At Shuttle HQ - The UK Market, Future XPCs and AMD's APUs
While Shuttle isn't the size of ECS or Asus, it's easy to forget how much success the company has enjoyed. It still commands a considerably sized building in the fashionable Neihu area of northern Taipei (a 15-minute walk from Antec and Thermaltake). We recently had the opportunity to visit Shuttle's home, and discuss its plans for the future.
We kicked off proceedings with a brief discussion of the UK market, which Shuttle claims was stronger in the second half of 2010 than the first (just like everyone then), and the company explained that it's mainly focusing on local government, educational facilities and business these days. Of course, the appeal of a small, low-power machine that can be customised beyond the usual Dell or HP box is still strong for many. Shuttle is also continuing to expand its product range into all-in-one (AIO) and ultra low volume PCs, with a new 'three-litre' range due soon.
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Shuttle's sales manager for the UK did explain that PC enthusiasts and 'long time XPC fans' are still on its agenda, though, and that systems were still popular with LAN gamers as the cases and PSUs can handle full-length, dual-slot graphics cards. The company claims that XPCs should be easier to buy in the future too - Ebuyer, Microdirect and Scan already stock XPCs, and Shuttle has also recently struck a deal with Overclockers to get XPCs back in stock there as well.
With the focus on PC enthusiasts in mind, we asked about the possibility of buying XPC motherboards separately - something that has furrowed the brows of enthusiasts and modders for years. Shuttle simply explained that the boards' layouts conform to its own specifications, and are specifically tailored to its XPC chassis. It manufactures both the cases and its own motherboards (in China and Taiwan respectively) and the market for selling the motherboards separately is just too small.
However, this conversation did lead onto the exclusive revelation that Shuttle will be launching a series of standard mini-ITX bare chassis. This is a clever move, because current mini-ITX cases are often too expensive or lacking in aesthetic appeal, and Shuttle's XPC designs are consistently some of the best out there. Shuttle explained that these cases will all feature space for a dual PCI-E, and will likely come pre-fitted with its 250W, 300W and 500W PSUs, the latter of which is 80Plus Bronze certified.
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Naturally, we also asked about AMD's new E-350 APU. Will Shuttle be using these in its ultra low volume range, which is currently exclusively using Intel Atom and Nvidia ION hardware? Shuttle explained that it was still evaluating Brazos in relation to its customer base, but was actually underwhelmed by its value relative to the 'acceptable' level of basic computing offered by Intel Atom (D525) and Next Generation ION. Shuttle claims its customers actually echo Intel's remarks that low-end customers don't require features such as DirectX 11 and hugely powerful graphics with Blu-ray 3D support, and it doesn't aim these boxes at the niche HTPC market.
Shuttle did explain that it was looking at E-350-based 15-16in AIO models, but also stated that a basic Intel Core i3 was just as competitive here, and that the Intel brand is stronger in the shop-based retail market. We also assume that Intel's marketing development fund still weighs in heavily towards the bottom line - and not just at Shuttle.
Finally we also enquired about upcoming AM3+ XPCs for Llano and Bulldozer. Without commenting on its future XPCs, Shuttle immediately fired back that it did not expect sufficient quantities of either of the AMD architectures to penetrate the market this year. Shuttle product managers were betting on a very limited supply throughout the third quarter of this year, with a few more in the fourth quarter, but it was hesitant about the ability of AMD (and Global Foundries) to produce a sufficient number of products this year.