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Shuttle SZ68R5 Review

February 2012 by Simon Maltby

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Setting up – Internals

 

 

Accessing the machine is very simple.  There are three thumb screws at the rear which allow you to lift off the cover and gain access to the internals. A barebones machine requires three main components before it becomes a working computer, these are a processor, some memory and a hard drive.  There is an aluminium drive caddy which is removed by taking out two small screws.  The caddy is positioned slightly differently compared to the H3/H7 and we found it harder to get in and out.  There is space for a CD/DVD/Blu-Ray drive and two full sized hard drives which fit easily.

All of the other components are fitted directly into the motherboard.

  

The motherboard is of Shuttles own design and uses the Intel Z68 Express chip set.  Shuttle are sometimes criticised for not using a recognised size standard and this motherboard is no different being longer and wider than Mini-ITX. Great news for anyone looking to upgrade though, this machine is designed to accept a standard Mini-ITX motherboard as an alternative.  There are two additional screw holes that can be populated with motherboard risers for the narrower Mini-ITX board. By making their SZ68 motherboard that bit bigger Shuttle have ensured that there is plenty of room and the components have plenty of space.  It almost makes the board look bare and under equipped, but this is far from the case.

    

There are four memory slots which will each accept full sized DDR3 modules of up to 8GB per slot.  Although Shuttle's specifications state that these support 1333MHz modules we found that two sticks G.Skill 12800  memory was detected and operated at 1600MHz without the need to alter anything although when we added an additional two sticks it reverted to 1333MHz.  There are no memory options in the Bios except for voltage, although Shuttle has told us that they do plan to add them.  It is important that you choose your memory carefully as modules with high heat sinks will not fit once the drive caddy is installed.  The memory needs to be less than 6 centimetres high.  The motherboard supports dual channel memory and it is best to use matched pairs in each of the coloured slots for the best performance.

 

In front of the memory are a few headers, one labeld JP3 which is for the power switch and front LED’s ,this seems to conform in layout to a standard motherboard configuration. Behind this there is a jumper labled JP6, which is a connection for an infrared detector which will presumibly be available as an option and fit to the inside of the front pannel.  There is a corisponding switch for this header in the Bios.  It is a great addition for media centre use,  we just wish Shuttle had included the sensor and maybe a remote control as standard.

   

The CPU is inserted into a standard Intel socket 1155 zero force cradle, it does not support 1156 processors.  The CPU is cooled using a traditional Shuttle I.C.E. heat pipe heat sink which removes heat through the back of the case.  Normally the Shuttle heat sink connection to the motherboard is bespoke with the holes in odd locations.  The SZ68R5 benefits from a conventional fixing arrangement with push clips to hold it in place, just like the standard Intel heat sink.  We were able to replace the I.C.E. cooler with the Intel retail heat sink without issue, although cooling would be greatly reduced if you decided to do this permanently.  What we find interesting about this standardisation is that it might open up the possibility of water cooling the system in the future, something we are keen to explore.
   

The motherboard components are all passively cooled with heat sinks on the Z68 Southbridge and the voltage regulators.  We are assuming that the VRM is of a 4 phase design, but did not remove the heat sink to check.  While using the machine we found that the Southbridge remained cool to the touch but the VRM area can get quite warm.  Shuttle have made extensive used of solid state capacitors which should ensure long life and reliability.  The power supply has an 8 pin CPU power connector which splits in half, which is lucky as the motherboard only has a 4 pin socket.  We presume that the extra 4 pins are not needed and that probably is the case with only a 4 Phase VRM.  Shuttle have placed a sticker on the heat sink advising a maximum CPU power of 95w which ties in with the 4 pin CPU power connection.

        

The SZ68R5 uses a W25Q32BVSIG 32M-bit Winbond Bios chip.  The zero force housing is a great asset although most users will never go anywhere near it.

The rear of the motherboard has plenty of connections including HDMI and DVI for the Intel integrated graphics (If your processor includes it).  There are 4 normal USB sockets and 2 for USB 3 (Blue), e-SATA and wired RJ45 network.   Between the audio and Network connections is a bios reset press switch.  Audio is 7.1 and there is an optical S/PDIF out connection that plugs into the motherboard.

There are two PCI-E slots to on the motherboard, one a full length PCIe-x16-2.0 and the other a PCIe-x4-2.0, shorter socket. The full sized slot is on the inside which allows a double width graphics card to be used.  We were able to install our NVidia 570 GTX without major issue.  The space around the graphics card is slightly better than with the H3 and H7 and the card was a little easier to fit.  Once a double width graphics card is inserted the second PCI-E slot is covered and becomes unusable.  Modern high performance graphics cards require multiple power connections and the 500W power supply includes two, one 6 pin and the other an 8 pin that can be reduced to a 6 pin.  Graphics card makes often have the power connectors in different places, ATI tend to be on the end of the card while NVidia place them on the top.  It was quite a struggle getting the drive bay in place once the graphics power connectors were in place on our 570 GTX as can be seen from the photo.  An ATI card will probably be easier. Update: We notice on the forums that many people are asking if an ATI 7950/70 will fit. We don't have one to test unfortunately, but the size opening is 280mm and this still leaves space for VGA power connectors in the front recess. So we think it should fit as they are 275mm long. We will update again once we see confirmation.

   

A welcome addition to the motherboard is the mSATA slot which supports SATA 1.5 and 3 standards.  We were able to install an OCZ Nocti 60GB SATA II drive with ease and its performance was exactly as expected at 280mb/s read and 260mb/s write.  The drive was picked up by the bios straight away and was both bootable and available in the raid configurator.  We were unable to get Intel SRT to work however so were unable to test the performance benefits of drive caching.  Shuttle has confirmed this is a software issue and will be rectified via a bios fix. Update: The 105 bios, released on the 15th February 2012 fixes the SRT issue and we now have the 60GB Nocti working as a cache for a 1TB regular drive.  Beside the mSATA slot is a Mini-PCIe-x1-2.0 slot that can take a laptop style Wi-Fi card.

 

In addition to the mSATA connection, there are 4 normal SATA slots on the motherboard.  The orange pair is SATA II and the blue pair SATA III supporting the latest hard drive technology.  There is also an e-SATA connection at the rear, so up to 6 SATA drives can be accommodated as standard.

All of the SATA connections are handled by the motherboards Intel chipset and can be included in a raid array.  Raid 0, Raid 1 and Raid 5 are all supported and can be managed via a boot option or windows software.

Our OCZ Vertex 3 240GB when connected to one of the SATA III 6GB/s connections worked extremely well with performance well in excess of 500MB/s for both read and write.

 

USB connections are plentiful.  There are 4 USB 3 (Blue) slots in total with 2 at the rear and 2 under the front drop-down flap.  The front slots are connected to the motherboard with a substantial cable which plugs into JP4 on the motherboard. We suspect this is a standard USB 3 connection and will therefore enable a similar header to be connected should you change the motherboard for mini ITX one.  In addition there are 6 normal USB slots with 4 to the rear and further 2 in the front panel (Black).  One of the front slots can be used for charging devices like the iPhone as it will continue to deliver power when the machine is switched off as long as the mains electricity supply remains on and connected.  As if 10 USB slots were not enough, we also notice that there are a further 2 USB headers on the motherboard so presumably another 4 USB devices could be connected.

Shuttle has included their PC63J 500 watt power supply as standard.  This has been about for a little while and remains very well received.  The fan is very quiet and unobtrusive yet it seems to work very well, even under heavy load the power supply remains cool to the touch.  As an 80 Plus Bronze-certified device it will work hard to reduce those dreaded electricity bills.  There are plenty of connections including 2 PCI-E Graphics card plugs (1x6 Pin and 1x6/8 pin), an 8 pin CPU power plug (Splits into 2x4 Pin), Standard ATX motherboard plug (Not ATX2), 4 SATA power connections, 2 Molex style connections and a single floppy drive plug.  We were unable to report on the stability of the power supply rails as we could not find any software that could report the voltages accurately.

500 watts of power should be plenty for any hardware you may wish to add to this system.  We measured our test setup and found that while at idle it used about 80 watts and at peak load (playing Battlefield 3 at 4.5GHz) was using 305 watts. Even at 4.8GHz and running the 3D Mark 11 combined GPU and CPU test the load was only 320 watts.