive bays if you don’t use them, some thermal grease, a power cable, a bag of screws, a couple of CDs and two instruction manuals.
There is one general manual that covers all the functionality of the 200P and some basic tips and tricks. The second booklet is a multi-lingual installation guide in colour, which is a first for me. This makes it a lot easier to spot what you have to do and what goes where, so a big thumbs up to Biostar for this. What is not so impressive is the single, two sided, printed sheet with instructions for StudioFun! This is a Linux based application that enables you to play back videos, DVDs and music without having to boot into Windows.
StudioFun! is on one of the two supplied CDs whereas the second one contains the drivers for the motherboard. You’ll also find some extra applications from Biostar such as a Windows based BIOS flash utility, a fan control utility and a utility that allows you to switch between Windows and StudioFun!
So how does all this add up in the benchmarks? To be honest, it compares very well to the full size desktop boards reviewed last week. All of the scores are within the range seen in the Athlon 64 motherboard roundup which again is very impressive and makes this an even better choice if you want a small, quiet and stylish PC.
And the best thing of it all is the price, as you will be able to buy an i-DEQ for under £200, although they won’t be available in the UK for a couple of weeks yet. Bearing in mind that a normal Athlon 64 motherboard with similar features will set you back around £100 or more, this might seem a bit expensive. However, if you think about what you’re getting it’s not really that bad of a deal as the system is more or less pre assembled and you just have to choose your core components.
If I was looking for a small form factor PC, this is the one I would buy and I don’t think you can get a better recommendation that that.
The Biostar i-DEQ 200P offers quality, great design and good looks at an affordable price. On top of this you also get top notch performance without the noise associated with most desktop PCs.
Score in detail
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