Small form factor (SFF) PCs have come a long way in the past couple years. Early units were more proof of concept, packing in decent features into a small package, but they were never quite up to the standards set by full-sized computer systems. That has changed somewhat since, as they've become somewhat expandable and upgradable, as well as offering modern chipset features enthusiasts have come to expect in any computer.
have been building SFFs for quite some time and had good success with their QBic line of barebone PCs. Recently they've redesigned their line and included a new series dubbed the Mania. Sporting the latest chipsets, if you're grown tired of the same old "cube" SFFs we're used to seeing, the new Soltek EQ3501-300P may be to your liking.
||Intel Pentium 4 LGA775 800MHz Front Side Bus
||Intel 915G + ICH6R
||Onboard Intel Graphics
- 2 x 184-pin DDR DIMM Sockets.
- Supporting unbuffered non-ECC DDR 400/333/266 DRAM up to 2GB.
- Supporting Dual-Channel.
||1 X PCI Express x16 slot
1 X PCI slots
||Gigabit LAN Function
||8-Channel AC'97 Audio
The Soltek EQ3501-300P SFF
Whether or not the retro toaster/muscle car look is your bag, compared to the last QBic Mania we looked at, we much prefer the red colour as opposed to yellow (there are four primary colours available; black, red, blue and yellow). On that note, one look at the Soltek EQ3901-300P and we can see that it sets itself apart visually from the de facto standard square SFFs. It's also quite a bit larger than most SFFs we're used to thanks to the enclosure Soltek uses for their Mania series of QBics which will allow for up to two 5.25" and one 3.5" external devices. Along with the barebone PC, we received a knapsack to carry the PC to LAN parties, a variety of cables, manuals, driver and utility CDs.
The chassis is constructed primarily of aluminum, but the outer shell is all plastic. As a result, the chassis is not as durable as a metal one, and is prone to cracking if enough bumping is done to it. Despite the aluminum and plastic construction, the EQ3501 is quite heavy for a barebone PC. Fully loaded, the EQ3501 weighs in the vicinity of 11 to 12 pounds, which is substantially lighter than a loaded mid-tower, and is rather easy to transport.
The EQ3501 Mania we received sports a nice red and silver colour as mentioned earlier. As with the last Mania we reviewed, the shell does a good job of muffling the interior fan noise. Another benefit of the outer shell is that it allows Soltek to stealth external drive bays which is handy if you do not have red optical and floppy drives. While we understand a plastic shell is less expensive to produce than an aluminum one, the unit does not have the same look of quality as a pure aluminum SFF would. While I much prefer the red colour of this unit, I'm still not a big fan of the appearance, but that's merely my opinion.
We have four doors in total on the front of the unit. The upper two silver doors hide up to two optical drives (maximum capacity in the EQ3501). Both doors are spring loaded, and when depressing the silver buttons to the right, the door opens for CDROM access. We don't have a slot loaded CDROM, so I'm unable to verify if the door will cooperate with those kinds of drives, but there isn't much resistance to the doors, so I suspect it will work fine (though the bottom of your discs may not appreciate being scraped against the door whenever it opens). For those of you who make heavy use of the "play" or "skip" button on your optical drive, the design of the EQ3501 will restrict access to them. One nice thing about the doors is that since the eject button is located to the side, you can press the button to close your drive (door will swing shut) so there's no need to push on a drive tray to close it, thus cutting down on the chances of breaking it.
The floppy and front I/O door are clip locked, meaning, you'll need to push on the corner of the doors and manually open the door fully (or wait a couple seconds for gravity to take effect). Both doors need to be shut manually as well once you're done with them. For the front I/O, we have; two USB 2.0, a Mic-In, a Line-Out Port, one IEEE1394a and one S/PDIF Out Port. For the rear IO, there are the following; VGA, mouse and keyboard PS/2, four USB 2.0, one serial, one 10/100/1000 RJ45, one IEEE1394a and five audio.
Based on the Intel 915G chipset, the EQ3501 uses Soltek's very own SL-B5A-FGR motherboard as the heart of the SFF. The board also features the ICH6R chipset which supports a number of features including RAID. The board officially supports LGA775 Pentium 4 CPUs, but only those that ride on the 800MHz Front Side Bus.
Expansion is limited to one PCI Express x16 and one standard PCI slot. The PCIe slot is located on the outer edge of the EQ3501 and given its location, video cards with large coolers will not fit in the system without modification to the side panel. This is the only flaw we were able to find with the SL-B9D-FGR motherboard, which is well laid out outside of this issue.
For those of you who do not wish to use a discreet graphics card, the EQ3501 is equipped with Intel's GMA 900 integrated video. It's not that great for gaming, especially if you have thoughts of playing Half-Life 2 or Doom 3 on the box, but it does support DirectX9 and is alright for older, pre-2004 3D games.
There are two DIMM slots, supporting up to 2GB of DDR400 (officially) Dual Channel ram. We tested the system with Corsair TWINX 3200XL, but the system ran fine with Kingston's HyperX PC4300 as well. Both the North and South bridges are passively cooled, with the North Bridge using a larger heatsink. There are four SATA connections next to the South Bridge which support up to four drives in single, or RAID 0, and 1 configurations. Along with SATA, there is one PATA connection good for two ATA133 devices, and a floppy connection.
Despite larger cards being out of the question, Soltek does include a hefty PSU rated at 300W. We loaded up our PC with a couple DVD drives, two Seagate 7200.7s, 1GB of ram, an Intel P4 560 and ASUS AX800XT and the EQ3501 never hiccuped under load.