Shuttle XPC ST61G4: Tiny Computer with Big Integrated Videoby Wesley Fink on January 23, 2004 12:23 PM EST
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Final WordsThe Shuttle XPC ST61G4 is sold as a complete barebones Small Form Factor system with integrated ATI 9100 graphics. Both ATI and Shuttle expect that this is how the system will be used. Compared to the competing Intel 865G with on-board graphics, the ST61G4 must be considered a blazing performer, since in every graphics-intensive operation, it handily outperforms the Intel 865G-based systems. The 9100IGP is much better than Intel's 865G for gaming, and it often makes the difference between the game being playable and the game being too slow to really play. The system would be even better if ATI supported Direct X 9.0 on their IGP chipset, and we will likely see that with future ATI chipsets.
Since Shuttle and ATI decided to include an 8X AGP slot for graphics upgrading, we also looked at the Shuttle ST61G4 performance with our standard ATI 9800 PRO video card. There is a little-mentioned WOW factor here in that you can actually run 3 displays with a 9800 PRO in the 8X slot. The on-board graphics still work, plus you have the dual-display capability of the 9800 PRO. Three displays being driven by the tiny Shuttle box is impressive to see!!
However, once we get down to the performance of the ATI9100IGP as a chipset, we are somewhat disappointed. The competing Intel 865/875 chipsets are anywhere from 3% to 10% faster that the 9100IGP chipset with the average around 4% to 5%. While this is a really trivial performance difference in the larger scheme of things, it does mean that we would not buy the ST61G4 or the 9100IGP if we plan to use it with a high-end video card. That is, unless you are buying it for features, like the triple display, which is truly unique. This point really hits home when we consider the truly disappointing overclocking performance of the ATI 9100IGP chipset. We have seen many buy an SFF system with a 2.4 and overclock the processor to 250FSB. You can't even consider this with the ST61G4 - the options are not there - and the overclocking performance even with the available settings leaves a lot to be desired compared to competing Intel chipsets.
ATI was smart to only market an integrated video solution with the 9100IGP, since the chipset excels when used as an integrated graphics solution. ATI is also closing in on performance as a standalone chipset, and we will likely see the next generation ATI chipset fully competitive with the best on the market. For now, it appears that higher latency and lower Dual-Channel bandwidth are still hampering performance as a chipset. If ATI also pays attention to providing competitive overclocking capabilities in future chipset upgrades, they could well have the top-performing chipset as well as the best integrated graphics.
Last, the ST61G4 is also the launch of the new Shuttle G4 chassis, with the improved ICE heatpipe cooling system and the larger, but quieter, Silent X chassis. In every respect, Shuttle delivers exactly what they promise in the G4 chassis. It is much quieter than earlier Shuttle designs, which were already quiet. In fact, noise is so well controlled that Shuttle is once again the quietest SFF system that we have tested. Noise can still be an issue during boot, but in normal operation day-in and day-out, the ST61G4 can be considered silent. We are looking forward to other Shuttle designs with the superb and quiet G4 chassis.
In the end, we can definitely recommend the ST61G4 if you are looking for an integrated graphics solution - it's currently the best integrated graphics performance that you can buy for a Pentium 4. However, we have a harder time recommending the ST61G4 as a system to run a high-end video card. The Intel chipset is still a slightly better performer with stand-alone video cards. However, if you want to explore a 3-display mini PC, the 9100 IGP is for you. As a new chassis, we consider the G4 a tremendous success with Shuttle, once again, the quietest SFF that we have tested. You can also use the new Silent X 250-watt power supply to upgrade older Shuttle systems, gaining a noise reduction and increased headroom on current Shuttle systems. Shuttle is still not quite as neat with internal SFF wiring as Epox and Biostar, but Shuttle seems to never rest in the development of their signature SFF computer line. Perhaps that is why they still control 80% of the SFF market that they created.