Many of today’s most iconic hardcore PC gaming rigs leave little to the imagination; huge, hulking rigs designed to intimate eyeballs and house the industry’s most cutting-edge hardware. The message is pretty clear: if bigger is better than biggest is best. This doesn’t leave much room for an upstart like the Shuttle lineup, despite having been around for years, although thanks to recent innovations in packing better performance into increasingly shrinking packages, many open-minded types have begun to give the specialty-brand case maker a more serious look.
While the concept of matching high-performance PC gaming with a smaller-form case may strike some as heresy, Shuttle hopes to change hearts and minds with their SZ77R5 Barebone XPC Desktop, a smaller-form case they designed specifically for high-powered “gaming, entertainment and multimedia” – basically some of the most processing-intensive stuff you can think of. When built from the ground up, there’s plenty of potential to show off big performance in a smaller package.
There are plenty of choices when it comes to smaller-form factor PCs, but Shuttle has always been at the forefront of the micronization movement. And this model is no different with its high-quality aluminum build that measures 7.8″ x 8.5″ x 13.1″ (HxWxD) and weighs in at a relatively light 6 lbs. Limited space and portability are the main draws here, and for many enthusiasts that might sound like a match destined for disaster. But it’s a godsend for those of you who actively participate in fierce LAN parties and are constantly hauling your beloved rig around, or maybe have dreams of stashing one within your home theater configuration.
With most customizable systems it’s pretty uncommon to get the essentials for your dream build, but the SZ77R5 is different, since it comes supplied with an Intel Z77 Express Chipset motherboard sporting native USB 2.0/3.0, ESATA, HDMI/DVI outputs, and 7.1 HD audio inputs, and can accept both Sandy Bridge (2nd-generation) and the current 3rd-generation of Ivy Bridge LGA1155 socket processors, a feat that any budget-minded DIY build gamer or professional can appreciate. There’s also a generous four expandable memory slots that support up to 32GB of DDR3-1660 RAM, an impressive feat for a smaller form-factor case.
Completing the package is a 500w power supply and a front panel that houses two USB 2.0 ports (one is sleep/capable for mobile devices), two USB 3.0, and 3.5mm microphone/headphone input, two Mini-PCI Express (long/short types for wireless LAN/WAN/WiMAX and Bluetooth adapter cards), as well as two PCI Express slots (x16/x4). One of the most appealing features is Shuttle’s Integrated Cooling Engine Technology (I.C.E.), which uses convection helps keep heat away from the CPU during those most intense sessions. This is critical in a smaller-form case and it’s great that Shuttle included it here.
This is definitely a small desktop for users with large expectations. But the form factor does come with caveats that are hard to ignore. Despite the amazing option to install a full-size dual slot AMD or Nvidia graphic card into an already packed shell, it would be wise for most to map out and assemble their Shuttle right from the beginning, as the tight working area can be annoying for first-timers to piece everything together, especially if you plan on gradually adding to your mini powerhouse.
Regarding the technical performance of the SZ77R5, it would be misleading to offer even a summary of what that might end up being as, given its modular nature, Shuttle’s mini lends itself to a near-infinite amount of configurations. That said, those who research well and are dedicated to getting the most from the SZ77R5 will probably be surprised at just how versatile it can be, especially with its multi-generational processor ability and absurdly great maximum RAM potential.
Another trait that’s typical of many smaller form-factor shells – Shuttle’s included – is the issue of heat buildup, chiefly due to space constraints which is more of a compromise than a fault. However, thanks to Shuttle’s I.C.E. technology, coupled with the right low-power components and proper ventilation, a warmer system should be much easier to maintain this time around.
Shuttle has always offered undeniable appeal in their smaller-form cases, and for those power-hungry users looking to get the biggest bang in the smallest package, their SZ77R5 Barebone XPC Desktop might be just the ticket. Lightweight and relatively mobile, this mini has plenty to offer an emerging generation of gamers with a stock motherboard that’s more than capable of playing today’s graphics-hungry blockbusters (provided you match it with the right processor), and would look great nestled alongside your other media components. Hardcore purists may scoff at the lack of ample working space, but this is definitely a case that benefits those who plan ahead and act accordingly. If you’ve ever wanted to make a potential gaming sleeper from scratch, this small form factor case makes an excellent place to start.