SFF Roundup, Socket 939 Systems

by Jarred Walton on 8/10/2005 3:57 PM EST
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  • JarredWalton - Thursday, October 27, 2005 - link

    Hopefully, anyone interested in the "promised" part 2 will find this post. I'm thinking of forgetting part 2 - I just have too much stuff to do! I've run some X2 benches/tests and can tell you this.

    The 330P, EQ3901-300P, SN25P, and ST20G5 all worked flawlessly with dual core - once the BIOS was updated. That last part is important, so let me elaborate.

    For the 330P and ST20G5, the system WOULD NOT work with the BIOS I had (i.e. POST failed or complete system instability in the case of the 330P), so I had to switch back to a single core, update the BIOS, and then it worked. The 330P at first seemed to work, but I got frequent crashes and I couldn't even flash the BIOS with the X2 installed. If you have an extra 939 CPU, you should be fine; if you don't... well, I don't know if current 330Ps or ST20G5s are shipping with the latest BIOS or not, but I doubt it. (Ask Biostar/Shuttle for more information, I would suggest.)

    Notably absent from the above list of X2 supported SFFs is the SN95G5v1/v2. I have v2, and it won't get past POST with an X2 processor. V3 will apparently work, but why buy an older AGP SFF these days? The Soltek worked fine, the SN25P was probably the best fit for the X2 plus a faster GPU, but the 330P was a lot more stable with the latest BIOS update. (The BIOS seemed to address several of the stability issues I had initially.) As far as I can tell, the USB + X2 issues of the SN25P have been resolved - I couldn't get any problems to occur, but then I may not be using the "right" USB device to cause a crash.

    My pick overall remains with the SN25P. I successfully overclocked an X2 3800+ to 2.70 GHz in that system, where I could only reach 2.50 GHz in the 330P and 3901. Temperatures were a little lower than the 330P, cooling is better, but the system is larger. I'd say the 330P is now second overall in the recommendation list, and it does look pretty nice. The AGP units are not worth purchasing unless you can get them really cheap.

    As nice as I think the ST20G5 looks, I feel the chipset used is complete garbage. Later ATI Xpress 200 chipsets (like the Crossfire stuff) are apparently much better, but the early Xpress 200 is at best equal to the like of ALi/ULi and SiS. Even VIA would be better (outside of integrated graphics performance) than the original Xpress 200. Overclocking remains essentially non-existent, and the smaller PSU (240W) will struggle with an X2 plus faster GPU. There's no way I would recommend spending $350 on the ST20G5.

    Jarred Walton
    SFF and Guide Editor
    AnandTech.com

    P.S. I'm skipping the 775 roundup as well, and will be moving on to later 775 systems for review. Basically, all of the 915/925 SFFs are outdated by the Pentium D, so there's no reason to purchase one (in my opinion). If you really want some brief thoughts on a specific 775 SFF, email me and I'll let you know. I have looked at several of the units, but putting together a 25000 word article on outdated hardware doesn't seem like a good use of time.
    Reply
  • highlandsun - Tuesday, November 01, 2005 - link

    Thanks for following up here, I just found this roundup while googling for ST20G5 reviews. My brother has an SN95G5v2 and we spent several hours one night trying to make it behave after updating to the latest BIOS. After the update Windows no longer saw his Logitech wireless trackball (but Linux still saw it just fine) plugged into the PS/2 port. We had to go back to the original BIOS that the thing shipped with. Unfortunately the original version doesn't support Cool'n'Quiet on the Winchester or Venice 3000+ that we plugged in (we had one of each), which was why we went looking for the BIOS upgrade in the first place.

    Anyway, he's using the SN95 for an HTPC, and I got interested in going the same route. But I was looking at the ST20 instead. The SN25P isn't a viable option because we're using Fusion HDTV tuner cards, and they're PCI only, no PCI-E version yet. I couldn't care less about AGP vs PCI-E for video in this case, as it's all overkill for simple media streaming. (The only key feature is making sure the video card supports DxVA for DVICO's MPEG decoder to work well.) But now it seems that none of Shuttle's current offerings are really suitable, since the ST20 really is too flawed in other areas.

    Has anyone ever gotten an answer from Shuttle about why they would go to the trouble of using the Nforce3 Ultra but not using its integrated Gbit LAN??
    Reply
  • dlevens - Sunday, September 04, 2005 - link

    It would be nice to see a section on customer support. I have been extremely disapointed in Shuttle support for these SFF systems. I started with the SV25 and about 10 cubes later I am running the sn25p. I have to say I hate this thing. Also surprised to see there was no mention of some major issues with stability due to cheap or faulty sata cables. There are a ton of posts on sudhian about issues related to the sata cables. Curious if Anandtech saw any of these issues? http://forums.sudhian.com/messageview.aspx?catid=4...">http://forums.sudhian.com/messageview.a...amp;thre...

    Although, I would expect shuttle would send a well tested machine for a review site.

    I also had a miserable time finding the most stable way to build the sn25p as far as drivers. Still not sure I have it right. This would be a great section to add in a review. I made a post here reguarding driver issues.
    http://forums.sudhian.com/messageview.aspx?catid=4...">http://forums.sudhian.com/messageview.a...amp;thre...

    One of my biggest complaints about the sn25p is sound. Was shocked to see the Via envy praised so much in the review. Maybe this is part of the driver issues I am having or could be the game I am currently playing, but sound is breaking up constantly on this thing. I have tried both drivers from VIA and both from shuttle. Anyone else playing Warlords IV on an sn25p and able to get your sound to work? I play warlords IV and run skype in the background for voice. Sound is garbled and breaks up.

    Still looking for shuttle to be unseated in the sff market, would be nice to find some quality and stability to match the high price we pay for these sff systems. And a company who stands behind their product with great support would be icing on that cake.

    Dennis
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, October 27, 2005 - link

    Hey Dennis - I don't know if you'll see this, but I'll add it for others that might look. I obviously can't play all the games out there with each unit, so all I know is that the SN25P and the Via Envy did great on the tests I ran. The sound was also completely free of static, which is not the case for several of the others. The lack of static was far more important to me than other aspects of the sound system.

    Anyway, I didn't run into driver issues or SATA issues. I don't know if I just got lucky or what. I did a clean install of XP SP2, then I used the included CD to get sound and networking. I then downloaded the latest nF4 chipset drivers, along with graphics drivers for the ATI card I used, and I grabbed all the updates from Windows Update. Everything seemed to run fine.
    Reply
  • artifex - Monday, August 22, 2005 - link

    I think it'd be fun to compare these to Iwill's ZMAXdp, which is a dual-Opteron SFF. Not dual core, but dual processor. SFFTech says it's using nForce3 Pro as the chipset. It's also amazingly expensive, and has a silly little fin antenna :) Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, August 25, 2005 - link

    Iwill declined to send the current ZMAXdp when I emailed them, but they're working on an updated version for the future, so we'll see. Reply
  • Zak - Monday, August 15, 2005 - link

    Frankly, each one of them has one single fault, just one, that makes, otherwise perfect box, useless for me... Some have the card readers up front that spoil the looks and I don't need them, some have no SPDIF out, some have 4 pin FireWire connectors, some are butt-ugly, some have on-board video. They'd be perfect otherwise if not for those single small problems. I haven't found a small factor case yet that would be perfect for me. So I'm sticking to towers for now.

    Zak
    Reply
  • jopa25 - Saturday, August 13, 2005 - link

    Hi, congratulations and thanks for that great review, in the first place

    I'd have a little question about the the measurement of the noise levels of these SFF, is there any differences in the way noise was measured in relation with the former roundup (478/754 SFF roundup) ?

    I expected the newer models to be quieter without GPU fan than the 478/754 SFF. However, according to the measurements, at 12 inches far, 4 out of the 5 478/754 SFF reviewed remained below 30dB, while the new models keep in a range from 37 to 46 dB in the same test. Quite a significant difference, isn't it?

    As a part of an explanation, I guess the processor used in the last roundup (AMD Athlon 64 3800+ with Newcastle core) is not exactly wonderful at power saving, but should not be far from the Intel Pentium 4 3.0 used in the other roundup anyway.

    So, the question is: Is there any reasonable explanation for these high levels of noise with fanless GPU, in comparison with those from the 478/754 roundup?

    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, August 13, 2005 - link

    I'm not entirely sure why the noise levels were higher. Part of it may be due to the time of year (winter vs. summer). The room that the systems were in was probably closer to 65 F for the last roundup, whereas I'd say close to 75 F for the current roundup. A 10 degree difference in room temperature would have a substantial impact, unfortunately. (If you compare the SN25P results to the March testing, it was substantially louder during stress testing.)

    I may not have measured in the exact same location relative to the last SFF roundup. I think I measured the socket 478 units from the front, which may have impacted things, and I moved some desks around which could have impacted scores as well. The rear of the SFFs are now closer to a wall than the old location, so noise reflecting off the wall might be changing the readings a bit.

    I tried to be consistent with all the units in the roundup, but the use of differing CPUs makes it hard to say how they compare with the older models. I would say, however, that in typical use only the G5 units were at the same level as the last roundup. The 330P idled very low, but stress tests made it quite a bit louder. The SN25P and EQ3901 are both clearly louder than everything but the e-bot, which is roughly on the same level in terms of noise.
    Reply
  • WooDaddy - Friday, August 12, 2005 - link

    Jarod,

    GREAT Article. For quite some time I wanted to see a review with the SN25 and ST20 together. In the meantime, I bought a Mac Mini (quit screaming "traitor"). Out of curiousity, do you or anyone know the rated noise levels of the mini? It's dead quiet even at full CPU.

    For you LGA775 SFF round-up, please don't forget to consider the Trigem Kloss PC (www.klosspc.com available at ZZF). Personally, it's the best looking SFF I've seen (better than the ASUS Spressos). I've been desperately looking for a review on that badboy.

    Thanks
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, August 12, 2005 - link

    I'll hit the KLOSS as soon as I can. (I have it already.) So unless someone else votes, I guess I'll get the KLOSS reviewed next. Reply
  • Sokolum - Thursday, August 11, 2005 - link

    For the last 2 months now i have a ST20G5 using as a MCE system. There are a few problems what i have encounbtered, one of them is that the system behaviour changes when i change a setting within the BIOS. Those aren't dramatic changes. But with every change, it looks like that the graphics runs muchmore slower, you can see this with dragging a windows screen over your desktop, you get trails from that window...
    The system only runs smooth when i *don't* touch those setting. Happily the things keep running smoothly when i enlarge the shared video memory.

    For the MCE side, i failed to make the Hauppauge 500MCE run compleetly as it should, i am only able to run TV 'Tunner 1' without problems when i *disable* TV 'Tunner 2' within windows Device Manager. Shuttle or Hauppauge couldn't help me with this case.
    As the review documented, this is one of the cases that RAID is causing the problem in this story. In my MCE setup, i don't use RAID (there is *no* room for a seccond drive when you installed a floppy drive). Why RAID is the problem, what i have been told is that RAID wants to use al of the PCI bandwith. It seems the nature of RAID in this kind of systems, just een told, i am not for 100% sure, but it seems plausible to mee.



    , a nice looking machine. I solved the problem for the flash cards with buying a floppy disk what come with a integrated card readed, see link:
    http://www.alternate.nl/html/shop/productDetails.h...">http://www.alternate.nl/html/shop/productDetails.h...

    Reply
  • mino - Thursday, August 11, 2005 - link

    Jared I must confes, this is the _first_ time i see everclocking test done as it should have been. I really appreciate the comments for newbies (it makes easier to me to explain to them if you could reference somthing :). Also finally use of correct term oo A64 base freq./FSB issue. I think this way is it should be done for _all_ A64 motherboard review.
    1) do a maximum base freq. check (by keeping memfreq. around DDR400 + CPU not overclocked
    2) do a max memclock test at 1T (with some proven components, just to check quality of CPU to MEM routing on the MB)
    3) do some max. overclock test (actually this may be optional since it depend mostly CPU chosen)

    Keep at this route and many readers may finaly undestand the basics of A64's OCing.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, August 11, 2005 - link

    I'm working on some detailed overclocking articles right now. Glad you enjoyed the section, and I'll be going into a LOT more detail (with benchmarks) on some future OC articles. Reply
  • dropadrop - Thursday, August 11, 2005 - link

    Thanks for the nice review,

    If you are considering a followup I would love to see you test usb. While the usb on my sn95g5 v2 works for casual things like a mouse, digital camera and memory card reader, it does not work for an ipod shuffle, external soundcard (hercules dj console), or external hardisk.

    There have been alot of people with similar experiences. It wold be great if you could find a way to test the sff's with a few "demanding" usb devices, and even measure the voltage (and stability of it) supplied via usb.

    I also second the request for you to test the sn95g5 with an X2. The new bios surely supports them, as people in north america have been getting their current rigs modded by shuttle for support. I would love to see how your's supports it (and maby even venice / san diego) without being modded. I believe you would have the chance to help alot of confused SN95G5 users by trying out a few cpu's in it.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, August 11, 2005 - link

    I will definitely give it a shot. At present, my intention is to purchase an external IDE HDD enclosure with USB2.0 and 1394A support and do some file transfers and such between that and the system. The problem with that approach is that the enclosures all have an external power source. Can anyone recommend an inexpensive USB/Firewire HDD enclosure that gets the power over the USB port? http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82...">I found this one, but I'm not really keen on spending $160 for something I don't personally need. Reply
  • dev0lution - Wednesday, August 10, 2005 - link

    How come the SN25P details don't mention the update from nforce4 standard to nForce4 Ultra? I'm thinking of getting one so I went to the previous review and it lists chipset in the specs as the nForce 4 standard, but if you go to Shuttle's current product page for the SN25P it lists the chipset as the Nforce4 Ultra. Who's correct? Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, August 11, 2005 - link

    I think I may have just been lazy or neglectful in the original SN25P article. I'm pretty sure it was always nForce4 Ultra. Then again, regular nf4 vs. nF4U only adds SATA-II support IIRC. I don't see anything about SN25P supporting SATA-II which is sort of odd. Reply
  • Cookie Crusher - Wednesday, August 10, 2005 - link

    I know it may be a "dated" or more "Entry Oriented" socket, but I have found that the socket 754 SFF systems are great for gaming and general use. Was there ever a roundup for them? If not, I'd like to see maybe a limited look at them to remind everyone that they are viable alternatives to, and about $75-$100+ cheaper than, these socket 939 options.

    I think it's important to point this out because of the note in the article that a SFF option incurs a premium....maybe so, but there are still cost effective options in that market. thanks.
    Reply
  • Cookie Crusher - Wednesday, August 10, 2005 - link

    Nevermind.....i found the roundup I was hoping for.....still, would be nice to make that reference to the older socket types as legitimate choices for SFF hopefuls on a budget. :-) Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, August 10, 2005 - link

    So I spoke too soon. After finishing this article, I just happend to come across http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82...">the new Aopen 939 SFF. That actually looks pretty promising, though the IGP isn't going to beat the ST20G5 that I can see (no DVI port). Time to put in a request for that unit.... Reply
  • rqle - Wednesday, August 10, 2005 - link

    Price of these SFF are getting quite pricey lately. So much to the point when you add the cpu, hard drive, memory, video card, optical drive AND LCD it will comes very close to the price of a good high end laptop on a good day. Dell 17inch 9300 w/6800 on a VERY good sale day comes just over the price of these SFF 'system.' Big fan of these SFF, but prices should be a little bit more reasonable for me to buy again. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, August 10, 2005 - link

    I agree with you on a lot of that, but a SFF with a 19" (or larger) LCD and a 6800GT/X800XL is pretty much going to stomp all over any similarly priced laptop. There's basically a $150 price premium to get a high-end SFF case, which is going to prevent many from buying. Still, some people buy $200 cases just because they look nice, so it's all a matter of taste.

    If you need portability, though, there are very few options other than getting a laptop. Personally, laptops and gaming are something I just don't care about. I'd get a cheap laptop for the office work I do and then keep a second system at home for any gaming. Some of course feel otherwise, but laptop keyboards and such just don't do it for me.
    Reply
  • R3MF - Wednesday, August 10, 2005 - link

    love it. Reply
  • BigT383 - Wednesday, August 10, 2005 - link

    I have a first-generation SN95G5. I bought it thinking that since it's socket 939 I'd be able to upgrade to dual-core when it came out.

    Apparently this isn't the case, but I haven't seen anybody say they've tried it yet- so far there seem to be only rumors.

    So I know this is a weird request but what I'd like to see right now is an article testing a CPU like the Athlon X2 4400+ on the three different versions of the SN95G5.

    I can understand that X2s need a bios update, but the physical motherboard shouldn't be holding me back, right?
    Reply
  • dcuccia - Thursday, August 18, 2005 - link

    X2 support for the SN25P w/o USB2 issues is now available through a BIOS upgrade:

    http://www.shuttle.com/share/fae/hq/download/bios_...">http://www.shuttle.com/share/fae/hq/download/bios_...

    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, August 18, 2005 - link

    Thanks, I made a quick comment on the SN25P page to mention this. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, August 10, 2005 - link

    I'm going to be dropping an X2 3800+ into the SN95G5v2 just to see what happens. I'll try to get some official word from Shuttle on the matter as well. I really have no idea what the SN95G5v1 will support. I think the main change between it and v2 was a switch from an 80mm fan to a 92mm fan. Reply
  • Zirconium - Wednesday, August 10, 2005 - link

    I love the roundup articles. I find them to be the most useful because they allow you to hone in on what you are looking for quickly, and then you can go to other sites and check the reviews that are solely for the products you are looking for.

    That said, one thing I'm interested is the quality of the integrated graphics on these computers. I have an SK41G and I could tell the difference between the quality of the built-in graphics and the AIW Radeon 7500 that is currently in it. When the integrated graphics were hooked up to a TV (I tried two) you could notice bands moving up the TV.
    Reply

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