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Review: SCAN 3XS ISOTOPE System

by Tarinder Sandhu on 23 April 2005, 00:00

Tags: SCAN

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A look inside

Here's a look, internally, from the other side. Note how the ISOTOPE has the PSU situated on the left-hand side. That necessitates an internal extension cable, routed via the cold cathode on the top, from the main input at the rear of the chassis. It's not just SCAN making things difficult, either.

The red strobe light partially obscures the PSU's large fan. Having the fan suck in the warm air around the CPU area and expel it out of the meshed vent that I talked about earlier is good thinking. Switching on the chassis without the exterior shell in place gives you a palpable idea of it working in practice. However, I'd recommend that SCAN install a slow-spinning fan, blowing over the CPU and towards the PSU. As you can see from the first picture on this page, there's space for it. Having the PSU to the opposite side of the hard drive, graphics card and CPU cooler gives the ISOTOPE a balanced feel.

The relatively confined internal dimensions translate to the use of a micro-ATX motherboard from Foxconn/WinFast. The chassis can be outfitted with any micro-ATX motherboard, so there will be a significant choice in chipsets and motherboards available. The review sample shipped with Foxconn's nForce4 NF4K8MC S939 version, and features support for single x16 and x1 PCI-Express lanes, and 2 PCI slots. However, the first PCI slot is so close to the graphic card's cooler as to make it almost redundant. Being micro-ATX-sized in nature, there's only 2 DIMM slots. Pushing up the features count is PCI-based Gigabit Ethernet and FireWire400 support.

SCAN, however, has outfitted this particular model with some very tasty componentry. Leading the way is an AMD Athlon 64 4000+, running at 2.4GHz and sporting 1MB L2 cache. Only the current Athlon 64 FX-55 is faster (and more expensive). Complementing the CPU is 1GByte of Corsair's excellent XMS3200XL RAM that runs with 2-2-2-5 timings at DDR400 speeds. One of the four SATA ports is taken up by a Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 10 250GB SATA hard drive that's located in a shelf just above the motherboard, right next to the optical drive. The DM Plus 10 carries 16MB of onboard cache and supports NCQ (as does the board).

A GeForce 6800 GT PCI-Express 256MB video card, featuring dual-DVI outputs, is another high-end choice that'll play well with gamers. My only reservation with this particular card was against the unusually loud reference cooler. However, with the reasonable cooling on offer, the GeForce 6800 GT card idled at around 50c and rose to around 65c when under continuous 3D load. That makes the ISOTOPE a slightly better option than the MV Shuttle-based system. The motherboard's 40mm chipset-mounted fan did the system no favours either. Spinning at around 6,500 RPM, it's probably necessary due to the lack of internal cooling available around the graphics card. Another weak area, as with so many, is onboard sound. SCAN chooses the nForce4's poor on-board audio and routes it through a basic 6-channel CODEC.

Here's the ISOTOPE next to a Shuttle SN95G5 SFF chassis. You can see just how much larger it is in both height and depth. The aesthetic question a prospective buyer has to answer is whether it looks like a glorified tool-box or gorgeous chassis.

Value for money?

Let's remember that the ISOTOPE is a base unit, albeit in individual-looking one. Chassis aside, the internal components can be configured pretty much any way you wish. I'll appraise value for money by the usual method of calculating the individual costs of building it yourself. It's difficult to get a price on an individual chassis from PYP3, so comparing it with, say, a top-end Shuttle seems apt. Pure component costs for this ISOTOPE's specification amount to around £1250-£1300. That doesn't take into account building time and warranty, which is 1-year on-site and 2 years RTB (parts and labour). SCAN charges £1449 inc. VAT, which amounts to between a 10-15% premium for a pre-built and pre-tested system with a decent warranty. Value for money? Just about.

* the software bundle has yet to be finalised. The review will be updated when SCAN has confirmed it.