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Increasing Trend: High-quality Workmanship And Good Looks Too

PC Size Means Everything
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You can see it even on a first glance at the test candidates: All manufacturers offer a high degree of quality, visible in the detail work and low tolerances in parts of the housings. Whereas earlier we were met with hard-to-open steel covers, now hardly any muscle is needed.

Potent Hardware Setup

Another criterion has to do with the hardware provided. With the exception of the Shuttle XPC SN85G4, which conceptually relies on single DDR400, the three other test candidates are all equipped with a dual DDR400 interface . That still means a theoretically possible bandwidth of 6.4 GB/s. The three test candidates for the P4 platform - Biostar, Shuttle and Soltek - all rely on the 865 chipset, although the last two (QBIC EQ3401M and IDEQ 200T), being graphics versions, also have onboard graphics. That will be plenty for anyone who deals with Office tasks. However, all four test candidates can also be upgraded with a high-end 3D graphics card such as GeForce FX 5900. The bare-bones devices also have an AGP interface. Powerful components like the Intel P4 3.2 or the AMD Athlon XP 3200+ demand a hefty power supply particularly for high-end 3D graphics. It is precisely this point that manufacturers have overlooked in the past. Power supplies starting with 200 watts of combined output power are standard now. Shuttle even equips the XPC SN85G4 with a 240-watt model, although the power loss of the AMD Athlon 64 3200+ is comparatively low.

Ergonomics: Variable-speed Fan

All four test candidates use variable-speed fans, making background noise minimal when system capacity is low. Because the two Shuttle bare-bones systems in the XPC series use the well-known heat pipe cooling method, background noise is almost identical to those of the other models. In principle, operating noise depends on the power consumption of the hardware used: A fast graphics card along the lines of the GeForce FX 5900, in combination with a DVD burner, two hard drives and a P4 with 3 GHz and up (or Athlon 64 3200+) will build up a high level of heat at high system load that has to be channeled out with a fan. However, a positive trend is developing: With average equipment, all PCs are very quiet (35 db(A)) and can be used in the immediate work area.

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