Summary: It's been long overdue and by golly it's happening. No longer will uber computers be humongous. The Shuttle X SS51G packs a huge amount of power into an itty-bitty space. Read on to see why we gave the toaster an Editor's Choice award.
The envelope has been pushed. While not quite as earth shattering as a lunar landing, some measure of spectacle has occurred, and it will be duly noted. Toss the status quo aside and let a new age be heralded. Causing this stir would be a silver, toaster-sized box, known as the Shuttle X. Well actually I wish it was named that, the full name is a bit anticlimactic after the build up given to it. Leave it to the Taiwanese to take the fun out of anything – Shuttle X PC SS51G. Doesn’t have quite the same ring eh?
SIDEBAR: In New York, It is against the law to throw a ball at someone's head for fun. (So should Clemens be in the slammer for beaning Piazza? –ed)
Blue Power LED, Orange HD LED
Front Ports – Optical, Headphone, Mic, 2 USB, 1 Firewire
Motherboard – Shuttle FS51
SiS 651 North Bridge
SiS 962L South Bridge
1 AGP – 2x, 4x
Realtek 8100B LAN
Firewire VIA VT6306
AC97 6-channel sound
6 USB 2.0 ports
2 184-pin DIMM slots, up to 2GB of DDR SDRAM
2 ATA133 channels
Fan Status Monitoring
CPU Fan AutoGuardian
And the usual ports – serial, PS2…
1 Rounded ATA133 Cable
After my little traipse through nostalgia land, I had what turned out to be an enormous amount of pictures for your viewing pleasure. Multiple shots of cables and drive cages, ah the joy. In the process many a “gee whiz” feature was uncovered. Mind you, these aren’t the sorts of features that you won’t ever need, these are things you yourself would have thought to put in, but what most manufacturers generally leave out.
Getting to the case itself, removing the housing for the case is like taking the cover off of any case. Since the cover is attached by three thumbscrews, getting at the insides only takes seconds and no tools at all. Putting the cover back on is only slightly harder, as the motherboard power connector wires sort of get in the way. Not much of a problem by any means though.
SIDEBAR: A shiny new penny to the person who can tell me the name of Tomax’s brother in the news post.
The Cable Holder
Once on the inside, removing the drive cage is an absolute necessity if you want to get to the innards of the machine. Two screws, a quick slide out, and you are on your way to the core. On the under side of the drive cage is a little plastic clip that serves as a cable holder, thereby cleaning up the inside for optimal airflow. This is almost secondary to the pre-sliced IDE cable, more on that later though.
Moving over to the add-in card slots, we were greeted by a little flap. Most unusual but very, very secure. This little rotating hunk of metal latches down onto the cards after you install them, making sure they are going absolutely nowhere. The cards are a little hard to get in, but it just requires a bit more finesse in terms of positioning to get the right angle.
Fan and heatsink
Cooling in a case as small as this requires a bit of ingenuity. Knowing full well that there were going to be some high-end parts in these boxes, Shuttle had the foresight to design this box with much more than a 5400RPM hard drive and a Celeron in mind. The heatsink alone is quite a marvel. From a copper base attached to an aluminum sink spews four heatpipes leading to a chunk of aluminum attached to a massive 80mm Sunon fan. If you thought describing this thing took more than its fair share of a sentence, just look at the picture. The copper base wasn’t as smooth as we would have liked it to be, but once again this is just nit picking.
To add to the cooling goodness, if you flip over the box, you have the option of attaching small aluminum feet, that are slightly taller than the rubber feet. These aluminum feet raise the front end slightly higher, and allow air to come in from the vent holes on the bottom. Also note the vents on both sides of the case cover.
SIDEBAR: We recommend that the Shuttle X be used on a solid surface top. Something like carpet would clog the intake on the bottom.
After tearing the machine to pieces, it was time to put the cube together for testing. Unlike the toys of yore, putting this tiny thing back together is a piece of cake. A screwdriver is really only required for the drive cage, while the rest of the case can be disassembled with a few thumbscrews. For a case so small, we were surprised that there wasn’t more to assembly. Adding drives and cards was a snap. One thing does get annoying - having to take out the drive cage whenever you want to fiddle with something. This shouldn’t be a problem as once you’re done shoving in all your parts, there really isn’t a reason to open the box up again. This is mainly due to the size. I doubt Shuttle could have made it any easier to take this thing apart; it’s probably more of me being lazy than their problem.
The first thing we had to do was decide where the wires were going. Fortunately most of this was outlined in the manual that I neglected to read, since discovering things is so much more fun. Generally we go for straight performance, but in this case we wanted to stay on the safe side, so we used a single IDE cable to minimize on the clutter on the inside of the case. We ended up hooking up both the CD-ROM and hard drive to the same cable and let it rip. In this case we didn’t have to utilize the cable clip on the drive cage. But we did get to use the clips along the side of the case to secure the rounded cable. We had to use a pair of pliers to get them out a bit, but these are a must for any case. It basically routed the entire cable along the side of the case.
The rubber stopper
Following the wiring, the add-in cards were plopped into the system. There wasn’t anything terribly noteworthy here. But after we had the cards in, we ran into a slight snag. On one side of the drive cage is a rubber stopper, placed there specifically for the sole purpose of preventing huge problems. This little rubber knob can essentially mean the difference between a dead computer and a working one. If something were to jostle your add in cards, they might knock against the drive cage. As we are well aware, metal and electricity don’t mix too well. Now here’s the kicker. I think we may have been the odd man out in this situation, as no one else we know reviewing the box ran into this problem. In trying to install the Creative Audigy, the rubber knob would essentially prevent the cage from installing. Mind you, even after we removed the stopper, the cage would almost graze the pins on the back of the Audigy. While we have been reassured by Shuttle that this shouldn’t be happening, we are happy to say that fixing this little problem is as easy strapping on some electrical tape. Ten seconds and five electrical tape strips later, we were back in business.
A nice addition to the motherboard was the use of a fan speed regulator. The speed of the main fan can be adjusted according to the temperature setting in the BIOS. This lets the computer come to a nice hum or a small roar depending on how hot the box is getting. Once again, on the safe side, we set it to the lowest temperature and the highest fan speed. We’re willing to take hits for the team, but losing a Ti4600 is a bit much even for us.
Looking at a computer this size, overclocking should be the last thing on your mind. Airflow and cooling go hand in hand. Neither of those exists in a cube that has barely enough room for two drives. Despite this, Shuttle provided some rudimentary overclocking features on the motherboard. Total control of the FSB in 1 MHz increments is available to you, but voltage control has been taken away. Some might be sighing in their seats as they read this, but Shuttle did this only to protect you. Raising the voltage is a guaranteed way to raise the temperature. While the box functions just fine under normal conditions, overclocking in cramped spaces is asking for doom. To save everyone the heartache of dead processors and fried drives, Shuttle decided not to implement this feature.
When trying to optimize the memory speeds of the system, we found a limitation in our board. If you are new to overclocking, here’s a tip – use only one stick of memory. Usually two sticks or more tends to diminish the gains you might get. But regardless of that, in this system, we had two very capable sticks of RAM, and we could never get both to run at maximum speed – CAS2, 1T command rate. However with either stick in either slot, we could attain these speeds, but never with both at the same time. We were informed that this is more of a limitation with the SiS chipset. Either way, you’re better off getting one big stick of memory, and seeing as the cost per MB for the 256MB and 512MB sticks is just about equal, you’re better off getting one big stick.
ASUS P4T533 32-bit RIMMs
512MB Corsair PC2700 DDR SDRAM
ASUS V8460 Deluxe GeForce4 Ti4600
Driver version Detonator 29.42
30GB IBM Deskstar DTLA 307030 ATA/100 Hard Drive
AFREEY 12X DVD-ROM
Windows XP Professional
Desktop Resolution: 1024x768x32
3DMark 2001 - 32-bit, 32-bit textures
Yes the SiS chipset is in a different league here, we are well aware. Since this was the nearest complete system, we went with it. It’s actually surprising to see how close they are in some tests.
Quake III - High Quality
We started off testing with the onboard video, but decided to stop. We’re not going to bother explaining why, the numbers should be justification enough.
3DMark 2001 - DirectX 8.0
Serious Sam II - OpenGL
In these tests, we ran with an Audigy and the AC97 present on the FS51.
There has to be a term specifically meant for a French person fearing American culture…
Business Winstone 2001
Content Creation 2002
Size: Coming in at a hair larger than a toaster, it’s hard to argue that this machine takes up too much desk space. When you factor in that it can replace your main system entirely, it gets exceedingly hard to knock this little aluminum wonder.
?: We’re trying to think of something bad to say, and it’s really a bit hard. The only issue we ran into was not being able to fit a sound card in because of a rubber stopper, which was resolved in seconds. We have been told by Shuttle that our machine might be an oddity. Many of the other reviewers did not encounter this problem. About the only thing we could say is you might want to wait a little bit and check out how the nForce2 solution compares.
Every experience we’ve had with the Shuttle X SS51G has been down right pleasurable. From assembly to use, this little box has been nothing short of a bundle of joy. Performance-wise it is on par with any DDR based system, and even some RDRAM based systems. Pairing this machine with a good video card and a decently overclockable Northwood would result in a highly portable gaming machine. This is the main reason Shuttle is getting the Editor’s Choice award, an award that we do not toss about lightly. The combination of looks, performance and compactness make this product very hard to pass by.
There is only one thing that would stop us from buying this box in particular - knowing that Shuttle is making an nForce2 based product very soon.
SIDEBAR: What do you think of the Shuttle X? Think it’s better than sliced bread? God’s gift to man? Or just another toy that will be forgotten by the time my wind dissipates? Speak up in the news!
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