The Nemesis, while an amazingly powerful machine, is large both in physical size and in price. The Hornet Pro is a surprisingly affordable machine and combines with that the virtue of being portable -- or at least as much as a desktop can be portable.
Given my experience with the Nemesis last time, I was somewhat favorably disposed to the machine going in. The Nemesis had been put together with either top of the line components, or close to it. The Hornet Pro, while not in the same range of power as the Nemesis, was similar in construction quality. The paint job was the custom "evil lizard" look -- definitely not the design that I'd want for my own machine, but to each his own, I suppose. The machine itself is the standard "cube" size.
(I've had some bad experiences with reduced footprint machines before, so I was concerned about heat dissipation with the Hornet. My bad experiences were primarily on an Icecube machine in which the heat put out by the RAM, CPU, and SATA drive so close to each other was simply more then the components could handle, even with the case's sides removed.)
The Hornet Pro was put together very nicely. Cables were tied off well, with proper screws where they were supposed to be. The thumbscrews on the back made it very easy to gain access to the guts via one of the two side panels. However, after opening it upon receiving the unit and once more for this review, I had no need to open it up for circulation or anything like that.
The front of the machine is your standard cube face front. The only issue that I've had was needing to double-press the power button occasionally; the physical button on top of the peg got a little off kilter sometimes
I used the machine in a number of different environments. First usage was within standard office setting; I just had it up on the desk and was using it along with my 23" Apple Display. The second location was a basement LAN-party setting, with the third being home use. The handle on the front of box itself made transportation easy, and the machine was light enough that I could carry it, when I had to, with just my pinky finger through the handle. (Kinda hurts, though, with only one finger, so consider yourself forewarned.)
In each of those situations, the machine did great. In the home and LAN-party settings, the noise wasn't really very noticeable because of the other activities going on. However, in the office setting, the fan noise was loud enough that if the machine was running full-bore, you knew it was running full bore. But at least with nice big fans pushing air through the case, heat was never an issue.
The Hornet Pro has temp read-outs for CPU & Mobo on the front of the machine. The only time I was able to get the CPU monitor near 95 degree C was by using UT 2004 and maxing out all of the settings. At that point, the CPU hit 93.9 C, while the mobo chugged along at 83.4 C.
My other current favorite obsess^H^H^H^H^H game is World of Warcraft. WoW does not demand nearly the same amount of resources that something like say, UT, Doom 3 or the other major FPSes demand. But it does have the additional requirement step of needing to remain in sync with the server, while also rendering all the other things that other players are doing. Given that sometimes that connection to WoW is the major bottleneck, the machine once again handled it without any major problems. With every graphic option turned up to max, the lowest the frame rate ever hit was 39.9. Not quite as good as the Nemesis machine, but then again, you could buy roughly 3 Hornet machines what you'd spend on one of those.
For the price ($1695) the Hornet is definitely worthwhile, particularly if you are doing gaming or anything else on the higher computing end. I've spent the last five or six years building my own gaming machines, and have come to the end of my rope with doing things that way. The issues surrounding motherboard incompatibility with DDR400 Ram -- for instance, my (former) Icecube machine said it would support the RAM; turned out it was spotty in supplying power so the RAM would randomly crap out -- and just dealing with the hardware crap have seriously made me reconsider how much time is worth spending to save a little bit of cash.
The Hornet Pro features an excellent power system: the TopPower 350/12V. That's a 350W power supply, which is more then adequate. Internally, the machine has 3 drive bays. One is occupied by the DVD+RW drive (16x8x16x) while the other holds one of the best hard drives I've had in a while.
It takes a lot to get me excited about storage devices, but I have to say that the transfer speed on the Hornet's Western Digital was awesome. It's a 200 GB SATA drive with an 8MB cache. It runs at 7200 RPM, so conceivably you could get a faster spin speed, but the speed on the 7200 was marvelous for everything I was throwing at it; and moving up to 15000 would cause a noise/heat level increase that wouldn't be too good for a desktop machine.
I was able to copy VIDEO_TS folders in under 15 seconds with this. Kicks my PowerBook's butt on that front. *grin*
The third and final drive bay is left open; it has a faceplate, so if you want to throw in a floppy or memory card reader or whatnot, you have room for expansion.
The motherboard itself sits on a removable tray, which makes it easy if you want to change any settings or put more RAM in. The motherboard that I tested was a WinFast NF4K8MC-ERS nForce4 (u- ATX). It has the standard nForce 4, Socket 939, and supports up to 2 GB of
unbuffered DDR400. I've been burnt on most of the mobos that I've worked with that supported only unbuffered RAM, but had zero issues with this one. (I suppose that's the benefit of a company making the machine and doing adequate testing, rather then just randomly ordering motherboards. *grin*) This mobo also has a PCI express 16x slot, one PCI Express 8x slot, and 2 "normal" PCI slots. For storage support it has
2 ATA 133 slots, and 4 SATA 150s with RAID support. Granted, I'm not sure how the heck you'd fit all of those drives into the case, but hey, good to know.
The integrated audio on board is decent; neither bad nor exceptional, and you get the obligatory integrated Ethernet, Firewire and USB outputs. One nice thing is that you get4 USB slots, plus speaker and mic jacks on the front of the machine, which makes for easy plug/unplug. The only connection issue I have is that one of the USB slots on the back of the machine sends power -- you can see the keyboard/mouse lights come on -- but doesn't work with an input device. However, given that I have six USB slot options, Im not going to sweat that too much.
In summary, quite a good machine -- and a decent price. I'm looking at adding another one for my gaming rig in the basement at home. The portability factor of being able to move it to LAN events or raiding MC with my guildies makes another Hornet Pro absolutely worth buying.