Shuttle XPC SD31P review

£299
Price when reviewed

If proof were needed that dual core is coming to every area of computing, this is it: no longer do you need a large chassis to enjoy the benefits of Intel’s dual-core Pentium D, as the latest line in Shuttle’s small-form-factor system, the XPC SD31P, has arrived. Based around the 945G Express chipset and LGA775 socket, you can also opt for old-style Pentium 4s and Celerons.

This barebones chassis comes complete with motherboard, power supply, and all the internal cables and drive trays you’ll need. Within the 945G is Intel’s GMA 950 graphics core, so you don’t need to buy a graphics card as yet, but there’s a PCI Express 16x slot waiting on the motherboard. The chassis can even take a dual-slot card, although it’s a real squeeze.

At the front, dark grey plastic strips divide the primary I/O components. Top-most is an eight-in-one card reader, with slots open to the front. The strip below is a spring-loaded door for an optical drive, and the eject/load button is above its door for easy closing. Below that are two push-to-release doors, for a floppy drive and the front ports: FireWire 400, two USB 2, headphones and microphone.

Inside there’s a single metal tray for the floppy and optical drives, but no tray for a hard disk. Instead, there are four plastic bars that clip to the top chassis rails, running sideways across the machine. A hard disk can be suspended by each pair for a total of two drives, allowing a RAID configuration. Since the 945G chipset supports Intel Matrix Storage Technology, you can combine striping and mirroring across two drives, improving both performance and data security.

The connections are Serial ATA only, but there’s a hot-plug connector at the rear of the case for external storage. You can also fit a third internal 3.5in hard disk in place of a floppy drive, although it won’t get much airflow and would be right above the CPU assembly.

Shuttle has divided the internal space into three ‘cooling zones’. In zone one, the CPU sits at the front of the motherboard with a plastic tunnel and an intake fan breathing in through holes in the right side of the case. Instead of having a big heatsink placed on top of the CPU, there’s an airspace above it. Four heat pipes transfer heat from the CPU to a vertical cooling block on the exhaust side of the airflow, followed by a 92mm fan that draws air off the fins and pushes it directly out of the left side of the case. By channelling the airflow across the chassis, it keeps CPU waste heat away from the rest of the internals.

Placing the CPU forward also leaves a central air gap around the chipset, PCI Express slots, memory slots and 350W power supply. The power supply draws air out of this cavity and pushes it out through the back with a 90mm fan. The final cooling zone is at the top of the case, where the hard disks are mounted. Two 60mm fans at the back draw air across the drives and out the rear.

Accessing the CPU socket means taking out the hard disk support bars and lifting out the floppy/optical bay complete with card reader attached. All drive assemblies are tool-free. Then it’s a simple matter to clear the intake duct and cooling assembly to get to the CPU socket. Memory access is unobstructed, the two DIMM sockets taking up to 1GB each of DDR2 SDRAM (533/667MHz) in a dual-channel configuration. Flex Memory Technology means they don’t have to be matching capacities.

We installed a 2.8GHz Pentium D 820 and two sticks of 512MB PC4200 (533MHz) DDR2 SDRAM, but we also popped a 128MB nVidia GeForce 6600 GT into the PCI Express 16x slot to see how well cooling coped with a discrete graphics card in place.

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