Shuttle XPC ST61G4 SFF barebones PC

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TEST #4: GF4800 AGP + NEXUS FAN

The final question that will be asked is what will happen to PSU noise when an AGP video card is used and the total load increased significantly higher than the 110W AC seen at max load with just the integrated video. So an nVidia GeForce 4800 card was pressed into service, the same one used in the AOpen XC Cube EZ65 review. Its noisy fans were disconnected when checking the PSU noise levels.


The GF4800 card takes up almost all the available room; any longer and it would not fit.
With the cover on, the VGA card fans get jammed up against the side panel and the added impedance makes them whine louder with greater turbulence noise.

TEST #4: GF4800 AGP + NEXUS FAN @ ULTRA LOW FAN SPEED
Activity
CPU Temp
Noise @ 1m
AC Power
Front
Back
Idle
45°C
28 dBA
30 dBA
87W
CPUBurn
64°C
32 dBA
33 dBA
149W

Test Conditions:
Vcore set to 1.4V; Ambient noise at 18 dBA; Room at 23°C; CPU fan @ 1500RPM; NB cooler fan reduced in speed to 3500RPM, down from 4500RPM.

TEST #4 ANALYSIS: The results of this test are promising. With a 40W (35%) increase in AC power consumption, the PSU became only marginally louder, and the CPU temperature remained safe if a little high. The thermal and acoustic results here are fairly indicative of performance with some variant of a fanless ATI 9600 or similar fanless midrange AGP card. It's what I'd call marginally quiet but well below the level of typical PCs or SFF systems that are similarly equipped.

NOTE: Throughout the testing, the Hitachi 180GXP hard drive's idle noise was below the noise threshold of the overall system. Seeks could be heard, but were well damped and not particularly annoying in the context of the overall noise. The head reset noise Hitachi drives are known for was not heard during the testing.

CONCLUSIONS

This review set out to answer the question of whether the Shuttle XPC ST61G4 is an AGP port-equipped version of the Shuttle XPC Zen, thus far the quietest SFF box we've examined. The long answer is in the previous pages; the short answer is: Not Really.

In stock form, the ST61G4 is a good >6 dBA/1m noisier than the Zen, a difference that is very audible by anyone who's listening. When used with a midrange fanless AGP card, you can expect peak noise values to rise to 35 dBA/1m or higher under similar modest ambient temperature (23°C). Interestingly, an acoustic report on the ST61G4 found at the Shuttle web site pretty much jibes with our results. While not noisy by general standards, the noise performance of the stock XPC ST61G4 is really not good enough for SPCR to call quiet

The funny thing is that the noise performance can be dramatically improved with very minor changes:

  • A quieter main 80mm fan
  • Removal of the grill over the 80mm fan
  • A quieter NB chip cooling fan (this fan can probably be dispensed with altogether if a larger HS was used)

The other change that would further improve both noise and thermal performance dramatically is the opening up of the terribly restrictive 80mm fan exhaust grill. A calculation of the ratio of available space against the holes in that grill indicates >55% blockage.

All of the above changes are minor and except for the grill removal, can be done by any moderately handy person. It would change the answer to our key question above from Not Really to Just About. (The main difference would be the higher pitched noise that's inevitable with the 40mm fans in the PSU.)

Of course, if it is easy for end users to make these minor improvements, they could be made in a blink by Shuttle. Why Shuttle made the design and component decisions here when they were seeking "Super Quiet, Super Cool" (quoted from features blurb) is a bit of a mystery.

In spite of its few flaws, much of this system is an exercise in good ergonomic design. The great number of useful features and connectivity, the good integrated video, the excellent computing performance, the small size, ease of assembly and finally the snazzy clean style ¬ó all these add up to another very strong entry from the originator of the SFF.

Our thanks to Shuttle for the opportunity to examine the XPC ST61G4.

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Discuss this article in the SPCR Forums.



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