While PCs may come in all shapes and sizes, things tend to get a little complicated when you’re looking for powerful PCs. It’s easy to cram the latest components into a chassis, but you’re often limited by space and cooling solutions. So you probably end up with a souped-up PC that’s the size of small vacuum cleaner (and probably just as loud). But how about an all-in-one PC? Surely they can pack some serious performance while maintaining an elegant exterior? Sure they can, but upgrading an AIO can be a complete pain, so once again you’re a bit stuck with choices. Is it possible to have a compact PC that still boasts the latest components and hardware?
It seems that Shuttle were wondering about the exact same thing when they came up with the SX79R5 PC. The relatively small and seemingly innocent-looking small form factor PC may not look like much, but underneath that glossy black exterior lies a beast waiting to be unleashed. So I decided to swap out my regular work PC for the Shuttle SX79R5 to see how it really performed.
As mentioned before, the SX79R5 isn’t much of a looker. While some souped-up PC cases have glowing lights, flashing LEDs and are two sticks short of having a disco ball popping out of the side, the SX79R5 looks just like a gigantic black box. For the most part, this minimalist look works out quite well – there are no distracting lights to annoy you if you decide to use this PC as a media server in a darkened room. There are also convenient flaps that cover things such as the optical drive tray and front ports, so overall it’s a sleek and polished look. There were some minor flaws with the case though, with some edges having a bit of a rough feel to them, and the optical drive eject button being a bit too big for my liking, but that aside, it’s a decent looking case.
Unscrewing and sliding off the cover gives access to the SX79R5’s innards, where you’ll find an incredible amount of tech crammed into a rather small space. Our model came with some pretty great specs as you can see in the tablet below, and despite this the insides were clutter-free and easy to work around.
The SX79R5 boasts a number of unique features, such as dual Ethernet ports, a tidal wave of USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports, 7.1 surround sound, and support for either two single-slot graphics card or one double-slot graphics card. Our EVGA GTX 660Ti GDDR5 card sat comfortably in the case, offering us plenty of juice during our tests.
When it comes to storage, here too the SX79R5 spoils you for choice. Our model featured an Intel 200GB SSD drive for the operating system, and a Western Digital Blue 1TB HDD for data storage. You’ve also got the option of swapping the HDD out for another SSD instead, as well as a further option to support mSATA as well. So you’re pretty much spoilt for choice when it comes to mixing and matching a storage solution that will meet your needs.
Keeping all of this cool is another important factor, and the i7 processor is kept at a comfortable temperature thanks to the I.C.E heat pipe system, which I’ll elaborate on later. You’ve also got a 500W 80 Plus PFC active power supply to provide plenty of power for whatever you decide to install in your system.
With all of this power at my disposal in such a small form factor, I had to take the SX79R5 out for a spin. My tests would first start with using basic programs that I used to run on my regular machine, followed by benchmarks, and finally a few rounds of gaming. The first application I fired up was Premiere Pro 5.5, which I’ve been using quite recently to do video work with. Almost immediately, I noticed the speed at which I was able to quickly import HD video and scrub through it, thanks in part to the system using the SSD to cache most of the files temporarily. The combination of graphics card and i7 processor made rendering a breeze, and I was able to churn out a 3 minute full HD video in about 35 seconds, which would take me at least 8 minutes to finish on my older system. Even working with multiple layers and sessions in Photoshop and InDesign saw little strain on the system, and I often found myself just minimizing these apps rather than closing and reopening them every time to save resources. Benchmarks on the SX79R5 ran flawlessly, with the system having no problems at all running tests on PCMark and 3DMark.
Lastly I wanted to see just how good this system would run video games, so I fired up a recent favorite of mine, Neverwinter Nights. I’ve never ran this game at max settings before on my laptop or desktop machine, so I was eager to see if the SX79R5 would choke when everything was maxed out. But it was not to be so – cranking everything in the game’s settings to Ultra or Max produced a truly mesmerizing gaming experience. Spell effects, explosions, shadows, fire; all of it rendered beautifully and without a single hiccup. The game looked absolutely gorgeous, and I was almost in tears at seeing what I had been missing by running the game on ‘Medium’ graphics before. I then fired up the multiplayer-mech game Hawken, which not only relies heavily on graphics, it also features some very intense physics because of the constant explosions and destruction in the game. Again, cranking everything up to Ultra resulted in an absolutely insane gaming experience. Mechs exploded into a million pieces that fell everywhere, buildings crumbled under rockets and firepower, guns blazed as ammo bullets flew across the levels – it was pure poetry in motion.
What worried me initially about the SX79R5 was that it wouldn’t be able to keep cool or quiet, given the amount of hardware it was sporting. But the I.C.E cooling system that Shuttle is using is quite efficient at drawing heat away from the processor and dispelling it from the rear. The case also supports water cooling for the true PC enthusiast, but for most power users the default setup should more than suffice. Under the maximum processor load, the interior fans did kick up a little bit, so they can get a bit audible under very heavy programs. But they aren’t too distracting, so it’s a small price to pay.
So does the Shuttle SX79R5 deserve your attention as a viable small form factor desktop replacement? The answer is absolutely yes. It’s comical just how much you can cram into this tiny frame if you choose your components wisely, and anyone who’s tired of a hulking tower PC under their desk will certainly appreciate the SX79R5’s comparatively small footprint. My only comment is that the on-board BIOS isn’t the most friendliest when it comes to overclocking, so enthusiasts who want to squeeze that extra bit of juice may run into a few teething issues. But with plenty of power under the hood and such a small frame, the Shuttle SX79R5 is no doubt a force to be reckoned with.