As we get older, our priorities shift significantly, in all aspects. I for one remember a time when I couldn’t wait to get home and install those awesome looking, neon-lighted coolers in my full-tower case, complete with a transparent side panel through which mortals could catch a glimpse of the beast within. Now, I find myself looking for something different. Smaller. Quieter.
Enter the Shuttle XPC SZ87R6, a barebone system that Shuttle was kind enough to send over so we could poke at it and see what it’s made of. A barebone that can (and wants) to be the foundation of your next PC, if you’re in the market for what it has to offer.
But first, let’s take a page out of the official product description to see what we’re dealing with:
“The Shuttle XPC Barebone SZ87R6 packs the 4th Generation of Intel Core desktop processors for LGA1150 socket into an elegant, fresh case design. The aluminium chassis with a black-brushed surface has a volume of 14 litre which is just one third of the volume of a standard Midi tower. Despite its small dimensions it is brimming with features. Set up a top-performer with the latest Intel Core i7 Quad Core processor, a dual-slot PCI Express graphics card, mSATA-SSD, two 4 TB hard disks in RAID mode and 32 GB DDR3-1600 memory plus Blu-ray drive. SZ87R6 supports the unlock-function of K-series processors and thanks to the 500W power supply you can also use high-end graphics card for an excellently pure gaming experience.”
And then the actual tech specs:
Support Intel 4th Generation Core i3/i5/i7 LGA 1150 CPU
DDR3 1333/1600 MHz support RAM Socket * 4, Dual channels support
Integrated in CPU
Realtek 8111G x 2
(2) 4 Pin fan connector V
(1) USB 2.0 Port
(4) USB 2.0 Ports
(1) 5.25″ ODD bay
332(L) x 216(W) x 198(H) mm
80 Plus 500W power supply
XPC Multi-Language quick guide
(1) PCI-E X16 slot
Size wise, they got it right. The SZ87R6 has a “jack in the box” feel to it, especially since its packaging isn’t as flashy as what you might see from the likes of other producers. The unit comes in a simple, white box that features a handle on top for easy carrying (remember what I said a bit earlier about going to a BYOC?), some technical specs on the side and that’s about it.
Once you take it out, you find yourself in the presence of a black box that’s surprisingly light, thanks to its aluminum chassis (yet another upside for those who want to be mobile). Sure, it won’t replace the laptop or tablet in your backpack anytime soon, but if you want to move it in the living room for a few nights, you won’t break your back doing so.
On the specifications front, it seems like a long list to go through, but the really short version would be: small box, big punch.
First up, we have a motherboard that can house CPUs ranging from a lowly Celeron G1820 to the powerhouse that is the i7-4790K, thanks to the Z87 chipset.
Which is great if you’re on a budget and don’t want to break the bank with top of the line stuff from the get-go. You can start easy and ramp up the configuration when you feel like the current one doesn’t suit your needs anymore. Just keep in mind that the CPU’s TDP (Thermal Design Power) must not go over 95W, but to avoid any wrong doings, there’s always the official supported CPU list on Shuttle’s product page.
Want more RAM? Go ahead, because this little things supports up to 32GB of it (8×4). Don’t go thinking you’ll break any world overclocking records though, because that’s not what this little guy is about.
Running out of disk space? You’ve got four SATA 6Gbps slots to work with, but that doesn’t mean you can’t indulge yourself with an mSATA SSD unit if you really want to. Plus, there’s always the possibility of creating a RAID array, either level 0 for top performance (and no redundancy in case of a hardware failure, yay!) or levels 1, 5 or 10 for the more cautious users out there. Everyone can pick their own poison here.
Connectivity wise, there’s lots to go around as well. Let’s start with the front panel. Which at first glance seems to be missing, because the SZ87R6 has it masked, alongside the optical drive bay (usually a Blu-ray drive). Once you get past the “AHA” moment, you’ll find four USB ports (2x 3.0, 2x 2.0) and the headphone and microphone jacks.
A nice touch here is that the rightmost port is “Quick Charge ready”, which can replace the standard charger for your smartphone or tablet.
The really good stuff awaits in the back, where you’ll find:
- six additional USB ports (four USB 2.0 and two 3.0)
- one eSata port
- the Optical Audio Out and the rest of the 7.1 audio ports
- two Gbe LAN ports (which can work as one through “teaming” or separately, depending on how your network is structured or what devices you want to connect the unit to)
- one DVI and one HDMI video output if you decide you want to use the integrated video capabilities as well
- one Clear CMOS button (careful with this one)
On the inside, things look pretty cramped even without the video card or storage drives installed, but it’s just enough room to get everything in order and have some breathing space for ventilation purposes.
The motherboard and CPU power cables of the 500W, 80 plus bronze rated PSU are already connected, so no need to worry about them. What you’re left with are 4 SATA connectors, 2 Molex ones, plus a 6pin and an 8pin PCI-E connector for the video card.
Speaking of which, due to the space constraints, you can’t just jack any video card in there. Yes, the PSU can handle a GTX 970 / R9-280X for instance, but when it comes to the powerhouses, you need to look for the “short” versions out on the market (a supported model is the EVGA GeForce GTX 970 ACX 2.0 for instance). Depending on how cozy you are, this may or may not be a deal breaker, but in my opinion, if you’re out to buy a Barebone PC like this one, you know better than to get a larger video card than what the case allows.
One particular element of interest on the mainboard is the half-mini pcie connector, which allows for a wi-fi card to be installed (Shuttle has the so-called WLN-C Accessory, a kit that includes the wireless mini-pcie card, cables and two antennas that will stick out from the back).
Its usefulness however is debatable in these circumstances though, as there are more convenient ways to get wi-fi on the unit, especially with the rise of the USB adapters.
Once the CPU, SSD / HDD and Video Card are installed, there’s one last stop you might want to make, and that’s the BIOS. Which is functional, without turning any heads with features. You’ve got the standard options like Suspend Mode, EIST, Turbo Mode, C State Support, Memory size for the Integrated Graphics Device; pretty much everything you would expect for a consumer oriented product and nothing else.
Actually, I tell a lie, there are some overclocking options available in an advanced menu, but these are very “tame” when you compare them to what their full-tower desktop brothers have to offer. For instance, the DIMM Voltage setting is clearly defined, so no fine tuning increments for you. You can, however, run a bit wild with the memory timings, but, again, don’t expect to break any world record. In fact, I don’t even know why you would want to do any kind of overclocking on a unit like this.
Granted, the proprietary Integrated Cooling Engine (I.C.E.) system for the CPU does look really cool (no pun intended), with its four heatpipes leading straight to a radiator in the back that’s covered by a 92mm case fan, but… remember that 95W maximum TDP I told you about early on? Yeah, let’s not push our luck with it, shall we?
Although, I do have to say that even without overclocking, when you throw an i7 into the mix and want to keep it at a somewhat decent temperature, the above-mentioned fan will start to make its presence felt. Even if your mileage may vary when it comes to noise tolerance, it’s definitely something you should keep in mind, especially if you want the unit to sit comfortably in your living room.
Performance wise, we have a very clear “what you see is what you get” situation. Meaning that if you throw an i7 in there with 16GB of RAM, an SSD and a GTX 970, you’ll be able to play even the latest releases in 1080p without having to turn down the quality options to minimum. Tone it down to an i5 with a GTX 750, well, you’ll still be able to play them, just not with all the bells and whistles. As usual, it all depends on how much you’re willing to spend.
Which means that, ultimately, the Shuttle XPC SZ87R6 is true to its word: a barebone PC that can be your next living room or even gaming PC, if you like what it has to offer and you clearly know what you’re getting into.
No, you won’t be able to install that gigantic cooler so you can overclock that lowly i5 until it raises the white flag and begs you to stop. No, there’s no transparent side panel to marvel at those neon leds that you would have probably liked to install. Which reminds me, the case is a dust magnet and it being black doesn’t really help with the scratches either. To be expected, for sure, but you might want to “handle with care”.
What you do get is a nifty little box, small enough to conveniently move or carry around, yet big enough to offer numerous connectivity options and house some pretty powerful components if you’ve got the money. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what you want from it.