Shuttle SN25P

SN25P Flashback

Normally, we proceed in alphabetical order. The reason we're putting the SN25P first is because we've already given it a thorough review and it is the reigning champion of socket 939. We've had more time with it, and some new developments have occurred since the initial making that it is worthwhile to take another look at the SN25P. While it originally earned our Silver Editor's Choice award, the question now is how it stands up to the new contenders.

You'll want to read the earlier review first if you haven't already, as we're not going to do a full review here. We're not including any images either, as nothing has changed other than a few BIOS screens. What we want to discuss are a few updated product launches and how they affect the SN25P. For those of you who want a condensed version, the SN25P is still a very good product and for many people, we continue to recommend it without hesitation. If you've already purchased one and you're running it, there's no real reason to be concerned as performance is very good.

Performance and Overclocking

Since our initial review, some aspects of performance have become slightly better with newer BIOS revisions. Overclocking in particular has improved quite a bit, and we can now confirm that the SN25P runs very well with all socket 939 processors up through the Venice and San Diego cores. In fact, we were able to take a Venice core up to the maximum 300 MHz bus and a 9X multiplier, which comes out as the top overclock for this group of systems. We also had a Venice 3200+ running stably at 2.7 GHz, which is a 35% CPU overclock and better than what we've reached with the same chip on desktop motherboards. Clearly, the cooling solution of the SN25P is up to the task of keeping even the fastest processors within the spec limits.

While we've said that some aspects have improved, we did notice a drop in performance in other areas. If you compare the results published in this article with those of the initial SN25P review, you will find that the scores are not the same. Some benchmarks were a bit faster, and others were a bit lower. In tweaking the BIOS for improved stability and overclocking as well as adding support for X2 processors, Shuttle may have been forced to slow other areas down a bit. Whatever the case, while the latest BIOS appears to be slightly slower, the difference is generally less than a few percent, and the additional features make the BIOS update worthwhile for most users.

Another addition to the BIOS that some people will really like: you can now set the LED brightness level for the front panel from "Off" to "100%" in increments of 12.5%. Those who dislike lights on the front of PC cases - particularly in HTPC configurations - will almost certainly approve of the change. This BIOS setting may have been present before, but it didn't work right. It does now, and the results can be seen in real time - no reboot required. It's the little things that count sometimes.

Processor Support

What about the latest cores, the Toledo and Manchester Athlon 64 X2? That's where we run into some issues. We are currently running all of the units in this roundup through additional tests, focusing on support for the Athlon X2 processors as well as the Venice and San Diego Athlon 64 parts. We'll have full details in the next few weeks, but for now, we can only state that there have been several reports of incompatibilities with the X2 chips and the currently shipping SN25P. They work for the most part, but high traffic loads on the USB2.0 ports appear to "hard" lock the system for many people, and other applications may have problems as well. We've talked with Shuttle about these problems, and they are working to find a solution. Hopefully, by the time we finish our investigations into X2 and 90nm Athlon 64 support, Shuttle will have an updated BIOS that will address the problems.

That's the biggest problem with the SN25P, and depending on your plans for your system, it may or may not be a critical factor in your purchasing decision. Disabling USB2.0 support appears to solve most of the stability issues, so we're hopeful that a BIOS update is all that will be required. Before you run out and buy one of the other 939 SFFs, however, we would suggest caution. All of the units in this roundup were released before the X2 launch, and while all of the manufacturers have released updated BIOS versions to allow them to function with the new processors, we haven't verified stability. We suggest that you check around at some forums before you purchase any of these units with an X2 processor, or else wait for our X2 compatibility update.

Final Thoughts on the SN25P

There are other aspects of the SN25P that we have come to notice during our reviews of the other systems. The SN25P certainly deserves credit for being the first PCIe 939 unit to hit the retail market, but is being first the same as being best? In retrospect, the SN25P actually continues to stand up well. The design is well thought out, the features are right, and performance is also good. The X2 support is the only serious blemish, but there are a few other things that we would like to see addressed.

First, the system has five fans keeping it cool, and most people will add a sixth in the form of their graphics card. Making a silent system with six fans is probably not possible, unless you unplug several of the fans. While we don't fault the SN25P for the inclusion of so many fans - cooling is among the best in the business, and overclocking scores reflect this - we would like to see some modifications for future XPC designs. The use of two 40mm fans at the rear of the case is one thing that we'd like to see changed. We simply haven't had a lot of positive experience with small fans; they have to spin faster to move the same amount of air as larger fans, and that, in turn, creates more noise. Several 40mm fans that we've used - including one in this Shuttle as well as another in the PC-Club Silencer - developed a slight vibration as well, which is extremely annoying and often requires you to replace the fan. It's not an easy change to make to the P chassis, but optimistically, Shuttle can avoid the use of smaller fans in a future "large SFF" chassis. A single 60mm fan would actually have a larger area than two 40mm fans, and hopefully, it would be less likely to have vibration or bearing whine problems.

Going along with the fans is the noise that they make, and rising ambient temperatures during the summer months have certainly had an impact on noise levels from the SN25P. When we reviewed it in early March, it was generally very silent. In July, we noticed that the fans were being kicked into higher RPM states a lot more frequently than before. You'll notice in our noise benchmarks that the SN25P is one of the louder units under stress testing. Despite the higher noise levels, for typical use, the CPU will not get hot enough to cause a dramatic increase in fan noise. Video/audio encoding and running games will often increase the amount of noise for 5 to 30 seconds at a time, but silence for a minute or more usually follows.

Besides fans and noise levels, the layout and design of the SN25P have proved itself to be better and worse than other designs. The tool-less design makes changing parts around relatively simple, and we continue to appreciate that feature. In comparison to the G5 chassis, however, the CPU heat sink and cooling mechanism are not as easy to install. We also wish that there was a better clip mechanism on the PCIe X16 slot, and with the rest of the tool-less features, the expansion slots are notably absent. It's ironic that you can remove the CPU heat sink in the G5 chassis without using any tools, but a screwdriver is basically required to mount the heat sink properly with the P chassis. The last change that we'd like to see in the design of the SN25P is the inclusion of a proper 6-pin PCIe power cable - just in case you don't have one around. We'll discuss this topic in more detail later, and the SN25P isn't alone in this regard. Given the cost of the systems and the high-end feature set, we'd really appreciate getting a good $5 cable thrown in "just in case".

Update: For those that may read this in the future, Shuttle has released an updated BIOS that addresses the X2 support issues. We haven't confirmed anything yet, but a new BIOS is available and it specifically addresses the USB2.0 + X2 problem.
Reviewing a Small Form Factor System Biostar IDEQ 330P
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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

    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.
  • highlandsun - Tuesday, November 1, 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??
  • dlevens - Sunday, September 4, 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?">;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.">;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.

  • 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.
  • 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 :)
  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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.
  • WooDaddy - Friday, August 12, 2005 - link


    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 ( 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.


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