Classic recipe: Shuttle SH67H3 SFF barebones PC review

If it ain’t broke why bother redesigning it? Looking at the new SH67H3 barebones SFF system this seems to be the mantra in Shuttle’s R&D department. Apart from an upgrade of the chipset and PSU this product is a dead ringer for the Shuttle cases we’ve seen over the last decade. Is it about time Shuttle spiced things up a little or is its classic recipe for compact computing still relevant in 2011?

The major change in this shoebox-sized PC is the ability to run Intel’s new 2nd Generation Core CPU thanks to the inclusion of Socket 1155 support. The Shuttle I.C.E. 2 cooling system is only rated to handle a 95W CPU though fine for all of today’s 2nd-gen chips up to and including the zippy i7-2600K whose 3.4GHz frequency sits right on the thermal borderline at 95W. However if and when Intel release faster 2nd-gen CPUs they’ll probably run hotter than the SH67H3 can handle.

We tested the case with an i5-2500K processor installed and found noise output to be acceptable if not silent. Running something along the lines of an i5-2500T which has less than half the TDP of the K version should deliver whisper quiet performance once the cooling fan speed is lowered. Note there is currently a bug that sets the fan to full speed after sleep mode which should be fixed in an upcoming BIOS.

Intel’s H67 Express chipset does all of the hard work on the motherboard delivering high end features in this deceptively small package. HTPC builders will appreciate the HDMI 1.4 output but more importantly it’s one of the few chipsets that can handle bitstream audio output a crucial factor when playing Blu-rays on a high end home theatre. It’s one of the few SFF builds to offer this feature which could be enough to push multimedia enthusiasts over the purchasing line.

This chipset also enables the 2nd-gen core’s integrated video processor so there’s no need for a dedicated video card if you only want to watch movies. As we’ve seen in our launch coverage of these CPUs they’ve got plenty of grunt for video decoding and have plenty of muscle for HD crunching. Ditching the video card in combination with a cool CPU will ensure a silent HTPC experience.

SATA 3 support is also included but it’s only of benefit if you’re running a similarly equipped SSD – we’re not buying the hype that mechanical drives can benefit from this high speed connection. Despite the confined space within the case there’s just enough room for a couple of 3.5in mechanical drives or one SSD and one mechanical alongside an optical drive. A dual slot video card will also fit but anything longer than 8in might run into trouble with the four memory slots.

Not that you’d be able to stuff a GTX 590 into this case even if there were enough room as the 300W PSU would melt at the mere thought. Once again we see the gaming potential of a Shuttle product severely limited by the PSU and as a result we wouldn’t suggest anything faster than an NVIDIA GTX 560 or ATI HD6870 unless you enjoy staring at blue screens.

The case itself is rather bland to look at and a door to cover the ugly front USB and assorted other ports would have been appreciated. Speaking of USB there’s no support for USB 3.0 but it’s not surprising considering how jam packed the motherboard already is.

As one of the very few H67 barebones SFF PCs on the market from a HTPC perspective this product makes for a rock solid movie machine backbone with its bitstream audio and integrated video support. If only it was slightly prettier to fit in alongside our expensive Denon amps it’d be perfect for that crowd. Unfortunately gamers looking for a mobile LAN solution will find the measly VGA support a game-breaker.

Available from Shuttle retailing for $449.
APC rating: 7/10