Shuttle Zen XPC ST62K: Finally, a Quiet SFF PC!

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CONCLUSIONS

Ralf Hutter says...

Overall, I'm highly impressed with this Shuttle ST62K. There are a few reservations:

  • The biggest problem is the case resonance caused by hard drive vibrations. As long as the hard drive is mounted solidly in the supplied drive carrier, I don't think I could personally tolerate this system for long. The "tinny" aluminum resonance is kind of like nails on a chalkboard for me, it really gets to me.
  • The memory performance is puzzling but isn't really noticeable when running normal applications.
  • The lack of temperature and voltage sensors really bugs me but I'm sure this will be fixed by tweaks to the existing software applications as soon as these start hitting the streets.

With the hard drive suspended, this little Shuttle system really blossoms. I've always had a soft spot for these little systems but none of the earlier incarnations have been anything I could live with from a noise perspective. Their internal PSUs with the noisy little cooling fans put them completely out of consideration. The ST62K, with its silent external power supply and very quiet ICE cooling system is very impressive. You get a machine that's basically as powerful as a full-fledged mid-tower system with a very small footprint. This seems like the perfect platform for an HTPC, and it's certainly good enough as a mainstream solution for running business applications or regular home use. The integrated video, while more powerful than Intel's own onboard solution, isn't powerful enough to play today's most demanding games so the ST62K probably won't be seen at many LAN parties. But for less demanding gamers, it probably works fine.

So, my final conclusion is that as long as the HDD is suspended, this is a very nice, very quiet system that would satisfy all but the most hardcore silent PC enthusiast.

Pros:

- Small, unobtrusive footprint.
- Understated styling.
- Lots of I/O, front ports especially useful.
- Quiet, quiet, quiet (with HDD suspended).
- Seems to have good cooling.
- Very stable, no driver issues.
- Very good performance.
- External PSU runs very cool, can be placed out of the way.
- Excellent design, very easy to build.
- Clutter-free interior for good airflow.

Cons:

- Some audible case resonance with HDD mounted in default location. How annoying this is depends on you and your ambient noise.
- Slightly substandard memory performance.
- No floppy drive header on motherboard.
- No firewire port on front panel
- No usable monitoring software available for the IGP 9100 chipset, yet.

Mike Chin says...

The Shuttle Zen XPC ST62K represents a new generation of SFF computers. Like ALL products, it is a compromise; like the best products, it is a clever, well-balanced compromise that addresses the needs of many. For this reason, I foresee a highly successful life cycle for the Zen.

The two key decisions Shuttle made in this PC are:

  • Changing the internal PSU to an external fanless brick. Yes, it's a pretty big brick, but as RH points out, it will hardly be obtrusive on the floor behind the desk. And it is silent. And it removes at least 30% of the heat in the case.
  • Exclusion of the AGP slot. Yes, it limits gaming, but the 9100 IGP chipset is fairly powerful, competitive with and likely superior to the nVidia2 which is its most serious competitor (and not even available on the P4 platform). Keeping add-on AGP cards out of the picture means they've eliminated 40~80W of additional heat that the system would otherwise have to be capable of handling.

The Zen overlaps the mini-ITX platform a little with the lack of AGP, but stays firmly in the high power camp of the Intel or AMD solutions, what with its potential to handle the fastest P4 CPUs, and dual channel of memory. The basic system is almost as small as m-ITX; you could call it mini-ITX for the power hungry.

They've got most of the details right; there are some things that they can still improve. But I believe those improvements will come, and SPCR enthusiasts who want to jump in can certainly figure out how to make those fixes themselves. (We've already shown you the HDD suspension trick.) The main point is that the fundamentals are right. How else can you assemble a complete quiet, tiny, powerful PC for well under US$600?

The Zen XPC ST62K appeals to many segments of the PC consumer market:

  • General computer users who would like a PC in place where bigger and/or louder computers are not be accepted, whether it be a den, a living room, an entertainment center, a kitchen, a bedroom or even a corporate board room. The market for second and third PCs has been recognized as being very significant.
  • New PC users who have no need or desire for more expandable, bigger or more powerful machines and welcome the low noise quality. This includes older buyers getting into it to stay in touch with grandchildren and exchanging photos and homemakers who want web access with none of the headaches or noisy of a conventional PC.
  • Non-geek children, teenagers and young adults who use computers casually as appliances much like TVs or phones but don't give them center stage in their lives.
  • Quiet PC enthusiasts (like Ralf, me and many SPCR regulars) who love the idea of a little, powerful and quiet PC.

In my view, even in absolutely stock form, with a quiet Seagate Barracuda IV, V or Samsung SP hard drive, unless the ambient level is truly low ( i.e., you don't have kids, ringing telephones, noisy neighbors, and other people who share your acoustic space), the Zen is probably quiet enough to keep most people from noticing it as a source of noise.

I'm tempted to create one of those quick, thumbs-up, 1-5 stars ranking systems; I'd give the Shuttle Zen XP five stars for innovation & sensible design, and four stars for noise performance. Very nice, strongly recommended if you want a very small, very quiet, inexpensive and powerful PC for general computing.

Much thanks to Shuttle for providing us the Zen XPC ST62K samples.

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Discuss this article in the Silent PC Review Forums.



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