And once again it’s time for another SFF article. The last one was well accepted by you readers and since there is a lot going on in the barebone front at the moment, much more than on the conventional mainboard front, we thought of blessing you with another SFF roundup. The competitors this time is AOen’s newly released EY65 XCube, EPoX’ EX5-300S Mini Me and Shuttle’s two latest creations ST62K and ST61G4. The two first mentioned are based on Intel’s trusted i865G chipset while the last two are based on ATi’s RS300 chipset also known as Radeon 9100 IGP.
And once again
it’s time for another SFF article. The last one was well accepted by you
readers and since there is a lot going on in the barebone front at the
moment, much more than on the conventional mainboard front, we thought of
blessing you with another SFF roundup. The competitors this time is AOen’s
newly released EY65 XCube, EPoX’ EX5-300S Mini Me and Shuttle’s two latest
creations ST62K and ST61G4. The two first mentioned are based on Intel’s
trusted i865G chipset while the last two are based on ATi’s RS300 chipset
also known as Radeon 9100
Just as in our last SFF article we will in detail look at performance,
design, cooling and noise level so you at in the end of the review know more
about the individual cases than the manufacturers probably know themselves.
But we shall not begin right know, but first we will take a quick look at
what ATi’s Radeon 9100 IGP chipset has to offer.
is trying make its way, just like nVidia, onto the mainboard-market,
but the difference is that the company has aimed at mainboards for Intel’s processors. Radeon 9100 IGP is suppose to be lowbudget chipset with descent integrated graphics performance. Exactly how good the integrated graphics circuit we will let the performancetests be the judge of, it’s said to pulverize Intel’s own Extreme Graphics 2.
Other than that Radeon 9100 IGP doesn’t offer anything that neither of intel’s Canterwood and Springdalechipset does. Just as previously mentioned chipset Radeon 9100 IGP supports 800MHz FSB Pentium 4 processors
and Hyperthreading. The memory controller is of the Dual Channel
DDR type and supports up to DDR400 modules.
The link between the North- and southbridge has a maximum transferrate of 266MB/s. The southbridge IXP150, which we find in both of Shuttle’s barebones we have had the pleasure of testing, handles connections of periphery like USB.
ATi’s southbridges lacks Serial ATA support completely, but instead we have to settle with two regular ATA100-channels, which means you can connect up to a maximum of four IDE-units.
Further more the IXP150 only has support for 6 USB 2.0 units which is two less then Intel’s ICH5/(R) southbridges.
The integrated graphics circuit is said to be the greatest argument for the Radeon 9100 IGP chipset. We shouldn’t take out anything in advance though, but let the performancetests to show what this chipset is capable of.
By clicking on the links you can do a closer comparison of Radeon 9100IGP
875-chipset resp. Intels
Now that the theoretical part is done we will get to work by taking a closer look at the AOpen EY65 XCube.
XCube EY65: Specifications
300 x (B) 200 x (H) 185 mm
x USB, 1x MIC, 1 x headset out, 2 x 1394 Firewire (one
6-pins & one 4-pins contact), S/PDIF in/out
x VGA, 2 x Serial, 1 x PS/2 Keyboard & Mouse, 4x USB, 1 x RJ45,
1 x IEEE1394, 1 x Line in, Line Out, Mic In.
1 x 5.25″, 2 x 3.5″
i865G (MCH) + ICH5
|Processor support :||
Pentium 4/Celeron Socket-478, 400/533/800MHz FSB, HyperThreading
|Memory support :||
DDR 266/333/400, 2 slots
Extreme Graphics 2 controller
1x AGP 8X
1 x 32-bit buss master PCI
2 ports ATA100, 4 units (ICH5)
ports S-ATA150, 2 unit (ICH5)
|SATA RAID controller:||
Broadcom 10/100/1000 Mb/s
ALC655, AC97 Codec + S/PDIF out on the back panel
3 ports (1 on the back panel, 2 on the front panel, 1 mini)
ports (2 on the front panel and 2 on the back panel)
is a company with a long tradition of manufacturing almost anything that has any relevance to computers. In the company’s product portfolio we find among others mainboards, graphics cards, monitors, and cases, which makes the step to their very own barebone not that far. The highly expanding SFF-market is basically exploding and AOpen wants their share. Their contribution goes by the name XCube and judging by its looks AOpen will manage to their entrance to the barebone market without any problems. The case is, when it comes to design, one of my absolute favorites and it the interior is just as good as the exterior AOpen has managed to construct a real winner.
|Price and availability|
Today it’s uncertain when this case will reach Sweden (or northern Europe) and how much it will cost. We will return with an update when we know more. Hopefully the case should appear in a few weeks.
and accessories consists out of two ATA100 IDE-cables, one power cable , one Serial
ATA cable with equivalent power cable, installation manuals,
a CD with drivers and last but not least a convenient little screwdriver which on one side has a regular flat head and on the other side a cross head. In a little plastic bag the necessary screws and small piece of black isolation carpet are packaged. This should be placed on the back of any expansion cards to isolate them from any current.
XCube EY65: Accessories
x ATA100 cables (one already installed in the case)
1 x Serial ATA150 cable and SATA power cable converter
1 x mainboard manual, 1 x case manual
1 x Installation CD-Rom
x power cable
x Isolation carpet, 1 x screwdriver, cable ties and necessary screws
You who have read the specifications above have already seen that the XCubehas a well designed case , whose mainboard offers the most you can expect from a well equipped mainboard today. Both IDE- and S-ATA channels are accessible and both comes with two channels. In the first case it means up to connected units can be used, while in the S-ATA case the maximum number is two. RAID-support is lacking sadly but on the other hand we have something else that is very fast, namely GigabitLAN.
The XCube’s integrated network circuit is made by Broadcom and makes the network work in real high speeds. The circuit can deliver up to GigabitLAN speeds. Sadly though, few of us will ever experience this outside the home or office network.
Lets leave the lightning fast for a moment and focus on something slower. The XCube has thanks to its i865G chipset an integrated graphics circuit, which goes by the name of ”Intel Extreme Graphics 2”. This is more then enough for 2D-use or playing less advanced 3D-games, but for you who takes gaming seriously keep away from it. Certainly the integrated graphics circuits have become enormously much better the lately but they are still far from an alternative to a rigid AGP-graphics card.
Sound and picture are two closely related phenomenon and the integrated AC97-codec, which can play 5.1-sound gives a good feeling. A solution that most users will find more then enough. Real audiophiles should think of buying a separate separate
sound card to optimize the experience.
Even if the XCube overall is a well balanced machine there are some areas where it comes short. One of these is that the case only has four USB 2.0-ports despite the southbridge support for eight. Two of these are placed on the front and two on the back panel. This is enough for most user however , but personally I would like to see at least six ports. Mouse, printer, gamepad and maybe a mp3-player occupies all ports fast. Naturally you can fix this by buying an external USB-hub with more ports but it would’ve been better/easier if AOpen simply has put two more ports on the back panel.
When on the subject periphery we might as well mention the Firewire-ports available on the case. Totally there are three ports, two on the front and one on the back. One of the ports on the front is a so called ”mini”-port, which is a smaller four pin version.
The two remaining are usual six pin ports.
The AOpen XCube-mainboard has despite its small size almost practically everything you can find on a full size ATX-mainboard. The feature list
and the expansion possibilities are very good but it still feels like something is missing. It’s the feel of that his is the case with that little extra that won’t occur. Many manufacturers has for example LCD-displays and card readers on their barebones to make them different from others, and it those features I miss on the XCube. It’s small, good looking and has a damn good functionality but it feels like we have seen all of this before. The XCube feels however like a good piece of work but not spectacular.
Xcube has as so much else on the barebone front a gray and silver design. The material is as it should be aluminum, but here they have chosen not to use brushed aluminum which makes the surface a bit rough and feels a bit like ??frostat glas??. My personal opinion is that it’s very hot and actually beats the brushed design easily. Overall the XCube has a very nice design. It’s very ”clean” without a bunch of unnecessary stuff. The power button sits on the middle, it’s big and has a blue illuminant shine in the dark. The CD-players front is hidden and the front ports are easy accessible
since you don’t have to deal with the ugly plastic panels that manufacturers use to hide them. The
3.5″ slot is hidden behind a black plastic cover that is located a bit lower. Why they have chosen to make it in plastic when practically all the rest of the case is aluminum, even the CD-players cover, is a mystery. Until next time I think they should cover it with a matching aluminum panel or put a small LCD-display instead. The result had been so much cooler then breaking off the design with a bit a black plastic.
Enough bitching about the 3.5″ slot. The XCube remains, despite this little mistake, one of my favorite SFF-cases when it comes to design. It looks even better when you mount the small plastic bit that raises the front, that we mentioned among the accessories. you should note that the irregularities depend on the fact the the safety plastic is still glued on it.
We leave our obsession of looks for now and looks what the front and back panels has to offer when it comes to ports.
In the front we find two USB-ports, two Firewire ports, Headset-
and microphone-connections plus an optic output.
On the back we find the PS/2-ports for keyboard and mouse,
a COM-port, a VGA-contact for the integrated graphics circuit, a serial port
for connecting for example printer, two more USB-ports,
one Firewire port, one RJ45-networkconnector, one RCA-out coax connection, one
S/PDIF in contact plus the connections for the integrated sound circuit.
To open the XCube you go through the same procedure you do with most barebones. Three thumbscrews is loosened on the back and then you push back the cover and lift it up. The 5.25″ slot and the 3.5″ slot is a removable mounting cage. This can be easily removed by loosening two screws and pulling it backwards. With this removed the workspace is significantly bigger and the installation of other components much easier. Beneath the mounting cage is a smaller one that can hold a another 3.5″ unit. The small cage is attached by two slides and a thumbscrew. After loosening the screw installation of the hard drive is easy.
The mainboard is equipped with both PCI- and AGP-slot. Using sophisticated sound and graphics cards is therefore not a problem, if the cooling on the graphics card isn’t to big that is. our testcard, a
Creative GeForce FX5900, is equipped with a very high heatsink on the above resulting in that we couldn’t close the case since it stuck out of it.(look picture in the middle below) Further this card takes up two more PCI-slots so we had to remove the I/O-shield of the graphics card to be able to mount it. This situation is far from good and therefore we want to make sure that readers out there meassure their graphics card before deciding to buy an XCube-case. Further we would like to encourage AOpen to compability test their cases a bit more precise. On the other side we had no problems mounting the PCI-card despite the large graphics card.
The northbridge is cooled by a aluminum heatsink which is good since less fans means less noise sources in the case.
The number of DIMM-slots is limited to two and hold a maximum of 2GB memory. The DIMM-slots sits together with the IDE-channels in the front of the case mounted directly below the hard drives.
The southbridge controls among others both S-ATA-channels. There is no RAID-support though since AOpen chose to use the ICH5-southbridge instead of the RAID-capable ICH5R.
When it come to ease of use AOpen’s XCube is overall very good. The installation
shouldn’t take longer then half an hour even for the inexperienced user. The instructions are easy to follow with color pictures of the entire installation. The only we can give a thumbs down for is the AGP-slot that could have been placed closer to the case’s middle or made the case a couple of millimeters wider. The way it look snow owners of big graphics cards such as our Creative GeForce FX5900 won’t be able to use the case or use it in a respectable way. Plus for the design but AOpen has to correct the AGP-problem un till next time.