Shuttle XPC SN21G5 small form-factor PC
An affordable barebones box with Nvidia graphics
Internally things are quite cramped, as you'd expetc from an SFF system this size. There's space for two 3.5in drives, one accessible through the front panel and the other a purely internal device. There's a 5.25in drive bay for your optical drive, which is hidden behind a flap on the front of the machine. There's also a single PCI slot and a x16 PCI Express slot for further expansion.
That said, there's no dedicated power connector from the 250W PSU for a PCI Express graphics card, although you could use an adaptor. However, I would go with a slightly different model from Shuttle if I was to use a dedicated graphics card, but it is at least an upgrade option at a later stage.
The SN21G5 is fairly quiet in operation, although this does to some degree depend on your choice of hard drive. There are only two fans: a small one in the PSU and a 92mm fan at the rear that cools the CPU heatpipes as well as the system as it sucks air out through the back of the case.
Building a Shuttle box is quite easy and the SN21G5 doesn't have any particularly unusual features, although a few more pre-routed cables would help. As I used a SATA optical drive I also noticed that there's only two SATA connectors, so if you're using two SATA hard drives, you'll have to use an IDE optical drive with the SN21G5.
Performance-wise the SN21G5 isn't a scorcher, but it performed well for a machine with integrated graphics. It's definitely not a gaming machine, but it didn't have any problems with general office tasks. I tested it with an AMD Athlon 64 FX-60 processor, 1GB of Crucial Ballistix memory and a Western Digital Caviar SE16 hard drive. That's unlikely to be a typical configuration for the SN21G5, but it does show that there won't be any heat issues using slower Athlon 64 processors.
The SN21G5 is a rather basic small form-factor PC with integrated graphics, but it should appeal to anyone that isn't out to build a gaming rig. Or, for that matter, a budget system - you're likely to be able to get a µATX/mATX motherboard and a small case for less than the £220 or so that you can get the SN21G5 for. It's quite a pricey box considering what you get for your money.
Still, a Shuttle box would take up less space and it also looks better than most µATX cases - but add a processor, memory, hard drive and an optical drive and you're close to be able to get a Mac Mini or AOpen MiniPC for the same amount of cash. It's a matter of what you want to spend your money on, although the Shuttle has the advantage of being upgradeable. ®
Sponsored: The Nuts and Bolts of Ransomware in 2016