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Shuttle's XPC SN95G5 mini-barebones system

939 cubed

Manufacturer Shuttle
Model SN95G5
Price (street) $326
Availability Now

WITH CUBES for every processor package since Socket 370, it was only a matter of time before Shuttle whipped up an XPC for AMD's 939-pin Athlon 64 processors. Sure enough, Shuttle has released the XPC SN95G5 for Socket 939. The SN95G5 surrounds a motherboard based on NVIDIA's nForce3 Ultra chipset with a carefully massaged variation of Shuttle's venerable G-series chassis. Sounds like a recipe for XPC perfection, doesn't it?

Unfortunately, perfection is inherently fickle. And so are we. While the SN95G5 comes close to perfection—perhaps closer than any other XPC—a couple of unsightly blemishes taint the cube's otherwise considerable appeal. Join me as I explore what makes the SN95G5 so sweet, but also what ultimately leaves a bitter aftertaste.

The specs
As always, let's kick things off with a look at the SN95G5's spec sheet. Anyone who can spot the first chink in the cube's armor gets a gold star.

CPU support Socket 939-based Athlon 64 processors
Chipset NVIDIA nForce3 Ultra
North bridge NVIDIA nForce3 Ultra
South bridge NVIDIA nForce3 Ultra
Interconnect NA
Expansion slots 1 32-bit/33MHz
1 AGP 4X/8X (1.5V only)
Memory 2 184-pin DIMM sockets
Maximum of 2GB of DDR266/333/400 SDRAM
Storage I/O Floppy disk
2 channels ATA/133
2 channels Serial ATA 150 via nForce3 Ultra with RAID 0,1 support
Audio 6-channel audio via nForce3 Ultra integrated audio and ALC655 codec
Ports 1 PS/2 keyboard
1 PS/2 mouse
1 serial
USB 2.0 with headers for 2 more
2 Firewire via VT6307
1 RJ45 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet via Marvel 88E8001

1 analog front out
1 analog bass/center out
1 analog rear out
1 analog headphone out
1 analog mic in
1 analog line in
2 digital S/PDIF outputs (TOS-Link and Coaxial)
1 digital S/PDIF input (TOS-Link)
BIOS Phoenix AwardBIOS
Bus speeds CPU: 200-280MHz in 1MHz increments
AGP: 66-100MHz in 1MHz increments
Bus dividers CPU:HT: 1:1, 1:2, 1:3, 1:4, 1:5
Voltages CPU: 0.8-1.7V in 0.025V increments
DDR: auto, 2.7-2.9V in 0.1V increments
AGP: auto, 1.6-1.8V in 0.1V increments
Chipset: auto, 1.7-1.9V in 0.1V increments
Monitoring Voltage, fan status, and temperature monitoring
Fan speed control System and PSU

The SN95G5 packs NVIDIA's nForce3 Ultra chipset. Apart from a 1GHz HyperTransport link, the nForce3 Ultra offers an identical feature set to the nForce3 250Gb chipset we reviewed back in April. The nForce3 Ultra's more notable features include an AGP/PCI lock, Serial ATA RAID, an integrated Gigabit MAC, and hardware-optimized firewall software.

If only the SN95G5 actually took advantage of all those features. While it uses the SATA RAID and AGP/PCI lock, the cube bypasses the nForce3 Ultra's integrated GigE controller in favor of PCI-based Marvell Gigabit chip. The Marvell controller is slower than NVIDIA's integrated solution, and NVIDIA's firewall software requires the nForce3's GigE controller, so you don't get that either. I don't know why Shuttle is snubbing the nForce3 Ultra's GigE, but it's a bad move. They should know better.

Apart from the inexplicable Ethernet spec, the SN95G5 has everything you'll need, including plenty of USB ports, Firewire, and six-channel audio. Keep the audio fresh in your mind; I have a bone to pick with Shuttle on that front, too. More on that in a moment.

The most attractive XPC yet?