SFF/mATX Guidance

I am in the market for a new PC but am struggling with all of my options. I am hoping that through this post I can get some guidance.

Usage: Most of the use of this pc would be software development, non-gaming. I would also like the ability to use this box as a PVR and do some video capturing from my video camera. I would like the hardware to be Vista compatible.

Price: ~ $1,200 - $1,500

Form Factor: I do not want a tower, in general. I have a mid tower now and while it served its purpose its just too big. I'm really looking for something smaller. I really like the Shuttle pc's and mATX options with slim or small cases. Where I struggle is on performance. I have skimmed some reviews and they show all these totally nerdy graphs, benchmarks, etc. I am usually up for that but looked a bit exhausting to get up to speed on terms etc. I just want to box to scream for a reasonable price but am nervous that I am limited going to a small form factor pc.

Noise: Want something quiet. I will pay extra for a better fan and power supply.

Audio: I think I would be fine with any onboard audio options. I could upgrade later if need be.

Processor: Either Intel or AMD is fine. I do think I want dual core. Not looking for the fastest cpu, just the best bang for the buck.

Hard Drive: Nothing special here, 250GB. I have been a fan of IBM/Hitachi in the past.

Video: I am lost here as well. I would like to have, some day, an enormous wide screen LCD. Not sure I want to go that route as of now because I have a 21" CRT now and it is nice. LCD's keep dropping in price so I could pick one up some other time. Where I struggle is do I just deal with the onboard video, like some of the Shuttle's have, or just buy a card that supports both analog and digital. I have been leery of on board video because of how the tend to "share" memory and do not have dedicated memory. I am not concerned with dual monitor option but would be nice.

TV Tuner: I have absolutely no clue here. I would want a dual tuner if I purchased one. Getting one now is not a deal breaker. Just want some guidance.

All in all I think I am a sucker for the Shuttle so I would need some convincing to go another direction but will definitely but open to other options. I am aware that my price range will be limiting but have to put a steak in the ground somewhere.

Thanks in advance.
14 answers Last reply
More about matx guidance
  1. I've had my shuttle for several years. No issues. I have a Hauppauge USB tv tuner - I watch some, record some. It works just fine. I don't have any experiance with video capture from a camera.
    "Vista Compatible" is a very slippery term these days. There are 3 stickers that are on equipment - compatible, ready, certified. It will also depend on what VERSION of Vista you want to use - I'd recomend holding off your purchase till late Feb to see what's in the market.
    Noise in the shuttles seems to be directly tied to what Video card your using - since you don't want a 'gaming' video card you wont need video card that generates lots of heat.
    I'd go with a SATA drive the largest you can afford - the more devices in the box - the greater the heat - the faster the fans will run - and thats where the noise comes from.
    Shuttle is proprietary - you won't be able to 'upgrade' you mother board.
  2. Small form factor case review

    http://www.anandtech.com/casecooling/showdoc.aspx?i=2901

    $40 after rebate (shudder Tiger direct) MicroFly Black no windows w/ 400w psu

    http://www.tigerdirect.com/applications/SearchTools/item-details.asp?EdpNo=1800610&sku=ULT33114

    Even better but more complicated

    $40 after rebate Ultra MicroFly Blue mATX Cube Case (with windows but no psu)
    http://shop1.outpost.com/product/5045125 I own this...it's no LIAN LI but its not total trash either. I moved from the Aria...

    but a FAR 500w psu is also available...

    Ultra V Series 500W Power Supply 0 after rebate (shipping ~8 )
    http://shop1.outpost.com/product/4587977

    Either way could save 60-100 bucks used towards a VC or CPU upgrade...
  3. Be careful,

    The PSU's with the component cables face towards the area where the DVD drives are held. I understand the the LIAN LI faces the DVD drive sideways to avoid this complication. I don't know if it will actually be a problem. The HIPER HPU-4K580-M does seem to have a low profile cable system that could flex out of the way. However, one reviewer stated that his ati 1900xt would not fit in the LIAN LI and it looks like a very small mATX case.

    You may want to look for a PSU that has down facing cables to elevate this problem...

    Just a thought...
  4. BTW I just measured and my MicroFly can fit a 13inch full height card.
  5. I agree that the Shuttles lack 'upgradability' (if there is such a word :)
    Seems that in the past 2 years or so the number of options for small cases and motherboards has grown, so that helps us build our own folks.
    The thing I like about the shuttle is the 'ICE' unit - really does keep the CPU cool - again not so much an issue now that Intel has reduced the heat on their cpu's.
    IF I was building my own - I'd look for the largest rear exhaust fan I available - a high quality fan there and you'll have a 'quite' solution.
    The SIZE of the SFF's is a real plus for me - you get your desk back - leaving much more space for a nice large monitor !!
  6. Thanks for the suggestions.

    As it goes for "upgradeability" we are really talking slots, right? CPU and memory aren't any different than a mATX or ATX boards for the most part. So, unless I am not getting the whole story here, I think Shuttle is still okay for me. I don't think I'll be putting in any more cards excluding video and possibly sound. All I have on my current PC for cards is for USB. I think if I could get a decent sound card and video card then I'd be good.

    Interestingly enough I am getting the impression from this thread and other reviews the Intel 2 Duo E6600 is the route to go. Good price for performance. Thoughts on this? What AMD CPU would I compare this to?

    Can someone help me understand what performance compromises I'd be making by building a SFF or mATX box? Is it bus speed, etc.?
  7. http://www.silverstonetek.com/products-sg01Evolution.htm

    this is an awesome case. i got it about a year ago. it is relatively small but it easily able to accomodate most regular pc components like a normal atx power supply and a very decent video card for your non-gaming needs. i have an enermax liberty power supply with modular cables and an nvidia 6800gt with nv silencer in it. plenty of room. case comes with 2 very quiet 80mm case fans. only noise is from my cpu fan. i should have gotten the silverstone heatsink on the above link which is fanless and utilizes the power supply's fan which stis right above. the enermax liberty has a quiet 120mm exhaust fan in it.
  8. Quote:
    Thanks for the suggestions.
    Can someone help me understand what performance compromises I'd be making by building a SFF or mATX box? Is it bus speed, etc.?


    shuttle's are great, but only thing to worry about are proprietary power supply (have to go to them for replacement and stuck with whatever power they sell), and second you are also limited to their motherboard since a standard mAtx board will not fit. therefore, with other mAtx cases, you could always upgrade the pc and reuse the case in the future if needed. for example, i have the the silverstone case with a socket754 board and agp graphics. next year i may upgrade to core2 and pci graphics. i would just need new motherboard/cpu/ram and reuse case/powersupply. not a big deal, but it provides more upgrade room although dx10 cards won't fit in this case (or any sff/matx) unless the later ones are back to "normal" size unlike the 8800's.
  9. I haven't looked at mATX boards - but given the size of the SFF box more than two slots - 1 video 1 pci is probably rare.
    Shuttle (and others) puts lots of stuff on the MB - my Shuttle is several years old - does 5.1 surround (etc) and with the $100 set of Logitech speakers I'm happy.
    Memory slots - I think (guess) that some of the brand new Shuttles have more than two slots - all of the ones I've built have 2 memory slots.
    CPU speed / Bus Speed / Memory Speed - ( I do not want to start a fight here) - If you put the same 3 parts on two different motherboards you're effective difference wouldn't be noticeable. It is possible that with Overclocking and BIOS differences that some of the benchmark programs would show differences - I don't think they would be show stoppers - given your planned use.

    All the reviews (etc) that I've read indicate that the E6600 is the CPU thats affordable and has GOOD performance. But as you know - in 3 months or so that will change.
    EDIT: Just read the post before this one - the comments about the drawbacks of the shuttle are correct IMHO :)
  10. Quote:
    although dx10 cards won't fit in this case (or any sff/matx) unless the later ones are back to "normal" size unlike the 8800's.


    The MicroFly has 13 inches of card space for card insertion. Almost 5 1/2 inches of girth as well. It can fit almost any card made this century.

    So "or any" is or not

    I like the looks of the other cases better but the MicroFly has some good features the others leave out. Too bad its not made of uber materials.
  11. Quote:
    Thanks for the suggestions.
    Can someone help me understand what performance compromises I'd be making by building a SFF or mATX box? Is it bus speed, etc.?


    shuttle's are great, but only thing to worry about are proprietary power supply (have to go to them for replacement and stuck with whatever power they sell), and second you are also limited to their motherboard since a standard mAtx board will not fit. therefore, with other mAtx cases, you could always upgrade the pc and reuse the case in the future if needed. for example, i have the the silverstone case with a socket754 board and agp graphics. next year i may upgrade to core2 and pci graphics. i would just need new motherboard/cpu/ram and reuse case/powersupply. not a big deal, but it provides more upgrade room although dx10 cards won't fit in this case (or any sff/matx) unless the later ones are back to "normal" size unlike the 8800's.

    You bring up good points about the power supply and motherboard upgradeability. My experience has been that I don't upgrade, I just buy a whole new system. So the only real drawback I see is that if any of the Shuttle parts go bad I may have to pay a premium to replace them (mobo, power supply, fan).

    What I'm not hearing from folks is that because of bus speed limitations, smaller board, etc. that I'm getting a slower machine compared to the same memory and CPU on a mATX or ATX board. I understand their may be small differences, but at a high level I just don't have as many memory, pci and video slots, etc. Am I thinking right?
  12. Quote:
    I am in the market for a new PC but am struggling with all of my options. I am hoping that through this post I can get some guidance.


    I currently have an HTPC built around the Athlon XP-M 2600+ in an Antec Aria case. I am planning to upgrade sometime in Sept or October. I have been doing some preliminary research on m-ATX motherboards for a Core 2 Duo CPU. Unfortunately, what I have found so far is relatively dissapointing. All such motherboards that I've found have either very little overclocking capabilities or none at all. This includes motherboards built around the following chipsets: VIA P4M890, Intel 945G & 945GZ, and the Intel G965. All of the afore mentioned chipset are decent enough if overclocking is not a priority. However, I personally want to squeeze a little extra performance out of my CPUs. But I also want a relatively small PC case that will fit in my media center.

    After an exhaustive search on suitable m-ATX mobos, I found none to my liking. Therefore, I decided to look for a relatively small ATX case to suit my needs. I came across the LIAN LI PC-V800B Black Aluminum ATX Desktop case which is a pretty unique design measuring 12.6" x 6.3" x 17.3". Here is a picture of the case:



    What's unusual about the design is that the PSU is placed at the front of the case, so it is necessary to buy a very quiet power supply such as one made by Seasonic. I personally own the Seasonic S12 500 and can say for a fact they are very quiet. Because the case has 2 60mm fans I would replace them with some quiet ones like the Papst 612FL Quiet 60mm Case Fans.

    Using this case will allow you to choose a motherboard based on the P965, 975x or the new nVidia NForce 600 series. They are good for overclocking and offers more features than the motherboards built around the previously mentioned chipsets.

    If I were to build a new HTPC at this moment then I would buy the following components:

    LIAN LI PC-V800B Black Aluminum ATX Desktop - $155.98

    GIGABYTE GA-965P-S3 LGA 775 - $115.12

    eVGA 256-P2-N443-LX GeForce 7300GT 256MB - $74.98 (since you will not be playing games)

    SeaSonic S12-380 ATX12V 380W Power Supply - $84.63

    Core 2 Duo E6400 - $221

    CORSAIR XMS2 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 675 - $239

    Soundblaster Audigy 4 SE - $49.99

    Hauppauge WINTV-PVR-150 PCI Interface Tuner Card - $93.63

    16 dB Papst 612FL Quiet Case Fan 60mm (x2) - 16.95 x 2 = $33.90 + shipping

    HITACHI Deskstar T7K500 250GB - $75.93

    SAMSUNG Black 18X DVD Burner - $38.63

    All the above totals to $1,182.79 including shipping with the exception of the two Papst 60mm fans.
  13. Mozart SX



    I was kind of diggin the low profile of this Mozart. I also like the fact that it has a riser system so your video card can go on its side.

    It's not that bad a price either.

    115 at Nwave

    Though its 190 with the media lab kit as shown...
  14. I think my approach has pulled me in a bunch of directions and I keep getting lost. So, instead of forcing a Shuttle I thought I would focus on the other parts of the computer first and that might help me decide what case/mobo I want to get. Below are some decisions I have already made.

    CPU: Intel Core Duo 2 E6600. This is a bit more than I planned on spending for a CPU but per the article below I feel its the best bang for the buck. I didn't want to go any lower than the E6600 because it appears it has less cache (2MB).

    http://www.tomshardware.com/2006/08/02/thg_tuning_test/index.html

    HD: Hitachi 320GB 0A33435 SATA2 U300 7200rpm 16MB RoHS Hard Drive. I have had good luck with Hitachi(IBM) drives in the past and the price and features seem comparable to other vendors.

    Don't laugh, I know I have done the easy part but I am still catching up with all the new technologies, or new to me. I am game for anyone who thinks I'm making some wrong assumptions and wants to challenge the choices.

    Next I need to pick a video card. I for sure do not want a shared memory situation, that just fundamentally bugs me. Since I am not a gamer I should be good with 128MB - 256MB for memory. I would like to make sure it have both analog and DVI outputs. I wont be getting a flat panel in the near future so I need analog for sure. As a bonus I'd like to have a dual monitor configuration if possible but not a deal breaker. Pretty sure I want to stick with PCI express. Just seems like the latest deal for video cards. Not stuck on nVidia or ATI so could go with either. Suggestions?
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