Shuttle Barebone XH81 Review

Media center or home PC in a box. A really small box.

After we looked at the Shuttle XPC SZ87R6 Barebone, we said “Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what you want from it“. Well, its little brother, the XH81, doesn’t allow the same level of freedom, but the core concept still applies: if you know what you’re buying, the XH81 does its job really well.

But what is it you’re buying, exactly? A foundation for a mini-PC that’s even smaller than the SZ87R6… way smaller. As in, about four times smaller. Despite this, the feature list isn’t something to scoff at, as you can see below:

FORM FACTORMini-ITX MB
3.5 L chassis
PROCESSORSupport Haswell / Haswell re-fresh i3/i5/7, Pentium, Celeron 65W CPU
CHIPSETIntel H81 Express Chipset
MEMORY2 x 204 pin DDR3 SODIMM slots,8GB per DIMM (Max 16GB)
Dual Channel DDR3 1600 Mhz
VGAHDMI + Display port dual display
AUDIORealtek ALC662 5.1 channel High Definition Audio
ETHERNETRealtek 8111G X2
IEEE 802.3u 100Base-T specification revision 1.0
100Mb/s and 1Gb/s operation
Support Wake-On-LAN function
STORAGE INTERFACE(2) SATA 6Gb/s bandwidth SATA II
(1) SATA 3 Gb/s bandwidth SATA
ONBOARD CONNECTORS(3) SATA connectors
(2) 1×5 pin USB 2.0 header
(1) ATX main power connector
(1) ATX 12V power connector
(2) set 4pin fan connectors
FRONT PANEL(2) USB 2.0 ports
(2) USB 3.0 ports
(1) Microphone-In
(1) Earphone-Out
Power-On button
Power LED
HDD LED
BACK PANEL(2) RJ45 Gigabit LAN port
(1) Display port
(1) HDMI
(4) USB 2.0 ports
(1) RS232
(1) RS232/RS422/RS485
(1) Line in port
(1) Line out port
(1) MIC in port
(1) Clear CMOS button
(1) DC in
(1) Kensington lock
(2) Wireless Antenna fixture
DRIVE BAYS(1) 2.5″ HDD / SSD bay
(1) Slim ODD bay. User can install either 1 Slim ODD or (1) 2.5″ HDD/SSD
(1) PCI-E x1 slot
DIMENSIONSXH81 : 238(L) x 200(W) x 72(H) mm
POWER90W Power Adapter
Input:100- 240V AC
Output: 19V 4.47A DC
ACCESSORIESXPC Multilanguage Quick User Guide
XPC DVD Driver (Win7 and Win8/8.1 32& 64 bit)
1* Power cord
1* SATA cable (pre-install for HDD)
1* SATA cable (pre-install for ODD)
1* 4 pin to SATA power cable
Screws
EXPANSION SLOT(1) Full size Mini-PCIE socket
(1) Half size Mini-PCIE socket
OS SUPPORTWindows 7 Series & Embedded O.S
Windows 8 Series & Embedded O.S
Linux
REMARK1. XH81 implement a daughter board to support
TPM add on module.
2. PCM3 RS232 accessory only support XH81.
3. PCH4 3.5″ HDD rack accessory can support
XH81/XH81V.

The packaging is as simple as they come, with a brown cardboard box sporting a plastic handle for convenient transportation and the unit specs on the side.

Once you open it up, the XH81 is all professional looking, with a black finish that’s a magnet for dust and fingerprints (much like its bigger brother) but no hidden ports. This time around, what you see is what you get.

shuttle-xh81-1 shuttle-xh81-2

On the front side, we have a total of four USB ports (2x 3.0 plus 2x 2.0), alongside the microphone and audio jacks. Sadly, no fast-charge USB port this time around.

Just like the SZ87R6, the good stuff is in the back, where we find:

  • four additional USB 2.0 ports
  • two Gbe LAN ports (which can work as one through teaming or separately)
  • Audio connectors
  • Display port connector
  • HDMI connector
  • 2 Serial ports
  • one Clear CMOS button (again, careful with this one)

shuttle-xh81-5 shuttle-xh81-4

As you can imagine, there’s not a whole lot of room once you open the unit to have a peek inside, but there’s still enough to get things done. You’ve got one bay for the optical drive that can also be used for a disk unit, plus another 2.5 bay for the main disk or SSD.

Once you remove these, you discover the LGA1150 socket, two SO-DIMM slots, the full-size mini-PCIe for mSata disks, the Half-Size Mini-PCIe connector the WiFi card (sold separately as a kit), as well as the classic SATA connectors (2 SATA 6Gbps and one 3Gbps). There’s also a PCI-E 1x slot, but you can’t use it anyway.

Like its bigger brother, the usefulness of the half-size mini-pcie slot for WiFi is debatable, as there are easier options to get WiFi on the unit via USB adapters. The option itself is nice to have, but I don’t know how many people will actually turn out to use it.

shuttle-xh81-7 shuttle-xh81-14

shuttle-xh81-13

shuttle-xh81-9 shuttle-xh81-12

Installation wise, there’s really nothing to write home about, as everything is clearly laid out in the instruction manual, and those with some PC assembly experience will find their way around easily enough.

Unfortunately, being this small means that the idea of having a dedicated video card goes straight out the window. So you’ll have to make due just with what the CPU has to offer (full CPU support list here).

Which, again, underlines one crucial point: the XH81 isn’t designed to be a gaming platform. Not a hardcore one anyway. You’ll still be able to play a wide range of titles (or something that’s a bit more CPU rather than GPU intensive, like Minecraft), but don’t go expecting to see the next Grand Theft Auto running on this. That’s not what this barebone PC is about.

However, if you want to build an office PC / media center that takes up the minimum amount of space, then the XH81 will be right up your alley.

It’s small enough to fit just about anywhere, the connectivity options available should be enough for any home user (although some might deplore the lack of a DVI connector, but alas), and the ability to install Haswell i7 CPUs alongside one or two SSDs give it a surprising punch. Did we mention that you can run 4K media on it? Not bad at all, considering we’re dealing with a 25 x 20 cm box.

Plusuri

  • 4K capability
  • Good connectivity options
  • Small size
  • Support for Haswell/Haswell Refresh CPUs
  • VESA mounting for even more space saving

Minusuri

  • Like it's bigger brother (SZ87), there are easier way to get WiFi on the unit than the pcie-connector
  • No dedicated videocard means limited options for gaming