I don’t want to judge once and for all how justified this modification is. Especially keeping in mind that the number of USB ports has been reduced. The thing is that FireWire peripherals are not so widely spread, so two FireWire ports seem to be quite enough to satisfy most needs. The peripheral devices using COM ports are also leaving the market little by little, so we also can’t call the absence of the second COM port a drawback. However, as for 4 USB ports, our experience shows that this is not always enough taking into account how popular the USB peripherals are nowadays. On the other hand, I have already mentioned the advantages of having an LPT-port onboard. And the number of USB ports can be increased with the help of an additional USB-splitter, although it means additional expenses. All in all, you should find a certain compromise here, which has already become a common thing for the IT and any other industry: the choice depends on you.
Shuttle FN85 Mainboard
The barebone system we are reviewing today, Shuttle SN85G4, is based on FN85 mainboard made by Shuttle, of course. This board is built on NVIDIA nForce3 150 chipset, which is a single-chip product. The mainboard is equipped with two DDR DIMM slots. As you remember, NVIDIA nForce3 150 doesn’t have any memory controller, because in AMD Athlon 64 systems the memory controller integrated into the CPU itself is the one responsible for work with the system memory.
FN85 doesn’t boast any rich expansion opportunities, which is actually quite typical of all mainboards used for SFF systems. It is equipped with only one AGP 8x slot and one PCI slot. However, the chipset offers a pretty attractive features set, and so does the mainboard boasting a bunch of integrated onboard controllers, that is why these modest expansion options are not a real drawback any more. You should also note that the idea behind SFF systems doesn’t imply their positioning as a solution for advanced High-End users.
As I have already said the mainboard supports four USB 2.0 ports, two IEEE1394a ports (a 4-pin port laid out to the front panel and a 6-pin port laid out to the back panel), 10/100Mbit Ethernet (Realtek RTL8102BL controller) and six-channel AC’97 sound (ALC650 codec). Besides, you can also connect two parallel and two SerialATA hard disk drives. The latter ones can form a RAID 0 or RAID 1 array due to the onboard Silicon Image 3512 controller.
The mainboard is also equipped with a couple of connectors, which I would particularly like to draw your attention to. First of all, it is the so called IrDA connector intended for the Infra-red port. You can also see it on the regular mainboards, so the fact that it is there is not surprising at all. The unusual thing about it, however, is the fact that it is simply “wasted”, i.e. there is no infra-red port on any of the case panels of Shuttle SN85G4. I assume it could not bad to have it, just in case, you know.