Let’s start with the bottom line, first. Shuttle’s barebones X27 and pre-built X2700 are physically attractive mini-ITX platforms that lack the muscle to serve as everyday desktops. The 1.6 GHz Atom 230 just doesn’t have the strength to drive Vista.
It’s not all bad news for the latest Atom-based creation, though. Shuttle bundles Foresight Linux with the X2700. While our experiences with Foresight aren’t particularly thorough, it isn’t a distribution we’d hand our grandmothers and expect them to be able to use their PCs. And since Shuttle advertises the X27 as Vista-ready, we were really hoping for a better Vista experience. Fault the hardware or Microsoft’s software—either way, you’ll spend plenty of time waiting for Internet Explorer to pop up. Never mind trying to play music or edit pictures.
Then there’s the issue of price. At just under $200, the X27 barebones is actually a fair deal considering you can finish it up for a bit north of $300. That is, of course, if you’re willing to use the miniature machine as an online terminal in the kitchen or as an Internet portal in the living room. But to charge $429 for a fully configured X2700 is a bit much when you can piece together a fully capable Athlon X2 4050e-based machine with a Radeon HD 4670 for $10 less.
Now, there are those purists out there who will argue, “but the X27 fits in a mini-ITX form factor. I need something in those dimensions and your clunky desktop won’t do at all.” But at what price? The Athlon X2 at 2.1 GHz isn’t exactly a Vista powerhouse. It will, however, handle multiple tasks relatively well and, aided by a modern card like the HD 4670, do a fine job in a home theater environment playing back Blu-ray content.
So who, exactly, is Shuttle’s X27 aimed at? Likely the same folks who’d buy a Dell Studio Hybrid or Eee Box. But we’re not sure who those people are. Multi-tasking is a foregone conclusion nowadays and the Atom just can’t handle it in Vista. Media enthusiasts will lament the lack of modern video acceleration in the GMA 950 core. And we wouldn’t even consider this single 2.5” drive solution a good candidate as a networked file/media server.
At the end of the day, the X27 comes to the table with Shuttle’s renowned exterior design and functionality, but suffers at the hand of a platform conceptualized for more portable applications. We applaud the power-friendly architecture and find ourselves wishing for more in the way of oomph. Keep an eye out for next month’s $500 System Builder Marathon—it’ll give you a much more well-rounded experience.