Actually, “building” may be overstating it a bit. The Shuttle DS437T is a “barebone” system, which means you’ll only need to add a couple of components to create a complete PC. It’s essentially a case with a motherboard. The CPU is soldered onto the motherboard, and has built-in graphics. The barebone also comes with audio, network and wifi. All you need to add is memory, storage and an operating system. But the thing that makes this barebone different from others it that it contains no moving parts. There are no cooling fans, which means you can use it to build a completely silent PC.
Years ago, I bought an Asrock ION 330 “nettop” system. I put it underneath my TV and used it to download
movies Linux distributions, and watch movies YouTube ;). It was a great little system at the time, but the Atom 330 was really slow, and the 4 cm cooling fan was quite noisy. Its nVidia chipset didn’t always play nice with Ubuntu either, so it was time to look for a replacement.
Everything I need
This little Shuttle “slim PC” has a couple of things going for it. As said, it’s silent. If you get an SSD instead of a conventional hard drive, there will be no moving parts. At around €200, it’s not very expensive. Also, the DS437T comes with plenty of USB2 and 3 ports – both on the front and the back – as well a an SD card reader. The Celeron 1037U in the Shuttle has two 1.8 GHz “Ivy Bridge” cores, and a very decent integrated GPU. There aren’t many barebone that offer this level of performance in a fanless case design.
In order for the passive cooling to work, the DS437T needs to be placed vertically. You can not lie it down, and you need to use the little feet that come with it to make sure enough air can get in through the bottom. This barebone has some industrial DNA, and is also available in a version aimed at things like digital signage. This DS437 sports two LAN and two serial ports. As a result of this heritage, the case isn’t the sexiest I’ve ever seen, but luckily it’s quite non-descript and actually looks nice in my cabinet.
Almost no assembly required
When I got the DS437T last Tuesday, I immediately put in some SO-DIMM DDR3 memory modules I had lying around, and the Kingston SDD I’d ordered with it. This is really easy to do, and the kit comes with an excellent “quick start” assembly manual. All you need is a screwdriver and five minutes. I then hooked up the system to my TV, powered it on, and it did nothing. No beeps, no flashing lights, no POST, nothing. I used to build complete systems from parts years ago, so knew this could happen. It usually means one of the components isn’t playing nice, and in most cases that part is the memory.
The RAM modules that I’d put into the system were quite old, and originally came from my Asus UL30A laptop. They’d been gathering dust since I upgraded that system to 8GB. I decided to see if those newer modules would work better, and they did. The Shuttle POSTed just fine, and I was ready to install Ubuntu. It seems that the DS437T is a little picky when it comes to RAM modules, so it might be wise to go with modules listed on the official compatibility list.
Setting up Ubuntu
Setting up Ubuntu on a system like this is incredibly easy. I put “Trusty Tahr” (the current version) on a USB3 stick and the system booted from it automatically. The setup wizards will guide you through the rest. Hardware-wise, everything was detected properly, and worked out of the box. All I needed to do was install XBMC (available from Ubuntu’s software center) and make sure audio output was set to “HDMI”. Transmission (my favorite BitTorrent client) comes pre-installed with Ubuntu.
Compared to higher end Core processors, the Celeron 1037U is no speed demon. Benchmarks I found online seem to suggest it’s slightly slower than some entry level i3’s. But considering that this is a passively cooled system that uses very little power, that is actually quite a feat. It’s certainly much faster than the Atom 330 I was using, and the SSD helps make it feel really responsive. It’s more than fast enough for the things I’m going to be using it for.