Date Posted: October 21 , 2002
3D Mark 2001SE
Not really one of my favorite benchmarks, but it's a popular, and free download. Benchmarks were run at default 1024x768, as I felt 640x480 is getting to be fairly pointless. The Shuttle does very well, though it trails the MSI by a little over 200 3D Marks. You'll have t keep in mind that this is a synthetic test, so 200 points isn't anything to go nuts about.
Quake 3 Arena
It's getting old, I know, but Quake 3 is still a decent benchmark for almost anything. For motherboards and CPUs, we run at the lowest settings and fire away. Scores are identical, which is good for the Quake 3 LAN player. You now have a killer box that you can carry with one arm (though we're assuming you have two, since strafe jumping is a little tough with one hand )
Jedi Knight 2
Jedi Knight is still a Quake 3 engine game, but heavily modified. It's extemely CPU taxing when compared to Quake 3 itself, so we feel it's a useful motherboard/CPU benchmark. The MSI is ahead by less than a frame per second, so we'll just go ahead and declare this a tie.
Shuttle has hit a homer with the SS51, but not before whiffing at a couple of curve balls. As much as I enjoyed working with this barebone PC, there are a few concerns I have with it...
Heat is definitely a concern. It may just have been our test unit, but I think that the I.C.E. heatpipe could use a little work for the 2.4GHz+ CPUs. The power supply is in dire need of a better fan, as it is far to warm for my tastes.
The BIOS was lacking in voltage adjustments. I'm not going to knock the 165FSB ceiling as we never reached it with our CPU. If we had the ability to increase voltage, I'm pretty sure the overclocking would have been better. Keep in mind that we were dealing with an 18x multiplier, and anyone with a Northwood "A" can probably get decent 133FSB overclocks.
Given it's form factor, your upgrade path is fairly limited. With the power requirements of newer CPUs and video cards (the Radeon 9700 works fine), it may be tough to keep up as you may have with a more open design. Shuttle is committed to the XPC series, and plan to release motherboard upgrades as time goes on. Perhaps they'll take these things into account and have a list of recommended power supplies to help grow with the times.
There are a few things that kind of bugged me, such as the screws for the peripheals. The fact that you need to undo 2 screws, just to remove an AGP or PCI card is a bit of a drag. Also, I chose not to install a CDROM drive internally, due to heat concerns, so you have to be sure you screw the bezel back into the HDD rack with the right screws (in this scenario, I had an optical drive setup and changed my mind during testing). If not, the HDD rack won't go back in properly.
Now, I'm just really looking for things to complain about, but the truth is, this box is something I'm planning to use for a long time. The design is beautiful, and there should be some credit directed to the engineers for packing so many features into such a small PCB. Everything you can possibly need (or not need) is here, making for a very complete package.
Other than the exterior aesthetics, the interior work is superb. It is a tight case, but not hard to work with. Wires are already routed properly, and the wires you need to install are explained in the installation guide.
I did knock the heatpipe earlier, but I can applaud Shuttle's attempt to make a servicable cooling solution that is relatively quiet. With a more powerful fan, cooling would be much improved, though your noise levels will increase.
Given it's small size, and robust features, the usefullness of the SS51 is almost limitless. It can be a great LAN rig (with the proper video card), a corporate PC, a router, fileserver, or even a TiVO. Really, even when it's served it's purpose as a performance gaming PC, it can do almost anything else you want with it.
Lest we forget, the inclusion of an AGP slot is a major boon for gamers. I know big, and fancy modded cases go garner most of the attention at LAN parties, but you'll have to break your back moving it around. I'm sure if you pick up a SS51, you'll probably shock a lot of people when they see how much kick-ass performance the XPC packs. It'll be up to you to bring the skillz though.
Pros: Good performance, AGP slot, solid and beautiful construction, stable platform.
Cons: Runs hot, potentially limited upgrade path.
Bottom Line: No doubt, great things do come in small packages. You can pretty much call this the All-in-Wonder of barebone packages. It performs well, looks great, and includes everything you need to get going (minus the CPU/HDD/RAM/CD). What about AMD? The new XPC with the nForce2 is just around the corner...
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