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Recently people have been wanting smaller and smaller computers! Whether people will actually replace their full tower cases for the small cases remains to be seen but with cutting edge technology within a box slightly bigger than a toaster, it is definitely going to fill some niche market. With this size in mind, I thought it would be nice to get one for university.
The beauty of these small motherboards is that they have the sound, graphics and LAN onboard and plus many other good things. Ok - it is not the best but this is not aiming to be. It is supposed to be a good all-rounder, particularly aimed at the office or used as part of a multimedia environment for playing DVDs and CDs. If I wanted the best, I can always use the AGP slot and stick my own graphics card in and the PCI slot for the best sound card.
After having a good look at what is available on the market, I have settled for the SS51G. It is not the newest Shuttle on the market but it is still well priced and fast. When Intel Northwood CPU prices started to come down in price, a very fast Intel processor in it with the fastest RAM was chosen. In the end my processor was £170 but this was nearly 18 months ago.
This is a great system for portability and economy! It is economical becuase of a large amount of components are onboard and so it also makes it a little easier in chosing the right parts. It is possible to buy a carry case for it and other bits for it. I have stuck only to the carry case so I am not able to comment on how well the other bits work with the SS51GThe Specs:
CPU support: Socket 478-based Intel Pentium 4
Form factor: Flex ATX
Chipset: SiS 651/962L
North bridge: SiS 651
South bridge: SiS 962L
Interconnect: SiS MuTIOL (1GB/s)
PCI slots: 1 32-bit/33MHz
AGP slots: 2X/4X AGP
AMR/CNR slots: none
Memory: 2 184-pin DIMM sockets Max. of 2GB of PC1600/PC2100/2700 DDR SDRAM
Storage I/O: Floppy disk 2 channels ATA/100
Legacy ports: 1 PS/2 keyboard, 1 PS/2 mouse, 2 serial
Firewire: 3 IEEE 1394 ports (1 front, 2 rear) via VIA VT6306
Bus speeds: 100-166MHz in 1MHz increments
Monitoring: Voltage, fan status, and temperature monitoring
I decided to use an Intel P4 Socket 478 2.4BGhz 533FSB Northwood processor and the memory is Crucial 512 MHz PC2100 DDR RAM. I have limited space in the Shuttle so I have settled with the floppy drive and a combo drive (DVD, CD-ROM, CD-R, CD-RW all in one). However I know its possible to not use the floppy drive and have another hard drive in there. I have decided not to do that as there is not much space in the Shuttle. This unfortunately affects the airflow considerably and adding another source of heat is not wise.The size of the shuttle makes it an excellent device to hook it up to the television to play DVDs and whatever you might have on nyour hard drive. I have not done that as I use it for my studies like any other computer. What does put me off is that they are quite noisy. Its not terrible but they are not silent. It might not be a problem for some but the noise might rule it out as being a feature of the livingroom. Sorry Shuttle but the heatpipe technology has flaws in its processor cooling - it could be more effective and the fan at the back could be quieter. For the more experienced computer hardware geeks, you can change the fan for a quieter one or even try out watercooling. It has been done but I wouldnt undertake it without some serious consideration in the implementation.
I use this computer as my TV as I have a Hauppauge TV PCI-FM in the one and only PCI slot. I use the graphics onboard so the AGP slot remains empty. Some of the newer graphics cards produce a lot of heat and are quite large. It is worth considering what model to buy based on its heat and its dimensions. There is not a lot of space for it and a TV card. You will have to forget about sticking extra heatsinks on the graphics card as there will be no room for that. The onboard graphics is fine for what most people want from a computer but for the newest games, it is going to stuggle a little. However with a powerful processor it does help. If you want the power of a full towercase, stick a good GFX card in and you will be well away for all those LAN parties!
I found the computer a little fiddly to build. Its so tiny that you need small hands to put the bits together. The instruction manual comes with coloured pictures so understanding what needs to be done was fine. Some of the screws are thumb screws so it does make it faster to put together.
The cables are all custom made so they are just the right fit. You have to be very careful when putting the case on not to trap any of the cables as it will be hard to get replacements I would imagine as they are made extra short.
The heatpipe system, as mentioned before, means that the CPU is cooled not from a heatsink and fan but by a series of pipes that pipe hot air away from the computer and sends it out of the back using a fan. There are side air intake holes in the case but they are not very adequate. At the moment the system temperature is at 38 degrees and CPU is 51 degrees. It is worth noting that the computer is idling mostly and its Winter. In the summer it has been a lot higher than that and once the CPU was running at 75 degrees full load. This is not good for a Intel. I have found a way around it. In the bios there is an option to have this thing whereby the fan on the back is controlled by the CU temperature. When it reaches a selected temperature, the fan comes on but i found it to be annoying with all its starting and stopping so it is now on all the time. This seems for me to be a more effective way of keeping this computer cool.
I have had a few troubles with it though. The onboard network card failed twice. The trouble is, because the computer is so small, Shuttle only went and put the chipset very close to where the processor is. It was so close that twice it melted! Having said that, this was when I had the fans stopping and starting and now everything seems a lot more healthy and i dont get 75 degree CPU temps.
Having to send back the motherboard twice to the place where I bought it (good ol' gemma.co.uk), I think i have become a bit of an expert in taking it apart. Taking the motherboard out of the case is a little tricky as one end of it catches on the case as it has all the sockets. It is also a little bit fiddly putting it back in. Once its in place and screwed down its not too bad. With any luck, most people won''t have to do this!
With the prices coming down for the Shuttles, it is well worth getting one if you want a new computer. Its a good idea to do a bit of research before getting one. There are a lot of websites around that go into more details regarding the hardware performance. I am merely concerned with how easy it is to use for this review as in the end, its a near top end computer anyway although tis model is aging a bit. There are newer ones on the market that feature the newer technologies.