Summary: Looking for an AM2-based small form factor? If so, then Shuttle's SN27P2 is the only game in town right now. In today's review, Jake goes over the features and performance of this SFF rig, and finds that it's not only capable of keeping up with the latest nForce 590 motherboards, thanks to its 400W PSU it's also ready for the latest CPUs and graphics cards. Read why we were so impressed with this SFF in today's review!
A SFF chassis is obviously much smaller compared to a standard ATX case, therefore it sacrifices upgradeability. SFF systems only support 1 optical drive, and only 2-3 hard drives. The greatest sacrifice however comes with the expansion slots. All SFF systems only have two expansion slots: enough for a video card and one PCI card. Standard ATX motherboards have 6-7 slots for adding extra cards.
Ultra high end video cards requiring dual slot cooling could not fit into SFF systems until the SN25P was introduced, and now carries over to the SN27P2. Shuttle reverses the placement of the PCI Express Graphics (PEG) slot and the PCI slot to allow video cards with dual slot coolers to fit. We’ll discuss this later when we open up this tiny beast. The SFF platform isn’t for everyone, but even enthusiasts could get by with the lack of upgradeability.
Let’s take a look at the SN27P2’s specs:
AMD Sempron/Athlon 64/FX/X2 Processor
NVIDIA nForce® 570 Ultra MCP
4 240-pin DIMM sockets supports up to 8GB of DDR2-400/533/667/800 SDRAM
1 PCI Express x16 graphics slot
1 32-bit/33MHz PCI slot
Marvell 88E1116 Gbit LAN PHY
Supports 10/100/1000 Mbps Operation
VIA VT6307 controller
IEEE1394 OHCI V1.0 compliant
400/200/100 Mb/s data transfer rate
I/O Front Panel
2 USB 2.0 Ports
1 Mini IEEE1394 Port
1 Mic In
1 Earphone Out
I/O Back Panel
6 USB 2.0 Ports
1 RJ45 10/100/1000 Mbps LAN Port
1 IEEE1394a Port
1 External SATA Port
1 Front Out
1 Side Surround Out
1 Rear Out
1 Center/Bass Out
1 S/PDIF Coaxial Out
1 S/PDIF Optical In
1 S/PDIF Optical Out
1 Clear CMOS Button
Expansion drive bays
1 3.5" Bay
2 3.5" Bay (internal)
1 5.25" Bay
Realtek ALC882 HD Audio
7.1 + 2 HD Channels
Above 103dB SNR quality output
BIOS Bus speeds
HT: 200-300MHz in 1MHz increments
DRAM: 400, 533, 667, 800MHz
Silent X 400W(PFC) Power Supply Unit
Input 100-240V AC
Gone is the memory card reader that used to be housed above the 5.25” bay – fortunately one could always buy a reader and place it in the available external 3.5” bay. The blue (or purple for the SN26P) plastic covered front is replaced by black brushed aluminum, giving the SN27P2 a more distinctive, sleek look. The optical drive eject button, hard drive LED, and power button (in that order) are now placed on a vertical silver stripe running down the length of the front, and like the original P-series, Shuttle continues to hide the external 3.5” and 5.25” drive bays behind hinged drive bay doors.
Dimensions of the new chassis are largely the same, the SN27P2 measures 325mm in length, 220mm width, and 210mm in height.
The front panel ports don’t change much either, like the external drives, Shuttle houses the ports behind a bay door; the only differences are the change from one 1394b to one 1394a and placing the reset switch inside a tiny hole requiring a pin or pen to push. Meanwhile, on the sides, we see many vents and a fan inside the SFF.
On the back of the SN27P2, we see a full set of rear panel connectors. There is one external SATA port, a first for SFF systems, Gigabit Ethernet, six (6) USB 2.0 ports and 8-channel sound. You will note however that Shuttle has elected to remove the serial, parallel, and PS/2 ports for the mouse and keyboard.
Overall Shuttle outfits its small motherboard with many of the same features as other AM2 motherboards featured in our Socket AM2 Chipset Showdown and AM2 Motherboard Roundup Part 1 articles. There is also a small “Clear CMOS” button that requires a pen point or pin to push. The expansion slots are located on the opposite side of the chassis to allow the installation of video cards with dual slot cooling.
Above the rear panel connectors we see the 80mm fan from the power supply, the power cable connector, and switch. Notice that Shuttle’s PSU has Active PFC which automatically corrects AC input voltage and has a theoretically higher efficiency and power factor. If we look higher we see two fan grilles for dual 60mm exhaust fans. The outside grille is made of box-like openings that are more restrictive than the honeycomb ones featured on most other case panels, and prevent the already slow spinning fans from expelling the little air they push. Now let’s dive into the belly of the beast.
As with most other SFF systems, the cables are cut to a specific length and run in a way to prevent the obstruction of airflow. Airflow is crucial to such a small case, so all possible steps to improve it are taken by Shuttle.
If you read our AM2 Motherboard Roundup Part 1 article, you read that the EPOX MF570SLI motherboard based on the nForce 570 chipset had a horizontally-placed chipset fan. The fan’s size wasn’t effective because of the small heatsink.
In the next picture, you can see the four 240-pin DDR2 slots supporting a maximum of 4GB. This is double the amount of slots featured in the Shuttle SN25P. The dual-channel configurations are also clearly marked. The red slots make up one channel, while the black slots make up the other.
On the top of the chassis are two aluminum trays for the hard drives. Another hard drive may be placed in the external 3.5” bay, for a total maximum for 3 hard drives. To the right of the hard drive trays are the dual 60mm fans we mentioned earlier. The unique fan grille spanning both 60mm fans is a nice touch. As we noted earlier however, the effectiveness of these fans is limited due to the design of the outside grille.
As you can see, this power supply is mostly focused on the 12V rails. There are enough amperes on the 3.3V and 5V rails to support the system. Obviously, this power supply is tailored to this system only. The large amount of amps on the 12V rails are needed to support even the most power hungry CPUs and video cards available for this system, which are the AMD FX-62 and ATI Radeon X1900XTX. In the photograph on the right, you can see the expansion slot configuration we discussed earlier. This configuration allows the installation of a video card with dual slot cooling, but also prevents any further expansion.
Under the two hard drive cages are the 5.25” and 3.5” external drive cage. It isn’t anything special, but in need of mentioning. On the top of the cage you can see a totally useless hole for a 40mm fan. When installed in the case, the hole is blocked by one of the hard drive cages. To the right, we see all the chips on the motherboard. The smallest one is the Realtek 882D codec. There are also the Phoenix BIOS and ITE sensor chips. All the way down in the photo is a VIA Firewire controller.
Here is the CPU heatsink and fan assembly for the SN27P2 chassis. In consists of a smaller 70mm fan pushing cool air onto the fins (pictured here) and a larger 92mm fan pulling warm air from the fins out of the case. The heatsink is all aluminum except for a copper base. The heatsink features 4 heat pipes for additional cooling. Attaching this heatsink to the motherboard is very easy. Just place it on the CPU, while lining up the holes in the motherboard and evenly screw down the heatsink. The screws are thick, making installation even easier.
Here is the 92mm exhaust fan part of the ICE cooling we mentioned earlier. It can be pivoted for easier access to the case, but must be returned to its normal position in order to install the heatsink. The fan is clipped to the chassis and hinged to the side. It can be completely removed by sliding the fan off of the hinge.
Here are shots of the fully assembled Shuttle SN27P2.
BIOS & Overclocking
The BIOS contains a maximum 300FSB, with ample voltage increments. Voltages max out at 1.525V for the CPU, 2.0V for memory voltage, and 1.6V for the chipset voltage. This should be enough for high overclocks. Remember though, this is a small case, so additional heat should be avoided at all costs. Nonetheless, we used an AMD AM2 3000+ (9x200) for overclocking due to its low multiplier. We were able to max out the FSB at 300 for a 50% overclock to 2.7GHz (9x300). The options in Shuttle’s BIOS don’t come close to the standard ATX nForce 500 motherboard we tested previously, but the results we achieved outstanding nonetheless, especially for a SFF system.
Benchmarks that are being conducted are following:
Here, the SN27P2 trailed at the bottom of the back throughout all tests. However, it did not fall behind by more than 1.5% in any case, so these deficits will not be noticed by the eye. Only on paper will you see the differences.
Performance: The Shuttle SN27P was able to keep up with the premium nForce 500 ATX motherboards. Although it didn’t win any benchmarks, it stayed with the pack throughout the tests.
Absence of Legacy Connectors: For the first time in a Shuttle SFF, the serial, parallel, and PS/2 connectors have been removed. This is a feature that could have easily been included, as there was plenty of room on the back of the SN27P2’s chassis. Clearly Shuttle’s trying to move the industry one step forward, similar to ABIT’s legacy-free first generation MAX motherboards a few years back. Back then the move was too soon and ABIT quickly reversed itself, including serial, parallel, and PS/2 ports on their follow-up MAX motherboards. Iit will be interesting to see if the market is finally ready to go legacy free once again.