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Monarch Hornet review: Monarch Hornet

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The Good Portable; strong midrange performance; superb Logitech peripherals.

The Bad Case design makes upgrading difficult; loud fans.

The Bottom Line A small-form-factor conversation piece, the Monarch Hornet is both full featured and affordable, but it's a bit cumbersome to upgrade.

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7.2 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Support 6

Review summary

With a design that brings to mind muscle cars with their boxy exteriors and roaring engines, the Monarch Hornet could make you the tough guy of any LAN party. Noisy and hard to get in and out of, this small-form-factor (SFF) PC will appeal to gear heads everywhere with its two LED temperature readouts, clear side panels, and of course, hornet decals. It certainly isn't the most portable SFF PC you can buy, but it can accommodate a full-size graphics card, and it has a handle for transport. Monarch sells both AMD- and Intel-based models; our near-$1,900 test system had a 2.6GHz Pentium 4 and an ATI midrange Radeon graphics card, which delivered sufficient gaming performance without a premium price.

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Cool case, but it's hard to get inside to make even simple upgrades.

The Monarch Hornet is a little larger than other small-form-factor (SFF) PCs we've seen, such as the Falcon FragBox. The case measures 10.8 inches wide by 13 inches deep by 9.5 inches high and features custom options such as Plexiglas side panels. It's also portable, thanks to the GameCube-style handle on the front bezel. External expansion includes a six-in-one media card reader and eight USB 2.0 ports (four in front).

Unlike many SFF PCs, the Hornet's interior can accommodate full-size cards, but upgrading isn't easy. Both side panels and a back plate attach to the box by thumbscrews. The side panels slide off easily; the back plate is connected to a motherboard tray that slides out of the back. The tray is a great idea that turns out to be less useful in practice because you need to disconnect a multitude of wires and cables (and remember where to reconnect them) to slide it out far enough to actually replace one of the cards. The only pieces that remain connected to the system are the drive cages. Replacing the 5.25-inch optical drive or the 3.5-inch media-card reader also requires some finagling because the top panel does not come off.

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Dual-temperature LEDs provide a bit of geek style.
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Four USB 2.0 ports and two audio ports are up front for your convenience.

The Hornet's unique and most annoying features both have to do with its thermals. The dual-LED thermometer on the front panel leads to internal temperature probes that can be connected to any component in the system, providing useful feedback for overclockers and the cooling-conscious. But does the power-supply fan have to be so loud? Even Monarch's optional ($20) noise dampener lessened the volume only somewhat.

Don't let its size fool you; the Monarch Hornet is just as feature rich as many of its full-tower competitors. Built on the new Intel 865G chipset with a 2.6GHz Pentium 4 and two 256MB sticks of DDR400 memory, this system's speedy 800MHz frontside bus, Hyper-Threading, and dual-channel memory provide plenty of enjoyment. Monarch also includes PowerColor's pumped-up version of ATI's midrange Radeon 9600 Pro graphics card, the 9600 Pro Ultra (the memory clock speed is slightly faster than that of the regular 9600 Pro). The 9600 Pro Ultra is one of the few DirectX 9-supporting graphics cards that doesn't require its own power supply, thus reducing internal cable clutter.

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LCD for a gaming system? Well, it's easier to lug around than a CRT if you're on the LAN party circuit.

The 80GB Serial ATA hard drive will give you a plenty of room to store all your favorite games. They'll sound good, too, if you opt for the Audigy 2 sound card and the Logitech Z-640 5.1 speakers that came with our review unit and provided full-throated sound. Superserious gamers will tell you that CRTs are best for games, but the Philips 150P4 LCD is much easier to lug to LAN parties. Gameplay moved smoothly on this 15-inch flat-panel, and DVDs looked sharp playing from the 52X Samsung CD-RW/DVD-ROM combo drive. Gamers will also appreciate the responsiveness of Logitech's cordless optical MX 700 rechargeable mouse. The Logitech keyboard was nice, too.

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These Logitech peripherals are top-notch.

Our review system ran Windows XP Home. Other bundled software included Nero Burning ROM for burning CDs; various apps for viewing DVDs, including the ever-popular PowerDVD; and a full version of off-road truck-racer 4x4 Evo 2. You'll also find a disc with six recent game demos.

Application performance
Using Intel's latest chipset and processor (the 865G and the 2.6GHz P4 with 800MHz frontside bus), the Monarch Hornet turned in impressive application scores for a midrange system. It bested the Falcon Northwest FragBox by almost 6 percent on SysMark2002. The systems are similarly configured, but the FragBox uses an older chipset-processor combo (the 845G/GL and the 2.66GHz P4 with 533MHz frontside bus). All in all, the Monarch Hornet performed well and should readily take on any application thrown its way.

Application performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo SysMark2002 rating  
SysMark2002 Internet-content-creation rating  
SysMark2002 office-productivity rating  
Monarch Hornet (2.6GHz Intel P4, 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)
Gateway 500XL (2.6GHz Intel P4, 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)
Dell Dimension 4600C (2.8GHz Intel P4, 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz)
ABS SPC 5 (AMD Athlon XP 3000+, 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz)
Falcon Northwest FragBox (2.66GHz Intel P4, 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz)

To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark2002, an industry-standard benchmark. Using off-the-shelf applications, SysMark measures a desktop's performance using office-productivity applications (such as Microsoft Office and McAfee VirusScan) and Internet-content-creation applications (such as Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Dreamweaver).

3D graphics and gaming performance
The Monarch Hornet 2600 uses PowerColor's pumped version of ATI's midrange Radeon 9600 Pro graphics card, dubbed the 9600 Pro Ultra. Because its memory speed is clocked a bit faster, the card led the Hornet to success on our 3D benchmarks. In past tests, the 9600 Pro trailed its direct competition, the Nvidia GeForce FX 5600 Ultra. The Hornet's 9600 Pro Ultra closed that gap, trailing the GeForce FX 5600 Ultra by less than 4 percent on 3DMark2001 SE. It also held its own in our Quake III tests, making the Hornet ready for any of today's games and those of the near future.

3D graphics performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Futuremark's 3DMark2001 Second Edition Build 330 (16-bit color)  
Futuremark's 3DMark2001 Second Edition Build 330 (32-bit color)  
ABS SPC 5 (ATI Radeon 9700 Pro)
Falcon Northwest FragBox (Nvidia GeForce FX 5600 Ultra)
Monarch Hornet (ATI Radeon 9600 Pro)
Gateway 500XL (ATI Radeon 9600)
Dell Dimension 4600C (Intel 865G)

To measure 3D graphics performance, CNET Labs uses Futuremark's 3DMark2001 Pro Second Edition, Build 330. We use 3DMark to measure a desktop's performance with the DirectX 8 (DX8) interface at both 16- and 32-bit color settings at a resolution of 1,024x768. A system that does not have DX8 hardware support will typically generate a lower score than one that has DX8 hardware support.

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