Logo   Banner   TopRight
TopUnder
Transparent
Soltek's QBic EQ3901-300P SFF PC
Transparent
Date: Jan 13, 2005
Section:Systems
Author: Marco Chiappetta
Transparent
Introduction, Specifications & Bundle

Every time a new small form factor system arrives in the lab, inevitable comparisons are made to Shuttle's popular line of XPC systems.  The simple fact of the matter is that Shuttle's XPCs have set the bar for the rest of the industry.  And their XPC systems have sold so well, they've transformed Shuttle from a second tier motherboard manufacturer into full-fledged system builders, in a relatively short period of time. With success like that, it should come as no surprise that other manufacturers have since jumped on the bandwagon, and now have an assortment of small form factor systems in their own product line ups as well.  Since the initial introduction of Shuttle's XPC, we have taken a look at SFF rigs from AOpen, Biostar, Iwill, EPoX, Chyan Fun, Soyo, and Soltek.

Recently, we took at look at Soltek's QBic EQ3501-Pro.  The EQ3501-Pro is based on Intel's i915G chipset for LGA775 Pentium 4 processors. It performed relatively well and we were impressed by its aesthetic qualities.  Today, we're going to take a look at a similar SFF system from Soltek, the EQ3901-300P. This machine, however, is based on VIA's K8T800 Pro chipset with support for all Socket 939 Athlon 64 processors. Throw in a fast processor, and the EQ3901-300P has the makings of quite a powerful system in a near shoebox sized footprint.  Check it out...

      

Specifications & Features of The Soltek QBic EQ3901-300P
Full-Featured Socket-939 SFF PC
Chipset
_VIA K8T800 Pro + VT8237

Processor
_AMD Socket 939

Front Side Bus
_1GHz Hyper Transport

Memory
_2 x 184-pin DDR DIMM Sockets
_Supporting unbuffered non-ECC DDR 400/333/266 DRAM up to 2GB
_Supporting Dual-Channel

Expansion Slots
_1 x AGP 8X/4X Slot
_1 x PCI Slot

On-Board EIDE
_2 x ATA133/100/66 IDE connectors supporting up to 4 IDE devices

On-Board SATA
_2 x Serial ATA connectors supporting 2 Serial ATA HDDs

Integrated Super I/O
_1 x Floppy Port
_1 x PS/2 Mouse Port
_1 x PS/2 Keyboard Port
_1 x Gigabit LAN Port
_1 x Parallel Port. (via optional cable)
_2 x Serial Ports
_8 x USB 2.0/1.1 Ports(4 integrated, 4 via optional cables)
_Audio Ports
_2 x IEEE1394 Ports (1 integrated, 1 via optional cable)

RAID
_2 x Serial ATA connectors supported by VT8237 (RAID 0, 1)

IEEE1394
_2 x IEEE1394 Ports (1 integrated, 1 via optional cable)

Audio
_8-Channel AC'97 Audio

LAN
_Gigabit LAN Function

BIOS
_Award BIOS
_Flash Memory for easy upgrade
Form Factor
_180mm x 270mm
_Length (cm) 33
_Width (cm) 21.50
_Height (cm) 20

Other Features
_BIOS FSB Setting
_BIOS Writing Protection
_BIOS AGP, DIMM, Vcore Voltage Setting
_BIOS Multiplier Setting
_SmartDoc. Anti-burning Shield (optional)
_Soltek H/M Monitor

Front Panel
_Aluminum / Mirror
_2 x 5.25 inch Bays
_2 x 3.5 inch Bays (one internal)

Power Supply
_300W (APFC)


The EQ3901-300P's Motherboard

 


      

   

Soltek ships the EQ3901-300P with a full array of cables, manuals, and accessories. Included with the system itself, we found three complete user's manuals, one pertaining specifically to the EQ3901's motherboard, another detailed the system's features and installation, and the last explained how to use all of the bundled software. We also found a quick installation poster, a motherboard reference card, and a couple of CDs that contained drivers and the software included with the system. Soltek bundles PC-Cillin Internet Security 2004, RestoreIT 3, and Virtual Drive 7 with the EQ3901.

There were also quite a few cables bundled with the system, including a pair of SATA cables, a floppy cable, an 80-Wire IDE cable, a power cable, and a 4-Pin Molex to SATA power adapter. On top of that, Soltek also included an assortment of screws and wire ties with the system, along with a small tube of thermal paste and a copper-cored aluminum-finned cooler. Unfortunately, during shipping the heatsink broke free of its mount and it seems to have bounced around inside the system.  Luckily, the system was OK, but some scratches and dents are visible if you look closely at the cooler.

Transparent
External Features & Appearance

Soltek offers the QBic EQ3901 in a couple of different trim levels. The model we're looking at here has the "Classic" trim, which consists of a mirrored front panel and metallic charcoal enclosure.  The "Mania" versions of this system come in four different colors - black, blue, red and yellow...

The Soltek QBic EQ3901-300P
All Nice & Shiny
   
Front Panel I/O
2 x USB 2.0/1.1 Ports
1 x Mic-In Port
1 x Line-Out Port
1 x IEEE1394a Port
1 x S/PDIF Out Port
Back Panel I/O
2 x Serial Ports
1 x Parallel Port (via optional cable)
1 x PS/2 Keyboard Port
1 x PS/2 Mouse Port
4 x USB 2.0/1.1 Ports
1 x Gigabit 10/100/1000 LAN Port
1 x IEEE1394a Port
1 x Line-In Port (Blue)
1 x Front-Out Port (Green)
1 x Front Surround-Out Port (Gray)
1 x Center-Sub Woofer-Out Port (Orange)
1 x Rear Surround-Out Port (Black)

The QBic EQ3901-300P's front panel is outfitted with four hinged bay covers that fold down to reveal two 5.25" drive bays, a single external 3.5" drive bay, and a row of I/O ports.  We really like the bay covers, because the stealth drives aren't painted to match the case, and give the system a very sleek, elegant look.  There may be a problem lining up the eject buttons on the two top 5.25" bay covers with certain optical drives, but we didn't have any issues with the Lite-On or Sony drives we had available in the lab.

         

The rest of the enclosure is standard fare.  The enclosure cover is painted with a dark, metallic charcoal grey paint, that seems fairly resilient.  The mirrored front panel, however, should be handled with care. Any sharp objects that come in contact with the front panel are sure to scratch it.  On the bottom of the system, along its front edge, a row of ventilation holes are visible that match the holes drilled into both sides of the enclosure cover.  These holes are used to draw air into the system in an effort to keep its internals cool...

Transparent
Internal Layout & Noise Levels

Shuttle and Biostar have done a great job recently, pre-wiring their small form factor systems.  Shuttle's SB81P especially, requires almost no effort when installing drives because the power and data cables are already in place when you take the system out of the box. Simply mount the drives, plug in the cables and you're done.  Soltek, however, only had one IDE cable pre-installed in the EQ3901-300P that's aligned with the internal 3.5" drive bay at the bottom of the system.  And we didn't even use that because we installed a SATA drive into the EQ3901 for testing...

The Soltek QBic EQ3901-300P - The Inside
It's Pretty Tight In There...

         

      

Two screws at the top of the system secure the QBic EQ3901-300P's drive cage in place.  Remove these two screws and the whole drive cage slides right out of the system, making it very easy to install RAM and the central processor.  At the rear of the system, above the CPU socket, its ample 300W power supply is visible.  The PSU's fan exhausts hot air from the system, as does the "ICY-Q" slot cooler mounted to the side. Sorry folks, no custom heatpipes and specialized cooling here.

Both the Northbridge and Southbridge are outfitted with aluminum heatsinks, which sit just below the drive cage, with very little clearance.  The system is configured with a single PCI slot and a single AGP8X slot, a floppy controller, dual IDE channels, and dual SATA channels.  The system supports RAID across the SATA channels, but there is only 1 internal 3.5" drive bay available, unless you forgo the use of the floppy drive.

The Soltek QBic EQ3901-300P - Noise Levels
Kinda Quiet, But Not Silent

The Soltek QBic EQ3901-300P has only three fans in the system (PSU, CPU, ICY-Q), four if you count the video card, which all throttle based on system temperature.  We found the QBic 3901 to be somewhat loud in some situations, however.  At idle, the EQ3901 was noticeably louder than the last few Shuttle XPCs to come through the lab. The noise level wasn't enough to be distracting, but it couldn't be considered quiet. With all of the fans spinning at full speed though, we found the EQ3901-300P to be a bit more silent than the Shuttle SB81P. Measuring noise levels with our trusty RadioShack meter, from about 2 feet away, yielded 44db at idle and 53db under load.

Transparent
BIOS & Overclocking

The Soltek QBic EQ3901-300P is equipped with a Phoenix / Award BIOS, that is similar to the vast majority of motherboards currently available.  If you've entered the system BIOS on a system in the last few years, these menus will likely be very familiar to you...

The BIOS: Soltek QBic EQ3901-300P
It's Got What You Need

         

         

If you take a look at the screenshots above, you'll probably be familiar with most of the menu items listed in the EQ3901's BIOS. We did not find anything revolutionary there, but the usual assortment of options for manipulating and tweaking all of the on-board components, memory and other features were there. Because this is a small form factor system, with lots of integrated features, there are more toggles available than some motherboards, but there was nothing surprising to be found.  In the "Frequency and Voltage Control" section of the BIOS we found all of the system's overclocking options.

Overclocking Tools: Soltek QBic EQ3901-300P
To OC, or Not OC - That Is The Question...

         

         

      

Looking at the frequency and voltage options, you'd think the EQ3901-300P was geared for overclockers, but there is one major limitation.  The EQ3901-300P's BIOS gives users the ability to alter their processor's multiplier and select any processor bus speed between 200MHz and 250MHz, in 1MHz increments. The AGP bus speed can be set to "Auto" or locked at 66MHz or 75.4MHz and memory can be run asynchronously from the bus speed. And the HT link speed can be set to 200MHz, 400MHz, 600MHz, 800MHz, or 1GHz. Processor, AGP, and memory voltages are also user configurable. The CPU voltage can be increased up to 1.7v, AGP voltages range from 1.5v to 1.8v (.1v increments), and memory voltage can also be altered, with a range of 2.6v to 2.9v available.

The EQ3901-300P had no problem reaching a 250MHz FSB, which makes the system's motherboard a good overclocker, but temperatures could get out of hand quickly in this system.  Our FX-53 processor idled at about 46oC - 48oC.  Under load, at stock speeds, temperatures climbed into the high 50s / low 60s.  And overclocking the CPU obviously pushed temperatures even higher, which is a little too warm for an A64 in our opinion.

Transparent
Test Systems & SiSoft SANDRA

How we configured our test systems: When configuring the test systems for this review, we first entered the system BIOS and set each board to its "Optimized" or "High-Performance Defaults."  We then manually configured our RAM to run at 200MHz (DDR400), with the timings set by the SPD.  The hard drives were then formatted, and Windows XP Professional was installed. When the installation was complete, we hit the Windows Update site and downloaded all of the available updates, with the exception of the ones related to Windows Messenger. Then we installed all of the necessary drivers and removed Windows Messenger from the system altogether. Auto-Updating, drive indexing, and System Restore were also disabled, and we set up a 768MB permanent page file on the same partition as the Windows installation. Lastly, we set Windows XP's Visual Effects to "best performance," installed all of our benchmarking software, defragged the hard drives, and ran all of the tests...

Test System Specifications
"AMD Inside!"
SYSTEM 1:
S939 - AMD Athlon FX-53 (2.4GHz)

Soltek QBic EQ3901-300P

VIA K8T800 Pro

2x512MB Corsair PC3200
CL2

Radeon 9800 Pro
Onboard 10/100 Ethernet
Onboard Audio

WD "Raptor" 36GB Hard Drive
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows XP Pro

VIA Hyperion 4.53
DirectX 9.0c
SYSTEM 2:
S939 - AMD Athlon FX-53 (2.4GHz)

WinFast 755FXK8AA-8EKRS

SiS 755FX

2x512MB Corsair PC3200
CL2

Radeon 9800 Pro
Onboard 10/100 Ethernet
Onboard Audio

WD "Raptor" 36GB Hard Drive
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows XP Pro
SiS Gart 1.17E
DirectX 9.0c
SYSTEM 3:
S939 - AMD Athlon FX-53 (2.4GHz)

MSI K8N Neo2 Platinum
NVIDIA nForce3 250GB

2x512MB Corsair PC3200
CL2

Radeon 9800 Pro
Onboard 10/100 Ethernet
Onboard Audio

WD "Raptor" 36GB Hard Drive
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows XP Pro

nForce Driver 4.27
DirectX 9.0c
SYSTEM 4:
S939 - AMD Athlon FX-53 (2.4GHz)

MSI K8T Neo2-FIR
VIA K8T800 Pro

2x512MB Corsair PC3200
CL2

Radeon 9800 Pro
Onboard 10/100 Ethernet
Onboard Audio

WD "Raptor" 36GB Hard Drive
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows XP Pro

VIA Hyperion 4.53
DirectX 9.0c
Preliminary Benchmarks With SiSoft SANDRA 2004
Synthetic Testing

We began our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. SANDRA consists of a set of information and diagnostic utilities that can provide a host of useful information about your hardware and operating system. We ran three of the built-in subsystem tests that partially comprise the SANDRA 2004 suite (CPU, Multimedia, and Memory).  All of these tests were run with our processor set to its default clock speed of 2.4GHz (12x200MHz).  (Note: Some of these boards ran the processor with an FSB higher than 200MHz. Where necessary, we manually set the FSB to 200MHz to keep the playing field level.)

 

 

From this point forward, we'll be comparing the performance of Soltek's QBic EQ3901-300P to three other systems, each powered by different chipsets.  MSI's K8N Neo2 Platinum is based on the nForce 3 Ultra chipset, the Winfast board is based on the SiS 755FX, and the K8T Neo2-FIR is powered by VIA' K8T800 Pro.

The Soltek QBic EQ3901-300P performed on par with the full sized systems in all three of the SANDRA performance modules we tested with.  In the CPU benchmark, the EQ3901 performed in-line with the K8T Neo2-FIR, which was to be expected considering both systems use the same motherboard chipset.  The same held true in the Multimedia and Memory benchmarks, where the EQ3901 and K8T again performed similarly.

Transparent
PCMark04: CPU & Memory Tests

For our next round of benchmarks, we ran the CPU and Memory performance modules built into Futuremark's PCMark04.  For those interested in more than just the graphs, we've got a couple of quotes from Futuremark that explain exactly what these tests do and how they work...

Futuremark's PCMark04
More Synthetic CPU and Memory Benchmarks

"The CPU test suite is a collection of tests that are run to isolate the performance of the CPU. There are nine tests in all. Two pairs of tests are run multithreaded - each test in the pair is run in its own thread.  The remaining five tests are run single threaded. These tests include such functions as file encryption, decryption, compression and decompression, grammar check, audio conversion, WMV and DivX video compression."

PCMark04's CPU performance module didn't show much of a difference between the systems.  The Soltek QBic EQ3901-300P finished in the third slot here, but the performance delta separating the fastest and slowest systems here was negligible.


"The Memory test suite is a collection of tests that isolate the performance of the memory subsystem. The memory subsystem consists of various devices on the PC. This includes the main memory, the CPU internal cache (known as the L1 cache) and the external cache (known as the L2 cache). As it is difficult to find applications that only stress the memory, we explicitly developed a set of tests geared for this purpose. The tests are written in C++ and assembly. They include: Reading data blocks from memory, Writing data blocks to memory performing copy operations on data blocks, random access to data items and latency testing."

The memory performance modules didn't show much variation either.  The MSI K8T Neo2-FIR finished slightly ahead of the pack, followed by the WinFast board, and then the EQ3901-300P. Less than 100 points (1.6%) separated the first and last place finishers though. A difference that small falls within the margin of error in this test.

Transparent
Windows Media Encoder 9 & 3DMark03

We continued our testing with another application from Futuremark, 3DMark03, and with a video encoding benchmark, Windows Media Encoder 9.  In the WME9 test, we took a 416MB Digital Video file and encoded to WMV9 format.  Times were recorded in minutes:seconds, with lower times indicating better performance.

Windows Media Encoder 9
Digital Video Encoding

The EQ3901 performed well in our custom Windows Media Encoder test, tieing for second place.  The nForce 3 powered K8N Neo2 took the top spot here, followed closely behind by the QBic EQ3901 and K8T which took about 2 seconds longer to complete the encoding process.

3DMark03: CPU Test
DirectX Gaming Performance - Sort Of

It's not an actual game, but 3DMark03's built-in CPU test is a "gaming related" DirectX metric that's useful for comparing relative performance among similarly equipped systems.  This test consists of two different 3D scenes that are generated with a software renderer, which is dependant on the host CPU's performance.  This means that the calculations normally reserved for your 3D accelerator are instead sent to the central processor.  The number of frames generated per second in each test are used to determine the final score.

The Soltek QBic EQ3901-300P trailed behind the rest of the pack in 3DMark03's CPU performance benchmark. With a score of 847 though, the EQ3901 finished only 12 points behind the leading WinFast board.  12 points equates to only a 1.4% difference in performance here, which again falls within the margin of error for the test.

Transparent
Wolfenstein: ET & Unreal Tournament 2004

To start our in-game testing, we ran through a batch of time demos with the OpenGL game Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory.  Wolfenstein: ET is a free, standalone multiplayer game that is based on the original Return to Castle Wolfenstein that was released a few years back. It uses a heavily modified version of the Quake III engine, which makes it a very easy-to-use benchmarking tool.  We ran the test using the "Fastest" setting at a low resolution of 640 X 480, using 16-bit color and textures.  Running this test with a high-end graphics card, at these minimal settings, isolates processor and memory performance without being limited by the graphics subsystem.

Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory
OpenGL Quake Engine Gaming

The MSI K8N Neo2 Platinum finished in first place in our custom Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory benchmark, beating the Soltek QBic EQ3901-300P by just over 3 frames per second.  3 FPS equates to only a 2.1% performance advantage for the K8N.  Hardly a difference worth getting excited over...

Unreal Tournament 2004
DirectX Gaming Performance

Next, we did some benchmarking with Epic's Unreal Tournament 2004.  When we tested these systems with UT 2004, we ensured that all of them were being benchmarked with the exact same in-game settings and graphical options and we dropped the resolution and detail levels to isolate CPU and memory performance.

In our custom Unreal Tournament 2004 benchmark, the Soltek QBic EQ3901-300P was able to overtake the MSI K8N Neo2 Platinum, but the Winfast 755FXK8AA-8EKRS and MSI K8T Neo2-FIR were still a bit faster.  Once again though, the performance delta was quite small, and would be imperceptible in any real-world situations.

Transparent
Business & Content Creation Winstones

Synthetic benchmarks and games only tell part of the performance story, so we tested the Soltek QBic EQ3901-300P in some "real-world" scenarios, as well.  For our first set of real-world tests, we did some benchmarking with PC Magazine's Business Winstone 2004 suite, followed by the more demanding Content Creation Winstone 2004 suite.

Business & Content Creation Winstones
Real-World Application Performance

The PC Magazine Business Winstone 2004 test utilizes the following applications in its benchmark:

  • Microsoft Access 2002
  • Microsoft Excel 2002
  • Microsoft FrontPage 2002
  • Microsoft Outlook 2002
  • Microsoft PowerPoint 2002
  • Microsoft Project 2002
  • Microsoft Word 2002
  • Norton Antivirus Professional Edition 2003
  • WinZip 8.1


The PC Magazine Content Creation Winstone 2004 test utilizes the following applications in its benchmark:

  • Adobe Photoshop 7.0.1
  • Adobe Premiere 6.50
  • Macromedia Director MX 9.0
  • Macromedia Dreamweaver MX 6.1
  • Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 9 Version 9.00.00.2980
  • NewTek's LightWave 3D 7.5b
  • Steinberg WaveLab 4.0f

The Soltek QBic EQ3901-300P performed on par, and actually a little bit better, than the full-sized MSI K8T Neo2-FIR, which is based on the same VIA K8T800 Pro chipset, in both the Business and Content Creation Winstone tests.  Unfortunately, VIA's chipsets historically haven't done very well in these tests when compared to their competition.  Here, NVIDIA's single-chip nForce 3 Ultra reigns supreme followed by the SiS 755FX, and then the VIA K8T800 Pro.

Transparent
Summary & Conclusion

Benchmark Summary: Soltek's QBic EQ3901-300P proves that you don't need a full-sized system to have top-notch performance.  The EQ3901-300P performed at the same level, or slightly better, than an ATX motherboard based on the same chipset throughout our entire suite of benchmarks.  Socket 939 systems powered by NVIDIA's nForce 3 / 4 chipset will be slightly faster, but VIA's K8T800 Pro is no slouch, and seems to be a good fit in this SFF system.

The Soltek QBic EQ3901-300P did a lot of things well, but it wasn't particularly impressive in any one category. Performance was on par with what we expected from a VIA K8T800 Pro powered system, which was good. And the system BIOS seemed well suited for overclocking, until we saw how warm our CPU was running relative to other small form factor systems.  The cooling scheme employed in the EQ3901-300P was perfectly adequate at stock speeds, but overclocking our CPU caused temperatures that were a little too high for our liking.  Perhaps more ventilation holes in the enclosure and a better CPU cooler would remedy this situation and make the EQ3901 more overclocker friendly.  Until that happens though, consider overclocking with the EQ3901 possible but not recommended.  The cooling solution also seemed relatively loud at idle when compared to some Shuttle XPC systems we've recently reviewed.  With the fans running at full speed, however, the EQ3901-300P was definitely a bit quieter than recent offerings from Shuttle.  Three things that the EQ3901-300P has going for it are the price, its dual 5.25" drive bays, and the system's aesthetic appeal. The Soltek QBic EQ3901-300P is the only Socket 939 SFF PC we found for under $300, which makes it about 10% less expensive than the Shuttle SN95G5.  The dual 5.25" drive bays makes it one of the few SFF systems with room for two optical drives, and the mirrored front bezel looks great in our opinion.  Overall there were only a few shortcomings that we found with the EQ3901-300P but it seemed to lack the refinement of some of the newest SSFs on the market. 

We're giving the Soltek QBic EQ3901-300P a 7.5 on the Heat Meter.

Get into HotHardware's PC Hardware Forum Right Now!



Content Property of HotHardware.com