Shuttle's £99 KPC K4500 is a testament to ever-improving computer production techniques and design. With its skin on, it looks like a standard breadbox-size system - a type of PC whose interior tends to be a rat's nest of cables, riser cards, and support members. But the Shuttle KPC K4500 manages to combine a small exterior with a roomy interior.
The secret to all the space is the Shuttle KPC K4500's marvelously compact, integrated motherboard design. The motherboard has onboard HD audio, gigabit ethernet and Intel 950 graphics - and yet it fits snugly into the bottom of the 19x28x17mm chassis. The cables are neatly routed through the system, the ultracompact 100W power supply sits out of the way along the top left rail of the chassis, and the two-bay drive cage holds a single 80GB hard drive. These touches permit easier access to the motherboard's free memory slot, ATA-100 port, and single free SATA-300 port than you get with most full desktops - a pleasant surprise. You can even reach the motherboard's available PCI slot without endangering your finger.
Note that the Shuttle KPC K45 barebones PC sells for £99 inc VAT. The K4500 reviewed here is a pre-configured system, which runs an Intel Celeron 430 processor, 512MB of RAM, an 80GB hard-disk drive and Foresight Linux.
Alas, neither drive bay is externally accessible, so you can't add an internal optical drive. When the Shuttle KPC K4500 functions as a corporate PC or a kiosk machine, this is no problem; but if you want to install a copy of Windows (the KPC runs Linux), plan on doing it via an external drive. The machine lacks front-panel ports such as USB 2.0 and audio, though it has four USB 2.0 ports plus legacy parallel and serial ports on the back.
Shuttle markets the K4500 as eco-friendly, and it is - to a point. Iit draws far less power that a gaming system, but more power than other desktops we've tested. Running a 1.8GHz Celeron 430 processor with 512MB of DDR2 667 RAM, the Shuttle KPC K4500 drew 1.8W when powered down, 3.7W in standby mode and 48.4W at idle (with the OS running but no apps grinding away).
Shuttle says that the KPC K4500's internal power supply doesn't follow the 80-plus efficiency spec, which might explain the higher power consumption. But when we tested it using an 80-plus OCZ Silencer power supply unit, it drew exactly the same amount of power.
The Shuttle KPC K4500 runs a green-hued version of the Gnome Linux desktop. Overall, the user experience is good, and the speed adequate. The PC ships with the OpenOffice productivity suite and such other Linux apps as the Firefox browser, the Pidgin instant messenger and the F-Spot photo organiser.
The Shuttle KPC K4500 may not be as green as advertised, but it's a reasonably configured system at a bargain price. You'll have to supply your own monitor, keyboard, mouse, and optical drive (if you want one). If those stipulations work for you, this could be a very good office PC.