This year in spring we reviewed the first Shuttle barebone in the new G4 PC case – XPC SN85G4. This PC case is certainly interesting and it will find its audience. Today we are presenting another product from this company, which also uses this PC case but with modified cooling and power supply systems. However, even if the other parameters had not been modified, the ST61G4 model would have attracted our attention anyway – it's a debut of ATI chipsets on the barebone market. Remember, that the first generation of Canadian chipsets was practically a failure, while the second one, in spite of some obvious shortcomings, received recognition. Its main reason is certainly the wonderful graphics core at a moderate chipset price. In fact, before Socket 775 and i915G it was ATI who had been offering the most efficient integrated video for Pentium 4. Thus, if you are not ready now to make for the new Intel socket, but you want to buy a minicomputer with integrated video with an Intel processor, then models based on ATI Radeon 9000/9100/Pro IGP should be your first priority.
PC case of ST61G4, as usual for Shuttle XPC, is made of aluminium, but unlike the black SN85G4 this model is in typical gray colors. But the dimensions of the "cube" match those of the previous model in the G4 case (200x300x185 mm (WxDxH)), the designs of these minicomputers are absolutely identical in all the rest, so a more detailed description you will find in the above-mentioned review of SN85G4. ST61G4 features a mirror-like front panel, which we could previously see only in Soltek barebones. Steel-gray color of the PC case will certainly become better to the white CD/DVD drive, and the reflection in the mirror of the plastic faceplate will depend on your workplace.
XPC ST61G4 has one external 5-inch bay. The external 3-inch bay serves for the installation of the bundled card reader instead of an outdated floppy drive. So this bay has slots in the plastic faceplate to insert and remove flash-cards. Perhaps, in time Shuttle will offer a modification of ST61G4 without a card reader, with a "solid" front panel. But at the moment this article was written we have no such information. The front panel contains the power and reset buttons, a power LED and a hard disk drive activity LED, and a set of connectors. The latter is quite common for "advanced" state-of-the-art models: 3 x Audio (mic-in, line-in/out), 2 x USB (2.0), and 1 x mini-FireWire (4-pin, without power).
The rear panel hosts the VGA port pleasantly complemented by the TV-out Port (S-Video connector, the bundle also includes a composite adapter). The remaining room was just enough for a single serial port (as always, a parallel port can be installed on a bracket, which can be purchased separately) as well as other standard items: 2 x PS/2, 1 x sterling (6-pin) FireWire, 1 x LAN, 2 x USB (2.0) and 3 x Audio-out for 6-channel sound, supplemented by the S/PDIF in/out. Two bracketed slots for expansion cards and a fan grating on the internal power supply unit are also standard.
Interior arrangement and functionality
Access inside the case is very easy, you just have to unscrew three wing nuts on the rear panel and remove the lid. There was a little surprise waiting for us here: it looks like users did not like the lack of a detachable HDD drive cage – brand feature of the G4 case. Now the common cage of the classic type is back. You can detach it, install any of the three possible devices, and then slide the cage back to its place fixing it with a couple of screws. A brief reminder – an HDD bay in SN85G was implemented as a separate module, though detachable. However, even now you can leave the cage in place if you want. In this case to access the HDD, you'll have to remove the optical storage device (in SN85G4 you have to remove the expansion cards). On the whole, everything is convenient, and a cage of one piece looks somehow more imposing.
The preinstalled card reader is absolutely the same, as in SN85G4. It supports flash cards of the following types: CF I/II (and MD), SM, SD/MMC and MS. That is it's a 6-in-1 reader operating at the USB 2.0 speed. There is one disadvantage – you have to connect the card reader to the only potentially vacant internal USB port, so you'll get only four USB ports on the front and rear panels. The card reader can be disabled or replaced by a second hard disk. In the latter case the flash card slots on the faceplate will look not very elegant.
Inside the system case you'll unfortunately see a mess of cables usual for Shuttle XPC: though much is done for the convenience of laying cables along the sides of the system case, the mutual location of on-board and case connectors has its negative effect. The power supply unit is a tad larger than the standard dimensions, but it's not of any interference. The AGP slot is laid out closer to the edge of the mainboard, so it's impossible to install a video accelerator with a "two-storeyed" cooler. Expansion card in a PCI slot must be not very long (less than 13 cm) or low-profile, otherwise it'll not fit because of the hard disk. On the whole, the computer assemblage and update convenience can be evaluated high. Memory modules (in the fore part of the system case) are always accessible, installing devices into the hard disk cage is very easy. And only the necessity to access the CPU in case of Shuttle I.C.E. will mean a tedious jiggery-pokery with installing and removing not only the CPU cooler, but also some components around it.
As we have already mentioned, Shuttle ST61G4 uses a mainboard based on the ATI Radeon 9100 IGP chipset (RS300+IXP150), – FT61. Modest functionality of the chipset is supplemented by a 100-Mbit network controller from Broadcom (BCM4401), SATA RAID-controller from Silicon Image (SiI3512) and FireWire-controller VIA VT6307. System characteristics: support for Intel Celeron/Pentium 4 CPUs with Socket 478 (all the models except for those based on the Willamette core), up to 2 GB (2 modules) of DDR200/266/333/400 memory in the dual channel mode, AGP 8x bus, integrated video ATI Radeon 9100 IGP supporting TV-out, 2 x SATA supporting RAID 0 and 1, 2 x UATA100 channels for 4 devices, 6 x USB 2.0, 10/100 Mbit/sec Fast Ethernet, 2 x FireWire, and 6-channel audio (AC’97 Realtek ALC650 codec). The PCB also contains an IrDA connector, CD-IN and AUX-IN jacks, a 2 x USB connector occupied by the card reader, and three fan headers. The situation with SN85G4 repeats itself: an FDD connector on the mainboard is not for nothing – it gives you an opportunity to install a floppy drive, though there is no room inside the G4 case to install it. The necessity for this thing is still the same: this is the only way to "feed" SATA drivers during the installation of Windows 2000/XP, if you want to use only one SATA hard disk.
General performance: Good. The sound quality is quite acceptable for those who usually listens to music in regular formats and plays games (though you will still suffer an appropriate drop in performance as opposed to a sterling external solution).
Long are gone those times when the "overclocking" and "barebone" notions were incompatible. These days Shuttle is lavish with the corresponding BIOS settings, though in case of this ATI chipset not everybody will like to overclock this computer. BIOS Setup allows to change the main memory timings and to set its operating frequency, FSB frequency can be increased to +15 MHz from the nominal value at 1 MHz steps without fixing or controllable variation of AGP/PCI frequencies, you can control the CPU voltage (from 0.825 to 1.85 V at 0.0125 V steps) and raise the memory voltage (2.6, 2.7, 2.8 V) and the AGP voltage (1.6, 1.65, 1.7 V). Clear CMOS setting jumper is conveniently located near the very edge of the mainboard, so it will be convenient for you to experiment with overclocking.
Cooling system and temperature conditions
ST61G4 is one of the first Shuttle models using the new power supply unit – Silent X – with increased capacity (250 W). Design of the power supply unit is still standard ("a brick"), but it uses two fans located opposite to each other: a fan on the rear panel of the system case blows the air out, while the fan closer to the front panel sucks the air in providing fair cooling of this part of the system case with storage devices. The power supply unit in SN85G4 had the only fan in the middle of one of the sides, and a long CD/DVD drive was blocking part of the air inflow. Both fans are Delta EFB0412MD (40x40x20 mm, 7.17 CFM, 24 dBA), very silent, with automatic rpm control. This power supply unit also has a power cable for SATA disks.
Shuttle ST61G4 uses the I.C.E. system as a CPU cooler – a standard solution for all barebones from this company. We have reviewed how this device works many times. So here we'll only brief you on this cooler: it is based on heat pipes, it uses only one 80-mm fan (from Sunon), which blows the air through the upper heatsink of the system. The maximum fan speed is 3800 rpm, but as in all other Shuttle XPC models, the BIOS incorporates an automatic rpm control technology (Smart Fan). You can read the details, for example, in the description of SN85G4. It should be noted that in case of ST61G4, the I.C.E. fan is a tad quieter than usual.
Unfortunately, the new chipset confused all the utilities for monitoring temperatures and other system parameters. None of the Windows programs managed to read correct values from the on-board sensors, so we have to content ourselves with uninteresting information about system parameters in standby mode (taken in BIOS Setup).
We have published for your comparison similar characteristics of several barebones with the same (as far as possible) component parts. Global conclusions from these figures would be too rashly. But it's interesting to note, first, the reduced performance of the CPU cooler in comparison with that in SB75G2 (perhaps the fan is really less powerful, and thus less noisy). The second interesting point is its chipset temperature with enabled integrated video core, which is heading all the records – you have to pay for high-performance graphics, while the chipset heatsink is equipped with a fan rotating at 5000 rpm! Fortunately, on the whole the system "hums" rather quiet. In a competently selected Smart Fan operating mode this barebone will be one of the most noiseless among the tested kits in our lab. Though it's still far from the absolute record of ASUS DiGiMatrix.
Bundle and brief specification of the barebone
ST61G4 bundle is absolutely standard for Shuttle XPC models – to put it bluntly, there is practically nothing interesting in the box, except for a CPU cooler and a preinstalled card reader. Nevertheless, several trifles are still pleasing: SATA cable is consideredly short, S-Video-to-Composite adapter, as well as a velvet cloth to polish the mirror-like front panel. Traditional reminder – among all competitors Shuttle offers the most impressive set of accessories including components to change the appearance of the barebone or replacement system components.
In conclusion we provide a brief specification of the barebone, which comes shipped in a nice cardboard box with a handle.
For the comparison purposes we have taken the results of the ASUS Terminator 2 barebone (though we tested T2-P with a mainboard based on i865G instead of T2-R on the same ATI 9100 IGP chipset). Minicomputer tests demonstrated that the speed of its mainboard is on the average for this chipset level, no record claims. Thus, it'll be logical to compare this model with a traditionally not very fast product from Shuttle based on the ATI chipset, which is a direct and worthy competitor to the top Intel product for Socket 478.
The barebone from Shuttle is expectedly a tad slower (up to 3%) when working with applications critical to the memory performance. Pay attention that the performance drop from using the on-board video is felt in both cases, but the ATI chipset experiences it to a lesser extent, though in the long run Terminator 2 is still the first.
However, the example with 7-Zip is not very illustrative, because in most cases the difference between the systems will be still less. So, from the entire set of our video encoding methods only in Mainconcept MPEG Encoder the difference between the contenders can be noted at least on the level of figures (less than one percent).
In games it's interesting to compare the performance differences between the competing systems while using the integrated video, because in case of external video cards the picture does not change in comparison with the previous tests: up to +2% in favour of ASUS T2-P. On the whole the integrated video offers no surprises either – if you wish you can see the comparison of modern integrated chipsets for Pentium 4. This comparison certifies that Intel Extreme Graphics 2 is noticeably weaker than ATI Radeon 9100 IGP. In our case the situation is absolutely identical.
ST61G4 is the best model offered by Shuttle for Pentium 4 (at least with Socket 478) in case you are not going to use a separate video card, but want to be able to play some computer games launched since the times of Tetris. Noiseless operation, lack of obvious problems with overheating, high performance in regular applications, and stylish but original design will certainly win the recognition of buyers for this barebone. Especially considering that the price for ST61G4 is not the highest in the range of other Shuttle XPCs (though you cannot call it low on the absolute scale either).
In conclusion we'll publish a short list of the most typical pros and cons of the barebone under review.
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