Over the last few months my old workhorse desktop computer started to play up and it was clear that it would soon be time to replace it. Or parts of it rather… mainly the graphics card and possibly the mobo. I started looking around for a new barebones setup and decided that I’d go for a Shuttle of some type or another. I ended up with a Shuttle SN25P and here are some PoV on the system as a whole and installing SuSE 10.2 on it.
I picked up the basic Shuttle (sans CPU, memory etc) on eBay for about half price. It arrived in good condition and is, I guess, about a year old. Shuttle are one of the leading Small Form Factor manufacturers and the small computers are a favourite with gamers, as they are reasonably portable (certainly compared to a beige tower) and have a certain ‘cool’ factor often lacking in Intel based PCs. Being popular with gamers means that they often show up on eBay for quite a good price.
In addition to the Shuttle I needed a CPU, some memory and a graphics card. The harddrives and DVD burner, keyboard, monitor etc came over from my old computer.
For a CPU I got an AMD64 San Diego 4000+ and a gig of DDR400 RAM. The Shuttle has two slots for memory, so I might get a second stick later.
For the graphics card I picked up an nVidia GeForce 7300 based card from Asus, the N7300GT/HTD. This is a fanless card and totally silent.
And silence is important with the Shuttle. It really is a remarkably quiet machine and the cooling system is so well designed that nothing seems to get hot, all the hardware sensors are well within limits and the variable speed fans just tick over. It sits on my desk and if the lights weren’t on I couldn’t be sure if it was running.
If you’re used to the normal pressed steel and aluminium of the standard beige towers then the inside of the Shuttle will be a revelation. This is one very nicely made piece of kit! You could pop the cover off, change disks, memory or CPU and put it back together without needing any tools at all. The mix of metal and plastic clips inside all fit together perfectly and the cable routing is exceptionally well done. I had the CPU, memory and disks installed in half an hour and was ready to rock and roll…
Well, nearly. I now needed an operating system and although I was bringing the old disks over from my old computer, we were now in 64 bit land and the system would need to be reinstalled. In fact, bringing the disks over was not quite so simple as I had planned as the Shuttle, being very small, is limited in what you can stuff in there and one of the limitations was an interface for only two IDE devices (although there are slots for a DVD and three disks altogether), the other interfaces being for SATA devices. And I had two disks from the old computer… so I decided to get myself a SATA drive and set that up with a fresh install and copy stuff over from the old disks. One IDE hard disk is still in there as a backup/spare drive and the other I’ll probably put in an external drive box.
Installing SuSE 10.2 was pretty straight forward. I have DSL here, so I just created a network installation CD (before I started all this!), booted up the computer from the CD and got it to install the standard base, devel and kde packages. SuSE seemed to have no difficulty recognising all the bits of the Shuttle and when it came time to reboot most of it was working.
Sound didn’t work at first (using ALSA) and after installing and trying every sound mixer in the distribution, I eventually ran ‘alsaconfig’, after which sound was working!
The graphics card seemed to work straight off, but, I’m not convinced it’s using the right drivers. Installing the nVidia packages and running the SaX2 video setup results in a non-functioning X server. Editing /etc/X11/xorg.conf and changing ‘Driver nvidia’ to ‘Driver nv’ gets it working again, but I’m not sure that nv is the best driver. I need to play around with this a bit more. [see comment below]
Installing SuSE on the SATA drive while the old IDE drive was in the system seemed to confuse the boot loader (grub). The system wouldn’t boot from the hard disk (although it would if the boot CD was in the drive). So I removed the IDE drive, did a fresh install, booted up fine then shut down, put the IDE back in and then everything seemed to be OK.
IDE ports, Card Reader and network all seemed to work fine without any trouble. I haven’t tried the Firewire connection yet.
I’m quite impressed by the Shuttle. I can’t imagine buying a ‘beige block’ again. The only issue could be the lack of slots for extra cards, but what to expect in a computer so small.