Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/05/31/review_shuttle_xpc_sn21g5/

Shuttle XPC SN21G5 small form-factor PC

An affordable barebones box with Nvidia graphics

By Lars-Göran Nilsson

Posted in Hardware, 31st May 2006 12:44 GMT

Review Shuttle is without a doubt the best known manufacturer of small form-factor (SFF) barebones PCs in the world. The SN21G5 features the now familiar fifth-generation chassis, which is getting slightly long in the tooth now, but this is a budget model. It's based on Nvidia's nForce 6100 chipset, so it has a wide range of built-in features...

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The SN21G5 is quite affordable too, as long as you stick to something like an AMD Sempron or entry-level Athlon 64, as it's really the CPU that would be the biggest cost. Add some memory, a hard drive and an optical drive and you're set.

Well, almost. The nForce 6100 also lacks some of the hardware-based video-decoding features of its higher-end sibling, the 6150, which makes it less ideal as a Windows XP Media Center Edition (MCE) or PVR-centric machine. Nor is it suited for 3D gaming, unless you decide to fit a PCI Express graphics card. The nForce 6100 just isn't powerful enough for modern games. But if you want a small, multi-purpose computer, the SN21G5 is worth a closer look.

I was disappointed to see a D-sub rather than DVI connector on the back of the SN21G5, but the reason behind this is simply because a D-sub costs less than a DVI connector. Otherwise the SN21G5 has a fairly good feature set which includes two PS/2 ports for your keyboard and mouse, two rear-mounted and two front-mounted USB ports, a rear six-pin and a front four-pin Firewire connector, a serial port, 10/100Mbps Ethernet, and 5.1-channel sound with S/PDIF output and front headphone and microphone connectors. Shuttle has fitted an AC97 codec rather than one of the much better HD audio codecs which the nForce 6100 chipset supports - again, this is presumably about cutting costs.

Benchmark results

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Shuttle_SN21G5_pcmark

Benchmark results

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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.

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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.

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Verdict

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. ®