Shuttle SB61G2 XPC Review - HotHardware

Shuttle SB61G2 XPC Review

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The Shuttle XPC SB61G2
Pint-Sized P4 Powerhouse!

"Burned in" by Robert Maloney
June 8th, 2003

Setup & Quality
How do they get it all in there?

     

The first question that comes to one's mind is how can Shuttle get everything into that box?  Seriously, once we removed the brushed aluminum outer shell, we looked in at an organized set of wires and empty slots waiting to be used.  The first thing you will want to do is to remove the tray by unscrewing two screws at the top.  Once this was removed, we got our first glance at the "I.C.E. Thermal Module", a customized cooling system that Shuttle has devised for their XPC systems.  We will cover this a bit later on in the review, but for now we removed the fan first using four thumbscrews, and then unclipped the retention mechanism and removed the unit.  We now had a better look at the FB61 motherboard.

     

Shuttle has very little room to spare on the FB61, for obvious reasons.  There's a lot of features to be found on Springdale-based motherboards, and Shuttle did their best to fit them all in.  Dual-channel DDR support is provided by installing memory in each of the two slots at the front of the board.  Between the memory slots and the front of the case are both of the IDE ports as well as the front panel header for the USB 2.0 and Mini-Firewire ports.  It does get a bit tight when trying to get all of the cables plugged in and we highly suggest doing so without the tray or other hardware installed.  The North Bridge was actively cooled by a decent-sized heatsink with a small, quiet fan on top.  This is mostly needed since the Intel Extreme Graphics engine is part of the i865G North Bridge, which drives a fair amount of heat.

     

In order to save space, expansion capabilities must be sacrificed somewhat, hence there is only one PCI slot to accompany the AGP 8x slot.  Since audio and LAN capabilities are already provided on the motherboard, this shouldn't be too much of a limitation.  Just past these two slots are the ICH5 South Bridge, SATA hard drive connections, as well as a vertically mounted battery.  Although we didn't use one during testing, one can see how the small cabling profile of SATA drives would definitely be put to good use in a small enclosure like this.  RAID configuration with  the hard drives are not supported.  The ICH5R version of the South Bridge is needed for that but there really isn't room for a second hard drive in typical Mini PC configurations anyway.

The BIOS
Let's turn on the juice

     

The SB61G2 is equipped with an Award / Phoenix v.6.00G BIOS that could be found on any board, large or small.  From the Integrated Peripherals, users can enable or disable the integrated components, and determine whether to use IDE, SATA, or a combination of both types of drives.  Memory timings are specified in the Advanced Chipset Features, and the speed is chosen, but only as a subset of the FSB of the CPU.  For example, DDR400 can only be enabled when using an 800MHz FSB CPU.  If a 533MHz FSB is installed, then the only speed choices are 200/266/333.  We also were able to set the frame buffer size of the Intel Extreme Graphics 2 here, up to a maximum of 16MB.

     

The PC Health section of the BIOS has some options on controlling the speed of the exhaust fan, and in turn, controlling the noise output.  The default setting here is titled 'Smart Fan', which will automatically raise the fan speed at certain temperature levels that the user can set.  Otherwise, you can set the fan at four settings: Ultra Low (<2000rpm), Low, Mid, or Full (>3500rpm).

     

Unlike XPC systems in the past, the SB61G2 is completely overclockable.  The CPU's Front Side Bus (FSB) can be set to any speed between 100MHz and 255MHz, in 1MHz increments.  To support overclocking the FSB, the CPU, DDR, and AGP voltages can all be raised.  CPU Voltage can be raised from 1.5V all the way up to 1.85V, while the DDR voltage choices are far less, going only as far as 2.75V.  These choices are more than welcomed but care must be taken since heat is definitely a consideration in small enclosures like these. 

I.C.E. Techology
Adventures in cooling

     

Drastic environments require drastic measures.  In such cramped quarters, a typical heatsink/fan combo would not be practical, especially considering the small 40mm fan on the PSU, with no room for additional fans.  Shuttle has implemented what they call their Integrated Cooling Engine (I.C.E.) technology.  As demonstrated in the diagram above, heat is absorbed from the CPU from the copper base of the heatsink.  Fluid in the four heatpipes situated within the heatsink, evaporates and travels up to the radiator along the back wall of the XPC.  There the vapor is cooled by the large fan, turning back to liquid and returning to the heatsink again to be reheated.

  
BEFORE                                          AFTER

One small complaint that we had about the heatsink was that it was left in an "unfinished" state.  Often, a heatsink left in this state may not be fully flat or may be rough, preventing an even transfer of heat from the CPU.  We wanted to keep our system running as cool as possible, especially if we were going to overclock, so we decided on lapping the heatsink.  More information can be found on this technique by searching the web, but for a quick review, this entails sanding the heatsink surface using increasingly smaller grit sandpaper until a mirrored surface results.  Take a quick look at the before and after pictures to see how the reflection of the penny is sharpened, once a mirror-like surface is achieved.

As you can see from the graph, lapping the heatsink did have some effect.  The CPU temperature dropped two degrees while idle, and three degrees under load.  Going one step further, we replaced the silicon-based thermal grease that came with the SB61G2 and applied a thin layer of Arctic Silver 3.  While the idle temperature was recorded at a degree higher, the load temperature dropped an additional degree.  These aren't major reductions, we agree, but still, any drop in temperature in an small enclosure such as the XPC is nothing but goodness.

The test systems and first benchmarks

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