Small form factor (SFF) PCs are becoming ever more popular. This is partly for reasons of size – after all, why have a huge beige tower when you only really need a small black oblong – but also for portability, so that people can carry their PCs to friends’ houses or LAN parties without too much trouble. You might think that a laptop would be more appropriate, but SFF PCs have the advantage that they can be easily upgraded and they’re also cheaper, at least in terms of processor power.
German manufacturer Shuttle has been producing SFF PCs for several years. The latest in the range is this XPC System P 8100G, based around a 3.4GHz Intel Pentium 4 (Prescott) processor with a gigabyte of fast DDR400 memory. This is supported by an ample 250GB Serial ATA Western Digital hard drive, with a spin speed of 7,200rpm. You’ll fit plenty of MP3s, games and movies on that.
For archiving and backup, there’s a 16-speed, dual-layer, Lite-On DVD writer hidden behind a drop-down panel in the front. This arrangement makes it a little tricky to insert and remove discs, but it’s not too fiddly. A flash memory card reader (CompactFlash, SmartMedia, etc.) is fitted above this drive. The only other item of note inside the case is a PCI-Express graphics card based around the 256MB ATI X600 Pro; not quite top of the range, but certainly fast enough for most gamers.
All of this is crammed into a fairly small space, but the insides of the box are nevertheless quite tidy. You wouldn’t want to try to fit much more inside there (and with only one free slot you’re not going to get the chance), but the unit appears to have been carefully and thoughtfully assembled.
Around the back you’ll find a composite output and VGA output for the motherboard-mounted graphics adapter (which is disabled in favour of the ATI card), two USB 2.0 ports, the usual audio sockets, a legacy serial port, plus a little reset switch for clearing the CMOS if you get the values so badly wrong that the machine won’t even boot. Yes, we’ve all been there. There’s also a Gigabit Ethernet adapter and FireWire controller.
One problem with such a small PC is getting enough cooling airflow to the components that need it. To help with this, there are four fans in this PC, including the one in the power supply, plus a fifth on the graphics card. As a result, the Shuttle XPC System P 8100G is quite noisy when it first turns on, sounding like a hair dryer. It calms down a bit after a few seconds, but it’s still not exactly quiet. That’s the price you pay for its compact size.
Windows XP Pro is pre-installed, along with Nero Express, Cyberlink PowerDVD and nothing else of note. Shuttle supports the XPC System P 8100G with a two-years on-site warranty.
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