Shuttle puts a dual-core Intel Atom processor into one of its smallest chassis to create the Shuttle X27D.

Just like the Hoover for vacuum cleaning and Tannoy for speakers, Shuttle has become almost synonymous with small form-factor PCs.

Some Shuttle PCs have seen desktop PC components shoehorned into a chassis the size of a large shoebox. The little Shuttle X27D is smaller, and distinguishes itself by taking a low-power processor to reduce running costs and noise levels - the Atom 330, a dual-core version of Intel's netbook-friendly processor.

Like a netbook, the Shuttle X27D will not be the weapon of choice for power users; instead it can slip into a small office environment, or maybe even serve duty as a media PC.

Its credentials in the latter use are strictly limited, though, since it's fitted with the lowly Intel GMA 950 integrated graphics processor, plus the dawdling Atom CPU. So 3D gaming is not really an option, nor can it be relied upon to play high-definition video without stuttering.

The question is whether the extra processor core will allow the dual Atom to compare with a usefully powerful PC, such as those taking an Intel Core 2 Duo.

Our Shuttle X27D sample was supplied with openSUSE 11, a mature and reasonably user-friendly Linux operating system.

Using the default KDE window manager, its interface will be broadly familiar to Windows XP users, although if you're more used to Microsoft systems there will be a period of acclimatisation while you find where various preferences are (often too successfully) hidden away.

As with most Linux distros, you'll find a useful array of software ready installed to get you started. We found that none of our various video test files would play through Kaffeine media player, though, so resorted to installing VLC with little fuss.

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The Shuttle X27D can be found as a £199 barebones PC with 1GB RAM from, for example, Dabs and requiring you to find your own hard disk and DVD drive; or in the form we tested from the Shuttle distributor in Germany, with 320GB storage, 2GB RAM and a DVD writer, for around £380.

Two fold-down flaps are found on the Shuttle X27D front panel, one to cover the DVD tray; the lower one hiding away two USB ports, along with mic input and headphone output jacks.

Once you try these flimsy covers, the low quality of exterior trim becomes all too evident: the flaps bend to near breakpoint if you press them in the middle, while the DVD tray still requires prying out of its drawer even after you've pressed the Eject button.

Inside, the layout around the Mini-ITX motherboard is a little neater, and with the help of some generous copper heatsinking only a small and almost-silent fan is required to keep the system cool.

On the Shuttle X27D back panel there's a choice of DVI-D and VGA video outputs, four more USB ports, two old-school PS/2 and a serial port, and another pair of 3.5mm audio outs. System power is external, from a supplied laptop-type charger.

We benchmarked the Shuttle X27D using WorldBench 6 running on Windows Vista Home Basic, where the X27D scored 40 points.

Allowing for the millstone that is Windows Vista slowing it down, this would put the system slightly further ahead than the 35-point norm for an Atom-powered netbook running Windows XP. We certainly wouldn't recommend using Vista on such a slow machine however, as elementary tasks were treacled by slow window refreshing.

In power consumption testing, the Shuttle X27D used 27W when idling in openSUSE 11, rising to around 31W when under load. While this is economical relative to full-size systems, it's around twice the consumption of some more powerful and compact PCs we've tested, notably the latest Apple Mac mini.

NEXT PAGE: Our expert verdict >>

Shuttle X27D: Specs

  • 1.6GHz Intel Atom Dual-Core 330
  • openSUSE Linux
  • 320GB 2.5in SATA HDD
  • 2GB (2x1GB) DDR2 RAM
  • Intel GMA 950 integrated graphics
  • DVI-D and VGA video out
  • DVD drive
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • gigabit ethernet
  • serial port
  • 2 x PS/2 port
  • mic in, line out
  • power consumption 27W idle, 31W load
  • 250x185x170mm, 2040g
  • 1.6GHz Intel Atom Dual-Core 330
  • openSUSE Linux
  • 320GB 2.5in SATA HDD
  • 2GB (2x1GB) DDR2 RAM
  • Intel GMA 950 integrated graphics
  • DVI-D and VGA video out
  • DVD drive
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • gigabit ethernet
  • serial port
  • 2 x PS/2 port
  • mic in, line out
  • power consumption 27W idle, 31W load
  • 250x185x170mm, 2040g

OUR VERDICT

The Shuttle X27D is available at an attractive entry-level price, but once optical and hard drives and a useful amount of RAM are fitted, it can be easily beaten in value by better performing systems, such as the Advent Eco PC at around the same price. Exterior build quality was disappointing and overall performance will leave many users wanting. As a basic office machine it may still appeal though, especially if you can configure it yourself with sufficient storage and RAM at a low price.

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