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Shuttle SB61G2 XPC Review
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Date: Jun 09, 2003
Section:Systems
Author: HH Editor
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The Shuttle SB61G2 XPC Review - Page 1

The Shuttle XPC SB61G2
Pint-Sized P4 Powerhouse!

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

A major trend in the technology industry is miniaturization.  It's no longer good enough to be the fastest or more technologically advanced anymore.  These days everything from cell phones to MP3 players to digital cameras, are showing up on retail shelves in increasingly smaller packages.  So, it should come as no real surprise that PC manufacturers would also follow suit.  That's where Shuttle comes in.  Sure, other companies such as IWILL and Soyo have produced small cube-like PCs, but no other company has capitalized on this trend like Shuttle.  In fact, where we historically mostly covered Shuttle Motherboard products for you here at HotHardware, we are now almost exclusively being sent their latest XPC Mini PC products in their place.

The XPC line of systems has become a major showpiece for Shuttle, yet they always seemed to be slightly behind the curve when it came to the motherboard technology.  It's hard enough to design such a compact unit and even harder to stay on top off all of the changes that have been taking place on the chipset side of things.  With the SB61G2, Shuttle has created a unit that is both small and features one of the most anticipated chipsets available for the Pentium 4, the Intel 865G, formerly known as the Springdale.  The i865G variant is somewhat of a necessity in that it is the only motherboard version, Springdale or Canterwood, that features on-board graphics by way of its integrated Intel Extreme Graphics 2 engine.  While previous Intel graphics solutions have not been known to knock anyone's socks off, Dual DDR channels on the i865G should provide much needed bandwidth to pick up its performance.  With a new graphics core, Dual DDR, not to mention SATA and 200MHz FSB P4 support, the Springdale chipset should bring some major improvements to the Shuttle XPC line.  Will it be enough to sway over the masses towards this tiny format?  Let's check on the specifications of the SB61G2 for an in-depth look.

Specifications & Features of the Shuttle SB61G2
A box filled with goodies!

CLICK ANY IMAGE FOR AN ENLARGED VIEW
     

Chassis

  • Shuttle G2 type

Dimensions

  • 300(L)x200(W)x185(H)mm

Form Factor

  • Shuttle Form Factor (Flex ATX)

  • 254mm x 185mm

Material

  • Aluminum

Extension Bays

  • 2 x 3.5" bays 1 x 5.25" bay

Front Panel

  • 2 x USB 2.0 ports

  • 1 x Mini Firewire port

  • 1 x Mic-In port

  • 1 x Line-In port

  • 1 x Headphones port

  • 1 x Power-On button

  • 1 x Reset button

Back Panel

  • 2 x PS/2 ports

  • 1 x VGA port

  • 1 x Serial Port

  • 4 x USB 2.0 ports

  • 1 x Firewire (IEEE 1394a) port

  • 1 x RJ45 LAN jack

  • 1 x Front-out port

  • 1 x Rear-out port

  • 1 x Bass/Center-out port

  • 2 x S/PDIF audio ports

Power

  • Dimension: 82(W) x 43(H) x 190(D) mm (Max)

  • Input: 110 / 230V AC

  • Output: 200W(PFC)

  • EMI Certified: FCC, CE, BSMI

  • Safety Certified: UL, TUV, CB

  • Power Cord: Depends on specific region demand

Accessories

  • 1 x FB61 Mainboard User manual

  • 1 x XPC Installation Guide

  • 1 x Manual/Utilities/Drivers CD-ROM

  • 1 x I.C.E Technology thermal module

  • 1 x FDD Cable

  • 1 x HDD Cable

  • 1 x SATA Cable

  • 1 x CD-ROM Cable (rounded)

  • 1 x 7pin Mini DIN to RCA Cable

  • 1 x Power cord

  • 1 x Serial ATA Power Cable

  • 2 x Flexible Front Feet

  • Silicon-based Thermal Grease

  • Twin Adhesive

  • 2 x Cable ties

  • Screws

CPU Support

  • All 400/533/800MHz FSB Intel Pentium 4 (478-pin) CPUs with HyperThreading Support

Chipsets

  • Intel 865G North Bridge

  • ICH5 South Bridge

Memory

  • 2 x 184 pin Socket support DDR200/266/333/400 unbuffered DDR SDRAM up to 2GB

  • Supports Dual Channel DDR

On-board VGA

  • Intel Extreme Graphics 2, incorporated in I865G N.B.

On-board Audio

  • Realtek ALC650 supports 5.1 channel audio

  • Support AC-3 Digital SPDIF Output

IDE interface

  • 2 x UltraDMA/100 IDE channels supporting up to four devices

  • Supports data transfer speeds up to 100/66/33 MB/s

Serial ATA interface

  • Incorporated into ICH5 South Bridge

  • 2 Serial ATA ports supporting up to two devices

IEEE 1394a (Firewire)

  • VIA VT6307, supports 400Mb/s, 200Mb/s, or 100Mb/s data transfer rate

Ethernet

  • Realtek RTL8100B LAN controller

  • Supports Wake-On-LAN function

Expansion Slots

  • 1 x 8x mode AGP slot (1.5V)

  • 1 x 32-bit PCI slot

On board connectors and headers

  • 3 x fan connectors

  • 1 x ATX main power connector

  • 1 x ATX 12V power connector

  • 1 x 5-pin USB2.0 header

  • 1 x Parallel Port header

  • 1 x CD-In header

  • 1 x SPDIF_Out/In header

  • 1 x IR header

  • 1 x Wireless Keyboard and mouse headers

  • 1 x Front Panel connector

Extra Feature

  • Bluetooth USB Dongle


The Bundle:

  

     

  

The bundle was as complete a set as we have seen.  After removing the chassis and rummaging through the box, we found two manuals, one for the chassis and one for the motherboard.  The drivers and utilities are all found on one CD.  Both IDE and SATA cables are included since both types of drives are natively supported.  The hard drive and floppy cables are shorter than what is typically included, which prevents excessive cabling from cluttering up the interior of the case.  The CD-ROM IDE cable shown in the picture above is "rounded" to further reduce clutter along with the optimal routing instructions found in the manual.  An optional piece that was provided for our review was the Bluetooth USB Module.  In this box, there were three relatively small pieces: a key to unlock the front plate of the XPC, a daughterboard, and the Bluetooth dongle.  Also included were an instruction sheet and driver CD.  The installation of the daughterboard and dongle were a snap, as shown in the last two pictures.  Specifically made for the SB61G2 chassis, the daughterboard screws into two openings in the interior of the case near the power cables, while the dongle simply clips onto the front of the unit, once the faceplate is removed.  Once a cable is installed from the daughterboard to a USB header on the motherboard,  the unit is assembled back together and the drivers are installed, all you need to do is start beaming information from a PDA or Bluetooth-compatible cell-phone and you are in business.
 

From board to BIOS and beyond

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The Shuttle SB61G2 XPC Review - Page 2

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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The Shuttle SB61G2 XPC Review - Page 3

The Shuttle XPC SB61G2
Pint-Sized P4 Powerhouse!

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

Gaming Benchmarks With The SB61G2
First the synthetics...

For our next test, we chose Futuremark's 3DMark 2001 SE (Build 330).  It generates an overall score after rendering scenes and measuring performance using the MaxFX game engine, found in Remedy's popular game Max Payne.  We ran the tests on each configuration at 1024x768x32, what we would consider a "gamers" minimum configuration, with all other program settings left at their defaults. 

The Intel Extreme Graphics 2 engine doesn't hold a candle to the Radeon 9500, but we really didn't expect it to.  While it does provide users with an easy alternative for those who do not need a performance card, most if not all gamers, should probably look elsewhere.  The two scores that we obtained when a Radeon 9500 Pro was installed were just about equal.

Even with all of the controversy that seems to follow it, we ran FutureMark's follow-up to 3DMark 2001, 3DMark03, using the latest build which also happens to be 330.  3DMark03 is similar to its older cousin, but it uses a mixture of DX9 and DX8 pixel and vertex shaders to assess a video card's performance.  This test is meant to be run only on "DX9 Class" hardware, but we were able to complete at least one part of it using the on-board graphics.

We won't even mention the score we got with the Intel Extreme Graphics; this was more for us to see what would happen rather than a true reference point.  As for the rest of the test metrics, the Shuttle SB61G2 and Abit IS7 were again neck and neck, and no real winner can be called.  Early indications show the Shuttle to be a good gaming system when paired with a powerful video card.

More gaming benchmarks
...and then some real-world performance

Perhaps no other gaming benchmark is as CPU dependant as Novalogic's combat helicopter simulation, Comanche 4. We ran Comanche 4's built-in time demo at a resolution of 800x600x32 with audio disabled.  With these minimal settings, CPU performance and memory bandwidth have the largest impact on performance. 

Without T&L support, the test could not be run using the Intel Extreme Graphics 2 engine.  Continuing the trend we have seen so far, the SBG162 and IS7 are matched frame for frame in DirectX testing.  50+ frames in this benchmark is actually quite good, so don't be put off if these seem low.

To get some OpenGL benchmarks in place, we updated Quake 3 Arena with the most recent v1.32 Point Release, and ran timedemo "Four".  While it can be said that Quake 3 is past its prime as a benchmark, we find it is still useful for demonstrating the relative performance of one product versus another.  We set the game to its "High Quality" mode, enabled Trilinear filtering and maxed out the texture quality and geometry sliders before running any tests

Hey, we at least managed to get a score in this older benchmark with the Intel Extreme Graphics 2 engine, pushing out an almost playable 42.7 frames per second.  Drop off some of the texture settings or lower the resolution and you should be able to play at a respectable frame rate.  Installing a Radeon 9500 Pro (or better) and you've got yourself a perfect LAN party rig.  We got 218.4 frames per second with the Shuttle XPC, almost four more frames faster, than when using the Abit IS7.

Final benchmarks and our rating

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The Shuttle SB61G2 XPC Review - Page 4

The Shuttle XPC SB61G2
Pint-Sized P4 Powerhouse!

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

"Real World" Application Benchmarks
Back to work!

To test "real world" application performance, we used ZD Labs' Business Winstone 2002 and Content Creation Winstones 2002 benchmarks.  We'll directly quote ZD's eTestingLabs website, for an explanation as to how Business Winstone 2002 derives its score. (Content Creation Winstone 2002 uses the same process, but the test is comprised of different applications):

"Business Winstone is a system-level, application-based benchmark that measures a PC's overall performance when running today's top-selling Windows-based 32-bit applications on Windows 98, Windows 2000 (SP2 or later), Windows Me, or Windows XP. Business Winstone doesn't mimic what these packages do; it runs real applications through a series of scripted activities and uses the time a PC takes to complete those activities to produce its performance scores."

Business Winstone Applications:
  • Five Microsoft Office 2002 applications
    (Access, Excel, FrontPage, PowerPoint, and Word)

  • Microsoft Project 2000

  • Lotus Notes

  • WinZip 8.0

  • Norton Antivirus

  • Netscape Communicator

Content Creation Winstone Applications:
  • Adobe Photoshop 6.0.1

  • Adobe Premiere 6.0

  • Macromedia Director 8.5

  • Macromedia Dreamweaver UltraDev 4

  • Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 7.01.00.3055

  • Netscape Navigator 6/6.01

  • Sonic Foundry Sound Forge 5.0c (build 184)

The Abit IS7 came out on top in both tests, but by a minor and completely negligible difference each time.  Using the integrated graphics in these tests brought the performance down of the SB61G2 by just a bit.  As we have explained earlier, this is caused by the reliance of the integrated graphics engine on the same memory bandwidth that the system is using.  Another reason is because there is also less system memory available.  When using the add-in Radeon 9500 Pro, the full 512MB we installed is available to the system.  When using the Intel Extreme Graphics 2 however, 64 of those megabytes are allocated for the graphics processor, leaving only 448MB available.

Overclocking Results
Going where no one has gone before

As we mentioned earlier, the FB61 motherboard has overclocking capabilities not found on previous models.  We started out tentatively, this being our first overclocking experience with a new P4 2.40C CPU.  Since this was a retail version, we could not look forward to changing the multiplier, but set out to raise the FSB in jumps of 5MHz.  Immediately we hit a roadblock at 210MHz, but we found we could get past this by lowering the timings on the memory to 2-6-3-3.  From there we moved up to 225MHz for the FSB, at which point the system would not even boot.  At this speed, the memory was running at 450MHz, well above it's rating.  We went back into the BIOS at changed the memory speed to DDR320, what amounts to a 5:4 divider.  It was clear sailing all the way to a 255MHz FSB, maxing out the BIOS settings.  This equated to the CPU running at 3.06GHz.  We re-ran a few benchmarks to see what performance gains we would get.

The graphs speak for themselves.  We got some nice boosts from overclocking the system, breaking 9000 in the PCMark 2002 memory module.  3DMark 2001SE saw a nice increase as well, about an 8% difference.  While we wouldn't recommend keeping the system overclocked this high for a long time, it's good to know that such options are available and that stability of this new Suhttle XPC is right up there as well.

Once again, it looks like Shuttle has come up with a big winner in the SB61G2.  Designing this new Mini PC around their Springdale-based FB61 motherboard was a no-brainer, as it really benefits from the 800MHz FSB P4 support, Dual DDR400 memory channels and to a lesser degree the Intel Extreme Graphics 2 engine.  Some thought has to be taken beforehand on what one intends to do with the XPC, as expandability is a small concern.  Hardcore gamers will definitely want to go out and purchase a more powerful video card, as the on-board graphics are only passable as a 2D solution.  Likewise, audiophiles may want to look into a superior audio solution, although the RealTek ALC650 codec does do an admirable job.  Additionally, Shuttle has listened to end user feedback and have added features in the BIOS that allow the system to be overclocked.  The Smart-fan option in the BIOS is a boon to those users searching for peace and quiet, as the system runs almost perfectly quiet, even under load.  With great looks on the outside and a powerhouse on the inside, we find it hard to find many faults with the Shuttle XPC SB61G2. 

We'll give the Shuttle XPC SB61G2 a 9.5 out of 10 on the HotHardware Heat Meter, for overall excellence inside and out.

 

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Shuttle SB61G2 XPC Review Page 5


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