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Shuttle's XPC SN45G mini-barebones system


Small form factor, hard core
— 12:00 AM on July 8, 2003

Manufacturer Shuttle
Model SN45G
Price (Street) $280
Availability Now

SHUTTLE'S XPC LINE of ready-to-build XPC systems has been selling like crack-laced hotcakes since the introduction of the first model, the SV24, back in 2001. These mini-PCs have many merits, thanks in no small part to Shuttle's program of constant improvement and willingness to listen to feedback. Our review of that first SV24 system called for an AGP slot, support for Athlon processors, and a low-noise fan configuration. The XPC line has had all of those things for some time now, and this latest iteration, the SN45G, does, too.


The SN45G

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The most important thing about the SN45G, or about any of these little XPC systems, is its roots, and I'm not talking about the IBM PC Jr. No, I'm talking smaller, sleeker, more aesthetic. These little XPC systems are the PC world's New Urbanism, an antidote to the beige-boxed suburban sprawl that dominates the PC landscape. They are intentional planning and judicious use of space, executed on a smaller scale and with more care than the stamped metal ATX box. They can trace their roots deep inside the swath of ambivalence wrought by Steve Job's Reality Distortion Field, to the cube-shaped Macintosh G4, a hallmark design triumph and also a textbook commercial failure. Or further back, to the mysterious black NeXT cube that blazed the same trail of design purity uncorrupted by high sales volumes.

Or, as always with Mr. Jobs, find the root of the derivative and you can see the real McCoy. In this case, it's the old SGI Iris boxen, with their funky purple paint jobs and cube-like dimensions.

But the XPC's true design roots are probably older than that, stretching and curling back to the wonderful Sunbeam and Toastmaster units of the 1940s. The MagicMaid came with an assortment of color bases, ready to match any color scheme, much like the G-series XPCs, with their colored faceplates and case covers. Makes sense, really, that the PC should be toasterized now that it's reached appliance status. My wife wants a system in the kitchen so she can call up recipes right where she needs them, but a beige monstrosity is out of question for the countertop.

Of course, even hard-core PC enthusiasts want style in a PC—preferably mated with substance. This new XPC aims to deliver on both counts by packing a full powered, overclocking-ready system into an affordable and stylish package. The SN45G has all the design advantages of the newer members of the XPC line, including the whisper-quiet operation afforded by near-silent, speed-controlled fans and a nifty heat-pipe cooler. Those of you familiar with the XPC lineup may be wondering what the SN45G offers over its cousin, the SN41G2. The differences are subtle, but sensible.

The specs
The SN45G's specifications explain its distinctiveness, so let's glance over them.

CPU support Socket A-based AMD Athlon processors with 200/266/333/400MHz front-side bus
Form factor Flex ATX (Shuttle form factor)
Chipset NVIDIA nForce2
North bridge nForce2 Ultra 400 SPP
South bridge nForce2 MCP2
Interconnect HyperTransport (800MB/s)
PCI slots 1 32-bit/33MHz
AGP slots 4X/8X AGP
Memory 2 184-pin DIMM sockets
Maximum of 2GB of DDR200/266/333/400 SDRAM
Storage I/O Floppy disk
2 channels ATA/133
Audio 6-channel Dolby Digital audio via nForce2 APU and RealTek ALC650 codec
Ports 1 PS/2 keyboard, 1 PS/2 mouse,
1 serial, 4 USB 2.0 (2 front, 2 rear), 3 IEEE 1394 (1 front, 2 rear) via nForce2 controller and Realtek RTL8801 PHY transceiver/arbiter, 1 RJ45 Ethernet via nForce2 MAC and Realtek RTL8201BL PHY transceiver

2 line out/front out (1 front, 1 rear), 1 rear out, 1 bass/center out, 1 optical SPDIF in, 1 optical SPDIF out, 1 mic in (front), 1 line in (front)

BIOS Award
Bus speeds 100-250MHz in 1-2MHz increments
(200-500MHz double pumped)
Monitoring Voltage, fan status, and temperature monitoring

If you have a sharp eye, you've probably noticed this new XPC differs from its predecessor, the SN41G2, several ways. First and foremost, the SN45G's motherboard includes an nForce2 Ultra 400 SPP north bridge chip, which supports Athlon XP processors at bus speeds up to 400MHz. (The SN41G2's official bus speed tops out at 333MHz.) Because this north bridge chip is an SPP model instead of an IGP, the SN45G doesn't have any form of built-in graphics, either. Owners of this puppy will have to make use of the AGP slot. Fortunately, SN45G owners won't be paying NVIDIA's premium for integrated graphics, so they will have a little extra room on the plastic for a nice AGP card.

The SN45G's most notable trait, however, may be its array of overclocking tools, from bus speed and multiplier adjustments to—and this is new—a robust range of voltage tweaks. The SN41G2 had approximately zero voltage options, limiting its overclocking potential severely. Shuttle's engineers have rectified that situation with the SN45G, as we'll explore in more detail shortly.

The sum of the spec and price differences between the SN45G and its predecessor is this: the SN45G is aimed at the desktop, not the countertop. This toaster no mere appliance; it is meant to nestle alongside a large, matching LCD panel on the desk of a deserving PC user, where its unique merits can best be appreciated.