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The front bezel is a glossy black plastic finish. The optical and floppy drives, if you choose to install them, are hidden
behind handsome doors that preserve the aesthetic consistency of the unit no
matter what components you put inside. One small blemish to the consistency
of the exterior finish is the 6-in-1 card reader, which is exposed.
The power button is a sedate silver, and glows blue when the unit
it powered up. The button clicks on and off like the button of a mouse; I would
have preferred a sprung button with a little more give, but this is a matter
of personal preference.
The front bezel is smaller than the case behind it, giving the illusion
of being smaller than it actually is.
The front I/O ports can be hidden behind a door when not in use.
The SB81P is large for a SFF system; total
internal volume is ~15 liters. This compares to ~11 liters for the
recently reviewed SN95G5, and ~9 liters for the
Shuttle Zen. Like most SFF systems, the case is manufactured from aluminum,
which has a reputation for amplifying resonance and vibration.
The division of the SB81P into thermal zones is evident even from
the outside of the case. Most obvious is the CPU zone, which sports large, unfiltered
vents on either side of the case. The vents are open enough that airflow impedance
is unlikely to be an issue. However, this means that the noise produced by the
two CPU fans has a direct route out of the case. Moving the CPU to the front
of the case may not have been the wisest choice for acoustics.
Apart from the vents for the CPU duct, each side of the case features
a vent that runs nearly the length of the case to provide intake air for the motherboard
zone. These vents are less open than the ones for the CPU duct and, because
they do not have fans immediately next to them, are less of a concern for noise
than the CPU vents.
There's no shortage of airflow through the sides of the case.
The 80mm CPU exhaust fan is visible behind an open grill at the front
of the case.
The grills for the rear exhaust fans seem quite restrictive.
In theory, all the air drawn in through the side vents is exhausted
by the 80mm power supply fan at the back. Shuttle SFF observers will note a
major difference between this XPC and all other Shuttles in recent memory: The
PSU has an 80mm fan. More on this when we get inside.
The grill for the PSU fan is stamped and rather restrictive. The
CPU is cooled in an independent thermal zone and thus unaffected by what goes
on back here. However, a high-powered VGA card could make things toasty.
Two 60mm fans at the top of the back panel are supposed to exhaust heat from the hard drive thermal zone. But it is unlikely that the VGA heat, in particular, will keep so neatly to itself when its nature is to rise... up to where these 60mm fans are spinning. The grills for the 60mm fans are terribly restrictive, covering at least half of the vent. They can be expected to cause considerable airflow impedance and turbulence noise.
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