The SB81P: Up Close & Personal
Shuttle's new P Series chassis is a bit of a departure from previous models. One potential caveat with some older XPCs was expandability. A few models were equipped with card readers in lieu of floppy drive, while others had only one internal 3.5" drive bay left available should a floppy drive be installed in the system. And yet another issue for some owners was finding an optical drive to perfectly match the color of their XPC, especially if it was silver. Well, with the P Series chassis, Shuttle eliminates all of these issues and then some...
The SB81P XPC is a very attractive product in our opinion. The glossy black finish and silver accents work very well together, and give the SB81P somewhat of a classy appearance. As you can see in the images above, the front of the SB81P looks quite sleek when all of the folding bay covers are closed. Starting at the top, you'll find the built-in 6-in-1 card reader, and just below it to the right you'll see the silver CD/DVD eject button. This eject button has an adjustable plastic nub inside the chassis that slides so it can be aligned with the eject button on an optical drive. Unfortunately, we found the system to be a bit lacking. We couldn't get a proper alignment with either a Sony or Lite-On drive. Either the nub was too far out of the way to make contact with the button, or it was in such a position that the slightest touch caused the drive to open. Occasionally, the drives would even pop open and closed constantly, seemingly on their own. This is only a minor annoyance though, because the drive could easily be opened and closed from within Windows with a single click of the mouse, and with a little filing it would probably have been possible to get an exact fit. Just below the optical drive bay you'll find the external 3.5" drive bay, seen here filled by a 3.5" floppy drive. Continue down the system and you'll see the power and reset switches, and lastly the front-mounted USB, Firewire, and audio connectors. And covering all three of the bays are hinged covers that stealth the drives.
There are also some interesting things to point out on the rear of the SB81P XPC. The rear I/O panel is equipped with a single 9-pin serial port, a DB15 analog monitor connector, a single Firewire connector, PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports, an RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet connector, two USB 2.0 ports, and a total of 8 audio inputs and outputs, including S/PDIF. The Gigabit Ethernet port is powered by a true PCI Express Broadcom controller, that should offer superior performance to most other GigE solutions, especially those limited by the PCI bus. The Audio comes by way of Intel new 8-channel Hi-Def solution. And the DB15 connector is for the i915G's integrated graphics. Also visible, nestled in the rear I/O panel, is tiny "Clear CMOS" switch. This switch makes it extremely easy to reset the CMOS should a BIOS tweak go wrong. Looking at the rear of the system, you may also notice a total of three exhaust fans. Two are mounted at the top of the case, with the third residing inside the 350 Watt power supply.
The SB81P's internals also have a few interesting aspects worth noting. First, is the newly designed copper / aluminum heat-pipe CPU cooler which is equipped with four spring loaded mounting screws, and a single fan. Previous XPCs had a simple clip mechanism to hold the cooler in place. We found the mounting screws to be a little short, however, as they required a significant amount of pressure to get the thread started. If the screw isn't aligned perfectly over the mounting holes, you run the possibility of chipping the motherboard's PCB, so be careful. Once installed, the cooler is flanked on either side by a simple plastic shroud, and yet another exhaust fan. This configuration pulls air through one side of the system, through the CPU cooler's fins, and exhausts it out of the other side. The Northbridge and Southbridge are equipped with simple passive aluminum coolers, which didn't get terribly hot during extended use, but it probably would have been a good idea to actively cool the Northbridge to help keep it a bit cooler and keep air in the bottom of the system circulating.
The FB81 motherboard used in the system is equipped with a single PCI Express X16 graphics slot and a single standard PCI slot. Thanks to the ICH6R Soutbridge, the FB81 also has full support for SATA RAID, and because the new chassis can accommodate up to four hard drives (if no optical drive is used), setting up a RAID array in an XPC is now a possibility. Two SATA hard drives can be mounted at the very top of the system, just above the removable tray that houses the card reader, optical drive, and floppy drive. And facilitating the entire build is the fact that the SB81P XPC is pre-wired. All of the power and data cables necessary to connect two hard drives, an optical drive and a floppy drive are already there, secured in their proper positions. This was a great move on Shuttle's part, as the pre-wired case and tool-less drive mounting rails made building up the system extremely easy. We had ours up and running in a matter of minutes.