Shuttle SX58H7 review

Price when reviewed

Outwardly, the SX58H7 looks like any other Shuttle XPC, and as usual it arrives with no RAM, no drives and no CPU. Take off the lid, though, and inside you’ll see what’s new: an X58 chipset and LGA 1366 processor socket. Yep, Shuttle’s new barebones system is its first to support the Intel Core i7.

The recipe isn’t an obvious one. Compact cases are more usually partnered with affordable, low-power components. Here, even the cheapest compatible CPU, the Core i7-920, will set you back a good £200 exc VAT. Step up to the fastest supported chip, the i7-965, and you’re looking at £700 or more.

And high-spec computing doesn’t fit naturally into low-profile design, leaving the SX58H7 marred by a few evident compromises.

The motherboard, for example, supports triple-channel DDR3, with support for RAM speeds up to DDR3-1600 – but there’s only room for four slots. Once you’ve fitted your first three DIMMs your upgrade options are severely limited.

The SX58H7 also offers two full-bandwidth PCI-E x16 2.0 slots, enabling it to take advantage of the X58 chipset’s multi-GPU support for both Nvidia and ATI cards – but again space constraints interfere. The slots are pushed so close together that if you want to use two cards they’ll have to be strictly single-height – and even then the rear card will have almost zero air-flow.

Still, by the standards of small form-factor PCs the SX58H7 remains a well-specified box. With three SATA channels and a dual-channel IDE controller, you won’t be constrained in filling its one 5.25in and two 3.5in drive bays.

And for extra storage there are also two eSATA ports at the back and a third at the front. Add a total of eight USB ports and dual Gigabit Ethernet and the SX58H7 is better-connected than we’d expect from a system of this size. The external clear CMOS button is a welcome surprise too.

it_photo_27973The system’s real weakness is its price. X58 motherboards are expensive at the best of times, and a custom design like this necessarily racks up the price further.

At £475 exc VAT, the SX58H7 costs more than twice as much as a full-sized i7-compatible motherboard and case. That’s a big premium to swallow, especially given the Shuttle’s comparatively limited expansion options.

Yet there is undeniably a certain satisfaction to be had, beyond the mere practicalities of desk space, in shrinking a high-end computing workstation into such a neat little box.

Upgrade junkies will still find it a frustrating system overall; but if you don’t make a habit of upgrading your RAM or graphics, and can swing the budget, the SX58H7’s shortcomings are all but excused by its sheer neatness.

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