Soldam Polo R


I’ve been a huge fan of Soldam barebones systems since they started making small form factor systems back in 2001. My first experience with their products was the Pandora S, a souped of variation of Shuttle’s groundbreaking SV24 product. While Soldam used the same Shuttle FV24 motherboard, the Pandora S was no mere clone. Being a true cube, the Pandora S featured two 5.25” bays (something that barely exists in the SFF world even today), a high quality paint process, an acrylic faceplate (first company to do this), high quality system fans (Panaflo), and a unique internal design allowing two 3.5” devices. On top of all of the innovation, the build quality of the system was far and away much higher than the Shuttle SV24.

Soldam’s innovation would continue with newly refined Pandoras (featuring two 5.25” drives expandability) and newer systems called Polo (featuring a slimmer design with one 5.25” drive bay). It was the Polo designs that would later influence Shuttle’s SS40, SS50, SS51, SB51, SB52, SN41G2 and SB61G2 designs.

Not content to rest on their laurels, Soldam sought out the services of photographer Rowland Kirishima and designer Masamichi Katayama to come up with a refined product that would define a new concept in PC design. Their search for high functionality, style, quality and finish, performance, and value resulted in the Soldam Polo R with CONCEPT R.

First Impressions - Simplicity Refined

The Polo R is Soldam’s highly refined version of the Polo concept. It’s a forward looking product that stresses both functionality and aesthetics. I was simply blown away by the design the first time I saw it. Perhaps the most striking feature of the system is it’s clean and simple faceplate with a simple slot-loading design, a single optical disc eject button, a single power button, and two high powered blue neon indicator lights.

What separates the Polo R from it’s regular Polo sibling is it’s use of a slim slot loading DVD/CDRW combo drive. This enables the system to be much smaller than a traditional design. Additionally, the Polo R will only take one 3.5” device unlike it’s larger sibling which can take two 3.5” devices.

Of course, I had to see this product in person and so I placed an order with Soldam for the first version of the Polo R. I chose the white pearl mica version and eagerly awaited its arrival.

Because Soldam is located in Japan, they have to ship the product to you (unless you’re lucky enough to actually live there and can go pick one up at a store). My Polo R arrived in a double packed box that was reinforced with extra cardboard to ensure the box wouldn’t be damaged. The main box was full of really nice packing peanuts and a smaller box containing the actual unit.

Unpacking the box revealed the following items:

  • Soldam Polo R barebones system
  • The installation manual
  • Warranty Card
  • Motherboard (Shuttle FS51) manual
  • PowerDVD software
  • 1 x power cable
  • 1 x 80-pin IDE cable
  • 1 x 40-pin IDE cable
  • Extra screws
  • Base feet


Before we take a detailed look at the system, I’ll discuss the specifications of the system. This particular Soldam system uses the Shuttle FS51 motherboard as the base of the system. The Shuttle FS51 motherboard is chockfull of built-in options making it a very flexible system.

Shuttle FS51 Flex ATX Motherboard

  • SIS 651 Pentium 4 Chipset
  • 2 x DDR SDRAM 184-pin DIMM Slots (Up to 2GB Maximum Memory)
  • Built-in AC97 Realtek Audio ALC650
  • Built-in 256-bit VGA
  • 1 x RJ45 10/100 Ethernet Realtek RTL8100B
  • 2 x Firewire IEEE 1394a 6-pin ports
  • 2 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports
  • 1 x AGP 2.0 Slot (4x)
  • 1 x PCI Slot
  • 2 x IDE UltraDMA/133
  • 1 x SPDIF-in
  • 2 x Serial Ports
  • 1 x Line-Out
  • 1 x Line-In
  • 1 x Base/Center-Out
  • PS/2 Keyboard and Mouse ports

Additionally, the system comes with a 200W ACHME powersupply featuring a temperature controlled fan and an 80mm SF80 Windy System Fan (an OEM Panaflo 80mm fan). You will need to install your own heatsink/fan into the system.

Here’s a view of the rear of the system with all of the available ports. Since the system has a clean front, all of the connections are on the back. This makes for a clean desktop although you’ll need some hubs if you need more Firewire or USB ports.

The SIS651 chipset has been out for a while and is definitely not the best available but it was the only one available when I originally purchased the system. Although the Intel 845, 865, and 875 chipsets have been released since then, the SIS651 still performs admirably and has been reliable. The system has pretty much all of the connectivity most people would ever need so it’s pretty complete in my opinion.

Additionally, because of the unique design of the system, the system ships with a Panasonic/Matsushita CW-8121-B slot loading DVD/CDRW drive (although it may be shipping CW-8122-B now).

So, the only other expansion is the single 3.5” hard drive bay. You can potentially install a 2.5” laptop drive if you wanted something smaller and quieter but you will need to install an adapter kit.

Detailed Look

As you can see, the insides of the system cleanly organized despite the lack of space.

One of the secrets allowing the system to be so diminutive is its use of a laptop sized slot loading optical drive. The drive is a DVD/CDRW combo drive featuring 8x DVD, 24x CD-ROM, 8x CD-RW and 8x CD-R.

To make installation a little easier, the power supply can swing open with the removal of just one screen. The power supply is mounted on a swinging mechanism so you don’t have to remove the entire unit during installation. It’s a very nice touch. The ACHME power supply is relatively quiet but it can get louder depending on the internal temperature of your system.

Here’s another view of the inside of the system before the drives, heatsink/fan, and cards are installed in the system.

In this view, you can see the amount of space available for the heatsink/fan when the optical disk drive is installed. The hard disk is installed over the optical drive. One thing to note is that extra tall heatsink fans may not fit in this system. Also, there isn’t much clearing for some large fans. You can also see the included Windy SF80 80mm system fan that’s actually an OEM Panaflo fan that is extremely quiet. It works in conjunction with the system BIOS to control the speed of the fan depending on the temperature of the system. It’s rated at < 21db and is a popular fan among noise freaks. The inclusion of a quality fan is a nice touch when most system ship with cheaper quality fans.
Lastly, here’s a shot of the system’s insides once you populate it with all the necessary components for it to run. As you can see, with the right components and some cable management, the insides aren’t cramped at all and as elegant as the outside is. You are limited in the kinds of heatsink/fan combos that you can use in the system. In general, the stock Intel heatsink/fan will work fine within the system. Anything larger doesn’t allow enough room for proper airflow due to the height constraint. With a little bit of modification, I was able to install a Shuttle Heat Pipe into the system which provides the best overall cooling and airflow within the system.
Build Quality Although there are a lot of Small Form Factor (SFF) systems on the market now, none of them come even close to the quality of Soldam built systems. Let’s take a look at some of the nice touches that Soldam does on the Polo-R. First of all, the system ships with thumbscrews for easy access to the system and parts within it. Moreover, the thumbscrews all come with plastic washers to keep you from scratching the metal when you tighten the screws.
The metal used on the case is first rate. Not only is it stronger than a typical case, but it’s of much higher quality. Check out the shine on the metal finish!
The Polo series of cases also come with “feet” used to raise the front of the system to allow for better airflow and for a nice aesthetic touch. These finely polished metal feet also have rubber nubs on the ends so that they don’t scratch or dent your desk. The attention to quality continues.
Here’s another look at the air holes found on the bottom of the case. As you can see, there are plenty of holes to allow fresh air to enter into the system.
The finish of the system I purchased is White Pearl Mica. It’s a very thick paint job that is very reminiscent of a car’s paint job. Soldam uses a 3 coat process to achieve the nice finish. Almost no other case manufacturer uses such a complex process. If you look carefully, you can see the specs in the paint.
In the dark, the system’s bright blue LEDs illuminate the dark and the slot loading drive.
Finally, here’s a view of the front of the system. You can see the finish and the clean and simple lines.
Final Thoughts With this barebones system, all you need to do is throw in a CPU, Heatsink/Fan, memory, and hard disk and then you have a working system. You can throw in a video card and sound card if you’re not happy with built-in components. When you put it all together it’s one sweet system and can add a nice aesthetic touch to your desk. The overall quality of the the package was simply astounding. I’ve built countless number of PC systems but working on the Soldam Polo-R has been an extreme pleasure due to the quality of the case, the amenities, and the attention to detail. In the end, I ended up with the following components for my system:
  • Intel Pentium 4 2.4Ghz (533Mhz Front Side Bus)
  • 2 x 1GB PC2100 (266Mhz) DDR DRAM
  • Seagate Barracuda IV 80GB 7200RPM Hard Disk
  • ATI Radeon 9700 128MB AGP Video Card
These components merged with the Polo-R have combined for a great system. I have found that the built-in sound is more than adequate for my needs and the latest drivers add hardware acceleration for the audio streams. It’s not the best sounding audio; however, my current 2.1 speaker setup doesn’t require anything fancier. Overall, the system more than meets my expectations and it allows me to do everything I need to do. Of course, it’s great to look at on my desk and appeals to my sense of style. It also is silent enough so that it doesn’t intefere with my train of thought when I’m working.
It’s almost a perfect package but there is one point I’d like to discuss. Perhaps the biggest item missing is sort of heat pipe system or a heatsink/fan combination that’s designed for the compact system. I was able to modify a Shuttle Heat Pipe cooling system to work within the system but most people will not go through that kind of trouble. Of course, a stock Intel heatsink/fan and the built-in Soldam Windy SF80 fan will provide more than adequate cooling at a slightly higher decibel rating. Some people may not like the fact that you can only install one hard disk in it. Given the fact that hard disks are cheap and can be found in extremely large capacities ($200 for 200GB), I don’t find this an issue. Although the system was relatively expensive, it was worth it for me since it was of such high quality. This system is definitely not for everyone. It’s designed for people who appreciate the finer things in life. You can buy similar less expensive SFF systems and you will get a similar amount of performance but you definitely won’t get the same experience. Even before I purchased the system, I did take into account buying a Shuttle based system. However, after I factored in the additional cost of paint, an optical combo drive, a higher quality case fan, plastic washers and some of the other items I came to the conclusion that it was worth the premium. If you’re a freak like I am then you’ll probably want to get matching peripherals and accessories which might pose a small problem since most PC components don’t come in a nice white finish. As you can see above, a little bit of creativity can solve that problem and change your desktop. If you want more information about the Soldam Polo R then you can visit Soldam’s site at








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