Shuttle's X27: Can Atom Handle Vista?


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.

Chris Angelini
Chris Angelini is an Editor Emeritus at Tom's Hardware US. He edits hardware reviews and covers high-profile CPU and GPU launches.
  • johnbilicki
    This looks like a decent system if you're looking for something to keep a small room cool and you're going to be doing productivity related tasks as well as enjoy some modest multimedia (watching a DVD). I'm actually considering the next step up early next year for a single dedicated graphics card that turns off when I'm not using 3D. If I wasn't a gamer I'd probably find this useful as a main system save for the fact that I require the redundancy of my RAID setup.

    ATOM is targeted for systems that use low amounts of power so it makes absolutely no sense to try to load Vista on it.

    - Vista treats memory like a RAM drive. It doesn't intelligently determine what should be loaded, it just starts loading stuff (watch your memory after a fresh install and if it reports what is actually in the memory then I sure haven't been able to find it amongst all the clutter). 2GB is enough for most systems and the vast majority of games with the page file disabled though Vista "requires" about 4GB to run smoothly which there in and of itself negates the point of Microsoft shipping 32 bit version.

    - Since Vista treats memory like a RAM drive it creates unnecessary wear on the hard drive. If you're looking to maximize the life span of your system (as well as ensure it's responsive) you should only load what you're using and with an INTELLIGENT caching system only preload associated files. For example many games have launchers (launcher.exe and game.exe)...obviously this is an example of when you DO want to cache something. User habits (loading Firefox after Open Office numerous times) would also justify caching.

    It's good to finally see computers physically getting smaller. It's a decent system, maybe a decent starter system for someone who isn't in to gaming.
  • cangelini
    As a main system, I promise this thing would frustrate the heck out of you. I personally love the concept, but couldn't work with the implementation. Give me a low-power desktop configuration, at least, for performing desktop tasks.
  • drfelip
    I'd prefer to see the comparison against the 740G or a 780G integrated graphics. The difference against a 4670 is too big, both in performance and in power usage.
  • cangelini
    drfelipI'd prefer to see the comparison against the 740G or a 780G integrated graphics. The difference against a 4670 is too big, both in performance and in power usage.
    It's still going to be a huge performance difference, and the 4670 really didn't play too big of a role here since I didn't run games. Should you wish to sub in the standard 740G or 780G graphics, however, you can also subtract $90 from the price tag of the desktop setup.
  • zodiacfml
    i think, we have to take the topic system in its parts.
    for me, the shuttle x27 is bang on if the tasks are internet surfing, email, or microsoft office. this is sufficient for my sisters. :)
    also can be 24 hour computer that serves various media while downloading/uploading torrents. :p

    for home theater setups, as said in the article, is futile.
    but, that doesn't say the atom 230 is bad at all. we can buy a motherboard embedded with an atom 230 that has pci express and install a 4670 on it. in the future,i am sure there will be integrated graphics that could.
    if the market says im wrong,well intel can produce lots of atom 330 dual core immediately.
  • wahdangun
    cangelini, why don't you use mini-itx 780g+downclocked amd x2(or phenom 9150e)
    it will be killer for HTPC and still use low amounts of power.
  • Well,

    I would have liked to see a 780G compete against the Atom platform too. Especially regarding power consumption. IMHO you missed the point by comparing an Atom system to a system with dedicated graphics.
  • cangelini
    anomousWell, I would have liked to see a 780G compete against the Atom platform too. Especially regarding power consumption. IMHO you missed the point by comparing an Atom system to a system with dedicated graphics.
    I do see your point--one angle could have been trying to pare both systems down to an absolute minimum. But if you're going to end up paying $400+ for the X2700, why not compare what you could get from a comparable lightweight desktop as well? In this case, you can add a $90 graphics card and still come in under the Shuttle's price--AND do exceptionally well in Vista.
  • cangelini:

    Basically there are two ways of comparing an AMD based system to an Atom based system. Either you take the prize tag as a lead, thus one could add more horsepower (either graphics, as in your case, or CPU power, Phenom f.e.) to the AMD system. Or one could take the capabilities as a lead, thus one could come up with an AMD system that might be cheaper and with only marginally higher power consumption on average. IMHO the last way is the more logical one, as Intel doesn't market the Atom platform as a new, powerful all purpose platform, but as a cheap, "good-enough" platform with unmatched power efficiency. And as I doubt the last point, I would have appreciated a 780G based competitor in this review even more.
  • Reynod
    A solid review but I still can't see a valid market niche for the Atom compared to other offerings.

    It would have been good to throw in a low end E series cpu and match up the video a bit better - I note your reasons above.

    You would be hard pressed to out match a low end X2 in terms of value for money as a HTPC.

    Perhaps that might make a good future review.

    Another choice might be to play with the various X2 and Core2 low end cpu's in a bit of an underclocking experiment to get the best of power vs performance.

    Some users have gotten stellar results underclocking the new 45nm Intel core2 line as well ...

    Well done.