This is a review of version 2 of the SG31G2 platform. I’m not sure how it differs from version 1, other than version 1 was no longer available from my vendor. [Update from Jerry: the difference between v1 and v2 includes updated rev of ethernet controller, different IEEE1394 controller, removed floppy interface and cable, one less USB header, added 2 serial port headers, added 4-pin Molex-to-SATA power converter.] I found the tech specs on the Shuttle site a little lacking. Since I was building it entirely from mail-order parts, I didn’t want to be short a cable or similar. So for anyone else doing it, here are the details.
I didn’t have a wrist grounding strap. So I touched any anti-static wrapper I had to the metal frame of the case before opening the wrapper, touched the inside of the wrapper to the case after opening it, and didn’t move myself until the part was installed. I wanted to take special care with the CPU and memory.
With Newegg, be aware of the return policies for the case, CPU, memory, and Windows OS, they are not the standard return policies. Once you’ve opened the box, no changing your mind. I suspect other retailers aren’t much different.
The SG31G2v2 includes the case, power supply, motherboard, cables, drivers, and other miscellaneous parts. What you need to add is a CPU, memory, and hard disk. And any other accessories you want, such as keyboard, mouse, monitor, card reader, DVD drive, etc.
I really like the small form factor of the Shuttle case. That’s why I paid a bit extra for the case, versus a full-size desktop.
It has an LGA775 CPU socket. I chose to install an Intel E7400 CPU, which is a Core 2 Duo running at 2.8GHz. I didn’t want to pay significantly more money for a slightly higher clock speed, the price/benefit ratio for that falls out of whack. I think the performance constraint is going to be with the disk I/O anyway. Align the triangles and very carefully place it in the socket. The pins are in the socket instead of the CPU die. The E7400 comes with an Intel CPU fan, you won’t need it because the Shuttle has a built-in cooler named ICE2 than runs a liquid-filled coil across the CPU and into the chassis fan. The benefit of that is only 1 fan in the case but still having CPU-specific cooling. The Shuttle also comes with thermal paste to seal the cooler to the CPU, the Intel CPU does not come with thermal paste.
There are 2 DIMM slots for a 2GB module in each, for a max total of 4GB. It’s best to remove the drive bay to reach the DIMM slots. The DIMMs just pop right in as you would expect. At 4GB for $50, it’s a no-brainer to put in as much memory as possible. I selected G.Skill 240-pin DDR2 800. I’m amazed at how far the RAM prices have dropped over the last couple years. Some of the RAM gets used by the video, so I really get 3.24GB of usable RAM in Windows.
There is a removable drive bay which can take a total of 3 drives: an internal 3.5 inch, another 3.5 inch with optional external faceplate (such as a floppy drive, another internal hard disk, or in my case a multi-function card reader), and a 5.25 inch slot with optional external faceplate (such as a DVD drive).
Internal hard drive: I selected a Western Digital WD1001FALS Caviar Black 1TB 7200RPM SATA drive. The price is right, the capacity is great, and it is basically silent even during high use. There are 3 internal SATA data connectors on the motherboard, and the case comes with 1 SATA data cable (locking). So if you are using an OEM hard drive that didn’t come with a SATA data cable, you are set. Shuttle even provides 2 sets of screws for the drives. One set can be used for the 3.5 inch hard disk, and the other for the DVD drive. Shuttle provides a power cable with two SATA power connectors, so no Molex-to-SATA converter is needed for up to 2 SATA drives. Even if such a converter is needed, Shuttle provides one in the accessory box, so you could run a total of 3 SATA devices using the included parts. I used the SATA data cable provided by Shuttle for the hard drive.
Card reader: I selected a Rosewill RCR-IC001 which is the size of a floppy drive. It exposes the front of the reader right below the DVD drive. It connects to the motherboard via USB for both data and power. It uses a USB header connection which is different than the usual external USB A/B connector. The Shuttle has 1 USB header port on the motherboard. The reader has a USB header cable permanently attached to it, and it plugged right in to the header connection on the motherboard. The power to this reader is supplied by USB, so no separate power connection is required. Since this is a retail package instead of an OEM package, Rosewill provided screws to secure the reader to the drive bay. It’s a little weird that SD cards go in the reader upside down, but that’s not a big issue.
DVD drive: I selected a Samsung SH-S223L dual-layer SATA DVD burner with LightScribe. I wanted this PC to be legacy-free, so I chose SATA instead of IDE. If your hard disk is SATA, you will need to acquire another SATA data cable (such as this one) for a SATA optical drive, Shuttle provides only one. An 18 inch SATA data is the perfect length. Luckily, Shuttle provides not 1 but 2 SATA power native connectors. So you can run 1 power connector to your SATA hard drive, and the other power connector to your SATA optical drive. Thank you Shuttle! Even though this DVD drive comes in OEM packaging (as opposed to retail, meaning there is no screws, cables, manuals, or box, it’s just a raw drive wrapped in bubble wrap), it does come with a CD that contains Nero burning software and firmware updates. Be careful when installing Nero, it will try to own just about every possible file extension for audio and video files. Yuck! I clicked “Deselect All” in the Nero installer so that those file extensions will continue to be owned by Windows Media Player and iTunes.
There also is an IDE bus on the motherboard, and the case is wired with an IDE cable that can connect 2 devices (master and slave). Although there are 3 SATA data connectors on the motherboard, the middle SATA data connector is a bit hard to reach when the IDE cable is present at the same time. The IDE cable collapses from a full-width ribbon to a layered reduced-width cable right there near the connector, so it is crowded. Since I don’t have any IDE devices, I removed the IDE cable from the case. This definitely helped it be less crowded. If you want to use an IDE optical drive, there are a total of three 4-pin Molex power connectors. And there is an audio-out cable for the optical drive, in case you want that. I don’t bother with that since I rip my old audio CDs to MP3. The SATA DVD drive didn’t have an analog audio-out interface anyway.
I don’t have any PCI or PCI Express cards. Just using the built-in video. I’m not a gamer.
So after I was done, there was 1 SATA data port, 1 IDE data bus (that could run both a master and slave device), and three 4-pin Molex power connectors unused. The Molex-to-SATA power converter provided by Shuttle also went unused. All the drive bays were full. The PCI and PCIe slots were unused. I had all the screws I needed, and ordered just a single SATA data cable.
For the OS, yes, I picked Windows. But XP. I wish I could run Linux, but the family has applications that are Windows only. I don’t like sending money to Redmond. No need for Vista, XP Home works fine, and I already have all the peripheral drivers I need. I got the system builders version. It does come with media and a license sticker for your case. Just boot the CD and follow the on-screen wizard. It did take about 3 hours to do a full format of my hard drive.
Since I wanted to let the family use this computer, and I’ll take over the old one, we now have 2 computers in a small space. No room for a 2nd monitor/keyboard/mouse. I wanted a KVM switch to reuse the monitor in our small desk space. I got a Startech SV215MICUSBA. I like the wired remote control that I can put next to the monitor to switch between the 2 PCs, no need for a keyboard sequence. And I like that it includes audio out for speakers and mic in that connects to both computers. It expects a USB keyboard and mouse, and analog VGA video output and monitor. When you switch from one computer to the other, the keyboard and mouse get disconnected from the non-selected computer: you hear the audio cue that Windows is disconnecting USB devices. And the selected computer sounds about finding new USB devices. But it all seems to work fine.
The original keyboard I had was PS2 connected, I wanted to replace it with a USB one. I found a Saitek PZ30AU Black USB Standard Eclipse keyboard that had lots of recommendations. I like that the keys are backlit (in blue), as the desk is in a room that doesn’t have much natural light. The backlight has 3 settings (bright, dim, off) that are controlled from a small button on the keyboard. Even with the backlight novelty, I think the keys move OK. I also like the built in wrist rest.
And during installation, Windows hardware detection would hang until I discovered that my existing USB mouse was flaky. It wouldn’t hang if I disconnected the mouse. It had been acting a bit weird on the old computer. I replaced it with a simple Logitech SBF-96. You can’t get much more simple than that.
Total parts list:
|Shuttle barebones SG31G2v2||$200|
|Intel E7400 CPU||$118|
|G.Skill DDR2-800 4GB RAM||$50|
|Western Digital 1TB SATA hard disk||$100|
|Samsung SH-S223L DVD drive||$29|
|SATA data cable||$3|
|Rosewill card reader||$17|
|Windows XP Home||$90|
Shipping costs for everything was $39 extra.
It is fast and quiet. Niiiiice.
There is a blue power LED on the front of the Shuttle case. It is really bright. So bright that at night it bathes the room in a blue glow. I need to close the doors of the computer desk at night.
I tried a Microsoft Comfort Curve keyboard, and eventually decided that for the Curve to really work you have to consistently use that keyboard. I spend most of my computer time on a regular laptop keyboard, so the Curve keyboard would be the exception. For the little bit of time I used this one I had to look at where I was typing, which I don’t typically do. I gave up on it and went with the Saitek keyboard.
For a while, I was rather displeased with the video quality from the analog VGA connection. It looked blurry, and the contrast appeared too low and the saturation too high. I spent a bunch of time fiddling with the color correction settings on the card via Windows Display properties. When I finally remembered that my LCD monitor had its own settings, I selected the monitor’s “auto config” and it’s much better. Just a teeny bit less clear than my old computer, but now it is OK.
The Shuttle web site says it has 7.1 surround sound. Be aware that there are several 1/8″ headphone-style connectors for analog, not a single S/PDIF optical or coaxial digital output.
It’s kind of amazing to do a “dir c:\” and see only 3 entries: “Windows”, “Documents and Settings”, and “Program Files”. No junk installed by the manufacturer.
Overall I’m really pleased with how it turned out. I was basically quite surprised at how well everything came together. Part of that credit should go to Shuttle, they did a nice job. I had been looking at a pre-built system from a well-known manufacturer for about the same amount of money, but they had a smaller disk drive but included an LCD monitor. Between 5 iPod users and 3 camera owners sharing this PC, we need the disk space. Even though the specs looked similar, I think I ended up with a higher quality system. I understand that in the razor-thin-margins of the PC industry, finding the cheapest components is what it is about. And as in most places, you get what you pay for. I think I ended up with a good balance of price and quality/performance. I’d do it again.