- Review Price: £310.00
If you’re a returning reader you might have noticed the glaring omission of any Shuttle XPC reviews on TrustedReviews (bar the Mesh CubeX64+ system of course). This is not because we don’t like Shuttle, quite the contrary in fact, but we have had a bit of a problem finding the right person to supply us with review samples. But after Riyad’s trip to Computex this issue was all resolved and we now bring you the brand new XPC SB81P.
Shuttle is the grand daddy of SFF (small form factor) PCs in their current cube like incarnation. But recent models from Shuttle have all looked very similar to the previous units with a few minor tweaks here and there. The SB81P however, represents a major overhaul that goes a long way to put Shuttle back at the front of the SFF pack.
As you might have noticed from the pictures, the new chassis is taller than previous models, not by much, but the extra height allows for the memory card reader to be mounted above the optical drive. This makes space for a 3.5in drive to take the place that the memory card reader has occupied on recent models. The memory card reader can handle CompactFlash Type I/II, MMC, SD, MemoryStick and SmartMedia. The 3.5in bay can either be used by a hard drive or a floppy drive or similar device. This begs the question, where does the hard drive go if I have a floppy drive installed?
Well, Shuttle must have had its entire R&D staff putting their heads together for this one, as the SB81P has the hard drives mounted in suspended rails hanging across the top of the case. Yes, that is correct, hard drives, as there is space for two hard drives to hang across the top in specially designed drive rails. I have never come across a solution like this until now, but it makes quite a lot of sense, since this leaves space for plenty of airflow inside the case.
All the cabling to the hard drives is pre-routed, although the cables could do with being just that tiny bit longer as we had problems attaching the front most power cable. That said, the unit on review is a pre-production model so this is hopefully an issue that has been addressed with production boxes. There are plenty of power connectors with three S-ATA power plugs and two Molex connectors. There is also a converter in the box that adds a floppy drive power connector in case you‘re still a fan of legacy removable storage.
The power supply is proprietary to Shuttle and is the most powerfull PSU to grace an SFF system to date at 350W. It also features an internal DC to DC converter, which means fewer components on the motherboard, which in turn allows for a cooler running system. Due to the DC to DC converter, Shuttle can use smaller connectors from the PSU to the motherboard, which leaves more space for other components.
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.
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.
”3.6GHz Socket-T; 1GB Adtec PC3200 memory; 2x Maxtor MaxLine III 250GB hard drives”
Score in detail
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