The public are ﬁckle beasts.
Admittedly, the single-core Atom 230 looks a little lost as a desktop.
Its lack of upgrades (given that the chip is surface mounted) and the intentional hobbling (the lack of PCI Express slots, for example), rule it out of contention in anyone's main box.
As the basis of a secondary machine, however? Fantastic. All of the core functionality of any decent PC is in there. Only compute-intensive tasks, like video encoding, cause Atom to show its true colours, a mix of sluggish brown and a rather slow grey.
Arrival of the dual core Atom
So what has taken this dual core version so long to actually turn up? Strangely, we think it may have been a complete lack of demand.
While countless companies embraced the 230 for its combination of low power, low heat and low-to-middling performance, there's not much more on offer in the 330 that's particularly different or desirable – just another core, which isn't especially relevant on a machine meant for low-end tasks.
It's virtually the same chip; the model, stepping and revision are identical. Each type of cache is duplicated, too. In fact, it's literally two Atom dies glued on top of each other, making four virtual cores thanks to Atom's inherently multithreaded design. New to the 330 is 64-bit support, although we can't imagine why you'd need to use it.
This extra breathing room does make a surprising difference, though. Things deﬁnitely feel a lot swifter than they did on the 230, particularly when brutally punishing the processor with a multitude of torturous apps.
Cinebench showed this very clearly – the 330's single core performance, which was really only utilising half of a core thanks to Windows' complete lack of load balancing, was pretty abysmal. Multi-CPU performance, where the whole chip was used, nearly tripled the performance. That's about average for multi-core platforms.
It's clear that Shuttle has needed the Atom for a long time. Bashing desktop chips into tiny boxes is a poor idea; while Shuttle's barebones systems have been brilliantly compact in the past, they've also been noisy and hot.
The Shuttle X27D, though, is not. It's brilliant – there's virtually no fan noise, and the drilled sides of the metal case ensure that the low-voltage insides don't get too hot.
There's support for both DVI and D-sub output, and these can also be put to use in dual monitor mode – the GMA950 isn't a powerhouse, but it handles two screens with aplomb.
Video at 720p plays ﬁne as long as you've got 2GB on board and essentially this makes it the perfect box to stick under your telly. And if you must run Vista Home Basic, you can. Why not. Torture yourself, go right ahead.
Oddities abound in this package, however. Point one: there's no wireless on board. This isn't a laptop, but it is, crucially, a very portable contraption. Anchoring it to an Ethernet cable is pure folly.
The usual solution would be to whack in a PCI wireless card, except there's no way of doing this, as the case is so tightly designed there's not any room, so Shuttle has simply omitted the slot altogether. The only answer seems to be resorting to USB port; but we couldn't even ﬁnd a feasible way of jerry-rigging a wireless module on to the board itself.
You're also stuck with bog-standard GMA950 graphics, since – this being an Atom machine – there's no PCI Express support. That means low-end gaming is the best you'll manage -- everything up to and including the likes of Quake III, essentially.
Finally we're mildly perturbed by the case's lack of compatibility with desktop drives, but we shouldn't be.
Nerds need Atom
Moaning about a case this small and cool is about as fruitful as a chav's fridge. Every geek wants – nay, surely needs – an Atom box for something.
Whether you're lacking a server, a media box, or a second PC for that lonely monitor, you owe it to yourself to get one, and besides, think of the nerd points.