- Review Price: £186.00
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.
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.
Score in detail