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 EQ3901-300P may be to your liking.
||AMD Socket 939 FX/64
||VIA K8T800 Pro + VT8237
- 2 x 184-pin DDR DIMM Sockets.
- Supporting unbuffered non-ECC DDR 400/333/266 DRAM up to 2GB.
- Supporting Dual-Channel.
||1 X AGP slot
1 X PCI slots
||Gigabit LAN Function
||8-Channel AC'97 Audio
The Soltek EQ3901-300P SFF
Whether or not the retro toaster/muscle car look is your bag, 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.
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. The top of the EQ3901 had what we originally suspected was a handle of some sort, but a large sticker warned us that the EQ3901 is not to be carried by it. Throwing caution to the wind, we lifted the unit by the plastic and immediately saw it flex under its weight, so Soltek wasn't kidding about that.
Despite the aluminum and plastic construction, the EQ3901 was one of the heavier SFFs we've worked with. Fully loaded, the EQ3901 weighs in the vicinity of 11 to 12 pounds, which is substantially lighter than a common mid-tower, but still heavy enough to knock a full grown man to the ground if you toss this thing at their head... not that we would recommend that. ;)
That being said, while it's still rather large, the EQ3901 is rather easy to transport.
We did not specify a colour when we were arranging the review, so I was a little taken aback when I opened the box and found a yellow and silver SFF. Along with creating the rather old school look to it, the plastic shell serves a couple other functions. To start, because it's a shell on top of the aluminum chassis, it will help muffle any interior fan noise. After working with the unit during the review, along with the temperature controlled fans, the EQ3901 is one of the quietest SFFs when under light processing load. The other benefit of the outer shell is that it allows Soltek to stealth any external drive bays which is handy since I don't think many of us have yellow 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. Perhaps it's the colour, and thankfully Soltek offers four colours total (black, red, blue and yellow). This is strictly my opinion, but to put it mildly the EQ3901 certainly looks different. To put it bluntly, it's fairly gaudy.
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 EQ3901). Both doors are spring loaded, and when depressing the silver buttons to the right, the door opens for CDROM access. Unfortunently, my sole slot loading optical drive gave up the ghost last month 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 EQ3901 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.
Moving to the rear of the unit, we have all the IO connections, which are; mouse and keyboard PS/2, four USB 2.0, two serial, one 10/100/1000 RJ45, one IEEE1394a and five audio. We can also see the power supply fan exhaust, as well as Soltek's IcyQ exhaust vent (on the left hand side of the above left image).
There are two external expansion back panels for the two lone expansion slots in the EQ3901. Simply unscrew the retention screws and open the slide panel to install your cards, then reverse the process to secure them.
Taking the EQ3901 apart reveals the innards. The main chassis is removed via a couple thumbscrews and slides off from the back. The front bezel is removed by pressing on a couple clips and popping it off. The main drive rack is removed by taking off a couple small screws and sliding it out. There is room for up to two 5.25" devices and two 3.5" devices.
Working on the EQ3901 is relatively easy once you remove the drive rack. There are also a number of plastic and molded aluminum cable organizers to keep things tidy inside.