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Pandora's box: The true PC cube arrives

The true PC cube arrives

Manufacturer Soldam
Model Pandora S
Price US$350~
Availability Now

I'VE BEEN FASCINATED BY smaller form factor PCs for a long time. I've spent countless hours researching how to create the most powerful PC in the smallest, quietest form factor possible. My fascination started years ago, and it's resulted in many different mini systems.

With the recent rise in processor power and extremely competitive prices, I decided it was possible to create a new low power, small-form-factor PC with decent performance as my everyday machine. While exploring my options, I came across the Shuttle SV24, an excellent product most thoroughly reviewed by our own Dr. Damage. I was immediately intrigued by it and by its possibilities. I wanted the best possible performance out of such a small system, so I decided to create a system that an enthusiast could be happy with. Damage's suggestion...

As an enthusiast's PC, the SV24 may be a bit of a stretch, but it could come mighty close. Load it up with 512MB of CAS 2 RAM, a Pentium III 1GHz processor, a combo CD-RW/DVD drive, a floppy drive, and a 64MB PCI GeForce2 MX400 card, and you're getting there. Throw in a 100GB, 7200-rpm hard drive, and you've got a pretty decent little computer, even for playing 3D games.
...was not far off from what I had in mind. Most reviews on the net focused on low-cost and lower-power setups. I wondered how such a system would fair with higher performance parts. I was all set to get an SV24 for my testing when I was snooping around some Japanese hardware websites and saw something even better than the SV24.

Soldam's Pandora S
Soldam, a subsidiary of Hoshino Metal Company, sells a line of custom cases in Japan. They cater to the do-it-yourself (DIY) crowd in Japan, and they've released many innovative cases. Soldam introduced the Pandora as part of their new line of compact machines in October/November, and I managed to purchase one in December.

Many people were calling the SV24 the cube for PC folks. Um, after seeing the Pandora, I expect you'll think differently. The Pandora barebones system is a true cube measuring at 225mm cubed. The aluminum case is well painted, and the front mask utilizes acrylic to give it a professional, stylish look. It's available in five different colors: Silver-Metallic, Black-Metallic, Grand Blue-Metallic, Grand Rouge-Metallic, and White-Pearl Mica. I went with Silver-Metallic since it matches my nice silver/glass desk at home.

Because of its shape, the Pandora can house two external 5.25" bays, one external 3.5" bay, and one internal 3.5" bay. Additionally, the cube shape makes the internals less cramped than the SV24 and allows for a larger heatsink/fan. The Pandora includes the same motherboard as the SV24, Shuttle's FV24, and thus offers the same I/O ports and specifications.

Here's a quick breakdown of the Pandora's specifications.

CPU support Socket 370-based processors
(Intel Pentium III, Celeron, VIA C3)
Form factor Flex ATX
Chipset VIA PL133 (VT8604 north bridge, VT82C686B south bridge)
Video Built-in S3 ProSavage AGP 4x (shared memory)
Interconnect PCI (133MB/s shared)
PCI slots 1 (none shared)
AGP slots None
AMR/CNR slots None
Memory 2 168-pin DIMM sockets for up to 1GB of PC100 or PC133 SDRAM
Storage I/O Floppy disk
2 channels ATA-100
Ports 1 PS/2 keyboard, 1 PS/2 mouse,
1 serial, 1 parallel, 4 USB, 2 IEEE 1394,
2 line out, 2 line in for AC97 audio,
1 game port, 1 DB15 VGA connector, 1 S-Video, 1 composite video, 1 RJ-45 Ethernet
BIOS Award 6.0
Bus speeds 66/100/124/133/140/150MHz
Monitoring Voltage, fan status, and temperature monitoring

Yes, I know. Nothing groundbreaking or jaw dropping. We all know that most "built-in" motherboards aren't cutting edge, and there's always something you sacrifice when moving to smaller form factors. At least there's an option for a user-selectable front-side bus speed.