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Shuttle I 8600b
Resembling an oversize toaster, the Shuttle XPC i8600b is one of the largest of the small systems we looked at, but the extra size has a payoff: greater expandability. Though the case is only 8 inches high and just under 15 inches long, it includes a sample of pretty much everything a full-size PC offers, including a PCI Express X16 slot, a PCI slot, two hard drive bays, and a plethora of expansion ports. It's the only system in our ten-model roundup that comes with support for surround-sound audio: the built-in sound chip can drive up to eight channels of analog surround sound, while the other small systems we tested are limited to two channels. The $1611 XPC is also the only one with an S/PDIF digital audio-in and -out port--very useful if you want to use the system as a home theater PC. There's also an eight-in-one media card reader built into the case.
You open the stylish white-and-gray case by removing three thumbscrews; the entire cover slides off. You'll need a screwdriver to add or remove hard drives, though: The drive caddies (which hold the drives in place at the top of the case) are secured by an odd combination of thumbscrews and a single conventional screw. You could add a drive without removing the caddy, but it's far more convenient to take out the entire caddy by removing the conventional screw. The single fan, which cools both the 3-GHz Pentium 4 processor and the case's interior, sometimes gets a little noisy, especially when the machine is running processor-intensive tasks such as video editing. Not all PCI Express graphics cards will work in this unit; Shuttle recommends that you use only those with relatively small, passive heat sinks. The integrated Intel graphics achieved reasonable frame rates in our test games, though you'll have to add a graphics card if you want to play the latest 3D games. The system posted a WorldBench 5 score of 82.
Our review unit came with two 160GB SATA hard drives, but you can configure the system with a single drive, leaving a vacant drive bay for a second one. The i8600 is one of the few small systems we tested that uses a conventional 5.25-inch optical drive (a 52X CD-RW/16X DVD-ROM in our test unit), which makes upgrading to a newer drive much easier and cheaper when the time comes.
We tested a Shuttle-brand 17-inch XP17 Lite LCD monitor. Its clean white design nicely complements the case. (Black and silver designs are available as well.) The LCD rendered sharp text and good-looking graphics with bright, vivid colors. The monitor's included handle enhances the Shuttle system's portability. Our review unit arrived in an optional $64 padded carrying case.
The Shuttle XPC i8600 deftly balances size and expandability. It will appeal to home users and gamers who want a system that can grow with them without taking up much space.
Shuttle I 8600b
Shoebox-sized unit provides almost everything, in a compact space, that a standard minitower offers.
- Deftly balances size and expandability
- Single fan sometimes gets a bit noisy