Shuttle XS29f: Linux Looks Great in Green
Shuttle Unveils a Power-Sipping Winner
Power and space saving computers are in, and Shuttle has a winner with the XS29F. This little gem really skimps on the power consumption to the tune of around 20-25 watts on average. That's less than half of that 60-watt light bulb shining down on you right now. For the Do It Yourselfer (DIYer) on a budget this box makes a lot of sense.
The size is right, too, as the unit measures a skimpy three inches tall and a little over seven inches wide. Two doors on the front reveal the DVD drive, two USB ports and the typical audio in / out jacks. A power brick similar to one you would use with a notebook computer helps offload some of the electronics and heat generation outside of the box.
Probably the single most important question to skeptical DIYers is "How hard is it to assemble and get the OS installed"? Rest assured, the assembly part couldn't be easier, and with Linux as the OS it just works. Two thumb screws expose the inside of the box, and all you really have to add is memory. You'll probably want to add a hard drive if you plan on using it as a desktop machine.
At the heart of the Shuttle XS29f is the Nano, Via's first 64-bit processor in their x86 line. The Nano delivers high-end performance with low power requirements. Two memory slots support up to 4 GB of memory to go along with the Via 1.3 GHz Nano processor. It uses DDR2 memory, which is pretty inexpensive right now. Two internal SATA-II connectors support internal storage.
We found this system really responsive running multiple applications including the latest versions of Firefox, Open Office, the GIMP and VLC. The system seemed to handle multiple applications loaded at the same time even with just 1 GB of memory. Ubuntu is especially great about helping you find the right plugin for things like "other" media formats when it doesn't recognize something.
The rear panel finds VGA and DVI connectors along with Ethernet, audio, PS2 for keyboard / mouse, and four USB ports. A removable metal support frame supports a 2.5 inch hard drive and slim line DVD should you choose to install either. We found the spacing for the DVD cable a little tight but workable.
We measured power usage with no hard drive or DVD and found it to be around 20 watts. You could run the system off a USB disk or as a network boot thin client and really save on power. Adding a SATA 2.5 inch disk and DVD drive bumped it up to a max of around 28 watts. That's still pretty low even with everything installed.
If quiet is your game then you'll really like the fanless design of the Shuttle. A large heat sink on the CPU chip is sufficient for the necessary heat dissipation. The box does get warm to the touch but not so hot that you can't pick it up.