Shuttle computer runs cool and quiet

Shuttle Inc. released its latest “bare-bone” computer Wednesday, showing a system that packs all of the functions of a full-fledged PC in a case about the size of a large shoe box.

Long popular in Asia, Shuttle calls its computers “bare-bone systems” because they ship with only the core components of a PC, requiring the end user to add a processor, memory and drives. While this may seem like a lot of work to most users, computer enthusiasts relish the slick silver casing, small size and quiet of the Shuttle systems.

The new XPC SS51 supports Intel Corp. Pentium 4 processors, AGP (Accelerated Graphics Port) and PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect) cards and comes with Shuttle’s Integrated Cooling Engine (ICE), said Michael Wu, president of Shuttle Computer Group. These features allow the SS51 to perform on par with a standard PC but without the noise or large size associated with most home computers, Wu said.

The ICE is the key to the SS51’s ability to run the powerful but hot Pentium 4 chip in a small casing. The ICE technology uses a hybrid of copper and aluminum piping along with water cooling to keep the processor heat down. This allowed Shuttle, which is based in Taipei, to remove the processor fan, eliminating the noise produced by a standard PC.

“The silence of the system coupled with its small size are important features for people that want a multipurpose system to sit in their living rooms,” Wu said.

The back of the Shuttle systems are dotted with just about every port a user could need, including plug-ins for TV, stereo and video use. These features could be helpful for users who want to make their PC a home entertainment hub, Wu said.

As with all Shuttle’s XPC systems, the new model comes with built-in Firewire support, extensive audio and video ports, four USB (universal serial bus) ports and SPDIF (Sony/Philips Digital Interface) input.

One analyst said that bare-bone systems account for close to 2 million of overall PC shipments worldwide each year.

“In Taiwan there is a big bare-bones market,” said Roger Kay, an analyst at IDC. “There are huge components bazaars where you can find everything you need, including a guy with a screwdriver who will put the system together for you.”

The bare-bones PC market is big throughout other parts of Asia and the U.S., he said.

“It’s for guys that like to screw things together,” Kay said.

The Shuttle XPC SS51 is available immediately at US$339.