Shuttle XPC G5 1100h
Shuttle made a name for itself by pioneering the small-form-factor (SFF) PC case, and the XPC G5 1100h is the company's smallest system yet. Lose the graphics card, and we'd wager that it could also stake a claim as Shuttle's quietest system. We typically don't recommend integrated graphics over a midrange graphics card--it's money well spent for 3D-gaming power and overall application performance--but for the XPC G5 1100h, which will most likely sit atop your desk instead of tucked away underneath it, we'd take the performance hit. (Gamers cringing at the words performance hit should look at theinstead.) You pay a premium for the unique design, but the $1,807 Shuttle XPC G5 1100h (the price includes an excellent 17-inch LCD) is an able mainstream performer that makes a smart choice for space-constrained dorm and apartment dwellers as well as anyone with an eye for design.
With its brushed-aluminum exterior, rounded corners, and blessedly simple front panel, the Shuttle XPC G5 1100 won't offend when placed in a prominent area of your home. It won't take up much space either, measuring 7.4 inches high by 7.8 inches wide by 12.3 inches deep. You will need to take into account the external 220-watt power brick in the middle of the power cord; it's the price you pay for eschewing an internal power supply.
Despite its small size, the XPC G5 1100h serves up a full range of mainstream desktop features. Hidden behind flip-down panels on the front panel are a 16X DVD burner, a multiformat media-card reader, two USB 2.0 ports, a four-pin FireWire port, and headphone and microphone jacks. The back panel supplies two more USB 2.0 ports; a six-pin FireWire port; and VGA, DVI, and S-Video connections. There's also a Gigabit Ethernet jack, an 802.11b/g wireless-LAN antenna, and 7.1 audio outputs, courtesy of a Creative Sound Blaster Live daughter card.
We love the built-in wireless capability, which cuts down on cable clutter and makes it easy to add the system to your network. The bundled Logitech UltraX Media keyboard-and-mouse set also helps keep cables to a minimum. The keyboard is sleek, the optical mouse is comfortable to use, and both have useful but not excessive shortcut keys.
Only two thumbscrews stand between you and the inside of the case. The graphics card in the x16 PCI Express slot is easily accessible, but you'll have to remove it to get to the free x1 PCI Express slot just inside it. Getting to the 200GB, 7,200rpm hard drive and the optical drive is a little trickier given the small work space. Home-theater enthusiasts looking to maximize storage space for large video files can opt for a second hard drive in place of the media-card reader.