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Shuttle's SS50 Pentium 4 cube

Cube power

Manufacturer Shuttle
Model SS50
Price (street) $365
Availability Now

SHUTTLE'S FIRST cube computer, the SV24, arrived on the scene last fall, and it created a sensation. The SV24's compact form factor, wealth of built-in features, and potential expandability left our minds reeling over the possibilities. Sold as a "mini-barebones system," the SV24 could be outfitted with a processor, storage, and a single PCI card as its owner saw fit. We could build a home DVD player, or a purpose-built PC, a web-surfing terminal, or just a nice computer for grandma. Fully decked out with a 1GHz processor, the SV24 could become a fairly powerful little system.

Much as we liked the SV24, it wasn't without its faults. The form factor was, if anything, actually a little too small. The inevitable wave of SV24 copycats and competitors, like the Pandora S, offered more room for expansion and a much-improved vertical PCI slot configuration. And small as it was, the SV24 still sounded like a much bigger computer. The din of the SV24's exhaust fan was enough to lull an overworked tech writer to sleep at the keyboard.

The SV24's biggest drawback, however, was its outdated Socket 370 platform. See, truth be told, we like the cube-PC-as-second-computer thing, but some of us prefer the option of replacing our massive tower cases altogether. Maxed out, the SV24 could accommodate a 1.13GHz Pentium III processor with a 133MHz front-side bus and PC133 SDRAM. That's a recipe for a brand-new Apple or an outdated PC; we considered it a little pokey. An updated version of the FV24 motherboard added support for faster PIII "Tualatin" processors. Yawn.

We said when the SV24 arrived that Shuttle ought to "sell a bundle of these things." And perhaps they did, because Shuttle is already launching a pair of powerful successors to the SV24. These new cubes address most of our complaints about Shuttle's original cube systems. The system we're reviewing today will support Pentium 4 processors as fast as 2.4GHz, and an Athlon version is reportedly on the way. Depending on your needs, this cube might just—maybe, possibly—be able to replace your desktop system altogether. To that end, we've benchmarked this thing to see what happens. Can a cube fulfill a PC freak's desire for both high style and high performance? We'll find out.

The new cube
Shuttle's SS50 is significantly more advanced than the SV24 in a number of ways, but before we get into that, I'm sure you'll want to get a look at the SS50. As you can see below, the new cube is just a little bit larger than its predecessor.

The Shuttle SV24, left, is just a shade smaller than the SS50, right

The SV24, left, has only one horizontal PCI slot,
while the SS50, right, has two vertical ones

Obviously, Shuttle hasn't strayed from the original mini-barebones system concept. The SS50 is larger than the SV24, but you'd only notice the extra size when comparing the two systems side by side. The most obvious changes are the number and orientation of the PCI slots: the SS50 packs two vertical PCI slots that rise directly off the motherboard, eliminating the need for a PCI riser card. Shuttle has also equipped the SS50 with an additional IEEE 1394 (Firewire) port up front and a third mini-DIN audio port for six-channel surround sound.

No, I'm not kidding about the surround sound. It's for real. But I'm just getting started on the specs.