Shuttle XPC SN26P review

Price when reviewed

Considering the full-sized SilverStone chassis comes with disclaimers that it can’t handle a single 7800 GeForce graphics card, it’s a huge claim by Shuttle that this tiny 218 x 330 x 200mm (WDH) box can cope with the heat of two running in SLI. If true, this chassis virtually consigns the ATX midi-tower to the scrapheap.

Shuttle XPC SN26P review

Once you’ve popped off the outer shell, there’s a surprising amount of room within. With the drive bay removed, there’s plenty of space to unscrew the CPU heatsink and install the two sticks of RAM (maximum 2GB), while all the cables come pre-attached. While this slightly robs you of the ‘I made this’ feeling, it’s still preferable to the ‘I tried to make this and can’t get it to work’ situation.

Shuttle claims that the SN26P will handle the thermal throw-off from any pair of 7800 cards, be they GTs or GTXs. Thanks to the 110nm transistors, a 7800 consumes less power than a 6800 and therefore produces less heat too. We used a pair of 7800 GTXs, although a GT will throw off a similar amount of heat, as it draws only 10W less power at peak load. Although the cards are just 10cm shorter than the chassis itself, we still had enough room to jiggle them into place. There’s no room for double-height cards, though, and ours used the stock nVidia heatsink, which exhausts hot air away from the backplate.

After such an easy build so far, we had a satisfying wrestle with the sliding mounts for our optical drive. After half an hour of fiddling, we found that standing the drive on its end while holding the slide-rails and dropping the cage down onto them worked best. We could then adjust the front-button mechanism left or right to ensure it pressed against the button of our optical drive. Drives with buttons flush against the front surface may cause problems, but some ingenuity (sticky tape and a small rectangle of cardboard) will overcome that.

A hard disk can be mounted underneath the optical drive or suspended from a clip-on mechanism above it (or both). We used our test Western Digital Raptor disk and suspended it over the optical drive to benefit from the cooling of the rear fans. Shuttle has attached all the cables you’ll need and routed them incredibly neatly around the chassis. A final check through the manual (the first time we’d even picked it up) confirmed everything was in place. We used the button on the rear panel to clear the CMOS, and the system satisfyingly booted first time.

We wanted to push this XPC as far we could, so we teamed our two 7800 GTXs with an AMD X2 4800+, the hottest Socket 939 CPU around. Idling along in Windows Desktop, we hardly heard a sound from the sideways-blowing fan, or from the two stock coolers on the 7800 GTXs. However, when powering up our HDR Far Cry test, we soon hit significant problems. The fans on our cards weren’t up to the job of keeping the GPUs cool in such cramped conditions. After roughly a minute, frame rates dropped to single figures; after a few attempted fixes, we removed the cards for closer inspection only to find that one had become so overheated that the plastic decoration on the heatsink had melted. Even the PCBs were hot to the touch.

This is a great shame, as the tiny motherboard has all you need for a powerful PC. There’s Gigabit Ethernet, plus a FireWire port at the front and back. There are plenty of USB ports too, and the onboard 24-bit VIA Envy24 eight-channel audio codec negates the need to have a PCI slot for a sound card. It’s a good job there are so many integrated controllers, though, as after two graphics cards have been installed there’s no room for expansion cards.

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