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Shuttle's XPC SB86i mini-barebones system

BTX gets cubed

Manufacturer Shuttle
Model SB86i
Availability Soon

SHUTTLE HAS PUSHED the limits of small form factor design more than any other manufacturer, and they should. After all, they virtually invented the genre. Shuttle's pursuit of cubed perfection has led it to adopt new core logic chipsets and CPU sockets aggressively. The company has also put considerable effort into chassis design, continually refining, massaging, and tweaking its cube form factor with each new XPC model. Every once in a while, they come up with a completely new chassis, too.

Shuttle's latest chassis is the i-Series, which makes its debut with the SB86i. The i-Series is Shuttle's first new chassis in more than six months, and in many ways, it's a big departure from XPCs of old. Based on Intel's Balanced Technology eXtended (BTX) form factor, the SB86i could usher in a new standard in small form factor layout and cooling. And, of course, style. Can Shuttle make BTX work in a cube? Read on to find out.

Behold the SB86i's striking new chassis

The specs
As always, let's kick things off with a quick peek at the SB86i's spec sheet.

CPU support LGA775 Intel Pentium 4 processors with 800/533MHz front-side bus
Chipset Intel 915G
North bridge Intel 915G
South bridge Intel ICH6R
Interconnect DMI (2GB/s)
Expansion slots 1 PCI Express X16
1 32-bit/33MHz PCI
Memory 2 184-pin DIMM sockets
Maximum of 4GB of DDR333/400 SDRAM
Storage I/O Floppy disk
1 channels ATA/100
4 ports Serial ATA 150 via ICH6R south bridge with RAID 0, 1, 0+1, and Matrix RAID support
Audio 8-channel audio via ICH6R integrated audio and ALC880 codec
Ports 1 PS/2 keyboard
1 PS/2 mouse
1 serial
4 USB 2.0
2 Firewire via VT6307
1 RJ45 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet via Marvell 88E8053

1 analog front out
1 analog bass/center out
1 analog surround out
1 analog rear out
1 analog headphone out
1 analog line in
1 analog headphone out (front)
1 analog mic in (front)
2 digital S/PDIF outputs (front, TOS-Link and RCA)
1 digital S/PDIF input (TOS-Link)
Bus speeds CPU: 100-355MHz in 1MHz increments
DRAM: auto, 333, 400, 533MHz
Bus dividers None
Voltages CPU: 0.8250-1.45V in 0.0025V increments
DDR: auto, 2.7-2.9V in 0.1V increments
AGP: auto, 1.6-1.8V in 0.1V increments
Monitoring Voltage, fan status, and temperature monitoring
Fan speed control CPU and system

The SB86i comes with an LGA775 socket and an Intel 915G chipset, giving it support for the latest Pentium 4 processors and DirectX 9-class integrated graphics. Of course, DX9 graphics support and acceptable performance in DX9 applications can be two very different things, so it's a good thing the SB86i also sports a PCI Express x16 slot for discrete graphics cards.

Shuttle augments the SB86i's PCI-E x16 slot with a plain old 32-bit/33MHz PCI slot. It's not a particularly forward-looking move, but considering the dearth of PCI-E x1 peripherals, it's a smart one.

At the south bridge, the 915G is paired with Intel's swanky ICH6R. The ICH6R packs all sorts of goodies, including support for Intel's tantalizing Matrix RAID, which combines the benefits of RAID 0 and 1 with only two drives. The ICH6R actually supports up to four Serial ATA devices; one more than the SB86i can accommodate. The ICH6R south bridge also supports Intel's new High Definition Audio standard. Shuttle pairs the ICH6R's integrated audio controller with Realtek's eight-channel ALC880 codec, a chip that may become as popular as the venerable ALC650. Fear the crab.

Intel's latest south bridge chips aren't equipped with Gigabit Ethernet, so Shuttle turns to a GigE chip from Marvell. The chip rides on a PCI Express x1 connection, so limited PCI bus bandwidth won't be an issue.