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Shuttle's XPC SK41G mini-barebones system

The specs
— 12:00 AM on December 30, 2002

Manufacturer Shuttle
Model SK41G
Price (street) US$270
Availability Now

WE'VE REVIEWED A NUMBER of Shuttle's cubes, going all the way back to the SV24, the original Socket 370 Shuttle cube. Since then, Shuttle has introduced Athlon and Pentium 4 cubes, as well. With each iteration the XPC systems have gotten better features and cooler looks. With space for two 3.5" drives and a 5.25" drive, as well as USB and Firewire ports, even enthusiasts could make an argument for having a cube as their main system. Except, of course, for the lack of an AGP slot.

Needless to say, that omission is a deal-breaker for many of us, especially those interested in games. Shuttle has addressed this concern with its Pentium 4 line, with both the SS51G and the SB51G. Athlon fans, however, were forced to wait, though Shuttle has showed off the nForce2-based SN41G2 at a trade show here and there.

The SN41G2 isn't yet available for purchase, but those wanting an Athlon-based AGP Shuttle cube have another option: The SK41G, based on VIA's KM266 chipset. The KM266 is missing features present in other VIA chipsets, like AGP 8X and support for 333MHz Athlons, but many consumers might eschew those features for a small form factor. Does the SK41G bring AGP magic to Athlon cubes? Read on to find out.

Let's start off by taking a look at what the SK41G and its KM266 chipset have to offer.

CPU support Socket A-based AMD Athlon processors
Form factor ATX
Chipset VIA KM266
North bridge VIA VT8375
South bridge VIA VT8235
Interconnect V-Link (266MB/s)
PCI slots 1 32-bit/33MHz
AGP slots 2X/4X AGP
Memory 2 184-pin DIMM sockets
Maximum of 2GB of DDR266/200 SDRAM
Storage I/O Floppy disk
2 channels ATA/100
Audio VIA AC97 6-channel audio
Ports 1 PS/2 keyboard, 1 PS/2 mouse,
2 serial, 4 USB 2.0 (2 front, 2 rear), 3 IEEE 1394 (1 front, 2 rear), 1 RJ45 Ethernet via Realtek RTL8100B, 1 DB15 VGA out,
1 S-Video out via Chrontel 7005C
2 line out/front out (1 front, 1 rear), 1 rear out, 1 bass/center out, 1 mic in (front), 1 optical SPDIF out (front)
BIOS Award
Bus speeds 100-165MHz in 1MHz increments
(200-330MHz double pumped)
Monitoring Voltage, fan status, and temperature monitoring

As mentioned previously, the KM266 chipset does give up some features relative to its newer cousins. Among those left off the list are ATA-133, AGP 8X and support for DDR333 memory. The Athlon XP 2600+ is the fastest processor supported, and those who can read between the lines will realize that the KM266 lacks support for an official (non-overclocked) 333MHz bus.

That sounds like a lot to be missing, but let's break it down. It's been repeatedly demonstrated that ATA-133 doesn't really offer a significant performance advantage over ATA-100, which is underscored by the fact that most hard drive manufacturers haven't implemented ATA-133. As for AGP 8X, our look at NVIDIA's new 8X AGP cards revealed that "[t]he faster AGP mode just isn't stressed by current games." It's extremely likely that AGP 8X will prove more useful in the future, but it will probably be quite some time before that is the case.

The lack of 333MHz bus and DDR333 support is more serious, of course, because there are already processors available that take advantage of these features. Playing devil's advocate for a moment, though, there are currently only two Athlon speed grades that the SK41G won't support. The Athlon XP 2600+ may not be the fastest chip on the planet, but it could hardly be considered slow.