Shuttle XPC SP45H7
Fewer features, higher price? You sure, Shuttle?
Review We're desperately keen to see the new Shuttle SX58H7 , which supports the Core i7 family of processors, but it's currently listed as "coming soon" so we shall have to be patient. In the meantime, Shuttle suggested, why not take a look at the SP45H7?
So we did.
Shuttle's XPC SP45H7: poor value?
We had a sense of déjà vu as we unpacked the SP45H7 as it has a great deal in common with the SG45H7 that we reviewed  last year. The difference in specification boils down to the choice of an Intel P45 chipset, rather than a G45, which in turn means there are no integrated graphics. The list of ports and connectors on the two models are identical except that the SP45H7 doesn’t have the HDMI and VGA ports you find on the back of the SG45H7.
Fair enough - you buy an SP45H7 knowing that you’re going to have to install a graphics card when you build your Core 2 system - but it may come as a surprise to find that the SP45H7 costs slightly more than the SG45H7. The difference in price is £20 which is hardly a fortune, but we already felt the SG45H7 was overly expensive so the idea of paying even a little bit more for the SP45H7, which provides fewer features, is unappealing.
Perhaps, we mused, the SP45H7 has hidden depths and has some extra features tucked away? After all, the G45 chipset is aimed at the mainstream buyer who's looking for a highly integrated system, while the P45 is the choice of the performance enthusiast.
When we tested the SG45H7, we ran it both with the integrated Intel graphics and also with an AMD ATI Radeon HD 4550 graphics card, so we built the SP45H7 to the same specification using a Core 2 Duo E8500 CPU, 2GB of fast Kingston DDR 2 memory and a Western Digital Caviar Black hard drive along with the HD 4550.
No longer a true small form-factor PC
The layout of the Shuttle SPC follows the familiar form. Remove three thumb screws and the cover lifts off. Undo two more screws to remove the drive bays. A further four screws secure the CPU fan housing, and four captive screws retain the CPU cooler. Plug in a CPU then install the memory, graphics card, a hard drive and optical drive and you have a new PC.
It’s the same formula as the SG45H7, except that you're obliged to install a graphics card and a small card such as the HD 4550 goes in easily as the framework of the Shuttle is wide open and offers plenty of access.
The SP45H7 lacks the HDMI and VGA ports found on the...
The problem is that the connector for the fan of the CPU cooler sits at the rear of the motherboard next to the graphics card slot where the graphics card blocks access to the connector. If the cable was a little longer it would be possible to make the connection and then slide the fan housing into place but as things stand it’s a bit of a struggle.
Both systems achieved identical scores in 3DMark06, which is exactly what you would expect when you use the same graphics card and CPU. Our test results in PCMark05 show something of a discrepancy as the SP45H7 returned a lower score in the graphics element of the test than the SG45H7. This looks odd but is something we sometimes see with a new installation of Windows Vista and a change in graphics driver. Both systems achieved the same score in the CPU and memory elements of PCMark05 and similar scores in the HDD test so we're confident that the SG45H7 and SP45H7 are pretty much identical in terms of performance.
Next, we got busy with some upgrades. Swapping the WD Caviar Black for an Intel X25-M SSD raised performance and also helped to quieten the Shuttle. This is an upgrade we thoroughly recommend but it’s a big ask with the price standing at £300.
Then we swapped the 3.16GHz Core 2 Duo E8500 for a 3.00GHz Core 2 Extreme QX9650 which had a surprisingly tiny benefit in PCMark05. The good news is that the power supply handled the load without any problems. The power supply carries an ‘80 PLUS’ logo  which doesn’t indicate an 80W rating but instead refers to its efficiency.
The rating of the Shuttle PSU is 300W, which means that the SP45H7 will support any Core 2 processor that fits the socket along with any graphics card with a six-pin power connector. If you yearn for a Radeon HD 4870 X2, you’ll be out of luck.
Longer bars are better
Longer bars are better
At this stage the DDR 2 memory was running at the default speed of 667MHz, which is horribly slow. We were able to raise the memory/frontside bus divider speed in the Bios to the maximum supported speed, 800MHz, however this had a detrimental impact on performance and clobbered hard drive performance in PCMark05.
The Bios also supports faster memory speeds, so we raised the Ram voltage and cranked up the memory divider to give a speed of 1066MHz and the system froze solid, forcing us to clear the Bios by sticking the tip of a tiny screwdriver through a hole on the back of the Shuttle to activate the Clear CMOS button.
Performed as promised - but just too pricey?
Although the Shuttle had behaved exactly as promised in the specification, this caused us some concern as we had been hoping to see some sort of benefit from the move to the P45 chipset. As a final step, we upgraded the HD 4550 graphics card to an HD 4850 and the performance leapt forward. The result was a decent PC that delivered the goods and was fully capable of playing games, although it didn’t get the full potential from the memory that we used.
The Shuttle kept the HD 4850 graphics card and QX9650 CPU cool without making a terrible racket and in that sense the SP45H7 is a success. The problem is, the SG45H7 can perform exactly the same task and also offers you the option of using integrated graphics to cut the power draw and noise level and you save money into the bargain.
We took a long hard look at the SP45H7 to see whether it offered extra features that might prove to be tempting when you choose the barebones for your next PC but we came up dry. We had hoped that the SP45H7 might be better suited to the performance enthusiast than the SG45H7 but our hopes were in vain. ®
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