IntroductionI've been in the middle of testing a quartet of Shuttle XPCs in recent weeks, and they've been representative of pretty much everything Shuttle has to offer the enthusiast or power user. Supporting Intel or AMD CPUs, sporting Intel, NVIDIA and ATI core logic, having PCI Express or AGP, and with the G5, P and i-series chassis designs, the four XPCs cover a broad spectrum of hardware support, internal expansion and aesthetic consideration.
Today's review focus, the ST20G5, was the most attractive of the lot for me personally. Pairing Socket 939 for AMD CPUs with the best looking chassis Shuttle have come up with to-date, along with PCI Express-based, embedded graphics core logic from ATI, makes, on-paper at least, almost my ideal XPC. What's not to like about core logic that not only provides a full, although hardly speedy, DirectX 9.0-compliant graphics core embedded into the northbridge, but which also lets you combine it with another PCI Express ATI graphics card for full support of up to three displays, all connected at once and all capable of accelerated 3D?
I'm not far away from adding a third LCD to my current dual-head setup on my personal PC, and to do so I'll have to faff around with a pair of graphics cards and since I have an nForce4 SLI mainboard, I'll likely look at SLI, despite having less time to game than I ever have. The ST20G5 forgoes all that faffing with native DVI output for the inbuilt core, which would leave me with the relatively simple task of finding a dual-DVI ATI graphics accelerator to drive the other two displays. The physical, heat and power savings to be made from the use of an on-board core are significant. I know I have a top of the line power supply in my system, but have you seen the power draw a pair of SLI graphics boards takes? My PC can power them, sure, but does my wallet fancy the hit?
That I could transplant my existing single hard disk (more on the disk ability of the XPC in a short while), Socket 939 CPU and DVD burner into the good looking box makes me all the more tempted to leave behind a mid-tower system and go back to a tiny PC for my full-time computing needs. And all this was milling around my head before I'd even opened the box it arrived in to take a proper look. Lust without even looking says a lot about Shuttle's latest Socket 939 design.
The G5 chassis might not be your cup of tea, you might not relish the thought of an ATI graphics card in your system (although that's not a requirement for running the XPC, it's highly recommended), you might be wary of ATI core logic and you might have an existing investment in Intel CPUs that you don't wish to give up to switch to an Athlon 64 or FX. But even if any or all of those things are true, you should join me in my look at the ST20G5, because at first glance, you'd be mad not to at least consider the XPC if you're in the market for tiny, powerful, feature rich computing.
The ST20G5 isn't without its issues, either, so let's take a closer look.