- Review Price: £284.00
As I mentioned in my review of the Biostar iDEQ 330P a few weeks ago, I had yet to see the Shuttle XPC SN25P, which is the only real competitor to the iDEQ 330P. First impression of the SN25P is that it’s a far more stylish box than the iDEQ. The light blue metallic and black front shows that Shuttle pays attention to its design. The blue bits hide the drives and the front ports, which might or might not be to your liking.
Internally the SN25P is very similar to the SB81P although the motherboard is of course completely different. The shared parts are the cooling system and the internal case mounts. This means that the SN25P can be fitted with two hard drives across the top, while a further drive can be seated in the front accessible 3.5in drive bay instead of a floppy drive. There is no need to install a card reader as this is already fitted as standard. The card reader accepts all the standard memory card formats except XD cards according to Shuttles specs.
The P range of chassis are larger than the traditional XPC cases, which makes it easier to assemble the system. It also results in more space inside the case which allows for improved air circulation and better cooling. The cooling setup is not quite up to that of the iDEQ 330P, as there are no less than seven fans blowing air in different directions inside the case. As far as the CPU cooling is concerned this is not a problem, as the air is taken in on the right hand side of the chassis and blown out on the left hand side.
The 350W PSU as well as the two rear mounted 60mm case fans are sucking the hot air out of the rest of the system. The 60mm fans are mounted at the top of the chassis to improve the hard drive cooling. The nForce4 Ultra chipset has a rather unusual cooling setup, as Shuttle has fitted it with a heatsink that has a side mounted fan.
Abit has done this in the past on a few motherboards, but it’s not a solution that seems to have gained much popularity. I’m not quite sure why the chipset fan is blowing air toward the front of the system, when the other cooling fans are pulling the hot air out the back – unless the chipset cooler was mounted the wrong way around on our review sample. The way it is mounted now would cause turbulence inside the case which could increase the noise generated.
Speaking of noise, the SN25P has a wide range of BIOS options for the fan speeds from ultra low noise to running the fans at full speed. There is if course an automatic mode as well which in all honesty worked quite well. The SN25P is not as quiet as the iDEQ 330P on its lowest settings, but both systems are about as noisy as each other when running flat out. Unfortunately Shuttle doesn’t supply a Windows utility to change the fan settings on the fly, whereas Biostar did.
Using the nForce 4 Ultra chipset the SN25P is ready to accept the new AMD X2 processors, although you need to upgrade the BIOS first. Other benefits of the nVidia chipset include integrated Gigabit LAN with a hardware accelerated firewall along with SATA and IDE RAID. There are of course some limitations to the drive capacity so if you want to use four hard disks in a RAID you’d have to sacrifice the optical drive. Another option is to have a spare drive fitted which will take over the functionality of one of the two RAID drives in case of a failure – although then you can only mirror, rather than striping and mirroring.
As with previous XPCs the SN25P features a wide range of connectivity options. Around the back of the case are four USB 2.0 ports, two PS/2 ports, a serial port, a six-pin FireWire port, the Ethernet connector, 7.1-channel audio outputs, optical and coaxial S/PDIF out as well as optical S/PDIF input. The audio comes courtesy of a VIA Envy 24PT hardware audio controller which offers far superior sound to AC97 solutions normally used. Around the front are a further two USB 2.0 ports, another six-pin FireWire port and headphone and microphone sockets.
A clever feature that Shuttle has implemented on its recent XPCs is the external clear CMOS button which makes it much easier to reset the BIOS if you’ve tried to overclock your system too far. The SN25P is also one of only a few SFF PCs in which you could install a graphics card with a dual slot cooler. However, there is one slight problem that the SN25P shares with the iDEQ 330P and that’s the lack of a six-pin PCI Express power connector. This means that you have to use the supplied extension cable to make one of the Molex connectors reach to the adaptor that comes with the graphics card. It’s also worth noting that the adjoining slot is not a PCI slot but rather a x1 PCI Express slot, so if you were planning on using a PCI card with the SN25P, you’ll have to think again.
This makes for a fairly messy installation in an otherwise very tidy case as Shuttle is now pre-routing most of the cables. The only cables that aren’t pre-fitted are the floppy drive ribbon cable and the third SATA data cable. The reason for this is that you can only use one or the other and Shuttle has left this choice up to the user.
The CPU cooler is not as easy to install as the solution that Biostar has come up with – it is quite an intricate system where you need to remove a plastic air duct and a fan before you can even get to the heatsink. This is fastened to the case with four screws, so being careful when replacing the cooler is a must, as being too rough could potentially damage the motherboard.
Apart from the CPU cooler, assembling the SN25P is quite straightforward and the hard drives are far easier to install than in the iDEQ 330P due to the screw less drive rails. The same goes for the optical drive which uses similar drive rails. I do however have one small complaint here; the drive door is spring loaded and the spring can quite easily get unhooked – it’s also not that easy to put back again afterwards. Shuttle also offers an 802.11g wireless network option which is connected internally via a special USB header and fitted just above the PSU.
Having used the same peripherals to test the SN25P as the iDEQ 330P I was slightly disappointed with the benchmark results. It’s not that the SN25P is slow by any means, but having the premium Ultra version of the nForce4 chipset I would’ve expected it to be faster than the iDEQ 330P which uses the standard nForce4 chipset. Although it is only beaten by seven points in SYSMark 2004 and with very similar PCMark 2004 results I really thought the SN25P would come out on top.
Overall the Shuttle XPC SN25P is a very impressive SFF barebone and I’d have a tough time choosing between it and the Biostar iDEQ 330P. Both offer a wide range of features – the Biostar is easier to build overall while the Shuttle has better audio, the ability to use graphics cards with dual slot cooling solutions, space for an additional drive and let’s not forget a much better looking case.
The downside is that the SN25P is more expensive at £284 vs. £248 for the iDEQ 330P. Which one to go for is a matter of what you want and how much you can afford to spend. I really liked the iDEQ 330P but the SN25P offers that little bit more and Shuttle has just managed to win me over.
The XPC SN25P is yet more proof why Shuttle is the clear leader in the SFF market, not only does it offer the best looking systems out there, but the hardware is also top notch.
Score in detail
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