Introduction

It has been a while since our last Small Form Factor (SFF) article, though we have taken a look at several micro ATX offerings that target a similar market. While there have been numerous socket 775 units launched during the past year or more - including the Biostar 350G and the Shuttle SD31P with Pentium D support - the fact of the matter is that socket 775 and SFF make a mismatched couple. Having looked at quite a few of the socket 939 offerings, the lower temperatures, lower noise levels, and higher performance that Athlon X2 offers relative to Pentium D (and Athlon 64 relative to Pentium 4) simply make it the better choice for anyone interested in building a smaller computer. The best socket 939 SFFs -- the Biostar 330P and the Shuttle SN25P (or perhaps the SN26P if you want SLI support) -- are also the best SFF systems overall, so until now those have been our overwhelming recommendations.

Of course, there are other interesting markets in the SFF arena, for example HTPC systems like the Shuttle M1000. Some people might also appreciate lower power and noise levels, in which case AOpen and Shuttle both have Pentium M platforms available. Unfortunately, we have yet to see any Core Duo compatible SFF units in our labs. That should hopefully change once Core 2 Duo launches, but so far the majority of the products we have seen have been targeting performance more than other areas, or else they drop nearly all expansion options and look purely at making a small system, like the AOpen MiniPC.

Not everyone wants a small computer anyway, so if you're interested in a high-end multi-GPU configuration with a discrete sound card, one or two TV tuners, and multiple hard drives you're still going to have to stick with a standard ATX case and motherboard. However, as we have said in the past, the vast majority of people should be able to meet all of their computing requirements with a SFF system; the question is whether or not you're willing to pay little bit more money for a more attractive case while sacrificing future expansion options.


With the launch of AMD's new AM2 platform, it's time for a whole new series of supporting products. We've already looked at the platform performance, and we're working on motherboard reviews. Waiting in the wings is Intel's new Core 2 Duo platform, but as that is not yet available we can only provide previews of performance. For now, AM2 is the new kid on the block, and it will also remain the platform of choice for AMD enthusiasts for the foreseeable future. Shuttle has always been one of the first companies to come out with a SFF for a new platform, and AM2 is no exception. Only a few weeks after the AM2 processors and motherboards first became available, Shuttle announced their new SN27P2 barebones unit. The SN27P2 includes several firsts for Shuttle, but it also aims to continue their trend of offering high-quality, attractive, small computer systems.

Given that this is the only currently available AM2 SFF system, the SN27P2 is in something of a unique position. If you want a SFF right now, and you want to go with an AMD configuration, your choices are either this new Shuttle system or else you can purchase a socket 939 system with the understanding that the platform is being phased out. As we've shown in our other AM2 coverage, there really isn't a huge benefit to upgrading to the new platform right now. Basically, you get performance very similar to socket 939, but you use DDR2 memory instead of DDR memory. However, if you are about to purchase a new AMD system, then we would recommend the new platform, as all other things being equal it does have more longevity. The Small Form Factor market is a bit different, though, so let's find out if new SFF buyers should stick with the tried-and-true platform, or if they should go with the next big thing.

Aesthetics
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  • SoSpartan - Tuesday, August 01, 2006 - link

    Why do you state that the SN27P2 has a 400W power supply when your pictures clearly show a 350W power supply? Shuttle's website says 400W prominently, but their PDF spec sheet says 350W! What's the deal? The extra 50W could make the difference between running a nVidia 6800 vs 7900GTX or 7950GX2 stably! Reply
  • akp - Sunday, July 02, 2006 - link

    Nice review in general, but I feel like there's one thing really missing. As you say on page 6 (Benchmark setup):

    The key feature for the SN27P2 of course is its size, but noise control is also likely to be a major consideration.
    If you are simply planning on using the system as the core of an HTPC, our recommendation would be to grab one of the many fan-less GPUs that are coming to market, probably a 7600 (GT as an upgrade) or an X1600 Pro/XT would strike a decent balance between performance and power/heat requirements.

    Given those factors, wouldn't it have made a lot of sense to include a fanless GPU in your benchmark setup? I really have to wonder how much of the power draw and noise was coming just from the graphics card in those tests.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Sunday, July 02, 2006 - link

    Actually, the majority of the noise under full load with the 7600GT comes from the CPU. However, the GPU is contributing a bit in that configuration. A fan-less GPU wasn't included because I don't have one at present. The idle noise with the 7600 GT used is almost entirely generated by the CPU/case cooling - maybe subtract 2 dB for the GPU at best. Reply
  • artifex - Saturday, July 01, 2006 - link

    What was the temperature like when all bays were full of either hard drives or an active DVD burner? I'm wondering if it can really keep up in a situation like that. In my tower, my drives seem to get really hot without extra cooling. Please consider adding a test like this the next time you review SFFs.

    Also, e-SATA sounds cool, but that's strictly a drive interface. Wouldn't another firewire port have been more useful? Is e-SATA faster than FW400? If I use the firewire in the back for one external firewire drive, that means I'm left with a minifw in front for video cameras, etc. I'd really like more flexibility, there, so I'll be looking forward to your reviews of other AM2 SFFs for sure.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, July 01, 2006 - link

    SATA tops out at 300 MB per second these days (though in reality hard drives can't come near that number for sustained performance). FireWire 1394b tops out at 800 Mbps (one third as fast) and 1394a only hits 400 Mbps. That said, FireWire is a far more flexible interface, as there are many peripherals that use it. So far SATA is only for hard drives.

    As for installing three HDDs, I'd be very nervous if they were all hot drives. However, I have an SN25P with two HDDs that has been in use for about a year and it has no problems with temperatures. Under the right conditions (or wrong conditions if you prefer), the fans in the case will simply have to spin faster and make more noise. I don't think 51 dB is as loud as the SN25P can get, and the SN27P2 is basically the same in terms of cooling.

    Note that the rear of the case does have two 60mm fans just for cooling the HDD area (mostly), so the only HDD spot I'd be concerned with is the floppy/HDD area, and then only if you were planning on running three HDDs along with a big GPU like a 7900 GTX or X1900 XTX. Even then, those large GPUs would probably just end up adding more noise and helping ventilation.
    Reply
  • artifex - Monday, July 03, 2006 - link

    Well, this might replace my Antex Soho tower with 3 accessory fans, so I'm used to the noise already. Also, I only have a 5500 since I'm not a big gamer, so this is looking better. Thanks again. Reply
  • Howard - Saturday, July 01, 2006 - link

    What's an SPL meater? Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, July 01, 2006 - link

    Sound Pressure Level. Just a small device to measure how much noise is present. For example, I'm sitting in front of a 24" fan right now, which is rather noisy. It generates 55 dB of noise at a distance of six feet. Scary that some PCs are as loud as a standing fan. :| Reply
  • AnonymouseUser - Saturday, July 01, 2006 - link

    What is the point of the last paragraph? This was a decent review until the very end.

    "There are two major events that need to take place before we would recommend most people go out and buy this system, however. First, it needs to be available for purchase"

    OK, that makes sense, but that pretty much goes without saying that it needs to be available before you can buy it.

    "More importantly, as we've mentioned repeatedly over the past few weeks, you might as well wait a month now and find out what happens with the Core 2 Duo launch. That also gives the side benefit of lower X2 CPU prices, [[ so even if you're not interested in Intel's new processor lineup for whatever reason ]], the AM2 price cuts are likely to keep you waiting another month."

    How does this affect the peformance of the SFF in the review? How does this affect the price of the SFF in the review?

    This was a review of an AMD based SFF, not a comparison of AMD/Intel cpus, so we don't need your opinion on which CPU brand to choose.
    Reply
  • Frumious1 - Saturday, July 01, 2006 - link

    OMG Jarred! How DARE you mention crazy things like launch dates and prices cuts. WTF do those have to do with a review about an expensive-ass Shuttle SFF!? We AMD fanboys prefer to bury our heads in the sand and pretend that Core 2 Duo is just a bunch of lies and that AM2 will remain superior until hell freezes over. (Which, incidentally, is scheduled to happen around July 25th last I heard....)

    Seriously Anonymouse do you work for AMD or something? You many not give a damn about Core 2 Duo, but most of us don't have our blinders on. "How does this affect the peformance of the SFF in the review? How does this affect the price of the SFF in the review?"

    I'd say that it means future SFFs like the SD37P2 will offer better performance than anything you can put in the SN27P2 (at least until AMD ships something other than a three-year-old K8 derivative), and it means that for the same $400+ that the Shuttles are going to cost you could end up with a better (faster and cooler running) SFF. Yes I said it: Core 2 Duo will be BETTER than AM2 X2! So stick THAT where the sun don't shine (right next to your head).

    Freaking amazing how that thing called logic works, innit?

    For the record, I don't work for Intel or AMD, and I wouldn't buy a SFF unless the price was the same as that of an ATX case + mobo + moderate PSU. Just about any reasonable ATX case is going to end up quieter than these SFFs if you build it right.
    Reply

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