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Shuttle’s X2700: Hardware

Shuttle's X27: Can Atom Handle Vista?
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The X2700 consists of two parts: the X27 platform and all of the optional components added to yield a functional machine. The X27 itself is made up of an enclosure, a 945GC-based motherboard, and an Intel Atom 230 processor built onto the board. Extra features include the hard drive, optical drive, memory module, and wireless networking support.

Processor:

As mentioned, there’s an Intel Atom 230 driving the X27. That’s both good and bad news.

On the plus side, power consumption as low as 4 W means the CPU can easily be kept cool with a passive heatsink. The 45 nm chip includes 64-bit extensions and all of Intel’s multimedia extensions up to SSE3. It also sports Hyper-Threading for better resource utilization in multi-tasked usage scenarios. Although 1.6 GHz doesn’t sound like much, the plucky little processor is able to run Windows Vista, though Shuttle bundles Foresight Linux with the ready-made X2700.

Conversely, as we saw in this story comparing the Atom to AMD’s Athlon 64 2000+, the Intel 945GC chipset that is for some reason paired to the Atom 230 has a TDP of 22.2 W, GMA 950 graphics, no Blu-ray acceleration, and no HDCP support. Thus, the energy-saving story gets a tad diluted. Then there’s the issue of performance. Shuttle clearly knows the 1.6 GHz chip isn’t quite beefy enough for Vista—hence the Linux bundle. But it still advertises X27 as Vista-ready. Indeed, if the X2700 is going to see much play as a desktop workstation, it’d likely see lots of use with XP and Vista added on.

Platform:

Shuttle’s 945GC-based motherboard is small enough to fit within the mini-ITX specification. Despite its form factor, there’s a lot happening on-board.

One 240-pin DDR2 slot supports up to 2 GB of memory—maxed out on our sample with a 667 MHz module. Factor in a 256 MB loss at the hands of integrated graphics and you’re looking at yet another reason to think hard before adopting Vista.

The 945GC Northbridge features a built-in GMA 950 core, which supports the vertex shader model 3.0 spec and the pixel shader model 2.0 spec to achieve DirectX 9.0c compliance. However, don’t think you’re going to do any gaming on this thing. Despite its four pixel pipelines, meager memory bandwidth and a lackluster fill rate mean you wouldn’t play anything on the X27 even if it had a more muscular CPU.

Fortunately, there is plenty of integration to make the X27 a more complete offering. Between the 945GC Northbridge and dated ICH7 Southbridge, you get the aforementioned graphics, 5.1-channel high definition audio, two channels of SATA, one of PATA, and Gigabit Ethernet via Marvell’s 88E8056 controller.

The platform’s motherboard accommodates more connectivity than the X27 includes. For instance, there are three four-pin fan headers. But there’s only one used by a 20 mm chipset cooler. The parallel ATA connector isn’t put to use at all.

Memory, Hard Drive, And Optical Drive

Just three components separated our X2700 sample from the X27 barebones you can buy for less than $200 online: one memory module, one hard drive, and one optical drive. That hardware trio pushes the price of a completed X2700 up to $429.

The memory in question is a 2 GB Kingston DDR2-667 CAS 5 module which, you might be surprised to learn, sells for just over $30 online. Shuttle sells it as a $30 upgrade to the 1 GB module standard in the X2700. Chalk up one reason to buy the barebones and put your own system together.

The X2700’s hard drive is an 80 GB Toshiba MK8052GSX, a 2.5” SATA drive that spins at 5,400 RPM and is priced just over $40 online. Stepping up to a 120 GB model on Shuttle’s configurator runs a scant $20—well worth the price given the extra 40 GB. Or, pay an extra $385 for a 32 GB SSD (or $785 for a 64 GB SSD). Neither solid-state option makes much sense to us, since I/O performance is less a bottleneck than the rest of the platform.

Finally, Shuttle includes an 8x DVD+/-R/RW writer as the only option on its configuration tool. You can find 8x combo drives online fairly regularly for $50 or so, bringing the approximate total of Shuttle’s add-ons to $120.

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