On the outside, the EQ3501-Pro has a beautiful mirrored front finish with a flat black body. The body colors come in 3 unique flavors; Aluminum, Mirror and Mania. This translates to white, gray and black combinations, each of which adorns the mirrored front panel. The front of the unit is very clean, with individual doors hiding the various system components. The QBIC EQ3501-Pro was designed to support 2 CD-ROM drives, as well as a single floppy drive. The CD-ROM drives have individual doors masking them, with an eject button that lines up perfectly with the drive's. The floppy disk and front ports are masked by doors that have a push release mechanism that can be activated by pressing the upper right corner of the door. We did find that if we pressed anywhere else on these doors, they tended to flex rather than release. After working with the unit, we found this to be a plus, forcing you to use the same spot to open the door, rather than pressing anywhere and accumulating fingerprints on the shiny finish.
The CD-ROM, Floppy and Hard Drives are all mounted in a removable drive cage. The drives could all be mounted outside the unit and then slipped into place when completely set up. Unfortunately, this assembly was a rather tight fit and brushed up against the power supply when being slid into place. With our particular CD-ROM drive, which is a couple of inches longer than some newer models that have recently been released, we found the cage to be a little difficult to get into place. However, with a newer, shorter CD/DVD ROM this should not be a problem.
The floppy drive space doubles as a hard drive bay for those looking to build a floppy-free system, and a second hard drive can be mounted underneath it in a perpendicular position. Sadly, when it comes to BIOS updating, Soltek does not offer a Windows-based updater, so a floppy drive will be needed if an update is ever planned.
The main focus of the unit is its oversized exhaust system. Rather than focusing on heat pipe designs as seen with other products, Soltek used a large side-mount fan to draw the heat from the case and pump it out quickly. Through the use of their ICyQ and SmartFan Technologies, the system controls all of the system fans to ensure maximum heat control while reducing power consumption and noise. The unit can be configured to run the fan at a continuous speed or throttle based on load by using a series of profiles in the BIOS. What we found, however, was no matter the choice, this unit was loud. Even with the fans set to slow down with lesser load, when the system was idle it sounded like a hair dyer on the lowest setting. Some may not be bothered by this when using the machine as a desktop unit, but those looking to build a home theater PC may find it a bit distracting. The loudest of the fans was the stock Pentium 4 cooler that came with our processor, making the argument for a heat-pipe design all the more practical.
The motherboard is based on an I915G + ICH6R chipset, offering up all the amenities of a full sized system minus the expansion slots. This board came with one PCI and one PCI-E 16X slot. This was adequate, but a second PCI slot would really be a plus. The unit comes with a broad collection of hard drive options, including one IDE and four RAID 0 and RAID 1 capable SATA ports driven by the ICH6R Southbridge. The rear of the unit sports a plethora of connections from VGA, Serial and PS/2 connections to USB, Gigabit Ethernet, IEEE1394 and five audio inputs and outputs. The front of the unit also provides two USB, one IEEE1394, one line-out, one MIC and a S/PDIF Out Port that glows red. Driving the unit is a 300W power supply with ample connections to support a wide range of hardware.
Soltek has developed a powerful unit with a wide selection of features and option that make the QBIC EQ3501-Pro a potent mini PC that can rival the functions of a full sized unit. The design of the drive cage could use improvement and the unit was fairly loud, but from a features and options standpoint, the units has a lot to offer and it looks good too.