Home Shuttle’s Zen XPC ST62K small form factor system
Reviews

Shuttle’s Zen XPC ST62K small form factor system

Geoff Gasior Former Managing Editor Author expertise
Disclosure
Disclosure
In our content, we occasionally include affiliate links. Should you click on these links, we may earn a commission, though this incurs no additional cost to you. Your use of this website signifies your acceptance of our terms and conditions as well as our privacy policy.
Manufacturer Shuttle
Model ST62K
Price (Street) $320
Availability Soon
SHUTTLE HAS made some long strides its first SV24 barebones system, but the delightful little cubes have actually put on weight along the way. As enthusiasts and gamers demanded more robust power supplies and support for AGP graphics cards, Shuttle’s XPC cubes grew to accommodate those desires. However, not everyone needs a beefy power supply or the pixel-pushing prowess of a discrete graphics card.

For mainstream markets and applications that don’t require discrete AGP graphics, Shuttle has whipped up a smaller, quieter “Zen” XPC ST62K system. By stripping the cube of its AGP slot and using a passively-cooled external power supply, Shuttle manages to make the ST62K nearly 20% smaller than current XPC systems. And thanks to ATI’s Radeon 9100 IGP, the ST62K is still packing DirectX 8 graphics under the hood.

Is Shuttle’s Zen concept a viable alternative to AGP-equipped XPC systems? Read on to find out.

The specs
Let’s get things rolling with a peek at the ST62K’s spec sheet.

CPU support Socket 478-based Intel Pentium 4 processors
Form factor Flex ATX (Shuttle form factor)
Chipset ATI Radeon 9100 IGP
North bridge ATI RS300
South bridge ATI IXP 150
Interconnect Intel Accelerated Hub (266MB/sec)
PCI slots 1 32-bit/33MHz
AGP slots None
AMR/CNR slots None
Memory 2 184-pin DIMM sockets
Maximum of 2GB of DDR400/333/266 SDRAM
Storage I/O 2 channels ATA/100
Serial ATA None
RAID None
Legacy ports 1 PS/2 keyboard, 1 PS/2 mouse, and 1 Serial port
USB 4 USB 2.0 ports
Additional two USB 2.0 ports via internal header
Firewire 2 IEEE 1394 Firewire ports via VT6307 Firewire controller
Audio 6-channel audio via IXP 150 integrated audio and ALC650 codec
Rear-mounted analog front, rear, surround, and center outputs
Front-mounted line in and microphone inputs, and headphone output
Rear-mounted digital S/PDIF input and output ports (Tos-Link)
Video Integrated Radeon 9100 IGP
Ethernet 10/100 Fast Ethernet via Realtek RTL8100C
BIOS Phoenix AwardBIOS
Bus speeds FSB: Default + 1-15MHz in 1MHz increments
Bus dividers None
Voltages CPU: default, 0.8250-1.5875V in 0.025V increments
Monitoring Voltage, fan status, and temperature monitoring

Without an AGP slot, Serial ATA, or RAID capabilities, the ST62K’s spec sheet looks a little sparse. However, the Zen’s appeal has little to do with its paper specs. In fact, Apple fans may fall in love with the cube on sight.


Has Shuttle fallen under the influence of the RDF?

A cube for the rest of us—again
The ST62K’s pearlescent white face would look right at home in a “switch” commercial or perhaps a hospital ward. The white-on-aluminum look has worked for Apple, but honestly, the aesthetic is a little too clinical for my tastes.


Apple up front (but without any cracks)

Considering the effort Shuttle puts into the appearance of its XPC systems, it’s amazing the company hasn’t introduced a method for stealthing beige optical drives. White or silver optical drives shouldn’t look too out of place in the ST62K, but I can’t understand why Shuttle doesn’t just come up with a hinged or sliding door to camouflage the entire drive bay area.

Speaking of drive bays, the ST62K’s external 3.5″ bay is a bit of a mystery, too. The ST62K’s motherboard lacks a floppy connector of any kind, which makes me wonder why Shuttle bothered with an external 3.5″ bay at all. “G4″ XPC systems drop the external bay in favor of an integrated memory card reader, but for some reason Shuttle thought it best to leave the integrated card reader out of the ST62K. Given that a memory card reader is really the only thing I can see users putting in the external 3.5” drive, Shuttle really should have gone with an integrated reader rather than selling one as a $30 accessory.

The ST62K’s missing floppy port has implications beyond the external 3.5″ drive bay. Windows XP’s installation routine requires that third-party storage drivers be installed off a floppy disk. Third-party drivers aren’t required to install Windows XP on drives connected to the ST62K’s motherboard-mounted IDE ports, but users looking to run a PCI RAID or Serial ATA card may not be so lucky. There are workarounds, but this limitation may prove a little annoying.


All PC in the back

Around the back, the ST62K looks similar to Shuttle’s other XPC systems. Check out the port cluster:

In addition to a unique power connector, which I’ll get to in a minute, the ST62K has a pretty standard array of audio, video, and peripheral ports. The cluster also yields VGA and S-Video outputs, Firewire and USB ports, three analog audio jacks, an Ethernet port, and a digital S/PDIF output. The cube also has a digital S/PDIF input port, which Shuttle tucks away in the top rear corner of the box.

To save users from having to crack the case to reset the BIOS, the ST62K’s port cluster also includes a recessed “clear CMOS” button. The ST62K probably isn’t going to be the best platform for overclocking and heavy tweaking, but it’s nice to see a more convenient placement for the CMOS reset.

Around the front, an additional set of audio jacks and USB ports rounds out the ST62K’s port array.

Just a little bit smaller
Dropping the AGP slot and internal power supply allows Shuttle to make the ST62K a little smaller than previous XPC systems. Here’s the Zen posing with Shuttle’s most recent XPC system:


The ST62K next to Shuttle’s ST61G4

As you can see, the size difference isn’t that dramatic. The ST62K measures 7.5″ x 11″ x 6.6″, which works out to a total volume of 544.3 cubic inches, while the ST61G4 measures 8″ x 11.5″ x 7.1″ for a total volume of 655.5 cubic inches. Overall, the ST62K is 17% smaller than Shuttle’s current XPC systems; nothing to sneeze at, but hardly a revolution.

Cracking the case
Without an internal power supply, the ST62K’s internals are a little more spacious than other XPCs.


The view from above…


and from the side

A little more, but not much. Working in small form factor systems is always going to be tight, and the ST62K is no exception.

One thing that could make the ST62K easier to work with is a removable drive cage. Unfortunately, the system’s external drive bays are a part of the chassis and can’t really be removed.

Shuttle makes amends for the lack of a removable drive bay cage with a nifty hard drive enclosure that’s easy to pop out by loosening a single thumbscrew.

In another nice little touch, Shuttle neatly routes the ST62K’s internal cables along the ST62K’s frame. Shuttle’s solution isn’t quite as clean as routing cables inside the chassis itself, but it still does a good job of reducing clutter while ensuring that all cables are easily accessible.

Moving along, the ST62K’s FT62 motherboard is dominated by a standard Socket 478 heat sink retention bracket. The board is compatible with Socket 478 processors on a 400, 533, or 800MHz front-side bus, which gives users a wide range of chip choices between high-end Pentium 4s and low-end Celerons. The FT62’s manual states that processor support is limited to Northwood chips, so it’s unlikely that Intel’s upcoming Prescott Pentium 4 processors will be supported.

On the memory front, the ST62K’s two DIMM slots support a maximum of 2GB of DDR400 memory. The Radeon 9100 IGP’s dual-channel memory controller performs best with two DIMMs installed, though users can run a single memory stick if necessary.

Moving to storage, the ST62K’s has a couple of ATA/133 IDE ports, but no Serial ATA support. Thin, flexible Serial ATA cables are really ideal for small form factor systems, so it’s disappointing to see Serial ATA missing from the ST62K. However, since ATI doesn’t make a south bridge chip with integrated Serial ATA, Shuttle would have had to add a third-party SATA controller to the board to give users a Serial ATA option.

If users really want Serial ATA, they can populate the ST62K’s single PCI slot with a Serial ATA card. The ST62K’s PCI slot is also ready for a Wi-Fi card, a high-end sound card, or a TV capture card, but since there’s only one slot, users will have to pick and choose carefully.

Cold as ICE
Like the rest of Shuttle’s XPC line, the ST62K relies on the ICE cooler to keep processor temperatures in check.

The ICE heat sink’s copper base, multiple heat pipes, and multi-finned radiator make up what’s easily the most attractive PC component most users will probably never see.

Shuttle secures the ICE cooler to the FT62 with a slick little retention clip that’s easy to work with despite the ST62K’s cramped internals.

Shuttle uses an 80mm fan from Bi-Sonic to expel hot air from inside the system. The ICE fan is actually the ST62K’s only active cooling component, so it’s a good thing it’s nice and quiet. When running in Ultra-Quiet mode, the fan is barely audible at a few inches, let alone a few feet. Even when running silently, the fan moves enough air to keep a Pentium 4 2.4GHz cool after hours of crunching Folding@Home work units.

In an effort to further reduce noise, Shuttle uses rubber washers to dampen vibrations between the ICE cooler’s fan shroud and the ST62K’s chassis. The dampers don’t have a huge impact on noise levels, but they certainly can’t hurt, and I’d love to see Shuttle use them in a few other areas in the case. The ST62K’s hard drive cage might benefit from a little vibration damping, and the 5.25″ drive bay might not be a bad place for rubber washers, either.

External power
Part of the ST62K’s secret to being a little smaller and quieter than its competition is its use of an external power brick rather than an internal power supply.

The power brick is rated for 180W, which seems pretty pokey by today’s standards. However, given the ST62K’s support for only a limited number of peripherals, DIMMs, and internal drives, 180W may be enough. Keep in mind that the ST62K doesn’t have to worry about power-hungry AGP cards, either.

Though the passively-cooled power supply definitely makes the ST62K quieter than other XPC systems, we should consider the brick’s size before judging the ST62K smaller than its competitors. Measuring 4.6″ x 7″ x 2.25″, the brick is good for 72.5 cubic inches of volume, bumping up the ST62K’s total volume to 616.8 cubic inches. That’s still smaller than a standard XPC system, but not by much.

To be fair, the ST62K’s external power brick can easily be moved out of the way and tucked into a corner or under a desk where its footprint won’t be an issue. It still takes up space, just not on necessarily on a desk.

Chipping away
Shuttle keeps up the passive cooling theme with the ST62K’s north and south bridge chips, both of which sport passive heat sinks. Under those cooling fans lurks ATI’s RS300 and IXP150 north and south bridge chips.

The RS300’s integrated graphics core is based on ATI’s DirectX 8-class RV280 graphics chip, which is otherwise known as the chip behind the Radeon 9200 line of discrete graphics cards. Though RV280 has four pixel pipelines and a hardware vertex shader, the RS300’s graphics core is a two-pipe design, with one texture unit per pipe, whose vertex shader is emulated in software to save transistors. The RS300 does, however, retain the RV280’s hardware pixel shaders.

With its graphics core running at 300MHz and plenty of memory bandwidth thanks a dual-channel DDR400 memory controller, the RS300’s integrated graphics should be powerful enough for business users, home theater systems, and even casual gaming with older titles and lower resolutions. Technically, the RS300 should be compatible with Doom 3, but I wouldn’t expect performance to be better than a slideshow.

Gaming aside, it would be nice if the ST62K supported dual VGA outputs. The cube has single VGA and S-Video outputs, but no meaningful multimonitor support without a PCI graphics card. To make matters worse, the ST62K also won’t be compatible with ATI’s three-screen SURROUNDVIEW technology, which requires the Radeon 9100 IGP and a Radeon AGP graphics card.

Though its integrated graphics is certainly impressive, the Radeon 9100 IGP’s IXP 150 south bridge is decidedly lacking. For starters, the IXP 150 south bridge hooks into the RS300 with an A-Link interconnect that offers only 266MB/sec of bandwidth. Because the ST62K doesn’t support a large number of integrated peripherals, interconnect bandwidth probably won’t be a problem. However, the IXP 150 also lacks Serial ATA support and hardware-accelerated audio. The ST62K manages 5.1-channel audio output with a little help from Realtek’s ALC650 codec, and users with digital speakers or receivers can always bypass the codec completely and use the cube’s digital S/PDIF output.

The IXP 150’s USB support is at least up to date. The south bridge serves up six USB 2.0 ports, though users will only have access to four of those ports externally. The remaining two ports can be accessed via an internal header, which seems ripe for the integrated memory card reader Shuttle doesn’t include with the ST62K.

Shuttle bolsters the ST62K’s connectivity options with a couple of IEEE 1394 ports thanks to VIA’s VT6307 Firewire controller, which actually supports up to three Firewire ports. Shuttle doesn’t provide access to the VT6307’s third Firewire port on an internal board header of any kind, though for the cube, two Firewire ports will probably be enough.

Realtek’s RTL8100C Fast Ethernet controller rounds out the ST62K’s array of peripheral chips. The RTL8100C can’t do Gigabit, but given the ST62K’s target market, 100Mbps will probably be fast enough. Shuttle also offers an 802.11b Wireless option for its XPC systems, including the ST62K, but it’s a USB 1.1 device and hardly ideal for high-bandwidth wireless access.


ATI’s RS300 north bridge


… and IXP 150 south bridge


The omnipresent ALC650


Firewire from VIA


Ethernet by Realtek

The BIOS
The ST62K may not be the ideal platform for power-hungry enthusiasts, but that doesn’t mean some of us don’t want to tweak our home-theater PCs to achieve the best performance possible.

Most of the ST62K’s BIOS tweaking options are conveniently located on one page. Users can increase the front side bus by up to 15MHz above default in 1MHz increments and set the processor voltage between 0.8250 and 1.5875V in 0.025V increments, but that’s about it as far as overclocking features go. The BIOS lacks control over memory voltages and doesn’t have PCI or AGP dividers, either. Users can, however, manipulate the usual set of memory timings.

The ST62K’s BIOS also offers some control over the cube’s integrated video, including the frame buffer size. As slick as it is, the Radeon 9100 IGP’s integrated graphics can’t dynamically cannibalize system memory like Intel’s integrated Extreme Graphics, so users need to block off an appropriately-sized section of memory manually.

Like Shuttle’s other recent XPC systems, the ST62K’s BIOS gives users control over the cube’s ICE exhaust fan. Since the ICE fan is the ST62K’s only active cooling component, adjusting the fan speed can have an even greater impact on overall system noise than with other XPC systems, whose internal power supplies make their fair share of noise.

In total, the ST62K’s BIOS offers five different fan settings to balance noise levels with processor temperatures. During testing, I used the “Ultra Quiet” fan speed mode, which was all but inaudible above the noise generated by the system’s hard drive. XPC systems that use Shuttle’s internal power supplies are a little louder than the ST62K, especially as the power supply fans tend to develop a bit of a whine over time.

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

Zen XPC ST62K XPC ST61G4
Processor Intel Pentium 4 2.4C
Front-side bus 800MHz (4x200MHz)
Motherboard Shuttle FT62 Shuttle FB61
North bridge ATI RS300
South bridge ATI IXP 150
Chipset driver ATI 3.10
Memory size 512MB (2 DIMMs)
Memory type Corsair XMS3200 PC2700 DDR SDRAM @ 400MHz
Graphics Integrated ATI Radeon 9100 IGP
Graphics driver CATALYST 3.10
Storage

Maxtor 740X-6L 40GB 7200RPM ATA/133 hard drive
Western Digital Raptor WD360

Operating System Windows XP Professional
Service Pack 1 and DirectX 9.0b

Today we’ll be comparing the ST62K’s performance with another Radeon 9100 IGP-based cube, Shuttle’s ST61G4. For a more detailed look at how the 9100 IGP performs with an AGP card and against a wider range of Pentium 4 chipsets, see our ST61G4 review.

We used the following versions of our test applications:

The test systems’ Windows desktop was set at 1024×768 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 high 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 ST62K is just as fast as the ST61G4 when it comes to memory bandwidth and latency, which is to be expected.

Disk controller performance
Our disk controller performance tests use a Maxtor 740X-6L 7,200RPM hard drive for “parallel” ATA (PATA) and a Western Digital Raptor WD360GD 10,000RPM hard drive for Serial ATA (SATA). Because we use different drives for PATA and SATA, scores aren’t comparable between the two. PATA scores should only be compared with each other. The same goes for SATA scores.

With “parallel” ATA drives, the ST62K and ST61G4 are quite close. Surprisingly, the ST61G4’s support for Serial ATA drives doesn’t look so hot, so maybe the ST62K is better off without Serial ATA.

Business and Content Creation Winstone

The two Radeon 9100 IGP-based cubes are close in the Winstones, too.

Gaming

Throughout our gaming tests, the ST62K and ST61G4 are essentially tied. Despite having only two pixel pipelines to work with, the ST62K still manages over 30 frames per second in Unreal Tournament 2003 at 640×480, which isn’t too shabby for integrated video.

Cinebench rendering

As you might expect, the cubes are essentially tied in Cinebench.

Sphinx speech recognition

… And in Sphinx.

Audio performance

Despite using an identical codec chip, south bridge, and audio driver, the ST62K’s CPU utilization in RightMark’s DirectSound tests is slightly higher than the ST61G4. The cubes actually support pseudo-hardware acceleration thanks to Realtek’s Sensaura-powered drivers, but the latest drivers weren’t stable on either cube in RightMark’s hardware 3D audio tests.

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.

The ST62K and ST61G4 offer the same dynamic range scores, but the Zen’s frequency response is a little off the pace. In casual listening tests, the two sound quite similar, but their overall audio quality is only average when compared with some of the 24-bit consumer cards available on the market.

Peripheral speed
Our USB and Firewire transfer speed tests involve transferring a 1.07GB file to and from a USB 2.0/Firewire external hard drive enclosure. The hard drive enclosure is connected to a 7200RPM Maxtor 740X-6L hard drive.

For some reason, the ST61G4 refused to cooperate with one of our USB throughput tests, though I suspect its performance would have mirrored the ST62K. In our Firewire tests, the ST62K and ST61G4 are closely matched, with the Zen being just a little bit faster.

In NTttcp, the ST62K closely matches the performance of the Gigabit-equipped ST61G4. We used a 10/100 Fast Ethernet switch, which was likely the limiting throughput factor.

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
In testing, I was able to get my ST62K and Pentium 4 2.4GHz stable with a front-side bus speed of 205MHz. A 5MHz overclock isn’t that impressive on paper, and it doesn’t offer much in the way of additional performance:

Of course, this is overclocking, so your mileage may vary.

Conclusions

For mainstream and business markets that don’t necessarily need the power of AGP graphics, the ST62K’s tiny footprint and quiet operation are appealing. A nearly silent cooling fan also makes the ST62K perfect for small form factor home-theater PCs, where the cube’s integrated Radeon 9100 IGP graphics are more than adequate for TV output. Heck, the integrated graphics is even good enough for a little light gaming, provided you stick to low resolutions and don’t have delusions of running Doom 3 at anything approaching a playable frame rate.

Despite being well-equipped to take on just about anything that doesn’t require an AGP graphics card, the ST62K’s otherwise glistening finish is marred by a few nagging flaws. For starters, I’d love to see Shuttle incorporate a drive bay cover to camouflage the cube’s optical drive. It’s a cosmetic touch, but one that would save the ST62K’s otherwise consistent aesthetic from being blemished.

The ST62K’s external 3.5″ drive bay presents a more serious problem that goes beyond superficial appeal. Since the ST62K’s motherboard lacks a floppy connector, the 3.5″ drive bay stands out as largely unnecessary unless users are planning to add a 3.5″ media card reader, which Shuttle’s online XPC accessory store sells for $30. This media card reader conveniently plugs into the ST62K’s internal USB header, which makes me wonder why Shuttle didn’t bundle the media card reader with the ST62K in the first place. Shuttle currently integrates a memory card reader into its “G4” line of XPC cubes, but it appears the company wants consumers to pay extra to get a media card reader into the Zen.

This fact really starts to sting when you look at the ST62K’s MSRP, which sits at $320—only $40 less than the street price of Shuttle’s ST61G4, which sports not only a media card reader, but also an AGP slot and a 250W power supply. However, Shuttle does expect the ST62K’s price to dip below $300 when the cube finally hits the street, which seems more reasonable given the cube’s limited feature set.

Overall, Shuttle’s Zen concept is a fine idea. The ST62K certainly has enough horsepower for most mainstream and business applications, and Shuttle is to be applauded for thinking outside the box (literally) to make the cube smaller and quieter than previous XPC systems, even if it does sort of look like a Mac. Eat your heart out, Steve.

The Tech Report - Editorial ProcessOur Editorial Process

The Tech Report editorial policy is centered on providing helpful, accurate content that offers real value to our readers. We only work with experienced writers who have specific knowledge in the topics they cover, including latest developments in technology, online privacy, cryptocurrencies, software, and more. Our editorial policy ensures that each topic is researched and curated by our in-house editors. We maintain rigorous journalistic standards, and every article is 100% written by real authors.

Geoff Gasior Former Managing Editor

Geoff Gasior Former Managing Editor

Geoff Gasior, a seasoned tech marketing expert with over 20 years of experience, specializes in crafting engaging narratives that connect people with technology. At Tech Report, he excelled in editorial management, covering all aspects of computer hardware and software and much more.

Gasior's deep expertise in this field allows him to effectively communicate complex concepts to a wide range of audiences, making technology accessible and engaging for everyone