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Monarch Hornet 64 Pro Barebones SFF System

The Hornet might not be the smallest SFF sytem around, but it offers features you won’t find on other SFF systems, such as a slide-out mobo tray and multiple PCI slots. You can also choose which motherboard you. Check out this review to get a look at a highly flexible SFF system.

[review_ad]Introduction


Monarch Computer Systems has been building computers and selling components for about 13 years. Over this time, the company has gained the respect of countless customers and many of the top hardware and software vendors. The excellent rating at popular customer ratings site ResellerRatings.com means that people should be able to buy from Monarch with confidence. Being an Intel Premier Provider, a top manufacturer of AMD and Intel systems, and one of the few companies in NVIDIA’s Select Builder Program shows that Monarch has gained the respect and trust of some of the top companies in the business. Check out Monarch’s Company Information if you’d like to know more about the company’s history and achievements.

Monarch sells a full range of components and accessories and complete systems, including desktop systems, servers, workstations and various custom systems. One of these custom systems, which we will be looking at today, is the Hornet 64 Pro. Monarch’s Hornet line of PCs is their attempt to capitalize on the current popularity of the small form factor PC. However, the Hornets are quite a bit bigger (nearly twice as big) than the popular SFF systems from Shuttle and Biostar. To Monarch’s advantange, this allows them to offer micro-ATX boards that feature three PCI slots and one AGP slot and more room for other components in the roomier Hornet chassis. The Hornet 64 Pro offers support for the AMD Athlon 64 processor via the VIA K8T800 chipset on Gigabyte’s GA-K8VT800M motherboard.

Monarch offers pre-built Hornet systems, such as this Hornet 64 Pro, as well as barebones and complete custom Hornet and Hornet Pro systems. For this review, I received a Hornet 64 Pro barebones system.

Specifications & Features


I have summarized the specs and features from the motherboard manual and Monarch’s Hornet website:

Specifications

Processor Supports Socket 754 AMD Athlon 64 Processor
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-K8VT800M
Chipset VIA K8T800
Memory Two DDR400 Slots (for up to 2GB total memory)
Expansion Slots 1 x AGP (8x)
3 x PCI
I/O Ports (Front) 4 x USB 2.0
1 x Microphone
1 x Headphones
I/O Ports (Rear) 4 x USB 2.0
1 x Parallel Port
1 x RJ45 Port (10/100 Mbit LAN)
2 x PS/2
2 x Serial
1 x Line-in
1 x Line-out
1 x Mic
Expandability Accomodates 2 internal 3.5″, 1 external 3.5″, 1 external 5.25″ devices
Serial ATA SATA RAID provided by VIA VT8237 chip
Audio 6-channel Audio courtesy of Realtek ALC655 CODEC (Supports Jack Sensing Function)
Network 10/100 mbps LAN
Size 11″ x 9″ (9.5″ w/feet) x 13″ (W x H x D)

Features

  • Tool-less design for easy access
  • Removable motherboard tray

  • Two temperature monitors (LCDs display temperatures from attached probes)

  • Detachable handle for easy carrying
  • Front and rear connectivity options

  • Space for plenty of drives

  • Side panels with windows or fans (optional and adds to cost)

I like to see features that will actually benefit an owner/user of a system or component. Most of the Hornet’s features meet this criterion. The handle makes it easy to carry with you, and the temperature displays make monitoring your system a breeze! A removable motherboard tray is great on any case, but it’s an even better feature for a small form-factor system to have.

Barebones Package

  • Monarch Hornet 64 Pro
    • Gigabyte GA-K8VT800M motherboard
    • Hornet case (options for Ferrari Red, Mustang Yellow, or a Limited Edition Indigo color – see them!)
  • Drivers/Utilities CD
  • Hornet User Setup Guide
  • Motherboard User’s Manual
  • Power Supply User’s Manual
  • Power cord
  • Package of screws and other incidentals

Installation


Right out of the box I noticed that I had another nice looking SFF system on my hands. It has a nice black finish, and it is about twice the size of other SFF systems I have seen from Biostar and Shuttle.

Hardware Installation

The removable motherboard tray made putting the finishing touches on this Hornet system a better experience than I’ve had with some mid-tower systems. Plugging in a GeForceFX 5950 Ultra and a sound card was certainly easier because of the removable tray. Also, it allows easy access to the CPU and motherboard jumpers and connectors. However, in order to remove the tray completely from the case, you will usually have to unplug some (or all) of your case wires and other cables. Since each of the front USB cables are not combined into one plug (instead each of the eight wires for each has its own plug, which is unfortunately common), removing the tray will require a little extra work usually due to the extra time to reconnect these wires. It could save you a lot of time, though.

The two temperature displays on the front of the case are conveniently already connected to their probes in the Hornet Pro. The only thing that has to be done is placing the probes in two potential hot spots that need to be monitored. They may need to be taped down if the case will be moved around a lot, but that is an issue of personal preference. Monarch definitely provides a very easy and quick way to monitor your system’s cooling ability.

Monarch supplied some extra thumbscrews (7 or 8) in the baggy of incidentals included with the Hornet Pro. I was able to use these thumbscrews to install a floppy drive, and I definitely appreciated that! Installing the hard drive could have been easier if the drive tray were removable (UPDATE(4/15): the HDD cage can be removed if you first remove the case’s front panel), but since both sides easily come off the Hornet case, it was really no big deal. However, my issue with my Pioneer DVD-ROM drive was a big deal! The 5.25″ optical drive would not fit in the case! It ran into the power supply fan and made the drive stick out far enough (probably near 0.5 cm or about 0.125″) that I was unable to secure the drive in the case. I was very disturbed by this, so I had to investigate further. As it turns out, the Pioneer DVD-106S (the drive in question) is a bigger drive than most. It measures about 8.125″ from front to back! I checked my old Plextor 16x CD burner, and it measures about 0.25″ shorter than that. I asked Bjorn3D staffer Shane to measure some of his drives, and he provided more confirmation that the DVD-106S is quite a bit longer than most drives. A few that he measured were near 7.5″, over half an inch smaller than the Pioneer drive. All of this explains why a representative at Monarch insisted that they have only seen this issue one other time, and it was a Pioneer drive! He assured me that all of the drives they offer with the Hornet Pro will fit with this power supply. However, some people may not like how close their drive would be to the power supply fan. That would just have to come down to personal preference. (UPDATE(4/15): Monarch now offers a better PSU that I am told will allow longer drives, like the Pioneer DVD-106S, to fit in the Hornet.)

Another minor gripe I have about the Hornet case is that the external drive bay covers are harder to remove than I felt they should be, especially considering how the edges seemed sharp enough to cut someone if he or she were not careful. I did not cut myself, and it’s not like I had to wear gloves or anything. I just think they pose a minor cutting risk. Unfortunately, putting these bay covers back on is not any easier than removing them. Luckily you probably wouldn’t be doing either very often.

Here’s what the system looked like when installation was complete (for specs, check out the next page):

Software Installation

To get this system up and going, I installed 32-bit Windows XP and Service Pack 1. I put the necessary drivers for the SATA controller on a floppy diskette, since I was making a SATA hard drive the boot drive, and proceeded through the installation with no problem whatsoever. This is exactly what I expect from a modern hardware and software setup, so I was very pleased with this installation.

All of the chipset and peripheral drivers installed with no problem after numerous reboots. Since completing installation, the only problems I have had have been with the onboard sound, but I will cover those in more detail on the next page.



Performance


Onboard Audio

Unfortunately, I experienced very odd problems with the sound chip and/or drivers on the Gigabyte motherboard in the Hornet Pro. I would be listening to some music, and the sound would completely drop off. Then, once in a while, it would just come back. It was very odd and frustrating. Upon further investigation, I discovered that Gigabyte’s onboard sound implementation is very limited, allowing the user to choose either the front audio connectors or rear audio connectors. Using both is apparently not supported! I was using the rear audio connectors even though Monarch ships the system with the front audio connectors plugged in, which means I should not use the rear, according to the Gigabyte GA-K8VT800M User’s Manual. I decided to check if this is what was causing the sound to die on this system. Unfortunately, it must not be what is causing it because the same thing happened with the front headphone jack after about 10 minutes of listening to some music. The sound always came back, for both the front and rear jacks, when I went into the AC97 Audio Configurtion utility and used the jack sensing function (it’s a feature of the ALC655 CODEC). I am very confused about this and have never experienced this on any other system with onboard sound. Even the latest drivers (version 3.54) did not eliminate the problem.

LAN Party Experience

I actually had a chance to take the Hornet Pro to a LAN party, and it did not disappoint! During hours of Call of Duty, UT2004 demo, and Soldier of Fortune 2, the system remained stable as a rock and gave me no troubles whatsoever. I was not using the onboard sound, though, which probably would have been problematic, since I had problems (complete loss of sound) with it when playing digital music files, as I mentioned in the section above. Instead, I used a Hercules Fortissimo III 7.1 sound card, and it worked great.

The handle on the front made it very easy to simply pick it up and go wherever I wanted with it! It’s not exactly light when loaded up with hardware, but it is light enough that most people should be able to easily carry anywhere. Also, it was nice to be able to check the temperatures inside my case by simply looking at the two displays on the front of the Hornet. It never got hot enough to worry me.

Test System Configuration:

  • AMD Athlon 64 3200+
  • Monarch Hornet 64 Pro featuring the Gigabyte GA-K8VT800M motherboard
  • Corsair TWINX1024-3200LLPRO (review)
  • Reference GeForce FX 5950 Ultra
  • Hitachi Deskstar 7K250 120GB Serial ATA 7200RPM Hard Drive w/8MB Buffer
  • Pioneer DVD-ROM
  • Sony floppy drive

PCMark04 (version 1.0.0)

CPU
Score
PCMark Score
Monarch Hornet 64 Pro 4075
Biostar iDEQ 200P 4037
CPU Score
Monarch Hornet 64 Pro 3790
Biostar iDEQ 200P 3775
Memory Score
Monarch Hornet 64 Pro 3578
Biostar iDEQ 200P Unstable
Graphics Score
Monarch Hornet 64 Pro 5001
Biostar iDEQ 200P 5138
HDD Score
Monarch Hornet 64 Pro 5253
Biostar iDEQ 200P 5261

The two systems are pretty evenly matched in PCMark04.

SiSoftware Sandra (version 2004.10.9.89)

CPU
Result
CPU Arithmetic – Dhrystone ALU (MIPS)
Monarch Hornet 64 Pro 8342
Biostar iDEQ 200P 8322
CPU Arithmetic – Whetstone FPU (MFLOPS)
Monarch Hornet 64 Pro 3169
Biostar iDEQ 200P 3156
CPU Arithmetic – Whetstone iSSE2 (MFLOPS)
Monarch Hornet 64 Pro 4113
Biostar iDEQ 200P 4121


CPU
Result
CPU Multi-media – Integer (it/s)
Monarch Hornet 64 Pro 14996
Biostar iDEQ 200P 14930
CPU Multi-media – Float (it/s)
Monarch Hornet 64 Pro 19780
Biostar iDEQ 200P 19691


CPU
Result
Memory Bandwidth – Int Buffered (MB/s)
Monarch Hornet 64 Pro 2957
Biostar iDEQ 200P 3067*
Memory Bandwidth – Float Buffered (MB/s)
Monarch Hornet 64 Pro 2959
Biostar iDEQ 200P 3071*

* The only time the memory bandwidth benchmark worked consistenly on the iDEQ 200P was when only DIMM 2 was populated.

File System (KB/s)*
Monarch Hornet 64 Pro 30564
Biostar iDEQ 200P 37001

I’m not sure why the File System benchmark was so much lower on the Hornet 64, but each time I ran this benchmark it was considerably lower. This seems particularly interesting since the PCMark04 HDD scores were so close.

3DMark03 (version 3.2.0)

CPU
Score
1024×768 – NoAA/NoAF
Monarch Hornet 64 Pro 6357
Biostar iDEQ 200P 6146
1024×768 – 4xAA/8xAF
Monarch Hornet 64 Pro 2815
Biostar iDEQ 200P 2758

The Hornet Pro surpasses the iDEQ 200P in this benchmark.

AquaMark3

CPU
FPS
Default – 1024×768, noAA/4xAF, max. detail
Monarch Hornet 64 Pro 44.48
Biostar iDEQ 200P 43.14
Custom – 1024×768, Q3AA/8xAF, max. detail
Monarch Hornet 64 Pro 31.99
Biostar iDEQ 200P 31.39

Gun Metal Benchmark 1

CPU
FPS
1024×768 – 2xAA
Monarch Hornet 64 Pro 32.45
Biostar iDEQ 200P 30.16
1280×1024 – 2xAA
Monarch Hornet 64 Pro 26.24
Biostar iDEQ 200P 25.99

More of the same with both AquaMark3 and Gun Metal.

Unreal Tournament 2003 Demo – Antalus

I ran the UT2K3 benchmark with the benchmarking utility from BensCustomCases.com, and a custom script file that sets up the maps with 12 bots and maximum detail.

CPU
FPS
1024×768 – NoAA/NoAF
Monarch Hornet 64 Pro 92.45
Biostar iDEQ 200P 85.00
1280×960 – NoAA/NoAF
Monarch Hornet 64 Pro 91.11
Biostar iDEQ 200P 83.86


CPU
FPS
1024×768 – 4xAA/8xAF
Monarch Hornet 64 Pro 84.43
Biostar iDEQ 200P 78.59
1280×960 – 4xAA/8xAF
Monarch Hornet 64 Pro 61.03
Biostar iDEQ 200P 59.57

Unreal Tournament 2003 Demo – Asbestos

CPU
FPS
1024×768 – NoAA/NoAF
Monarch Hornet 64 Pro 113.02
Biostar iDEQ 200P 103.44
1280×960 – NoAA/NoAF
Monarch Hornet 64 Pro 105.06
Biostar iDEQ 200P 96.26


CPU
FPS
1024×768 – 4xAA/8xAF
Monarch Hornet 64 Pro 109.97
Biostar iDEQ 200P 100.10
1280×960 – 4xAA/8xAF
Monarch Hornet 64 Pro 91.37
Biostar iDEQ 200P 84.60

The Hornet Pro really shines here and schools the 200P by a considerable margin every time.


Conclusion


Monarch’s Hornet 64 Pro may not put the small in small form-factor, but it does provide a good compromise between size and features. The Hornet is certainly more mobile than a mid-tower system but still provides considerable expansion options. With three PCI slots and an AGP slot and plenty of onboard features, the Hornet 64 Pro should allow most people to make this their main system if they wish. Or, with its handle and fairly small size, it could make a great LAN party rig for someone, especially since any video card should easily fit and an Athlon 64 will provide plenty of power when the CPU is needed.

My overall experience with Monarch’s Hornet 64 Pro was a great one! Installing hardware in the system went fairly well, and installing software did not present any problems. The main issues I encountered with the system were related to an extra long optical drive and the onboard sound. The onboard sound problem is by far the most disconcerting issue I experienced with this system.

I enjoyed working with this small form-factor system, and I look forward to seeing what Monarch offers in the future. Currently, Monarch Computer Systems offers the Hornet 64 Pro barebones, including case, motherboard, and power supply, for around $338. If you want them to throw in a retail Athlon 64 3000+, it will cost just under $600. This includes cable tie-off, loading the latest BIOS, and a 24-hour burn-in before shipping the Hornet Pro. Also, Monarch recently added an option for an MSI micro-ATX motherboard in lieu of the Gigabyte board that was in my review unit. Although it’s not shown on the configuration options on their website, I think Monarch would also be willing to put a different power supply in a Hornet Pro for anyone concerned about the length of their optical drives.

Pros:

  • Plenty of room for expansion (3xPCI, 1xAGP, 4 drive bays)
  • Handle for easy carrying
  • Slide out motherboard tray helps installation
  • SATA RAID
  • Plenty of configuration options
  • Two temperature sensors connected to separate displays
  • Big performance from a small system

    Cons:

  • Won’t fit drives over 8″ in depth (although there does not seem to be many that are this big) with Enermax PSU
  • Onboard sound issues
  • External bay covers are not easy to deal with
  • No IEEE1394 (FireWire) ports

    Score: 8.5 and the Bjorn3D Seal of Approval


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