Shuttle’s XPC SB77G5 mini-barebones system

Manufacturer Shuttle
Model SB77G5
Price (street) $310
Availability Soon
YEARS AGO, Shuttle started the small form factor craze with the SV24. At the time, small form factor systems were definitely niche products, but over time, thoughtful refinement and innovation have given cubes widespread appeal. Shuttle’s latest creation, the SB77G5, is a testament to how far the company and small form factor market have come since the SV24. The SB77G5 unapologetically caters to the needs of overclocking enthusiasts with small form factor fetishes, sometimes at the expense of more mainstream appeal.

With a deep lineup of well over three dozen cubes and demand for its XPC systems on the rise, Shuttle can afford to cater to niches within the small form factor market. Overclocking enthusiasts aren’t easy to please, though. Read on to see if the SB77G5 measures up to our notoriously high expectations.


The XPC SB77G5

The specs
As always, let’s kick things off with a look at the cube’s spec sheet. The first thing you’ll notice is that the SB77G5 has an LGA775 socket for Pentium 4 processors. If you are a card-carrying AMD fan, you might want to check out our review of the Socket 939 SN95G5.

CPU support LGA775 Intel Pentium 4 processors with 800MHz front-side bus
Chipset Intel 875P
North bridge Intel 875P MCH
South bridge Intel ICH5R
Interconnect Intel Accelerated Hub (266MB/sec)
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 ICH5R with RAID 0,1 support
Audio 6-channel audio via ICH5R integrated audio and ALC658 codec
Ports 1 PS/2 keyboard
1 PS/2 mouse
1 serial
4
USB 2.0 with headers for 2 more
2 Firewire via VT6307
1 RJ45 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet via Broadcom BCM5788

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: 100-355MHz in 1MHz increments
Bus dividers AGP/PCI/SATA: locked 66/33/100, 73/36/100, 80/40/100
Voltages CPU: 0.8250-1.5875V in 0.125V increments
DDR: 2.7-2.9V in 0.1V increments
AGP: 1.6-1.8V in 0.1V increments
Monitoring Voltage, fan status, and temperature monitoring
Fan speed control System

Apart from the odd pairing of an LGA775 socket and an 875P “Canterwood” chipset, the SB775G5’s spec sheet is largely devoid of surprises. This cube’s PCI-bound Gigabit Ethernet chip, Realtek audio codec, and VIA Firewire solution are common in both cubes and motherboards alike. Were the SB775G5 a full-sized ATX board, I might get a little worried about PCI-bound GigE and Firewire chips sharing limited PCI bus bandwidth with other devices. However, since the SB775G5 has only one PCI slot, bandwidth sharing shouldn’t be a major issue.

Although I don’t have any issues with the SB775G5’s spec sheet, I should point out the significant differences between the older 875P chipset and Intel’s latest 900-series core logic. First and foremost, the 900-series chipsets support PCI Express. The 875P doesn’t, which is why you’ll find an AGP slot in SB775G5. Given the impressive performance of NVIDIA’s recently released GeForce 6600 GT AGP and the wide range of Radeon X800 and GeForce 6800-series cards available for AGP, the lack of a PCI Express x16 graphics slot shouldn’t hinder this XPC too much. AGP cards based on next-gen graphics may be rare a year from now, though.

In addition to its lack of PCI Express support, the 875P can’t match Intel’s newer chipsets when it comes to support for Native Command Queuing (NCQ), Matrix RAID, and High Definition Audio. I haven’t been overly impressed with the playback quality of Intel High Definition Audio implementations, so that’s not a big loss for me. However, NCQ and Matrix RAID will be missed, in particular because Serial ATA hard drives with NCQ support are now readily available on the market. You can read more about NCQ, Matrix RAID, and Intel’s High Definition Audio standard in our 900-series chipset review.

That covers the highlights of the SB775G5’s specs, which means it’s now time for a photo-tour of the cube’s chassis and internals. If you’ve been keeping up with our cube reviews, you’ll notice that the SB775G5’s slick “G5” chassis is identical to that of the SN95G5.

Outside the box

It’s taken them a while, but Shuttle finally has drive bay and port stealthing all figured out. With the drive bay and port doors closed, the SB775G5’s clean, stylish appearance make it one of the most visually appealing cubes in Shuttle’s stable.

Dropping two of the cube’s front-panel doors exposes an empty 3.5″ drive bay and a handful of audio, Firewire, and USB ports. If you simply must have a floppy drive in your system, the SB775G5 can accommodate it.

The SB775G5 also has a spring-loaded 5.25″ drive bay cover that smoothly swings open and closed with a system’s optical drive tray. Slot-loading optical drives won’t work with the door, though.

Perhaps the slickest part of the SB775G5’s optical drive bay door its external eject button. The button’s internal trigger lines up perfectly with all the optical drives I have on hand. For those who prefer to close optical drives by hitting the eject button rather than pushing the drive tray, the button is easy to reach regardless of whether the drive bay door is open or closed.

From the rear, the SB775G5 looks much like any other XPC. The port cluster is loaded with goodies, including digital S/PDIF input and output ports. Shuttle also sneaks a convenient CMOS reset button into the port cluster, which will save users from having to crack open the case just to clear the BIOS.

While we’re viewing out the SB775G5 from behind, I should say a few words about the cube’s power supply. The PSU is a 250W unit that has no problem handling graphics cards like the GeForce 6800 GT, at least when paired with a Pentium 4 520 2.8GHz. While it’s nice to have a 250W PSU in a cube like the SB775G5, I’m not crazy about the power supply’s tiny exhaust fan. While these tiny power supply fans tend to start off silent, in my experience, they can develop a high-pitched whine over several months of consistent use. The PSUs in some of Shuttle’s other cubes use a larger internal fan that seems to maintain lower noise levels over time.

Opening ‘er up

Removing the SB775G5’s outer shell reveals a packed interior, but it’s easy to open things up by removing the cube’s drive cage.

As you can see, it’s much easier to work on the SB775G5 with the drive cage removed. Like most cubes, the SB775G5’s AGP slot is located on the outside edge of the system, making it incompatible with double-wide graphics cards like the GeForce 6800 Ultra without extensive modification. Let’s pull out the motherboard for a closer look at the layout.

The cube’s FB77 motherboard is pretty packed, but that’s to be expected considering the form factor. Given the SB775G5’s carefully routed internal cabling, motherboard layout isn’t a huge concern. I do like seeing a large passive heat sink on the north bridge chip, though. Passive north bridge cooling is not only quieter than active cooling, it’s also immune to fan failure. Shuttle also gets extra credit for equipping the board’s VRMs with beefy passive heat sinks, which are pictured below.

One thing that immediately jumps out about the SB775G5’s FB77 motherboard is its lack of a heat sink retention bracket. Shuttle uses a Pentium 4-style bracket on nearly every one of its recent cubes, but with the SB775G5, they’re doing something a little different.

Rather than relying on Shuttle’s previously excellent heat sink retention clip, the SB775G5’s updated ICE cooler screws directly into the motherboard. The screws aren’t quite as convenient as the old clip, but they only add a few seconds to the heat sink removal or installation process. Best of all, the screws are just the right length, so it’s next to impossible to over-tighten them.

Other than its new screw-on design, the SB775G5’s ICE cooler is similar to previous models. The cooler still has a smooth copper base, four heat pipes, and a massive array of cooling fins. A rear-mounted 92mm can keeps the fins cool, and thanks to handy rubber spacers, vibration-induced rattling is kept to a minimum.

The BIOS
So the form factor and motherboard are slick, but what about the BIOS?

It measures up, too. When it comes to memory and AGP tweaking, the SB77G5’s BIOS has just about everything you’ll need.

The BIOS’s overclocking options are perhaps more impressive, though. In addition to supporting front-side bus speeds up to 355MHz, the SB77G5 also serves up three locked AGP/PCI/SATA bus ratios that should keep system components in spec when the front-side bus is running far beyond stock. Cubes generally aren’t known for extreme overclocking, and considering a relatively low 1.5875V CPU voltage ceiling, the SB77G5 probably won’t break any overclocking records. Still, it’s well-equipped for the kind of overclocking most enthusiasts would consider reasonable for a system this size.

Like all of Shuttle’s recent cubes, the SB77G5’s BIOS can adjust the system’s ICE fan based on processor temperatures. Users have two options here. They can either choose from a series of pre-defined profiles that oscillate between high and low fan speeds depending on the CPU temperature, or opt for linear fan speed control that starts to ramp up RPMs based on a user-defined CPU temperature threshold.

Linear fan speed control tends to be quieter, at least for systems that are under variable loads, so that’s what I’d recommend for the SB77G5. With linear fan speed control, you don’t need to worry about the cube annoyingly oscillating between high and low fan speeds as it flirts with the pre-defined temperature threshold, either. Despite its plentiful overclocking and fan speed control options, the SB77G5’s lack of a fan failure alarm or shutdown condition makes me a little wary. The cube is completely dependent on its single exhaust fan for cooling, and although the Pentium 4 will throttle if processor core temperatures get too hot, I’m not sure processor throttling alone would prevent other system components from overheating in such a cramped case if the ICE fan were to fail.

Our testing methods
All tests were run three times, and their results were averaged, using the following test systems.

Processor Pentium 4 520 2.8GHz
Front-side bus 800MHz (200MHz quad-pumped)
Motherboard Shuttle FB77 Albatron PX915P-AGPe Abit AG8 DFI LANParty UT 915P-T12 DFI LANParty 925X-T2
Bios revision S00B 15GP108 Version 15 915LD818 925LD920
North bridge Intel 875P MCH Intel 915P MCH Intel 925X MCH
South bridge Intel ICH5R Intel ICH6 Intel ICH6R
Chipset drivers Intel 6.0.1.1002
Memory size 1GB (2 DIMMs)
Memory type OCZ PC3200 EL Platinum Rev 2 DDR SDRAM at 400MHz Micron DDR2 SDRAM at 533MHz
CAS latency 2 3
Cycle time 5 8
RAS to CAS delay 2 3
RAS precharge 2 3
Hard drives Western Digital Raptor WD360GD 37GB SATA
Maxtor DiamondMax Plus D740X 40GB ATA/133
Audio codec AALC658 ALC880 ALC658 ALC880
Graphics ATI Radeon X600 XT ATI Radeon X600 XT
Graphics driver CATALYST 4.9
OS Windows XP Professional Service Pack 2 with DirectX 9.0C

Today we’ll be looking at how the SB77G5’s performance stacks up against a number of LGA775 ATX motherboards. Although it may seem unfair to pit the 875P-based cube against an array of boards based on Intel’s latest 900-series chipsets, all the platforms share a common LGA775 socket.

Note that the SB77G5 system used an AGP Radeon 9600 XT graphics card while the other systems used a PCI Express Radeon X600 XT. The X600 XT is essentially a PCI Express version of the 9600 XT, so the two are generally comparable. However, the X600 XT enjoys a 140MHz memory clock speed edge over the 9600 XT, which will put the SB77G5 at a slight disadvantage in our gaming and 3D graphics tests.

Thanks to OCZ for providing us with memory for our testing. If you’re looking to tweak out your system to the max and maybe overclock it a little, OCZ’s RAM is definitely worth considering.

We used the following versions of our test applications:

The test systems’ Windows desktop was set at 1280×1024 in 32-bit color at a 75Hz screen refresh rate. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests. Most of the 3D gaming tests used the Medium detail image quality settings, with the exception that the resolution was set to 640×480 in 32-bit color.

All the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.

Memory performance

The 875P may be an older chipset, but it’s fast enough to keep the SB77G5’s memory bandwidth and latency competitive with motherboards based on Intel’s latest 900-series platform. Not bad for a north bridge chip that’s over a year and a half old, especially considering it has the highest Cachemem read bandwidth and lowest latency of the lot.

Office productivity

The SB77G5 continues to perform strongly in the Winstone tests, taking top honors in both.

Gaming

The SB77G5 system’s 140MHz graphics memory clock speed disadvantage rears its ugly head in our gaming tests, but at low resolutions, it doesn’t have a huge impact on performance.

Cinebench rendering

The SB77G5 bounces back in Cinebench, sweeping the field. The cube’s margin of victory is especially striking in the OpenGL hardware shading test, where it has a commanding lead over the competition. PCI Express graphics may still have a bit of maturing to do.

Sphinx speech recognition

Although its margin of victory is razor thin, the SB77G5 comes out on top in Sphinx.

Audio performance

The SB77G5’s on-board audio CPU utilization isn’t any better or worse than the competition’s.

Audio quality
For RightMark’s audio quality tests, I used a Terratec DMX 6fire 24/96 for recording. Analog output ports were used on all systems. To keep things simple, I’ve translated RightMark’s word-based quality scale to numbers. Higher scores reflect better audio quality, and the scale tops out at 6, which corresponds to an “Excellent” rating in RightMark.

While the SB77G5 boasts better dynamic range, at least in RightMark Audio Analyzer, than the competitors we’ve assembled, it’s doesn’t sound any better in casual listening tests.

ATA performance
ATA performance was tested with a Maxtor 740X-6L ATA/133 hard drive using HD Tach 3.01’s 8MB zone setting.

The SB77G5’s ATA performance is surprisingly comparable to that of Intel’s newest south bridge chips.

Serial ATA performance
Moving to Serial ATA, we tested performance with a Western Digital Raptor WD360GD SATA hard drive. Again, we used HD Tach 3.01’s 8MB zone test.

With our 10K-RPM Raptor, the SB77G5’s Serial ATA performance trails the competition by only the slimmest of margins.

USB performance
Our USB transfer speed tests were conducted with a USB 2.0/Firewire external hard drive enclosure connected to a 7200RPM Maxtor 740X-6L hard drive. We tested with HD Tach 3.01’s 8MB zone setting.

When it comes to USB read speeds and CPU utilization, the SB77G5 shows a little weakness.

Firewire performance
Our Firewire transfer speed tests were conducted with the same external enclosure and hard drive as our USB transfer speed tests.

The cube’s Firewire performance is generally good.

Ethernet performance
We evaluated Ethernet performance using the NTttcp tool from the Microsoft’s Windows DDK. The docs say this program “provides the customer with a multi-threaded, asynchronous performance benchmark for measuring achievable data transfer rate”.

We used the following command line options on the server machine:

ntttcps -m 4,0,192.168.1.25 -a

..and the same basic thing on each of our test systems acting as clients:

ntttcpr -m 4,0,192.168.1.25 -a

Our server was a Windows XP Pro system based on Chaintech’s Zenith 9CJS motherboard with a Pentium 4 2.4GHz (800MHz front-side bus, Hyper-Threading enabled) and CSA-attached Gigabit Ethernet. A crossover CAT6 cable was used to connect the server to each system.

The SB77G5’s Gigabit Ethernet throughput is consistent with other PCI-bound implementations. Had Shuttle tapped the 875P chipset’s CSA interface, which gives Gigabit Ethernet chips dedicated bandwidth via a direct link to the north bridge, the SB77G5 might have fared better in our Ethernet tests. Update 6/13/2005 — We recently discovered that the ntttcp CPU utilization results included in this review were incorrect. The CPU utilization results have been removed, but they didn’t factor prominently into our overall conclusion, so that remains unchanged. A full explanation can be found here.

Overclocking
For our overclocking tests, I swapped our OCZ PC3200 2-2-2-5 memory out of the SB77G5 in favor of some of the OCZ’s PC4400 sticks, which are rated for 2.5-4-4-8 timings at 550MHz. These DIMMs nicely remove memory speed as a possible overclocking bottleneck. The PC4400 sticks carry higher latencies that could hinder performance at stock speeds, though. I’ve provided scores for the SB77G5 system running at stock speeds with 2-2-2-5 timings, at stock speeds with 2.5-4-4-8 timings, and at overclocked speeds with 2.5-4-4-8 timings.

In testing, I was able to get the SB77G5 stable with front-side bus speeds up to 255MHz, which brings my Pentium 4 520 2.8GHz up to 3.57GHz. Not bad for a little cube. The SB77G5’s 255MHz front-side bus overclock matches the fastest front-side bus speeds I’ve been able to squeeze out of desktop ATX boards with this processor, which certainly bodes well for the cube’s overclocking potential. However, overclocking success is no sure thing.

An extra 800MHz more than makes up for the overclocked system’s higher memory latencies in Sphinx, but scores are potentially limited by our Radeon 9600 XT graphics card in DOOM 3. For a more in-depth look at how the Pentium 4 520 performs at 3.57GHz, see our Pentium 4 overclocking article.

Conclusions
Although the SB77G5’s sleek, refined chassis and relatively inexpensive $310 price tag have universal appeal, the rest of the cube seems to be deliberately targeted at a small subset of the cube market: Pentium 4 overclockers with AGP graphics cards. Based on the results of our testing, it’s safe to say that Intel fanboys looking to crank up the front-side bus on an LGA775 Pentium 4 processor will be well-served by the SB77G5, which isn’t encumbered by the anti-overclocking measures that Intel has built into its 900-series chipsets.

Unfortunately, the SB77G5’s focus on Pentium 4 overclocking makes it considerably less attractive for other applications. The SB77G5 relies on the 875P chipset’s overclocking-friendly nature, but at stock speeds, is ultimately hampered by the chipset’s lack of next-gen features, including PCI Express, matrix RAID, Native Command Queuing, and High Definition Audio. All those features can be found on Intel’s 900-series chipsets, which are featured in a number of other Shuttle cubes, including the swanky XPC SB81P.

Those familiar with the Pentium 4’s generally excellent video encoding performance might be tempted to consider the SB77G5 for home theater applications. Given the wide availability of AGP graphics cards with on-board TV tuners, the SB775G5 seems like a perfect candidate. However, I’d be wary about putting the SB77G5 in a living room. With a Pentium 4 520 2.8GHz processor inside, the SB77G5 runs noticeably louder than an SN95G5 equipped with an Athlon 64 3500+. The cubes share the same chassis and general cooling configuration, but Prescott requires more aggressive cooling, making the SB77G5 less appropriate where silence is paramount. Really, the SN95G5 is a much more solid all-around offering, and it’s currently selling for only $2 more than the SB77G5.

The fact that Shuttle has such a niche product definitely shows how deep the company’s small form factor lineup has become. In addition to the SB775G5, Shuttle offers three LGA775 cubes based on Intel’s 900-series chipsets, a staggering array of Socket 478 systems, and plenty of selection if you’d prefer an Athlon. There’s a little something for everyone, and for Pentium 4 overclockers looking for a pint-sized platform, the SB77G5 fits the bill.

Comments closed
    • BooTs
    • 16 years ago

    oops.
    delete this.

    • zurich
    • 16 years ago

    Ahanix still rules the roost when it comes to HTPC cases.. now if only shuttle could mirror their design, but with their own XPC functionality….

    • BeowulfSchaeffer
    • 16 years ago

    If they made a Digimatrix like SFF in black that would run a XP-Mobile or 90nm 939, with a built in AM/FM tuner I could plug into my Onkyo amp, I would buy it.

    • axeman
    • 16 years ago

    *yawn* Welcome to xpcreview.com

      • indeego
      • 16 years ago

      When the others catch up in build quality I’m sure we’ll see them on hereg{<.<}g

        • TO11MTM
        • 16 years ago

        Indeed. I’ve yet to see a SFF That has as good a balance between Size, Expandability, reliability, and overall looks as the Shuttle setups. We have tried a few different ones at work, but really have had the best experiences with the shuttles. Hence why I’m running an SB61G2 now, and am quite happy with it.

          • continuum
          • 16 years ago

          Indeed…

          Now only if Shuttle can catch the more significant bugs in their chassis BEFORE mass producing them.

          Hot glue guns and stuff… uhhh… heh. I probably shouldn’t say more. That said it’s not too difficult to fix, but the process to find out there was an issue was a bit of a bitch.

    • MacGuffin
    • 16 years ago

    Dang, posted incorrectly…

    • Thresher
    • 16 years ago

    The shoebox SFF is the wrong form factor for an HTPC. When are the manufacturers going to get this? It might work fine as a portable PC, but as an HTPC, it’s just plain wrong.

    I would buy an SFF if it were the size and shape of a modest home theater receiver. The cases are out there, but none of them are set up as barebones units, they are all DIY. The cases from Ahanix and Silverstone would be perfect for this sort of thing and I think Shuttle would absolutely own this market if they chose to get involved.

    The last thing I want in my audio rack is this shoebox sized thing that doesn’t fit with the rest of my components and is not rack mountable. While Shuttle has done an excellent job with the aesthetics and making it “wife” compatible, it’s still a big box that doesn’t fit in with the rest of the Home Theater equipment.

      • TO11MTM
      • 16 years ago

      ASUS Makes a SFF that looks frighteningly like a piece of home audio equiptment. I think it’s called the Digimatrix.

      • DemonicAngel
      • 16 years ago

      Not everyone who wants an SFF wants it specifically for home theater applications, myself included – my next system will be based around Shuttle’s SN95 Athlon 64 cube because I want a reasonably powerful system without the unnecessary bulk of a tower case.

      As the other guy says, though, the Digimatrix would be perfect for HTPC applications – §[<http://uk.asus.com/products/desktop/digimatrix/overview.htm<]§

      • indeego
      • 16 years ago

      q[

    • Decelerate
    • 16 years ago

    Dang, what I want to know is when they’re releasing NF4/X200-based XPCs. Although I’m not denying that I also would be interested in the performances of a Pentium M solution and how it would fare against the A64 ones.

    NF4 on a P chassis… where art thou? *sigh*

    [rant]
    What a cookie world we live in; either it’s an outrageous dominance and they release whenever they want to with on-launch announcements and answers to _[

    • MacGuffin
    • 16 years ago

    Yes, a Pentium M setup is the Holy Grail of SFF right now. I also wonder why manufacturers even bother offering Vcore adjustments down to 0.82 volts; why not just say “we offer default Vcore to whatever” and be done with it?

      • flip-mode
      • 16 years ago

      Some people like to underclock for cooler temps when they’re not doing the demanding stuff. And low volts are especially useful for Axp systems in which you can put a mobile.

      Besides, more voltage range in any direction couldn’t possibly be a bad thing.

        • MacGuffin
        • 16 years ago

        I can understand undervolting/underclocking a tad, but down to .082 volts? rofl

    • UberGerbil
    • 16 years ago

    If Shuttle is going to do niche Intel boxes, how about a Pentium M SFF? *[

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