The small form factor (SFF) (or mini-barebones as some like to call it) PC has come a long way over the years. Initially there were hybrids like the U-tron LAN Gear ES. This was essentially a gaming rig in a 2U rack. The LAN Gear ES was different than a typical PC because it offered portability, but its size was still unwieldy and the system just wasn’t powerful enough.
Shuttle ran into the same problem with its initial small form factor systems -- the size was definitely improved, but performance just wasn’t there. Their first systems were based on outdated chipsets that didn’t support the latest processors and were behind the times in terms of feature set. But thanks to newer, more powerful chipsets from NVIDIA and Intel, the small form factor PC of today is capable of giving even the latest fully fledged desktop system a run for its money.
The small form factor systems lined up
iDEQ 200T and XC Cube pose for the camera
Since today’s modern SFF systems are based on the same chipsets you’d find in a conventional ATX motherboard, these systems support the latest desktop processors and high-end features such as Serial ATA hard drive support and can be outfitted with dual-channel DDR400 memory. Pretty impressive for a PC the size of a toaster don’t you think?
Shuttle was the first company to successfully tap into this market with their line of XPCs. Since the debut of their first XPC, the SV24, Shuttle has sold millions of SFF systems worldwide and has emerged as the leader in the SFF market. However, in more recent months Shuttle’s XPCs have been rivaled by newer players such as Biostar with their iDEQ line and Soltek with their Qbic series. Larger motherboard manufacturers such as ABIT and MSI have also entered the SFF market with their DigiDice and MEGA systems respectively, and motherboard titan ASUS has quietly introduced its DigiMatrix, which looks just like a piece of stereo equipment. FIC’s ICE Cube-VG61 offered more features than the equivalent Shuttle XPC of its time, and impressed us so much we awarded it a Bull’s Eye. Clearly the number of options has never been greater.
What we’ve decided to do is roundup a handful of the most intriguing small form factor systems that have been introduced for the Intel platform. All of them are based on Intel’s 865G “Springdale” chipset. We’ve collected AOpen’s XC Cube EZ65, which is one of the newest small form factor systems to hit the market, Biostar’s popular iDEQ 200T, the Shuttle SB61G2R 20th Anniversary Special Edition, which comes with all kinds of added extras, and finally, Soltek’s Qbic EQ3401, which boasts the most powerful power supply unit of all the systems we’ve tested among its list of features. Lets start with AOpen first.