Top tips and advice for building a Shuttle barebones system?
December 12, 2006 8:09 AM   Subscribe

Over the weekend, I shall be building a Shuttle SK21G Barebone PC system. Given that I've only built about 4 computers (all of which worked fine) and never a Shuttle, is there anything you can tell me or websites I should read which will make the building process go smoothly?

I've bought the following items:

- Shuttle SK21G Barebone PC system.
- AMD Sempron 2800+
- 1GB DDR 400MHz/PC3200 RAM
- Seagate ST3160812A 160GB Hard Drive

and will use other items (keyboard, mouse, monitor, CD-ROM, floppy etc.etc.) from an already working, but ageing, computer (a P2-400 in case you are wondering).

Given that I've never built a Shuttle before, I'm wondering if there are any hints, tricks and/or tips that people can give me (or point me to sites containing them) that will make the build process far easier.

To be fair, I'm reasonably technically au-fait (as in, I'm not a complete dunce) and don't believe that it'll be too hard to do (given that the motherboard is already screwed in and I've built a couple of PC's before) - but anything additional would be appreciated - especially if it is stuff that you wished you'd known before you started.
posted by mr_silver to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You've picked a solid basic setup. Given that you're building a Shuttle, what's the planned use of this machine? If it is going to be for gaming, you're going to have to consider your video card options, as the on-board video might not be burly enough to satisfy. Otherwise, you're set.
posted by grabbingsand at 8:18 AM on December 12, 2006

Response by poster: Ack! Forgot to mention it won't be used for gaming.

It's main goal is to be a small and quiet computer in the sitting room (where others will be) which will do email, IM, browsing, iTunes, Picasa and maybe a little letter writing.
posted by mr_silver at 9:23 AM on December 12, 2006

Nice little system, well crafted for what you want to do. I've built several shuttles, and the instructions that come with them are all pretty good. If you have any trouble feel free to email me at Just one quick question, and not to start a holy war, but: given what you want to do have you considered a mac mini? They are under powered for many applications, but would be fine for what you want to do.
posted by The Bellman at 9:41 AM on December 12, 2006

If you're looking for quiet, a Shuttle won't be. At least the one I built about 2 years ago. When the fan revs up it sounds like a frickin jet taking off. And the worst part is that it constantly adjusts speeds based on the temp, so my living room is always filled with a reving engine sound. Maybe they've improved this since then though.
posted by afx114 at 9:50 AM on December 12, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the comments! A Mac Mini would be lovely but this machine isn't for me and I'm concerned that trying to do phone support on an OS I know very little about is asking for trouble.

I do plan to get myself one in the future and, once I know it well enough to provide support, ween the rest of my family off Windows.

Regarding noise, the current P2-400 makes a sound like a shuttle taking off, so even the noise of a jet engine would be a vast improvement!
posted by mr_silver at 10:05 AM on December 12, 2006

The Sudhian SFF forums are a great resource, especially if you're interested in quiet computing.

And, at least at the time I got mine (SN41G2, I think--one of the shoebox ones), Shuttle was known for cheaping out on the stock ICE fans a little. If you replace it with a variable-speed Panaflo or Papst or Noiseblocker or something, it'll run much more quietly. I also cut out the grilles on the back, installed a Shuttle SilentX power supply, bought a fanless AGP card and replaced the northbridge fan with a big Zalman heatsink. At this point, my keyboard is louder than my PC. I wouldn't think you'd want to go that far, but it can certainly be done.
posted by box at 10:23 AM on December 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

Find a nice, stable workplace and gather all your parts and tools ahead of time. Touch something grounded every once in a while to make sure you don't building up any static. Even better, get a grounded wrist strap but that may be over kill.

Hook up your keyboard, mouse and video, then one component at a time and boot. I suggest going in this order: CPU, memory, floppy, cd, hard drive. It's a pain to put everything together only to find one part isn't working.

The only really difficult part is getting a nice layer of thermal paste down and installing the cpu. It's not that bad, go slow and you should be fine.

If you have time I suggest running Memtest86 for a while to make sure your memory is good, then install the OS.

I like my little ShuttleX box, but it is a bit noisy. Once it dies I'm going to try to find a quieter solution.
posted by beowulf573 at 10:57 AM on December 12, 2006

My Shuttle was unbelievably silent until the cooling system broke. They can definitely be super-quiet. Now I have "hacked" mine with a USB fan to cool it down, so it's no longer very quiet... I guess this is a warning that the cooling might not last forever, so look into replacement parts.
posted by edlundart at 11:05 AM on December 12, 2006

I have a Shuttle with the same case design (SN41G2). It's one of the easiest computers I've put together or worked on—I wouldn't worry too much about it.
posted by mbrubeck at 2:06 PM on December 12, 2006

The shuttle models I used to deploy into customer kitchens were fairly quiet, the old (somethingsomething)25 I had myself was the exact opposite. There seems to be a lot of variation in them.
posted by phearlez at 2:23 PM on December 12, 2006

I setup my SS51G about 4 years ago and it's still running without a hitch. And it was dead-easy to setup. You will not have any issue.
posted by rom1 at 10:10 AM on December 13, 2006

Best answer: Excellent selection! You should have no trouble putting it together.

Depending on your intended uses, you may want to consider a Turion CPU in your next SK21G.

  • saves energy (Thermal Design Power Max 35W)
  • quiet (lower heat dissipation means that the fan will not be spinning at full speed as often)
  • lower electricity bills (if you have multiple PCs or run them 24/7, it adds up)
  • excellent cost performance
It may require a BIOS update but the benefits are worth it.

If you're looking for quiet, a Shuttle won't be. At least the one I built about 2 years ago. When the fan revs up it sounds like a frickin jet taking off.

While some Shuttle PCs make a lot of noise, the SK21G is not one of them (especially if you equip it with a low-power Turion processor). In an environment with a lot of ambient noise, you will not even know that it is on. Unfortunately, the fan used in the SK21G makes a high-pitched noise. Although the noise volume is low, you may find the pitch annoying, especially if you plan on using it in an environment with very little ambient noise.

One suggestion is to swap out the fan before you build it (you will have trouble swapping it once it is built). Get a high quality fan that is quiet. If you go with the Turion on your next SK21G, you may want to consider a lower speed fan since heat should not be so much of a problem.
Note: Do this at your own risk and remember that it will void the warranty.

Kudos for choosing the Seagate ST3160812A 160GB HDD! It has high density and only one platter. Fewer platters = less friction = lower heat dissipation. Less heat generally translates into less noise as the case fan will not be spinning at full speed as often.

Good luck. You bought yourself a great machine with excellent cost performance and, if you decide to go with the Turion next time, low energy costs / environmental impact.
posted by cup at 10:46 PM on December 13, 2006

Best answer: Couple of things now I have it:

1. It is not possible to follow the instructions to the letter when putting in the CPU. You need to unplug the fan and move it away completely, attach the CPU (not forgetting the paste) and then put the fan back on. Their instructions make it look like you can "swing" it out of the way, which isn't possible.

2. When attaching the panel on top of the CPU, the spring loaded screws will not touch the motherboard. You have to force them a bit downwards before they will make contact. Once you've done that, then they will screw down fine. You can't over-screw as you reach a point where you can't turn them any further (with a gentle force) pretty quickly.

3. If you don't have a SATA drive then you'll need a new drive ribbon because they only have one IDE plug on the motherboard and one SATA. This caught me because the hard drive I bought was IDE and so I needed a dual ribbon for both the HD and the IDE CD/DVD reader/writer.

4. When attaching an AGP graphics card, they don't tell you that if you pop out both PCI ports at the back then a metal hinge swings out. This means that you can get the cards into the back without having to force it. It is unbelievable that they don't tell you this and I almost broke my AGP graphics card installing it without the hinge.

5. Try and have an internet connection available as the Shuttle website has a wealth of information which they don't put in the box (you get a quick start guide and nothing else). This is especially handy if there are problems.

Unfortunately after all that, something was broken with it because it doesn't display a picture, so I'm going to have to send the whole thing back. However it is a sexy looking piece of kit.

I'm not sure if it is considered cheeky (or even possible) marking your own comment as "best", but based on my experiences - I think these are all worthwhile comments for others in the future.
posted by mr_silver at 8:42 AM on December 22, 2006

mr_silver -- is it beeping? It's possible that something isn't seated properly, and sometimes beeps can help you diagnose. Otherwise, I'd go through it again just *one* more time and make sure everything is correctly positioned.
posted by fishfucker at 2:49 PM on December 22, 2006

Response by poster: Nope, it doesn't beep in a diagnosable way.

In fact, if it wasn't for the lack of picture, everything starts up and sounds normal. The Shuttle website suggested stripping it down to the bare bones to test each item (which I did) and resetting the CMOS (which I also did) but that didn't seem to do anything.

I even stuck an AGP graphics card in (over the inbuilt one), but couldn't get a picture out of that either.

I'll give it one last go but if anyone has any further suggestions, I'd appreciate it!
posted by mr_silver at 2:59 PM on December 22, 2006

Do you have another stick of RAM to try? I built a different Shuttle model recently and it behaved exactly the same way; it appears to power on but nothing happens on the display. The RAM I used was cheap "Ultra" brand from Tiger Direct. When I stuck a stick of Kingston in there it all came up fine. PCs are supposed to beep on bad RAM (and when I tested the "Ultra" in another known-good machine, it did), but perhaps some or all Shuttles don't.

I will probably not build a Shuttle again, I had a few survivable but annoying problems with it, and I later built an Asus with exactly the same CPU, RAM, drive and OS and it performs noticeably better. I've never had a bad experience with Asus.
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:06 PM on December 22, 2006

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