By Mike Jones aka Hawk88
I currently have a large desktop that I use as a gaming rig, It’s tucked away under my desk. I occasionally use a old EPIC programmer that uses the parallel port. I can not use a parallel cable as it plugs directly into the parallel port. So when I wished to use it I was often pulling my gaming rig out. This got very tiring after a while and I started my search for a small computer that had a back that I could easily access. Although I have never owned one, I have always been a fan of Shuttle’s designs, and off I went to their site to see if I could find a system that would suit my needs. It had to be small, have a parallel port, and look decent since it would sit on my desk in plain sight. To my surprise, Shuttle did not offer one that had a parallel port. Upon further investigation I did find a few that would allow you to add one via an optional part. Most of those systems were at or around $300, plus processor and hard drive. This was just too much money for such a small problem. Then I saw Shuttle was coming out with a $99 barebones and to my surprise had the parallel port. Great!! Only one problem: It wasn’t available yet.
So I waited.
While I waited I discovered a new OS from Microsoft: Windows Home Server. I was intrigued by its features, including being a central depository for all your music, videos, files, etc. It also allows you to access any of these files from a web browser while you are away from home. Plus it offers centralized backups for every computer in your home. I decided to buy an OEM copy of the OS and waited for the Shuttle. In time, Newegg offered the first sets of the K45, but they were not the barebones: This came with 512mb memory, 80 GB hard drive, an Intel Celeron processor, and an installation of Foresite Linux, for under $200. I couldn’t wait on the barebones, I was ready to build my WHS. I purchased 2 GB OCZ 6400 memory for under $50 and I purchased a 750 GB hard drive for $125. I received my K45 (K4500 actually – the real model number for the all in one unit with OS installed) and booted it up and made sure everything worked. I was a little intrigued by the Linux installation and poked around for a couple of hours before I started my project. Not a bad looking OS, just not what I purchased it for.
I installed my goods with no problems. The BIOS recognized everything just fine. But this is where the first road block cropped up: The K45 has no CD/DVD drive, nor a place to put one. I could have just plugged an existing drive in the one IDE port on the motherboard and called it a day. But of course I wouldn’t be a true geek if I did such a thing. So I pretended that I did not see the IDE port, formatted a USB flash drive to make it bootable, and then copied the install files from the DVD to the stick. Here, I encountered my second road block: It seems Vista has an issue when copying files. I let it run a couple of hours and it was not even a quarter of the way done. I ended up letting it copy the files overnight and proceeded with the install the next day. The rest of the install went without a hitch, so I installed the WHS client on my desktop and started setting everything up. I set up a backup schedule, copied my music and movies (which went surprisingly fast thanks to the onboard gigabyte Ethernet).
Then I set the box in the corner and forgot about it, like you are supposed to with a WHS. Since the K45 is touted as a “green” machine (using very lower power), I thought it excelled at being a Home Server meant to run 24/7. It still has one more spot for another hard drive and I can also add more via USB. I only wish the K45 had an eSATA port as well for even greater external expansion. It has one PCI port for expansion, maybe for a TV card, but do not expect to use this machine for graphics applications or games; The system was just not designed for it. So in that respect you are somewhat limited by the onboard graphics. Another wish is that they would have included a DVI port for the video, as there is just an analog VGA output. (Note to Shuttle, please release a video driver for Windows Home Server. Even though you don’t use the actual server screen that much on WHS, it would be nice to easily be able to use the maximum resolution that the chipset is capable of.) There is, however, room to add a laptop DVD/CD drive with a little modding and I understand a future version will come with one.
I then got over the newness and coolness of everything and remembered my first reason for investigating the K45: the parallel port. Microsoft recommends that you not run actual applications on the WHS as you could very easily corrupt the operating system. But of course I ignored that and installed my programmer and legacy program that operates it. After having to put the program in compatibility mode, to my surprise, it ran fine!!! This is much better than pulling out my gaming rig when I need to access the back of the system. Everything was running fine until a couple of weeks went by. The fan in the 100w power supply starting making noise. It sounded like the bearings in the fan were going out. Very surprising given that the unit was only a couple of weeks old. I chalked it up to being one of the first units out and RMAed it back to Newegg. Not a good start to my Shuttle experience, but I gave them the benefit of the doubt. I received my new unit a little over a week later and repeated the process, except I didn’t have to reinstall anything, since it was the same setup.
This new unit did not come with all the paperwork or a CD like the previous unit. The box also had a sticker touting an award that the K45 had won. I didn’t really care about the missing items, as I was not going to using them anyway. After a couple of hours, the fan started to get louder and louder. This was not the power supply, but the Intel heat sink. Upon further inspection I noticed that one of the cooler’s legs was not fully seated, thus making the heat sink not as tight on the processor as it should have been. I took this opportunity (as I saw it) to remove the heat sink and apply some better thermal paste than usually comes with Intel CPUs. I reseated the processor and turned the unit back on. This time it ran very quiet, at least at first. After about 4 hours the fan started to speed up again almost as loud as it was before. I decided to use my Intel heat sink that I had for my Dual Core Duo 2 processor that is on my gaming machine to see if that would quiet it down. This is when I realized that the CPU does not line up with the center of all common heat sinks. The way Shuttle designed the motherboard has it off to one side more than the other. This does not allow a heat sink with a small base to contact the entire top of the CPU.
This is a major flaw in my eyes and I believe it to be the cause of noise issues some people have complained about on some forums. The Dual Core Duo 2 heat sink has a copper base which allows better cooling and is a little taller, providing more surface area to cool. This did the trick and quieted my little Celeron down. It now has been over a week running 24/7 and I can barely hear the little Shuttle. Shuttle is suppose to release their ICE heat sink as an accessory (and is suppose to be included on a future KPC system), which I hope will be designed specifically for the K45 to address the off kilter CPU. Only time will tell. This would also be a good opportunity for an aftermarket company to come to the aid of K45 users and make a little money for them as well. However, the K45 right now is just a niche in a larger SFF world, which itself is hurting, a
ccording to a few articles on the internet. So I personally don’t see that happening anytime soon.
Having addressed the noise issue, I am extremely happy with the K45. The downside is that I consider myself a power user, a geek if you will. The average user that buys this unit may not be as tech savvy as I am. If they encountered the same problems, they would likely be confused and disappointed. This is the first generation of the KPC line and knowing that, I took the plunge. Am I happy that I did? Yes, as a matter of fact I am thinking of picking up the barebones when it comes out in White (one of 4 colors coming soon), that is if it comes with the ICE Genie heat sink, for my wife. As a web browser, email, and office suite system, it can’t be beat.
In summary, the K45 has some downsides, but its pluses outweigh the minuses. It is perfect for a small home server, web, email, word processing computer, and I’m sure it has other uses. It would not, however, be a good gaming machine, heavy video or picture editor, or break speed records in benchmarking. This is just not what it was designed for. If you stay within its designs it will treat you with a low cost, low power, small footprint computer that will not disappoint. I hope Shuttle addresses the heat sink issue and they could offer a quiet, fanless power supply as well, already rumored to be in the works. If they do these things, I can see a big following coming for the KPC line.
$IN->QSTR = ’1333′