First Look: Shuttle's Powerful, Noisy SN25P
Shuttle's new XPC SN25P bare-bones system lets do-it-yourselfers build a small PC with all the power and technology typically found in a full-size tower machine. Unfortunately, it shares at least one additional trait with many of its larger brethren: It is way too noisy.
The $420 SN25P includes Shuttle's FN25 motherboard, the company's first to feature NVidia's excellent NForce MCP chip set, which supports PCI Express graphics boards and AMD's 939-pin Athlon 64 processor. Shuttle adds to this powerful combination Via's solid Envy24PT on-board eight-channel audio chip, four Serial ATA connectors, a gigabit ethernet port, and a 350-watt power supply.
A pioneer in the compact PCs market, Shuttle continues to refine the design of its boxes. At 12.6 inches long by 8.3 inches wide by 8.7 inches tall, the SN25P is bit larger than the earlier Shuttle XPC SN41G2 I tested, and the extra room makes working inside the well-engineered chassis even easier. I had little trouble installing the processor, memory, and graphics card in my preproduction test unit. Tool-less drive-mounting brackets made installing the hard drive and optical drive equally painless.
However, I did run into a problem with the unit's integrated bay doors. I couldn't adjust the cases' optical-drive eject button to reach the slightly inset eject button on the TDK IndiDVD drive I was trying to install. This is a serious issue, and it eventually forced me to install a different optical drive with a protruding eject button--hardly an optimal solution.
The only other minor stumbling block I hit during installation involved locking down Shuttle's proprietary Integrated Cooling Engine (ICE), which sits atop the CPU. One screw resided in a tight space between the edge of the case and the heat sink/fan contraption, requiring me to track down a long, skinny Phillips-head screwdriver to complete the task.
Whole Lot of Spinning
Speaking of fans, the SN25P is chock-full of them. Previous-generation Shuttles typically used a single fan to cool the CPU and chassis (with another in the power supply). This system contains two fans as part of the ICE cooling, plus two small fans in the rear to cool the chassis's "hard drive zone." Add to that the power-supply fan, a chip set fan, plus the fan on my EVGA NVidia 6600 GT graphics card, and you have a lot of spinning going on.
In the past I've lowered the fan noise in Shuttle systems to an acceptable level by accessing the excellent setup menu and dialing down the system fan speed. But this time--even at the lowest possible settings--the SN25P sounded like a hovering Harrier jet poised to land on my desk. The two small fans in the rear were particularly annoying, emitting a high whine. Even momentarily disconnecting them didn't help: After I did so, the whooshing sound from the dual CPU fans became much more noticeable.
To many DIY-ers, the noise may be of little consequence. For instance, if you're looking to build a powerful, portable desktop system for LAN parties and the like, the SN25P makes a fine choice. However, if you want to create a small system that can sit unobtrusively on your desk or in your home media cabinet, this little guy is probably not for you.