Up to this point, we have told everyone that the Intel Pentium4 is the processor to beat. Now though, the Athlon64 has definitely given us a wakeup call. The Shuttle SN85G4 is blazingly fast, and well designed while still only occupying the small footprint of the SFF PC form factor.
As always, there were some oversights and shortcomings with the system though. With this model, Shuttle chose to redesign their XPC system case. The case is a lot less modular than their previous models, leading to more headaches when attempting to remove system components. Specifically, the primary drive cage is bolted in to the case and is not removable. Also, the PSU selected has an exhaust fan that exhausts heat directly in to the path of the I.C.E. air flow path. This can lead to higher CPU temperatures as well as limiting your ability to overclock the system. All in all, this might have some impact on the more casual system builder or someone new to the trade, but overall the case design changes should not really be and issue with any enthusiast worth this salt.
The board itself has a good layout, but contains some weaknesses as well. Surely this is to be expected when dealing with such a small footprint. The chipset itself is a single chip solution, which takes up less real estate than the traditional northbridge/southbridge approach. The board was still very tight in places, especially around the FAN1 header and the onboard SATA ports. The CMOS jumper itself was placed rather awkwardly, making resetting it a bit of a task. The AGP slot is also a bit of a sore point, due to the fact that it is the outside slot. If you plan on running with the case on, those of you with 2-slot cooling solutions or large cooling solutions will find out that your card is not welcome in the Shuttle XPC.
Any small issues aside, we were very impressed with this SFF from Shuttle. The Shuttle SN85G4 is definitely something to put on your Christmas list. Shuttle has done an overall great design and this will certainly get the SFF crowd interested in the new Athlon64 754-pin CPUs from AMD. At the moment the Athlon64 chips tend to be a bit on the expensive side. Once more supply becomes available, the prices start to tumble, and newer CPUs become liquid in the marketplace, the Athlon64 is going to be a very viable alternative. Anyone would be lucky to see a Athlon64 3200+ show up under your Christmas tree wrapped in a Shuttle SN85G4 for sure.
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