At some point, it occurred to me: these guys are bent on building a mini-PC empire.
Actually, that point was probably Computex this past year, when the Shuttle rep said to me: "We are bent on building a mini-PC empire" as he slammed his fist on a desk, scattering Shuttle trade-show schwag everywhere. Or something like that.
Anyhow, the latest building block in that empire is the fastest XPC we've seen yet, and it benefits from all the improvements Shuttle has brought to the XPC line. The SB51G is based in Intel's 845GE chipset, which is one of the fastest chipsets available for the Pentium 4, as we found in our recent review. The 845GE gives this new cube support for DDR333 memory and for Intel's soon-to-be-unleashed Hyper-Threading technology. Imagine cramming a pair of virtual CPUs into a PC the size of a toaster, and you're beginning to understand this thing's jaw-dropping potential.
So the question is: is this new XPC ready to challenge the Standard Beige Mini-Tower Case for supremacy in the enthusiast's heart? We stuffed a Radeon 9700, a half gig of Corsair memory, and a Pentium 4 2.8GHz in this box to see how it moved us. Keep reading to see what transpired.
The SB51G is based on Shuttle's FB51 motherboard. Remarkably, the microATX-sized FB51 packs in nearly all of the features of a full-fledged PC, plus it has a pair of expansion slots for added functionality. Here's the full rundown of specs:
|CPU support||Socket 478-based Pentium 4 CPUs with 400/533MHz front-side bus|
|Form factor||Flex ATX|
|Chipset||Intel 845GE (82845GE MCH, 82801DB ICH4)|
|Interconnect||Intel Accelerated Hub (266MB/s)|
|PCI slots||1 32-bit 33MHz|
|AGP slots||1 AGP 2.0 (AGP 1X, 2X, or 4X)|
|Memory||2 184-pin DIMM sockets for up to 2GB of PC1600, PC2100, or PC2700 DDR SDRAM|
|Storage I/O||Floppy disk
2 channels ATA/100
|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
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), 1 optical SPDIF in (rear) for Realtek ACL650 audio
|Bus speeds||100MHz-165MHz in 1MHz increments
(400-660MHz quad pumped)
|Monitoring||Voltage, fan status, and temperature monitoring|
Notice that the FB51 doesn't support some of the fancier new features out there, like AGP 8X or ATA/133 disk transfer modes. That's because its Intel 845GE chipset doesn't support these features. Honestly, though, don't expect to miss them. These newer standards promise more speed, but that speed is largely unused with current hardware and applications. You'll also notice that the SB51G has USB 2.0 courtesy of the 845GE chipset, and that particular brand of speed will more likely be useful in the near future.
Shuttle didn't use the 845GE's "south bridge" I/O chip for everything, though. I suppose doing so would have unnecessarily lowered the number of chips needed on the motherboard, making this thing way too easy to design. Instead, Shuttle used Realtek's inexpensive and popular Ethernet and audio controller chips for networking and sound. Realtek's 8100B provides passable 10/100 Ethernet capability, and the ACL650 pumps out sound on par with that hoary standard, the SoundBlaster Live!. I spent some time listening to the SB51G's audio on a decent pair of speakers, and it sounded no worse than most other PC audio solutions.
Beyond that, the SB51G's specs are mostly self-explanatory. Many of those features manifest themselves as ports at the rear of the PC, like so: