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REVIEW: Shuttle XPC SZ87R6 & SH87R6 Barebones "Black Boxes"

REVIEW: Shuttle XPC SZ87R6 & SH87R6 Barebones "Black Boxes" - AkihabaraNews.com

Veteran Contributor Ike Leus has returned! Specializing in the techier/geekier side of our coverage, his extensive collection of absurdly popular home server and gaming rig reviews, along with a variety of other tech coverage, can be found here. Welcome back!

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Introduction

Last month, we received 2 of Shuttle's new 'Black Boxes.’ After testing last year's SR77R5 model, we have to admit being pretty excited when these 2 Shuttle Mini PCs showed up at our porch.

So we welcomed them in, and got testing...

So, Shuttle? 

Shuttle Inc., founded in Taiwan in 1983, specializes in the development and production of innovative mini PCs. The joint-stock company is represented worldwide by a network of branch offices in Germany, the US, and Japan. Since 2001, the attractive cube-shaped PCs have found popularity in nearly any field of application and have become the company’s core business.

Widely acclaimed by customers and press across the globe, Shuttle bases its success on effective management and long-term experience in making mainboards of the highest quality standards. Shuttle's mini PC barebones and fully-configured systems have for years been the first choice of many system integrators, VARs, OEMs, and ODMs banking on the high reliability and build quality. With appealing mini PC solutions Shuttle meets the requirements of consumers excellently and seeks to provide further user-friendly solutions of consumer electronics for the digital home environment.

Key Points, as Described by Shuttle

The Shuttle XPC Barebones SZ87R6 packs Intel’s 4th Generation Core desktop processor for the LGA1150 socket into an elegant, fresh case design. The aluminum chassis with a black-brushed surface has a volume of 14 liters, which is just one third of the volume of a standard midi tower.

Despite its small dimensions, it is brimming with features. Built-in are the latest Intel Core i7 Quad Core processor, a dual-slot PCI Express graphics card, mSATA-SSD, two 4 TB hard disks in RAID mode, 32 GB DDR3-1600 memory, and a Blu-ray drive. The SZ87R6 supports the unlock-function of K-series processors, and, thanks to the 500W power supply, you can also use high-end graphics cards for an beautifully pure gaming experience. Convince yourself of the versatility and stylish exterior of this Shuttle XPC!



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Note: The SH87R6 has pretty much the same key points, except for the power supply being squeezed down to 300W in maximum output.

On the Outside

  • Black aluminum chassis
  • Storage bays: 1 x 5.25" (external), 2 x 3.5" (1x internal, 1x external)
  • Front door for I/O ports and storage drives
  • Kensington Security Slot on the back panel
  • Dimensions: 33.2 x 21.6 x 19.8 cm (LWH), 14.2 liters
  • Weight: 3.5 kg net / 5.0 kg gross

Design-wise there’s little new to talk about - both models resemble last year's (internally and externally). The one exception is the SH87R6’s slightly different matte-finished front panel’s ribbed feeling (vs. the SZ87R6's brushed aluminum front panel), along with it losing the 2nd RJ45 connector; not a huge difference from the outside.

There’s a push-open panel for an optical drive station or hot swap hard disk bay on top, below that you have a push-open panel that hides a fitting for a 3.5-inch bay (floppy or card reader will be the most commonly used items here). At the bottom there is another push-open panel protecting an array of IO ports from dust. In this bottom panel you will find 2 USB 3.0 ports, 1 USB 2.0 port, 1 mic-in, 1 line-in and 1 quickcharge USB2.0 port (designated to be used for smartphone or tablet charging and syncing, delivering up to 2A of juice).

Under the Bonnet

Inside the XPCs, you find (respectively) Shuttle's FZ87 (for the SZ model) and FH87 (for the SH model) form factor, both XPC running an AMI BIOS. Southbridge chipset: Intel® Z87 or H87 Express (codename: Lynx Point).

The FZ87 board on the SZ87R6 supports any Socket 1150 (LGA 1150, 4th generation) Intel Core i3 / i5 / i7 processors with a TDP up to 84W. ("Haswell" 22nm process technology). This main board equally supports Intel® K-Series unlocked CPU.

The FH87 board on the SH87R6 model is pretty much identical to the FZ87 mentioned above, the only difference being no support for Intel® K-Series unlocked CPUs. No support is a relative expression; the SH model will perfectly accept a K-Series CPU, but it won't allow you to alter the voltages (overclock) of the CPU's cores.

Memory: There are 4 x 240 pin slots available, supporting DDR3-1333/1600 SDRAM memory (PC3-10600/12800) in 2+2 Dual Channel mode. Max. 8 GB per DIMM, combined max up to 32 GB.

Built-in ports:

  • 1x PCI-Express x16 v3.0 slot (PEG, up to Dual-slot graphics cards)
  • 1x PCI-Express x4 v2.0 slot
  • Half-size MPCi, supports PCIe 2.0 and USB 2.0, e.g. for WLAN cards [4]
  • Full-size MPCi, supports PCIe 2.0, SATA 3G and USB 2.0
  • 7.1 channel High Definition Audio with Realtek ALC888S codec (Azalia standard support).
  • Analog: line-out (7.1-ch), line-in, microphone, AUX input (onboard)
  • Digital: optical S/PDIF-out (Digital Audio also via HDMI output)
  • Gigabit Realtek RTL 8111E Ethernet network controller (WOL support)*
  • 2x SATA 3.0, 6 Gbit/s - 2x SATA 2.0, 3 Gbit/s
  • 1x Ext. SATA 2.0, 3 Gbit/s
  • Supports Intel Rapid Storage Technology (Raid 0/1/5/10, JBOD)
  • HDMI (supports digital audio bypass)
  • DVI-I (supports analog VGA with optional adapter)
  • 6x USB 2.0 ( 2 front, 4 back) + 2 additional via onboard plug
  • 4x USB 3.0 ( 2 front, 2 back)
  • Digital Audio: optical S/PDIF output
  • Clear CMOS button
  • 1x RS232 (2x5 pins) for optional accessory H-RS232
  • 2x fan connectors (4 pins)
  • Audio AUX input

*The SZ87R6 model features 2 RJ45 network ports.

The built in (and user replaceable) power supplies feeding these XPCs are a 500-watt mini-PSU on the SZ87R6 model and a 300-watt mini-PSU on the SH87R6. AC input voltage: 100~240V 80PLUS Bronze compliant. The PSU provides at least 82/85/82% efficiency at 20/50/100% load.

Active PFC circuit (Power Factor Correction)/ATX main power connectors: 2x10 and 2x2 pins/Graphics power connector: 6 and 6+2 pins.



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Note: this is a barebone system; you have to install/purchase your preferred OS, HDD/SSD, and RAM separately.

Accessories

  • Multilingual XPC Installation Guide.
  • 1 combined 32/64 bit driver disk -> However advised to download the latest drivers via their website.
  • 2 Serial-ATA cables. SATA6 compliant. (Although 1 or 2 extra wouldn't have hurt).
  • Also included: a power cord, screws, and some thermal compound for the CPU.

Cooling and Noise

Shuttle uses a proprietary cooling system, which they call “Shuttle I.C.E.” (Integrated Cooling Engine). The CPU gets its heat dissipated via their advanced I.C.E. heat-pipe technology combined with a linear-controlled SilentX 92mm fan.

Overall, the noise levels are bearable for close proximity usage, yet both models still hit the 40Db marker when the smart fan controller decides its time to give the I.C.E. system a fresh breeze. Moreover, using dual-slot video cards with high power requirements or single-slot video cards with poor cooling solutions attached might push the decibels even higher. This said, the I.C.E. system does have a copper plate mounted at the bottom for direct contact to the CPU; enough to keep a default Intel CPU cooled down, but not efficient for those of us who like to push the bar and do a bit of OC-ing (in our case, with K-Series CPU's on the SZ87R6 model).


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Note: the SH87R6 features a smaller heatsink model ( 3-pipe ) where the SZ87R6 comes with a beefier 4-pipe heatsink. However the application and fan used are identical).

Where possible we do like to suggest modifications to the system. If your budget allows, spend some money on a quieter 92mm fan to be mounted on the back. We chose a 92mm Noctua model on variable speed (BIOS mod, not through the included cables).

As an additional modification, we also ripped out the entire I.C.E. System and replaced the cooling chores with a custom Noctua NH-U12S system. This Noctua model features a single 120mm fan you can either “limit” in noise through the supplied cables, or (as we did) modify the BIOS setting for variable cooling depending on the measured temperature of the cores.


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Finally, we took out the power supply of both models, and removed the cooling fan and the front protection plate. Note that this WILL VOID all warranty and is VERY DANGEROUS if you're not experienced in building custom systems or have a certain knowledge of electronics. Because the condenser board is open, it means airflow from the case can reach it much more efficiency (compared to the default mini buzz fan). What you get is in essence a passively cooled power supply. However, it has to be said that you must be careful that no cabling or parts are touching the PSU condensers or inner copper transformers. The risk, quite obviously, is electric shock or frying the entire Shuttle Mini-PC. So, do proceed with great caution if you wish to build an ultimately silent machine.

System setup

We wish to thank Kingston, Noctua, SteelSeries, and obviously Shuttle themselves, for supplying us the parts we required.

In our rig(s) we assembled:

  • Intel Core i7 3.50Ghz (up to 3.90Ghz) 4770K, 8MB cache, LGA1150 (84w)
  • 2x 8Gb of Kingston's KHX16C9K2/16X, a dual channel ready kit operating at 1600Mhz, labeled as Genesis HyperX (Kingston's line of gaming grade memory products, CL9 rated 240Pin). Check out www.kingston.com for more info about their HyperX memory products. When it comes down to reliability, you really can't go wrong with Kingston.
  • OCZ’s Vertex 4 (510Mb/Sec write, 560Mb/Sec read, respective R/W 4k IOPS 90 000/85 000 max IOPS 120 000). We inquired for a new model, but were unable to get newer samples due to the Toshiba merger.
  • No additional 3D/Gaming graphics adapter was used for testing as we had no current samples in the lab when testing these.

You can install a 5.25inch DVD-RW or Blu-ray drive in both models, however we had to remove the drive because the alternative cooling solution we chose was so huge that there was simply no room left for an optical station (it's way faster to install Windows 8.1 from a flash drive anyway).

Our peripherals consist out of a SteelSeries APEX RAW backlit keyboard, a SteelSeries Sensei RAW (NAVI, Natus Vincere edition) with SteelSeries large surface mousepad, and SteelSeries 5Hv3 gaming headset. An extra note on the peripherals:

  • The keyboard: particularly comfortable keyboard to type on, very soft touch for a mechanical keyboard with excellent support/customizability through the SteelSeries engine.
  • The mouse: Large, tacky surface, good looks and amazing tracking performance... has to be said: one of the finest mice I have ever used. The cable from mouse to USB has a woven textile coating, makes sweeping over their big comfortable mousepad very smooth.
  • The headset: The good points are the lightness and comfort, and the ear pads of these cans are in my opinion softer and more comfortable to wear for extended than the top shelf and more expensive, e.g., Beats. Less impressive was the sound quality: they work perfectly fine for gaming, which is their core 'task,' but their impedance on the high tones when playing music shows distortion very fast. However, if these were bought mainly for gaming and watching movies, they'll do just fine.


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The Big difference?

The big question we asked ourselves during testing was: what's the real difference between Shuttle's FZ87 and FH87 motherboards? Except for the few extra capacitors on the FZ model, the physical difference is minor to none.

Shuttle's FZ motherboard allows (through the BIOS settings) overriding the K-series LGA1150 socket CPU's settings. Where the regular FH counterpart keeps a K-series CPU (or any other compliant type) running at default stock settings. Simply because of the fact that the FZ allows voltage overrides, inducing increased power draw, Shuttle had to squeeze in the more potent power supply (500w vs the 300w on the FH).

Another difference between both boards is that the FZ model features an additional RJ45 network port (with support for teaming), thus the presence of an extra network chipset.

Test results

Last year's SZ77R5 model pickup up 1600Mhz DDRIII as 1333Mhz, where you had to manually change the values in the BIOS under XMP for it to set the frequency right. This year's models pick up 1600Mhz DDRIII by default as its intended by the manufacturer. So no more need to alter values, which is good.

We used both PCMark 7 and latest version of 3DMark to benchmark these devices and provide reference scores. Unfortunately, we didn't have a 3rd party graphics card available at the time of testing, so we are only able to give you our results based on the Intel Haswell's graphic core (Intel 4600 graphics). And really, it isn't that bad for a built-in GPU, there are plenty of games out there that will run fine on Intel 4600 graphics chipset. You can't really expect the same texture quality and render speed as with native graphic cards, but this GPU will do everything you require if you're not a pro gamer. And if you're a gamer on a budget, you could buy this Shuttle, invest in a quality SSD, CPU and RAM, and hold on until your budget allows for a potent 3rd party graphics card.

PCMark 7 highest rating:

  • 685 Points

3DMark 2013 highest ratings:

  • Fire Strike: 852 Points
  • Cloud Gate: 7866 Points
  • Ice Storm: 65714 Points

Note: After running the exact same test multiple times in a loop, the results seemed to vary. Even without internet access and only running the Win8.1 essential services active, you could call the results Heisenberg's probability theorem in practice (Uncertainty principle).

Now the funny part, though not exactly surprising: Both SZ87R6 and SH87R6 with a 4770 K-series CPU, 16GB Kingston 1600Mhz Ram and SSD resulted in identical scores. The only way to really make a difference is to alter the voltages and speed up the CPU cores. However, this is already a 3.5Ghz (3.9Ghz in turbo-boost) CPU, so there is really no purpose to spice it up a notch to 4.2 Ghz and get a CPU that needs 20% more power draw, when in essence “stock” its more than fast enough for the average gamer/user. Most games depend more on the graphics card's rendering capabilities than the CPU anyways. So a bit unfortunate perhaps, but if you're not going to use a K-series Intel CPU, it really doesn't matter if you pick up the SZ or SH model. The SZ87R6 however, pops up as a clear favorite if you intend to integrate a potent single or dual slot stand-alone graphics card. Only there the 500w power supply gives it the overhead for us to choose the SZ87R6 as a better option. However if your intent is to built an office/web PC without the need of killer gaming graphics, then the 300w is all you will ever need from the SH87R6 model.


See Full Gallery for Complete Results

Verdict

Last year's SZ77R5 was quite a remarkable machine (price/performance wise), this year's upgraded models; the SZ87R6 and SH87R6, kept everything we like about this little black box intact.

Their native I.C.E cooling system is a proper cooling system on its own. It is, however, not the most efficient and lacks fast heat dissipation. This was a flaw with the previous model that has been left untouched. We do understand that integrating a new low-profile cooling system would definitely increase the barebone's base-price significantly.

When looking at the power supply, admittedly both 500W and 300W models are still bronze rated...no upgrade to “gold rated,” which has pretty much become a standard now with the competition. Again a minor negative point that has remained unchanged to keep the end-user cost as low as possible.

On a positive note: Shuttle retained their good looks. The case design of both models is still something that'll look good on any desk. Covering the inner enclosure with a 3-5mm layer of sound insulating foam, however, would lower the acoustics of the I.C.E. System without significant increase in production cost.

In the end, it is really hard to say that this is a flawed machine. One must take into account that Shuttle sells a barebones product (case + motherboard + power supply) for a near-bargain price. You are free to use any (compatible) CPU, RAM and or alternative cooling system as you please. This really makes both models a reasonable purchase for both regular PC users as well as seasoned gamers.

Current prices at Newegg:

  • Shuttle SZ87R6: $349.99
  • Shuttle SH87R6: $249.99


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