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Biostar iDEQ 350G SFF PC
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Date: Dec 02, 2005
Section:Systems
Author: Sean Pelletier
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Introducing the iDEQ 350G

For the last few years, there has been an undeniable trend towards packing all the functionality and performance of a full-fledged desktop system into a smaller form factor. As one of the chief pioneers of this new form factor, Shuttle enjoyed having dominant market share as they were one of the only true contenders in the SFF category. Fortunately for consumers, several new vendors have begun to show interest in SFF systems and are now offering some very viable solutions of their own. Biostar is one such company and they are attacking the SFF segment with a vengeance. Today, we'll be looking at the new iDEQ 350G to see how Biostar is aiming to take over the SFF market.

As one would expect, the iDEQ 350G retains the same "shoe box" overall size we've come to expect in this market. Armed with dual-core processor support and the inclusion of both a new PCI-Express x16 slot, mini-PCI slot, and a traditional PCI slot, the Biostar system won't find itself obsolete anytime soon. In addition, there are several ingenious bells and whistles hidden under the system's skin that will further increase the user's overall satisfaction.

Specifications of the Biostar iDEQ 350G
SFF with a Twist
Chassis Dimension(mm): 216W x 342H x 193D

Material: SECC, ABS

Motherboard Model: iDEQ 350G

CPU Support Socket: 775

Chipset North Bridge: Intel 945G

Chipset South Bridge: ICH7R

IDE Interface: ATA 100

S-ATA: Yes

Expansion Slots: 16x PCI-E x 1, PCI x 1, mini-PCI x1

Graphics Chipset: Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950

Audio: Realtek ALC882 7.1 Channel

Drive Bays: 5.25"/3.5"/Slim: 1/1/0

Front Panel: USB 2.0: 2

MIC/Headphone: 1/1

S/PDIF: Optical Out

 

Rear Panel: USB 2.0 4

Line-in/Line-out/MIC: Yes

S/PDIF: Optical Out

Serial Port: N/A

Parallel Port: 1

VGA: D-SUB x 1

TV-out: N/A

LAN RJ45 Connector: Yes

Memory Card Reader: 7-in-1

Power Supply: 300W (PFC)

Key Features:
Tool-less Design
Hinged Front Panel
Stealthed Optical Bay


The Biostar system comes in somewhat standard SFF packaging, complete with ample packing material and a carrying handle that will certainly provide useful for LAN gamers. Opening the package, we see that Biostar has provided the bare essentials to get the system up and running for those wanting to avoid the usual common-sense instructions. Rest assured though, there is still an in-depth instruction manual for those not quite comfortable building the system themselves. Rounding out the bundle, we have a power cable, a PSU harness with standard and SATA headers, screws for the hard drive and optical drive, and two CD's containing drivers, antivirus, and system security software. Specifically, the Application CD contains Norton Antivirus and Pheonix Recover Pro system security software. Overall, we're not looking at an earth-shattering bundle, though it is all the user needs without adding any unnecessary cost to the system.

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The iDEQ 350G: Exterior

Looking at the exterior of the system, we find several key aesthetic features Biostar has come to use in all of its iDEQ mini PC's. Here, the company combines a silver acrylic with a matte silver finish and a chrome front plate. Overall, the system's appearance is high-tech without seeming too flashy or gaudy. Granted, it won't exactly fit in with any home theater components in your living room. However, you won't be going to any great lengths to hide the system from view in an office or bedroom, as it does look to be a high quality part.

      

Along the bottom of the front panel, we see Biostar's common array of IO ports. Here, we have 2 USB 2.0 ports, 1 SPDIF input, a Mic port, headphone port, 1394A Firewire port, and an IrDA/IR receiver. In addition, the system has a 7-in-1 card reader on the left side of the front panel which supports CF1, CF2, CD, MMC, MS, MS Pro, and SM media formats.

The center of the front panel houses the system's power and reset buttons. When the system is offline but receiving power, there is an amber LED which is illuminated. Once the system powers up and comes online, the LED changes to a bright green color. Although bright, Biostar has wisely refrained from using anything too intense.

   

Glancing at the front of the system, one quickly realizes that Biostar is using a stealthed optical drive bay. Here, there is a fold-down cover that is spring loaded to return to its original position. There is a small button below the cover that actuates the button on the optical drive itself through the use of a tiny plastic lever. To allow for the slight variations in button placement between optical drive vendors, the bulk of the lever's end can be moved from side to side roughly an inch. Overall, we had no issues using the Sony DVD+/-RW drive for testing and were able to open the drive with a single press of the button on every occasion.

Moving our attention to the back of the system, we see a fairly densely populated backplate. Here, there are 2 USB 2.0 ports, an SPDIF audio output, a 1394 Firewire port, Gigabit LAN port, VGA port, serial port, 2 PS/2 ports, and a full array of 7.1 audio outputs. On the left of the system we see two slots allowing for a PCIe and a PCI device. On the opposite side, there is a slot for an additional PCI device should the PCIe device take up two slots or if you're building a multimedia powerhouse with several expansion cards and need additional space. Filling in the remaining space, we have exhaust ports for both the PSU and for the internal blower fan. Overall, Biostar has done a very efficient job of utilizing space on the back of the iDEQ 350G.

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The iDEQ 350G: Interior

      

Opening the system is an extremely painless procedure thanks to the use of thumbscrews for the removal of the three individual panels covering the top and sides of the system. Each vented side panel and the solid top panel have small lips which lock into appropriate slots on the main chassis. Perhaps the most innovative feature of the iDEQ 350G is its ability to unlock its frame and open to completely expose the front of the motherboard and all the appropriate components. By pushing two slides on the bottom of the chassis, the hinged front of the aluminum chassis can freely rotate above the system allowing easy access to the system's internal components. When you're ready to lock the system back up, you simply lower the front portion and lock the bottom slides back into place. A handy status indicator is located on the chassis next to the optical drive that illustrates whether the front panel is fully locked into the appropriate place. Overall, this is an ingenious feature that makes component installation a significantly easier experience.

      

Looking at the front of the motherboard, we see the base for the system's heatsink assembly. The retention system is clean and simple using a leaf spring that presses down on the heatsink base and locks into place under a plastic tab. Overall it's a simple and effective solution that gets the job done with minimal effort. Along the side, we find two DIMM slots which support up to 2GB of DDR2 667MHz memory. The only other notable feature in this vicinity is the Realtek audio chipset. In practice, the iDEQ 350G's 8-channel audio proved more than capable for a multimedia system.

      

Like all SFF systems, one of the most critical components in the iDEQ 350G is the heatsink assembly. Regardless of how many features a system has or how fast it performs in benchmarks, a noisy CPU fan can be the total downfall of a SFF system. Fortunately, Biostar has chosen to use a copper-based heatsink with heatpipes to effectively cool the processor. At each open end of the heatsink, there is a fan which allows cool air to be pulled through the ventilation at the front of the system and bring it directly over the fins of the heatsink and out towards the back of the system. In addition to cooling the cpu, this cool air also manages to run directly over the passive northbridge and southbridge heatsinks keeping their temperature under control as well. The hot ambient air is then collected by the blower fan at the back of the system and exhausted through the backpanel. Overall, this cooling system did an excellent job of keeping noise and temperatures low and ensuring overall stability.

      

Biostar has also seen fit to address a common fault with SFF systems by placing the PCI-E slot on the inside left position on the backplane. This allows users to use the latest high-end graphics cards with somewhat meaty heatsink assemblies as there is a fair amount of room between the PCI-E slot and the exhaust blower fan towards the center of the system. For our testing purposes, we installed a GeForce 6600 without issue though your mileage may vary when dealing with graphics cards with longer PCB's such as the GeForce 7800 series and Radeon X1800 series. Users wishing to install additional cards such as discrete soundcards, TV tuners, and more can rejoice as the Biostar system has two additional PCI slots for such a purpose.

Lastly, at the back of the system we have an Enhance power supply that is rated for 300W. Although this seems inferior when compared to the 800W SLI-capable behemoths we've seen as of late, the solid 300W rating should be more than enough for nearly any single GPU configuration that's currently available. In the lab we had the system configured with a 3.6GHz Pentium 4, 1GB DDR2, a 250GB hard drive, DVD+/-RW, 802.11g PCI adaptor, and a GeForce 6600 without any stability issues whatsoever. Overall, the quality components and effective cooling of the PSU resulted in a solid and robust component and rock solid stability.

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The iDEQ 350G: BIOS

      

The iDEQ 350G features a Pheonix AwardBIOS that has a fair amount of adjustability. At the primary screen, we see the usual presentation of features ranging from integrated peripherals to overclocking options and voltage adjustments. As one would expect, the Advanced BIOS screen allows for the high-level adjustments including boot sequence, enabling Hyper-Threading, and basic CPU options. Moving to the Advanced Chipset screen, we are presented with significantly more detailed options. Here, the main focus is on memory timings and onboard VGA memory allocation with several key options available for each. Overall, there's been nothing out of the norm for a typical mainstream system BIOS.

      

Integrated Peripherals is the next screen we encounter in the BIOS. Here, we essentially have three levels of adjustability split into separate screens. The first level deals strictly with hard drive configuration and orientation as well as the status of the onboard SATA controller. Moving to the next level, we find adjustments covering additional components such as the onboard audio, LAN, and USB 2.0 controllers. Lastly, there is a screen covering SuperIO devices such as the FDC controller and IR port configuration.

      

Power Management is next in line for inspection with the usual adjustments at hand. This screen is closely followed by the fairly standard Plug and Play PCI configuration screen. Things begin to get a bit more interesting once we navigate to the PC Health screen as there are several key status numbers being reported as well as adjustments to customize the sound and cooling efficiency of the system. For our testing we left all fan controls enabled as this did an admirable job of minimizing system noise under all but the most intensive applications. Glancing at the reported voltages, we see that we are well within the realm of acceptability and should have no issues due to PSU instability.

Aside from the convenient BIOS upgrade option at the bottom of the list, the Frequency and Voltage options are the last significant screen in the BIOS. Although nobody in their right minds will be trying to break any overclocking records with this system, the BIOS does allow for a fair amount of adjustability. Beyond changing the multiplier, the user has the ability to increase CPU core voltage in .05V increments up to an increase of 0.15V. In similar fashion, Vdimm can be raised in 0.10V increments up to 2.1V. Lastly, the all-important FSB can be raised from 200MHz up to 232MHz in increments of 1MHz. Overall, there's a fair amount of adjustability to allow you to squeeze just a bit more performance out of your system than you could in stock configuration.

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Test Setup & SiSoft Sandra

HotHardware Test Bed
Covering The Bases

System 1:
Intel Pentium 4 3.6GHz
Biostar iDEQ 350G micro-ATX
Intel 945G Chipset
2X512MB Kingston DDR2 533MHz
Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950
Onboard 10/100/1000 Ethernet
Realtek ALC882 7.1 Audio
Western Digital 120GB 7200RPM
Windows XP Pro SP2
Intel Chipset Drivers v6.3.0.1007
DirectX 9.0c
System 2:
Intel Pentium 4 3.6GHz
Intel D915GUX ATX
Intel 915G Chipset
2X512MB Kingston DDR2 533MHz
Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950
Onboard 10/100/1000 Ethernet
Realtek ALC882 7.1 Audio
Western Digital 120GB 7200RPM
Windows XP Pro SP2
Intel Chipset Drivers v6.3.0.1007
DirectX 9.0c

Preliminary Benchmarks With SiSoft SANDRA 2005
Synthetic Testing Starts with SANDRA

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 sub-system tests (CPU Arithmetic, CPU Multimedia, and Memory Bandwidth) that partially comprise the SANDRA 2005 suite of benchmarks. 

After thorough testing in SiSoft Sandra's Arithmetic CPU benchmark, we find that the Biostar SFF system performs roughly on par with its direct competition for similar hardware. Though slightly less than its equivalent system in the database, the iDEQ 350G performs well within the margin of error.

The results from the Multi-Media CPU benchmark paint a similar picture to the previous case where the iDEQ 350G performs roughly on par with its counterpart in the database. Although behind slightly, it is almost certainly a negligible real-world difference in performance.

After running the SiSoft Sandra memory bandwidth test, we find that the Biostar SFF system performs well against a field of similar hardware. Note that these tests were run at default SPD timings and the results could easily be improved by moving towards some more aggressive timings. Again, we're not looking at any new performance records here though the system has proved more than capable of handling a taxing application with ease.

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KribiBench

Kribibench v1.1
Details: www.adeptdevelopment.com

Next up, we ran Kribibench, a 3D rendering benchmark produced by the folks at Adept Development.  Kribibench is an SSE aware software renderer.  A 3D model is rendered and animated by the host CPU, and the average frame rate is reported.  We used two of the included models with this benchmark: a "Sponge Explode" model consisting of over 19.2 million polygons and a gargantuan "Ultra" model that is comprised of over 16 billion polygons.

With each system being based upon the same hardware, it's no surprise to see that the two systems return almost identical scores. Ideally, we'd like to see the Biostar best the standard Intel board although the scores are close enough to chaulk the difference up to a standard margin of error within the test.

As before, the two systems have almost identical scores. Again, the iDEQ 350G is the low man on the todem pole though it is only by the slightest of margins.

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Business & Content Creation Winstone

Business & Content Creation Winstone
Real-World Application Performance

PC Magazine's Winstone Test Suite is a benchmarking tool for testing the CPU, memory, and overall system performance in business and professional applications.  Content Creation Winstone focuses on common media intensive tasks, while Business Winstone assesses general workstation application performance.  Below is a breakdown of each package's software complement that is used to issue an overall score when complete.

       Content Creation 2004 v1.0.1        Business Winstone 2004 v1.0.1
  • 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
  • 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

 

For a "real-world" test scenario such as Business Winstone, we see the Biostar SFF system fare generally well. Although there certainly won't be any records broken anytime soon, the system scores well enough to prove its competence in nearly any common application.

Under the Content Creation benchmark, the Biostar SFF PC again flexes its muscles and handles the tasks without issue. Given the iDEQ 350G's support for dual-core processors, it would certainly prove interesting to see if the Biostar system's performance could be improved dramatically with a different CPU installed.

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PCMark05 & 3DMark05

Futuremark's PCMark05
http://www.futuremark.com/

For our next round of synthetic benchmarks, we ran the standard suite of default benchmarks built into Futuremark's brand new PCMark05.   We just recently began working with PCMark 05 and have found it to be even more robust in terms of test features than its predecessor. 

Viewing the iDEQ 350G's PCMark05 score, we see that the system falls in line with the score we'd come to expect for a system equipped with hardware of this level. Further performance could be easily obtained by taking advantage of the system's dual-core CPU support and using a Pentium D processor. Regardless, it is a bit surprising to see the iDEQ 350G still trailing the standard Intel board in yet another benchmark.

 

Futuremark 3DMark05
Simulated DirectX Gaming Performance

3DMark05's built-in CPU test is a multi-threaded "gaming related" DirectX metric that's useful for comparing relative performance between similarly equipped systems.  Using a variety of gaming scenarios, a raw score is created to give a subjective analysis of how capable the system's hardware truly is.

Equipped with a 128MB GeForce 6600, the Biostar SFF system turned in a respectable score in 3DMark05. With the inclusion of a full x16 PCI-Express slot and a solid 300W PSU, the iDEQ 350G could very easily best this score by using a higher-end GPU.

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UT2004 and Doom3

Unreal Tournament 2004
DirectX 8 Gaming Performance

To start our in-game testing, we did some low-resolution benchmarking with Unreal Tournament 2004.  When testing with UT 2004, we use a specific set of game engine initialization settings that ensure all of the systems are being benchmarked with the exact same in-game settings and graphical options.  Like the other in-game tests in this review, we used a "Low-Quality" graphical settings and low screen resolution which isolates CPU and memory performance.

With an average framerate above 100fps, each system proves more than capable of handling this popular title. Thanks to ample bandwidth, support for all but the fastest (ie: Extreme Edition) processors, and a full x16 PCI-E slot for an advanced graphics card the iDEQ 350G has features that'll please nearly any gaming enthusiast.

 

Benchmarks with Doom 3
OpenGL Gaming Performance

For our next game test, we benchmarked all of the test systems using a custom multi-player Doom 3 timedemo. We cranked the resolution down to 640 x 480, and configured the game to run at its "Low-Quality" graphics setting. Although Doom 3 typically taxes today's high-end GPUs, when it's configured at these minimal settings it too is more CPU and memory-bound than anything else.

Games such as Doom3 will instantly take advantage of the SFF system's x16 PCI-E slot. Thankfully, the iDEQ 350G's 300W PSU should be strong enough to shoehorn all but the fastest (and most power-hungry) graphics cards. In practice, our GeForce 6600 fit with ample room leaving us confident that you could squeeze at least a GeForce 6800GT or ATI equivalent into the system for a truly ideal gaming experience in a small form factor.

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Overclocking & Conclusion

To aid in overclocking efforts, Biostar ships the iDEQ 350G with a handy System Control Utility. As seen in the image above, the utility offers a wealth of information including CPU and fan speeds, CPU temperature, and CPU clock speed. Using the relatively tame features we were provided with in the BIOS, we were able to reach a maximum stable FSB of 217MHz. Combined with a 16x multiplier, we were running at 3.7GHz which was a slight increase over the stock 3.6GHz setting we initially were testing with. Although not an earth-shattering result, it's hard to complain when you're able to squeeze free additional performance.

Construction: Overall, the fit and finish of the Biostar iDEQ 350G is top notch with exceptional attention to detail. Small touches like the etched hinge status on the chassis go a long way in making the system simple and easy to use. Quality is further seen in little details like the plastic handle on the leaf spring in the heatsink assembly that make cpu removal or installation a breeze. Each aspect of the system feels solid and works as expected leaving the user with the impression that they are dealing with a top notch piece of equipment.

Setup: Out of the box, the iDEQ 350G was extremely painless to get up and running. The unique hinged front portion of the chassis is absolute genius when it comes time to install the processor and memory. All necessary power and data cables have already been cleanly routed through the system, leaving the only tasks to be completed of physically screwing in the optical and hard drives and plugging the cables in. Without question, the system has exceptional preparation and is one of the easiest SFF PC's one could possibly assemble.

Features: Perhaps the only thing wrong with the iDEQ 350G is its lack of any truly unique or interesting features beyond the bare essentials. Granted, the hinged front chassis is an excellent feature. However, small annoyances such as the limited overclocking adjustments in the BIOS take away from an otherwise excellent design. For the current street price of $364, it just seems as if there should be a few more bells and whistles integrated into the system. Regardless, the iDEQ 350G has all the integrated features one would expect of a high end system though it lacks any true whiz-bang features to differentiate it from other SFF systems.

Performance: In terms of performance, the Biostar iDEQ 350G seems to be somewhere in the middle of the pack. Regardless, the system is able to be configured to be capable of tackling nearly any application. Whether you're looking to stick in the latest GPU and a ton of memory for a killer gaming rig or aiming to build a multimedia powerhouse complete with tuners and discrete audio cards, the iDEQ 350G is an excellent choice.

In the end, we were impressed by Biostar's latest offering in the SFF arena. A recipe mixing efficient design, solid performance, and exceptional quality makes the iDEQ 350G an excellent choice for those looking for an all purpose solution. Although it is not perfect, the Biostar system is one of the better SFF offerings on the market. With a few minor tweaks including some more overclocking options, Biostar could very well have a home run with its iDEQ series of SFF systems.

We give the Biostar iDEQ 350G a Hot Hardware Heat Meter rating of 8...

 

_Dual-Core CPU Support
_Ingenious hinged case design
_Solid mix of Size, Features, and Performance
 No support for Extreme Edition CPU's
•  Slightly limiting 300W PSU

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