The Shuttle XPC P2 3700g is the newer, Intel version of the AMD-based XPC P2 2700 model we reviewed earlier this year and adds a couple of important upgrades. First, the P2 3700g features Intel's Core 2 Duo processors, which our tests show improve overall performance. Using the same chassis as the P2 2700, the P2 3700g also manages to find room for a second x16 PCI Express slot, though the system's somewhat underpowered power supply limits the dual-card setups available to you. Still, competing gaming-oriented small-form-factor (SFF) PCs from Falcon Northwest and Maingear not only cost more, they don't supply a second graphics slot. Although we'd like to see the P2 3700g give you at least the option to upgrade to a bigger power supply and we take issue with Shuttle's overprotective warranty policy, we recommend this system for its affordability and expandability. It will ably serve as a trusted LAN-party companion while also pulling double duty as your primary PC.
The P2 3700g case is gargantuan relative to Shuttle's other SFF chassis. At 8.5 inches high, 8.7 inches wide, and 12.9 inches deep, it stretches the definition of small form factor, but it's certainly easier to transport than your typical midtower PC. SFF systems such as Apple's Mac Mini or HP's Pavilion Slimline are better suited for home theater use; the XPC P2 3700g is too large and too noisy--not to mention overpowered and overpriced--for such use. Our review unit's price of $2,369 compares favorably next to Falcon's and Maingear's SFF gaming PCs, however, and its extra room lets you add two graphics cards and up to three hard drives.
Due to heat concerns, we wouldn't recommend packing the case full of hard drives, and your graphics cards options are limited because of the relatively meager 400-watt power supply. To wit, the only dual-GPU option Shuttle offers for the system is two ATI Radeon X1950 Pro cards, which are a step down from the X1950 XTX cards. (The system uses Intel's X975 Express chipset, which supports two ATI CrossFire cards but not an Nvidia SLI setup.) The 400-watt power supply provides enough juice to power our review unit's Core 2 Duo E6700 processor and two X1950 CrossFire cards, but Falcon's FragBox ships with a 750-watt unit, and Maingear's X-Cube gives you the choice between a 550-watt and a 600-watt power supply. Then again, the Falcon and Maingear systems don't give you a second x16 PCI Express slot and they cost hundreds more.
One more word on the available graphics options: the system offers Nvidia's new GeForce 8800 GTS as an option. Shuttle told us that it is working though some technical issues and hopes to offer the GeForce 8800 GTX card soon. We recommend the 8800 GTS over the dual X1950 Pros for its raw performance and future-looking DirectX 10 support. Another option we'd choose to add that our review system lacked: a $16 media card reader to the front-accessible hard drive bay. We would appreciate the convenience of media card slots, in addition to the system's two USB 2.0 ports and a 4-pin FireWire connector along the bottom of the front panel. Headphone and mic jacks reside next to the front-panel ports, a necessity for LAN-party gamers.
We didn't mean to give the impression earlier that the P2 3700g is a whirling, heat-generating noisemaker. For a gaming system that houses high-end parts, it's relatively quiet. Shuttle put a lot of thought into the cooling system, neatly tying the internal cables out of the way, while separating the system into three zones--pulling in cool air from the side, passing it over the hottest components, and pushing it out of the back of the case. But the fact remains that the system employs five cooling fans, which means the system creates more of a racket than less-powerful SFF systems from Apple and HP.
The core specs of our $2,369 review unit--a Core 2 Duo E6700 processor, 2GB of 667MHz DDR2 memory, dual Radeon X1950 Pro graphics cards, and a 150GB 10,000rpm hard drive--allow it to serve as a solid gaming platform, as well as an everyday PC. Compared to the P2 2700, which had similar specs and an AMD Athlon 64 X2 4800+ CPU, the P2 3700g turned in superior scores on each of our application benchmarks, led by its 25 percent advantage on our Photoshop benchmark. That shows the power of Intel's Core 2 Duo processors.
The P2 3700g's performance on our two gaming benchmarks also show the power of the Core 2 Duo platform. The frame rates on our F.E.A.R. test hardly changed at all, showing that two Radeon X1950 Pros aren't any more powerful than a single GeForce 7900 GTX on that game. Then why the big jump in Quake 4 performance? Our Quake 4 test at the modest 1,024x768 resolution is CPU limited, and the P2 3700g's Core 2 Duo processor proved to be more powerful than the P2 2700's Athlon X2 4800+, allowing the Intel-based system to post a frame rate that was 45 percent faster at 120.4fps. Although our P2 3700g posted solid frame rates, we'll repeat our recommendation: If you are buying this system for playing 3D games, opt for the GeForce 8800 GTS card instead.
The XPC P2 3700g is backed by a standard one-year parts-and-labor warranty, but Shuttle's warranty policy will give gamers and PC enthusiasts pause. The company places a small, silver sticker on the back of the system, which you must peel off if you want to open the case. The problem is that you void the warranty as soon as that sticker is removed. We had to open the system to reconnect the power cable to one of the graphics cards, which came loose during shipping. That simple procedure would void the warranty. Worse, any tweaks or upgrades you'd like to make within the first year will void the warranty. If this were a low-end system that targeted basic users, we'd be less concerned with this policy, but we'd expect that most people who purchase this SFF gaming system would be the type of people who would want to get inside the system at some point--either to add in a new part or simply to look inside the case out of curiosity. It's too bad that Shuttle takes this extra precaution, making its customers choose between maintaining their warranty and opening the case.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)