Shuttle SD11G5: Pentium-M SFF PC

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CONCLUSIONS

The Shuttle XPC SD11G5 is a landmark product, much like the earlier Shuttle ST62K Zen. The latter Shuttle is about the quietest SFF barebones PC even now, and a modified version of the Zen is still used in the SPCR lab as a silent audio recording PC. The SD11G5 is a more versatile choice for both low noise and performance. Pentium M is the stepping stone to Intel's high efficiency computing future, with its high performance and miserly power consumption. Just the basics alone are enough to make a winning combination: A Pentium M SFF platform around a proven single fan heatpipe cooling system with PCIe video card capability and an external fanless power box. Add Shuttle usual attention to details, styling and packaging, extra features like the ambitious onboard Sound Blaster 7.1 sound card and dual monitor display capability, and it looks just about perfect.

The AOpen EY855-II was first the Pentium M SFF barebones system out of the gate, but it cannot stay even with this latecomer. Its power supply makes a bit too much noise and it is not easily made quieter. Its cooling system is adequate, but again, cannot be made quieter easily. Its feature set is good but outshone by the SD11G5's. AOpen's newer socket 479 SFF systems, the EZ915-M and minute half-as-big MZ915-M might be worthy competitors, but we've yet to obtain samples.

Shuttle's earlier socket-775 XPC SB86i doesn't even come close to being a quiet SFF, despite the early PR hoopla about its quiet features. It's flawed in too many ways to repeat here, but the big flaw is the socket choice itself: Prescott core Intel processors are not suitable for a quiet SFF, and this applies to every socket 775 SFF we've examined. Shuttle's AMD socket 939-based XPC SN95G5 comes much closer, but ultimately, its built in power supply with too-small fans is an acoustic hurdle that cannot be easily overcome.

The suggested price of US$450 seems to be on the high side, but the market will quickly tell everyone whether the price is right and adjust accordingly. Aside from that possible wrinkle, the choice of a mediocre fan is the only serious spoiler in the SD11G5. With such low maximum heat in the box and tremendous cooling headroom, a 0.55A high speed fan is simply out of place. It suggests sloppy or hasty work, but Shuttle had many months to finess this design. The SD11G5 was first shown back at the start of June at Computex Taipei. Shuttle designers could have spent a little extra time and effort to pick a better matched fan for their creation. It's not just about measured SPL, the quality of the noise matters! As our little Nexus fan swap amply demonstrates, it isn't hard to greatly improve the acoustics of the SD11G5, just a single fan swap. Why didn't Shuttle do this? Antec's new NeoHE 430 PSU was fitted with a specially sourced high quality fan which really makes that product. The same could certainly have been done with this Shuttle.

Some readers will say Mike is nitpicking again; others will agree with me. Admittedly, sound levels comparable to SPCR's silent modified Shuttle Zen are very possible with the SD11G5; the very same modications can be applied, and the only significant tecnical limitation is that the video card can use up an extra slot only on the trace side of its board. With over 200W DC output capacity in the AC/DC adapter, just about any current video card can be handled.

The SD11G5 will make many friends. It will appeal to:

Entertainment PC enthusiasts. The built in vidcard and sound might be perfectly adequate, as could the stock acoustic performance when placed across the room alongside a big TV screen while the speakers pour out music and video soundtracks.

Small / Home Office users. Low energy consumption, very low noise, excellent performance all around in stock form, great feature set (especially dual monitor support) and super easy to assemble: It's hard to beat.

Schools. The aggregate noise of multiple computers in a computer workshop has become a major learning impediment for many teachers and students. A class full of these Shuttles would certainly be quieter than most computer classrooms.

Gaming / Performance PC enthusiasts. The Pentium M is already respected as a high-performance gaming processor. This SFF can handle a pretty hot PCIe X16 video card without flinching, even with ultra slow fan settings. Gamers don't mind a bit more noise for a bit more cooling airflow. With its small size and clean looks, it could be the perfect "sleeper rig" for LAN parties.

Shuttle is firmly back on the quiet track with the SD11G5. (Now, if they could only use a 4-pin fan that's as quiet and smooth as a Nexus...)

Much thanks to Shuttle for providing the early XPC SD11G5 sample.

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