We have already discussed the strong and weak points of ATI RADEON 9100 IGP chipset in our previous reviews. As you remember, its trump is the fastest integrated graphics core (the RADEON 9200 architecture). RADEON 9100 IGP is the highest-performing chipset with integrated graphics, all thanks to this core. That’s why Shuttle ST61G4 is good in 3D applications with its own integrated graphics and provides high 2D quality in resolutions up to 1600x1200@85Hz. Theoretically, the chipset supports TV-Out and DVI outputs and Shuttle implemented the former feature in the FT61. As for the digital output, manufacturers continue ignoring it, to my regret.
FT61 has an AGP 8x slot for an external graphics card. However, the location of the slot near the edge of the PCB prevents you from installing graphics cards that require additional space for their large cooling systems. By the way, FT61 carries an AGP Proof LED that would light up if you installed an incompatible graphics card (that requires 3.3V of power).
The main drawback of the RADEON 9100 IGP chipset is in the South Bridges it comes with. Shuttle FT61 uses an ATI IXP150 chip that supports only six USB 2.0 ports and two ATA/100 channels. Two USB 2.0 ports sit on the mainboard I/O panel, and the rest of them are onboard connectors. Two more ports are output to the front panel of Shuttle ST61G4, and one port is used for the flash card reader. The last port remains not connected anyway.
To compensate for the limited capabilities of the ATI IXP 150, Shuttle engineers had to throw some onboard controllers onto the FT61.
The sound is implemented on this mainboard via the time-tested solution from Realtek: the six-channel AC’97 ALC650 codec. It is a good, but somewhat old codec, with support of SPDIF In/Out, but without any new technologies like Jack Sensing, for instance.
IXP150 doesn’t support any network at all, so we have an onboard 10/100Mbit Broadcom 4410 controller. The VIA VT6307 chip is responsible for the implementation of the two IEEE1394 ports.
I would also like to stress that Shuttle decided to make its barebone solution as functional as possible and added two SerialATA-150 ports. Curiously enough, the engineers used a Silicon Image 3512 controller, which is not just a SATA controller, but also supports RAID 0 and 1 arrays.
So, FT61 mainboard, intended for Small Form-Factor PCs, does support RAID arrays. Can we really take advantage of this feature in a barebone system where it is quite difficult just to accommodate two hard disk drives at a time? We will talk about it later when we will discuss the case design.
The functionality of the mainboard may be extended through installation of a PCI controller into the available PCI slot.
The PCB layout has been designed for this particular mainboard and its major application in mind. All components and connectors are placed in such a way that you don’t have to show any sleight of hand to assemble your system. When the system is already assembled, you may encounter some difficulties when accessing the ATA/100 connectors, but you will never have this problem on the assembly stage if you are following the instructions carefully. The Clear CMOS jumper is also within an easy reach.