Shuttle XS35GT: The ultimate silent media center HTPC

 

Shuttle XS35GTThe long-awaited Shuttle XS35 series of small form factor (SFF) PCs are finally available and shipping in a variety of guises, from a bare bones build your option up to a fully loaded  version with blu-ray, 2GB RAM and 500GB hard disk.

This is possibly one of the best boxes currently available for the HTPC enthusiast, especially those looking for a totally silent hardware platform to run XBMC Media Center on.

For a number of months now I have been looking for a new small form factor (SFF) PC to run XBMC Media Center on in my lounge. Currently I have a Acer Revo 1600 SFF PC doing this job and it does an admirable job and have no complaints about it. I’ve had the Acer Revo running XBMC for about 18 months now and it will happily play any and all content you through at it, everything from SD DVD rips right up to 720p and 1080p full hd rips and encodes. The only reason it is being replaced is the Acer Revo is being moved to the bedroom so I need something to replace it in the lounge.

The only slight complaint I have about the Acer Revo is that it does have a fan in it and isn’t completely passively cooled. Now in day to day use and when watching a movie, you never hear it  - even at night with the volume on low. That being said I really wanted its replacement to be passively cooled if possible and so the hunt began.

Admittedly, the Shuttle XS35GT was not my first choice, I had originally opted for the Zotac ZBOX Blu-Ray ID33, however my supplier let me down and I wanted something that could ship immediately. The Shuttle XS35GT SFF PC seemed to fit the bill perfectly for me, or in fact any home media center (HTPC) enthusiast. It was one of the few (if only?) SFF computer that I could find that was completely passively cooled (i.e completely silent due to the fact there are no fans in it). It achieves this by using two very large heat sinks (one on each side of the PCB – I’m assuming one side takes care of the GPU and the other covers the CPU and other chipsets) and a rather clever case that full of holes and wire mesh that dissipates all of the heat.

Shuttle XS35GT

Since this Shuttle XS35GT is designed around the Intel’s Atom D510 Dual Core Processor (2x 166GHz) and the NM10 Express chipset it uses very little power, both in standby and when under full load and serves as the perfect energy-saving hardware platform. The Shuttle XS35GT is supplied with a tiny 19V 2.1A external power brick, which its spec sheet claims to be 85.3% effecient (FSP040-RAC-SPEC). The Shuttle XS35GT uses about 0.5W in standby mode, about 20W when idle and about 30W of power when under full load.

For those looking to turn this into a media center PC, you will be of particularly interested in knowing that it includes a high performance Next-Generation NVIDIA ION GPU (ION2) graphics card (GPU). Why is this of interest to you? As already mentioned the Shuttle XS35GT uses an integrated Intel Atom D510 processor. Decoding video in software only is an incredibly CPU intensive task and if relying on software only decoding the Shuttle XS35GT would just about manage to do 720p content and would definitely not be able to do full hd (1080p) content. This is where the NVidia ION chipset comes in and can take advantage of it to do the decoding in the GPU hardware, completely offloading it from the processor. As such, with the Shuttle XS35GT set to use hardware decoding, the dual-core Atom D510 processor will be doing next to nothing and should only be running at between 5% to 10% CPU load when watching 1080p HD video content!

The Shuttle XS35GT come in a tiny case 25.2cm x 16.2cm x 3.84cm – slightly bigger than it was originally announced to be. It was originally announced to come in a case that would be 1 litre in volume, however they missed out on that target as the shipping case is in the region of 1.5 litres. Still that being said, the case is tiny for such a powerful silent media PC. The PC is about the same size as a Nintendo Wii or a bit bigger than a paper back book. Perfect for something that you would have in the lounge. The image below shows the relative size of the Shuttle XS35GT. On the left is a Nintendo Wii, the black box in the middle is the Shuttle XS35GT and on the right is a Harmony 555 remote.

Shuttle XS35GT Size

Thanks to the HDMI connection, which supports passing both audio and video, there is excellent sound and picture quality. Other front and rear connections include 5x USB, VGA, 100Mbit/s LAN, Audio Out, Mic In and a 4-in-1 card reader supporting SDHC, SD, MS und MS-pro memory cards. There is an integrated wireless for those that need it (802.11b/g/n, max. 150Mbps up-/downstream). Internally there is room for a 2.5″ hard disk or SSD and a optical slimline drive (or second 2.5″ drive). For memory it supports a single SO-DIMM (200 pin) DDR2-667/800 memory module (PC5300/6400) – max size being 2GB.

The Shuttle XS35GT comes either as a barebones model or options including memory, hard disk, dvd/blu-ray drive and operating system. Personally I find that prebuilt systems are typically hugely over priced, seldom come in the exact specification I want and include copies of Windows which i do not need or want.

So I have opted for the barebones model of the Shuttle XS35GT and will add 2G of memory and a small SSD drive for booting. At the moment I wont be adding a blu-ray / dvd drive as I rarely use them, but might add one in the future to be used for ripping of media.

My final build list and costs where:

I already have a MCE remote and Apple iPhone and Touch’s that I use for a remote, but if you didn’t you could pick something up for less than £20. All in you can put together a great, completely silent media center PC for about £300. For software I will be using XBMC Media Cente (XBMC) under linux so no additional costs there!

You could keep the build costs down by using a regular hard drive rather than SSD. However the SSD is in keeping with the completely silent operation I was aiming for. Additionally they put out very little heat and will help keep the ambient temperature down in the case. Other upsides being it will boot faster and will help with skins that use lots of images and fanart. You could also look at using a USB memory stick or SD card rather than a hard drive and will get similar gains. If doing this I would suggest a minimum of 8GB and get the fastest one you can.

Putting it all together is easy enough. Firstly get everything you need, your Shuttle XS35GT, a hard disk / ssd, some ram and a phllips head screw driver.

Shuttle XS35GT Build Components

Remove your Shuttle XS35GT from the box and remove all protect packaging. There is a single screw holding everything together (hidden away behind a black rubber bung) that you need to remove to get into the case. Remove the bung and unscrew the single crosshead screw, then slide off the top panel.

Shuttle XS35GT Screw Location

insert ram. Fit your ssd / hard drive to the including mounting bracket and screw in place. If you have a dvd/blueray, flip the box over, remove the other top panel and fit the drive using the included screws.

Shuttle XS35GT Assembled Components

Replace top panel(s), single retaining screw and stick the black rubber bung back and your done. Probably one of the easiest PC’s you will ever build and should take you no longer than 30 mins!

shuttle-xs35gt-complete.JPG

The Shuttle XS35GT comes with a stand and is designed to be mounted vertically. That is just isn’t viable with my setup as it wouldn’t fit in my A/V rack. I have not fitted the stand to my Shuttle XS35GT and have put in place horizontally. So far I have not had any issues with this, I’ve made sure there is reasonable airflow and watch the temperature of the box. In my personal opinion this will be fine, however its up to you if you want to take this risk. One thing to take into consider when doing this, there is also a VESA mount for attaching the Shuttle XS35GT to the back of a TV. If you were to mount in this way, one surface of the Shuttle XS35GT would have limited airflow as it would be attached to the TV, additionally you would have extra heat from the TV and typically a higher ambiant temrature as there is little airflow behind most TV’s. If the Shuttle XS35GT is fine in those conditions, then again in my opinion, it should be fine positioned horizontally on a AV rack with good airflow. However if your Shuttle XS35GT decides to die or sets your house on fire then don’t blame me!

Shuttle XS35GT A/V Rack

You have now built the ultimate, silent media center HTPC using a Shuttle XS35GT – next thing you need to do is install XBMC Media Center and configure it. In this post, I will describe the software installation and configuration of XBMC and how to get things working perfectly.

41 comments to Shuttle XS35GT: The ultimate silent media center HTPC

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by redditpics, Shuttle Europe. Shuttle Europe said: Another happy user using a XS35GT (DIY w/ SSD) as super-silent media center HTPC in his living room http://bit.ly/9M1fbb [...]

  • Paul Vincent

    Just got all this kit, great article. The next one will be interesting, Dharma 4 still needs a bit of tweaking on Live, I wait with bated breath!

    • Dharma 4 needs a little bit of tweaking to get it working with the Shuttle XS35GT. I’m going to put a follow up article this week on the best way to do this. If like me you want to use this box as a dedicated media player, rather than using XBMC Live try openelec.tv. Openelec.tv works with the Shuttle XS35GT out of the box, you can have a fully working, auto upgrading xbmc appliance up and running in less than 15 minutes! I’ve moved all of my htpc’s over to this as it simply gives the best user experience.

  • Stuart

    Nice review. Can you confirm if the LAN is 100mbps or 1Gbps? Some ebay sellers are showing the LAN specs as a Marvell 88E056 10/100/1000 Mbps. Thanks in advance, Stuart.

    • The LAN is 10/100Mb/s not 10/100/1000. Not that this is a problem, 100Mb/s is more than enough for streaming the highest raw blu-ray rips – there is no need for Gigabit ethernet for this.

      For reference, the Shuttle XS35GT uses the JMicron Technology Corp. JMC260 PCI Express Fast Ethernet Controller for its LAN port.

  • Paul Vincent

    Lol, just spent the last 6 hours tearing my hair out compiling HDMI and jme drivers!

    All good experience for a Windows tecchie like me, who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks!

    Will check out openelec.tv and compare.

    Thanks again

  • Paul Vincent

    I couldn’t help but notice you have some nice sound kit there.
    I run a Sonos, streaming FLAC zero compression from a Synology over Gb LAN, which now may be somewhat redundant now I have the Shuttle with XBMC.

    I have linked up the Shuttle to my Cambridge DAC magic, via USB, ALSA detects this and drives out some very good quality sound with excellent seperation and clear reproduction.

    Anyone else using a DAC magic with their Shuttle XS35GT and XBMC?

    • I have been toying with the idea of getting a Sonos setup for years – literally since they were released, however could never quite justify the cost for it – especially with the cost of Ion based products now. I would still like one for the garden decking area and maybe the bathroom too.

      Do you really get a noticeable difference using the DACMagic? I’ve often thought about trying one, but wonder if there is that much of a difference – have always liked the sound my Yamaha amps have produced in the past with direct connection to my components.

  • Pantelis

    Hi, how many audio channels it support through HDMI? is it 2 as described in specs or more?
    Also Are you sure you can install a 2nd HD instead of teh optical drive? this would be great and would serve as an all in one NAS/Media center.

    Thanks

    • Not sure why you think it only supports 2 audio channels. It supports 7.1 audio channels if using hdmi and 2.1 if using analogue channels. You can install a second hard drive / ssd in place of the optical drive. This is fully supported and mentioned in their installation documentation.

  • Pantelis

    Thanks. I just got confused with the 2 analogue channels.
    A last question : is it possible to install higher than 500GB drives? I guess it is a matter of thickness, as the over 750gb drives are 12,5 cm instead of 9,5. If it is possible i am cancelling my order of the Zotac zbox as i could go up to 2TB and have it also act as a dlna server for my Samsung DLNA compliant TV.

  • Pantelis

    This is how audio capabilities are described in tests:

    AUDIO IDT92HD81with azalia support
    2.1 channel High Definition Audio

  • Pantelis

    Sent an email to shuttle and they confirmed that even through HDMI it produces 2 channels!I asked them to double check :)
    Also for anyone interested, they will launch an adapter to house the 2nd HDD and converter from slimline SATA to SATA (bundled together).

    If this is the case I will stick with the Zbox order or have the non-ION version with 2 HDDs as a PC/NAS and have it streaming to my DLNA TV.

  • I can assure you that the information you have been given is incorrect. Using HDMI the Shuttle XS35GT supports 7.1 audio channels. I have tested this myself. I have it up and running in my lounge passing through 5.1 audio through hdmi into my Yamaha receiver. It is not limited to 2.1 audio channels.

    Also I’m not sure why you would consider DLNA streaming, pretty much all hardware I have tested this on has been sub optimal at best and generally very poor when it comes to video support.

  • Pantelis

    Yes I agree about DLNA, I would consider that if it did not support 5.1 audio.
    I trust you it does so I placed an order and I will have it next Tuesday.

  • Brad

    Thanks for the great review and info.
    I was wondering, have you also added a USB TV tuner card to the setup?

    Will the system be able to cope with a DUAL TUNER USB card and still record two 1080P streams to dis through usb? Do you have any experience with USB tuners? Any recommendations?

    • No I don’t have a USB tuner attached to this box – it only plays back media from network storage.

      In terms of coping with recording 1080p content from USB, if you can find a dual hd usb tuner then in theory the box could record from it, providing your hard disk could keep up with it – if recording to a network source this shouldn’t be an issue. However, I’m not aware of any usb dual tuners that support HD? Also where are you recording from that’s 1080p – I was under the impression that most content providers are broadcasting at 1080i?

  • Pantelis

    I just got another email saying that it was a misunderstanding and it supports HDMI 1.3 (i guess they mean that it supports multiple audio channels-does not necessarily answer the question but I guess this is what they mean). Also the machine supports up to 9,5mm HDDs (this means up to 750 GB) and not 12,5mm.

  • [...] Detailed review – Shuttle XS35GT: The ultimate silent media center HTPC [...]

  • Pantelis

    Hi again,

    As you have seen the insides of the system, can you tell me if a thicker (12.5 mm) HDD can be fitted, even if that entails that the HDD bracket is not fully screwed down on the chassis? Is there enough space for that in order to close the side panels? From pics I have seen it seems there is but I am not sure as they are taken from an angle.

    Thanks again

  • Paul Vincent

    I have only good things to say about my Sonos, but I have to consolidate gadgets and my house doesn’t justify a multi-zone system so a high quality output from an HTPC into the aforesaid DM suits me fine.
    The Yammy I have has a switched pair of speakers for the garden, where the wireless Sonos controller came into it’s own, but with XBMC and the iPhone wireless remote app the Sonos is now redundant!

    DacMagic made a 10-15% improvement on the Sonos inbuilt DAC, better separation instruments and clean reproduction throughout the range.
    On the XS35GT I would say the improvement is 50-60%.
    I know it’s very subjective and my wife says she can’t hear the difference but it works for me.

    If you google DM/Sonos people are reporting significant improvement so I’m guessing that it’s a safe buy.

    I have my XS35GT all working now with remote and streaming HD1080p from a 8TB NAS. Even the wife can use it.

    One last thing, it runs significantly cooler vertical than horizontal….

  • Adrian

    Hi Paul,

    I’m planning on getting one of these soon to replace the WDTV in the living room – your guide will come in handy! I have a couple of questions, hopefully you can answer them: 1) do you know if the TRIM command is supported for SSDs with the OS in the openelec install of XBMC, and 2) do you know if support for NFS shares is built-in out of the box?

    Thanks for the info!

    • 1. Trim support – Yes there is support for this. There has been support by default with linux kernels from 2.6.33 and up. I think the current openelec.tv builds are using 2.6.36.

      2. I think NFS is supported in openelec.tv – I’m sure i tested it at some point. I currently use cifs (samba) to mount to my Thumbnails directory as this is shared across all of my xbmc boxes. In openelec.tv you do this by editing /storage/config/netmount.conf. Here’s my current one:

                                                                                                   
      # Mounting Network shares on boot
      # This configuration file allows to setup Network mounts via CIFS (Samba) or NFS
      # (not yet included)
      # This is an sample file, please rename or copy this file to netmount.conf
      # (location /storage/.config/ or inside the samba share "Configfiles"
      #
      # Usage:
      # service | share on server | local mountpoint | mount options
      #
      # - please use an "|" as delimiter
      # - dont use spaces in usernames, passwords and options.
      # - local mountpoints can be only on /storage and /media (not recommended!).
      # - you can use any dir inside the XBMC home /storage/.xbmc/... for local
      #   mountpoints if you need this for some reasons.
      #
      # Examples:
      # cifs | //192.168.1.44/videos | /storage/mount/videos | username=user,password=secret
      # cifs | //192.168.1.44/tv shows | /storage/mount/tvshows | username=user,password=secret
      
      cifs | //bigbox/xbmc/Thumbnails | /storage/.xbmc/userdata/Thumbnails
      
  • Paul Vincent

    As an update, the disadvantage of running a DACmagic through the XBMC is you can only have 2 channels (it’s for hifi not surround) and even then vocals are low but explosions very loud!

    Solution, run the xbmc through HDMI and have TV volume up slightly for vocals with analogue to hifi to produce sound effects.
    Keep the sonos running through the DACMagic, still sounds better than the shuttle XS when using lossless source.

    I don’t want speakers and wires everywhere, hence not going for a surround system

  • C.

    Hello Paul:
    Recently, I bought the XS35GT. I’m trying to get it to work properly. Windows 7 doesn’t run very well. HD playback isn’t smooth. That’s strange because the drivers and codecs are installed correctly.
    Which operating system do you use and could you give me some advice or a link to a tutorial on how to install (and configure) the XS35GT correctly?
    Also, is it possible to use HDMI audio and analog audio at the same time?

    • I’ve tested this under Windows and Linux and had no playback issues at all. What are you using to playback the content? You need to make sure the app you are using supports GPU/Hardware acceleration – without it it will just use the cpu to decode content, and it will struggle.

      Are you trying to make this a dedicated media player? If so then i strongly suggest you take a look at http://openelec.tv it is a self contained linux image based around XBMC and will give you everything you need.

      Yes you can use HDMI and analog audio at the same time if configured correctly.

      • C.

        Thank you for your response. I’ve been using OpenELEC for a few weeks now and I’m very pleased with it. After the Beta 1 update, all the problems I was having were solved.

        I solved the HD playback problem by turning on “Adjust display refresh rate to match video”.

  • w00dst0ck

    Got my XS35GT today and installed openelec.tv on an USB stick.
    Do you found a solution to boot from a SD card?

    Regards,
    w00dst0ck

    • Booting from SD should work fine, I’ve not tried it on the Shuttle XS35GT but I do it on my old Acer Revo. I installed openelec.tv onto the sd card without any problems – I think i use a 128mb card.

      Have you tried it – did you have any problems?

      • pjpace

        Nope – you cannot boot from an SD card. I’ve read and read and read where “you should be able to”… but Shuttle hasn’t enabled that on any bios. You can boot from a SD card reader, plugged into a USB.

        • I’m pretty sure I have booted from the SD card without any issue in the past.

          In fact i’m 99% sure I have….. I’ll test this tonight when I get a chance.

  • Carlos

    Hi,
    I have nearly the same configuration than you. I am just running Kubuntu 10.10. I use an Asus W198 LCD display 1680×1050 connected via VGA.
    I use it as my usual PC, when I am programing I open a session on another more powerful box by means of an NX Client.
    I am a little bit disappointed with the performance. Starting up linux is quite rapid but videos or webpages scrolling on Firefox are not that good. Even videos in VLC seem a little bad.
    => I made a test with an HDMI conneciton to a 1920×1080 screen and that seemed to get better. Do you know whether using VGA or HDMI output makes any difference (appart from the fact that HDMI uses for sure Ion)?
    => Any ideas to improve the graphical experience.

  • Eirik

    Nice article =) good read!

  • Marvin

    I want to use th shuttle XS35GT with Ubuntu 10.10.Is there a way of Hardware Decoding in 1080p?I’ve installed the latest NVidia ION Drivers from Nvidia.com, but after reboot the X-Server just waits at”Battery Check” so i want to use the Drivers provided with Ubuntu 10.10 which seem to be stable.If i use VLC 1.1.X the Hardware decoding should work, but it makes no difference if i check/uncheck Hardware Acceleration in VLC and 1080p videos work , but still Lag a bit.

    Any suggestions?

    Greets

    • You’ll need to use the nvidia proprietary drivers to get hardware acceleration working. Might be worth trying to reinstall them again.

      If it still fails check your x log, it should give you a few pointers as to whats happening.

      Also disabling compiz can help too, I found it could cause a little lagging sometimes.

  • Love the write up and IMAGES!

    Hope you don’t mind that we share it on the Shuttle Facebook Page.

    If any concerns, send an email to marketing@us.shuttle.com :D

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