By Matt Horon
Building a computer, for the enthusiast (at whom, no doubt, the Shuttle is aimed), should be a rewarding experience. Shuttles take the hassle out of building computers; the challenge of mounting a motherboard to a case with a cooling solution is something I didn’t miss when my Shuttle arrived. All the heavy lifting was finished–the memory, processor, hard drive and optical drive were all that remained to install.
The Shuttle SG31G2 is darn well designed. Coming in at about 5lbs fully loaded and only 11.8” x 7.9” x 7.3”. It’s a machine wrought of straight lines and no-nonsense practicality. Exterior ports are designed for easy access and not hidden or recessed as with poorer case designs. Interior wires are clearly demarcated, smartly grouped and routed. Copper heat sinks and the unique ICE CPU cooler clear the case of heat. The drive bay and fan assembly easily dissemble for building (and tearing down) the system.
But design is nothing without performance—and it’s here that some will find the SG31G2 a bit underwhelming. A 250w power supply means making hard choices with hardware and a single PCI-x slot rules out running more than one video card. RAM expansion is limited to 4GB, which is plenty for even power hungry Vista—but will not look so great 2 to 3 years from now. The Intel G31 chipset is fine for watching standard definition videos—but not so much for use as an HDTV playback device or for any modern gaming.
And yet some things surprise: native firewire support (although puzzlingly, no eSATA) and S/PDIF for audio enthusiasts. And about that “wimpy” 250w power supply: it handles a quad core plus Nvidia 8800GT while also powering a toaster*.
Beyond aesthetics and initial performance—at core, the SG31G2 is what you make of it. Spend little and use it as a heavy office multitasking machine that will be sure to impress your co-workers, or perhaps as an ultra efficient Linux box tucked in a closet. Add a video card and turn it into a full fledged gaming and calculating machine, capable of putting up a good show in Crysis, powering full 1080P Blu-Ray disks and cutting through multi-tasking in Vista.
For the cutting-edge and tinkering crowd, pushing the SG31G2 to its limits is a challenge. The FSB doesn’t seem to like much prodding, limiting my e8400 to 3.3GHZ. Complicating matters, there just isn’t much documentation on the SG31G2’s motherboard or BIOS. This seems more a system for those those content to run their computer close to the stock settings. The SG31G2 can be pushed – but it pushes back rather soon.
In sum, the SG31G2 is a great barebones system that is well thought out and put together. All but the most demanding users will find it can be filled with plenty of powerful hardware and everyone will appreciate its lightweight and compact design. Drawbacks are its relatively costly price and limited upgrade path.
*Toaster must conform to PCI 3.0 specifications.