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Skyhawk echo-Q IMC6375 SFF PC
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Date: Feb 25, 2005
Section:Systems
Author: Robert Maloney
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Introduction

Normally, when a new Small Form Factor PC arrives in the lab, the unit is generally  a single manufacturers combination of form and function. Inside and out, everything is designed by only one OEM in a singular effort.  From Shuttle to Epox and more recently Foxconn, the outer chassis is meant to support the technology within. Not to be left out in the cold, SkyHawk/Eagle Technologies has come up with their own line of mini-PCs.  But the difference this time is that they provide the outer shell only; the inner workings have to come from another source.

It sure sounds plausible enough to work.  Many DIY builders put together their own "wish-lists" which include not only the motherboard, video card, and drives, but also the chassis to put them all in.  Lian-Li, Chieftech, and Thermaltake are three big names in this market, whose main focus is providing eye-catching chassis'.  So why not put generic motherboards in custom SFF cases as well?   The system we received for review was the Skyhawk echo-Q IMC6375 which comes with Acorp's 4865GQET motherboard.  The 4865GQET is based on the Intel i865G chipset, providing a stable, mature base with on-board graphics included.  Although we have tested a few other SFF PCs based on the i865G, we'll cover the specifications of this particular model and check for any major differences.

        
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Detailed Specifications of the Skyhawk echo-Q IMC6375
The devil's in the details

Motherboard
•Acorp 4865GQET

Chipset
•Intel i865G Northbridge
•Intel 82801EB (ICH5) Southbridge

Processor
•Intel Socket 478 Pentium 4 (533/800 MHz FSB)
•Intel Socket 478 Celeron with 400 MHz FSB
•Supports Hyper-Threading Technology

Memory
•Dual-channel DDR 400/333
•2x 184pin DIMM slots (2GB max)

Graphics
•One AGP slot supporting 1.5v 4X/8X AGP card
•AGP 3.0 compliant
•Integrated Intel Extreme Graphics 2 Engine

Audio
•C-Media CMI9761A Audio Chipset
•6-channel audio with analog and digital output
•AC '97 v2.3 Specification Compliant

Network
•Realtek RTL8100BL Fast Ethernet controller
•10/100 Mbps operation

Storage
•Two IDE ports supporting Ultra DMA33/66/100
•Supports up to four IDE devices
•Two SATA ports supporting up to 150MB/s data transfer rate
•Supports up to two SATA devices

Firewire
•Onboard VIA VT6307S Firewire controller
•One front port and one rear port (both 6-pin)
•IEEE-1394a compliant with up to 400 Mbps bandwidth

Cooling System
•Spire Single Heatpipe CPU Cooler
•60mm fan attached to brass heatsink
•Additional 60mm side fan mounted to chassis

Front-panel I/O
•LED Display with fan, temp, clock and music equalizer readouts
•Volume Control Dial
•Function buttons with Mode select
•USB 2.0 ports x 2
•FireWire (6-pin) port
•Microphone port
•Headphone port
•Power and Reset buttons

Rear-panel I/O
•4x USB 2.0 ports
•1x IEEE-1394a FireWire 6-pin connector
•1x LAN connector (RJ-45)
•3x Audio jacks
•1x 15-pin VGA port
•1x RS-232 Serial Interface Port
•PS/2 mouse port
•PS/2 keyboard port

Music On-Now
•etBIOS built into system
•Allows user to play CD/MP3s without running Windows
•Infrared Remote Control

Drive Bays
•2x 3 1/2" bays (1 internal)
•1x 5 1/4" bay with custom front plate

Expansion Slots
•1x AGP 4x/8x slot
•1x PCI 33MHz slot

Dimensions (L x W x H, in.)
•12.2" x 7.9" x 7.2"

Power Supply Unit
•250W MegaPower (APFC)
•ATX and ATX +12V Power Connectors
•SATA, MOLEX, and Floppy power connectors

Material
•1.0mm High Quality Aluminum Alloy






The Bundle:

The IMC6475's bundle was as complete as we could have hoped for, considering the price of the system (approx. $250)
.  Rather than skimp on add-ons in order to come in at this price, SkyHawk has provided not only the basics, but a few bonuses which make it a really good value.

For setup, there were all of the cables we would usually expect to find with a new motherboard.  This included two "rounded" IDE cables, a floppy cable, and even a SATA cable.  At first, it seemed normal to find these items in the bundle until we stepped back for a second and realized that this was a mini-PC - usually these cables are already attached to the board and pre-routed by the manufacturer for better airflow.

We also found a floppy drive bezel that matches the exterior paint job (incidentally, a silver CD-ROM bezel was also included and is pre-installed).  There was also a remote control that can be used for media playback.

Finally, we've got two manuals, one that covers the motherboard fairly well, and another covering basic installation steps.  The latter is scant on wording, but has pictures throughout to help guide the user.  A driver CD completes the package, although the software was often outdated.

 

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A Closer Inspection

  

Taking a closer look at the SkyHawk IMC6375
It might look a little familiar...

If at first the SkyHawk IMC6375 looks a bit familiar, it's because SkyHawk was the original builder of early Shuttle SFF PCs.  While that makes for a good start, it also means that some of the bad points that we've come across in other reviews popped up here as well.  The boxy unit comes with the now standard brushed aluminum outer shell.  Venting is provided on both sides of the unit to help dissipate heat buildup within the case.  The 5 1/4" bay comes with a matching silver face-plate so any drive can be added without clashing with the overall look of the system.  Not shown, but included in the package, was an silver bezel for a floppy drive as well, should the user wish to install one.

      

      

Following in other manufacturer's footsteps, the IMC6375 is twin-billed as a Media PC featuring "Music On-Now" capabilities.  Instead of fully booting into Windows, the IMC6375 is able to play CDs or DVDs directly from a mini-OS built into the system.  Playback is then controlled by buttons on the front of the chassis, or by the included remote control.  Two silver buttons allow the user to power up and restart the system, and there are also multi-function buttons and a volume jog-dial situated around a LED display.  All of the buttons feel and look a bit flimsy, however, and detract from the value of the system.  The jogdial in particular felt very insubstantial, and the divot was too small to be pressed directly.  The LED readout can be used in conjunction with the multi-use buttons on the left to display such readouts as temperature, fan speeds, as well as a music equalizer.

 

      

The main cooling unit of the IMC6375 was a brass Spire heatsink with a single heatpipe running through the radiator fins.  A 60mm fan installed onto the end of the heatsink blows air through the fins and cools off the gases in the heatpipe, which then condense back into liquid and return to the where the heatsink and CPU meet.   Although that's pretty standard stuff as far as cooling is concerned, SkyHawk has also included another 60mm fan that mounts directly to the chassis and blows air from the side of the unit onto the heatsink.  The good news is that not only does this keep temperatures under control, but the sound output is quite low.  In fact, this was one of the quietest SFF PCs that we have ever tested.  So much so that during one day of testing/research in the labs we weren't even aware that we had left the SkyHawk IMC6375 running.

      

      

Once the outer shell was removed we got a peek at the innards of the IMC6375.  It was a relative mess of wires running to and fro, and that was before we added any drive cables.  Power cables coming off of the power supply unit were tied to the drive cage and various cables ran from front to back along the side of the chassis over the AGP slot.  Removal of the cage gave us a closer look at the socket, but also at the temperature readout cables to be used with the LED readout.  It's best to insert the CPU, heatsink, and RAM at this point, as there will be little to no room available to move around once the hard drive and CD-ROM drives are installed.  As we mentioned on the previous page, cables are not pre-routed, so it's up the user to determine the best placement.  We've really become accustomed to wires already set in place for easy installation and optimum airflow, and felt that this was an area that SkyHawk should improve on.

Once everything else was in place, we got to adding in the final component, the GeForce 5900XT that we've used in other SFF PCs.  We immediately got concerned with the length of the 5900XT as it appeared it might not fit around the connectors on the motherboard.  Two capacitors at the end of the BFG 5900XT card were dangerously close to the wiring and it was tight fit all around.  Last, but not least, there was barely any clearance between the heatsink/fan on the 5900XT and the outer casing.  Many of these issues are gripes that we've had with some of the early SFF PCs we've tested that haven't been addressed with SkyHawk's unit.

 

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Tinkering with the BIOS and Overclocking

  

The BIOS of the SkyHawk IMC6375
Still so similar

       

      

The AWARD BIOS that Acorp utilizes on the 4865GQET didn't have many options that were new to us.  We checked through the usual sections such as Advanced BIOS Settings and Advanced Chipset Features and set the system much the same as any other we have tested.  We manually set the GEIL DDR to 2-2-2-5 timings in the Advanced Chipset Features while leaving the speed set to AUTO (DDR400).  Since we planned on using the GeForce 5900XT, we disabled on-board graphics and set the AGP Aperture to 256MB.  We moved on through the remaining sections, such as Power Management and PC Health, but left most of these sections as is.  PC Health actually doesn't have any modifications allowed to it, and is used strictly for monitoring temperatures, fan speeds, and voltages.

While on the Integrated Peripherals menu we didn't find anything else new, but in this case that was unexpected.  According to the manual, the ETBIOS settings were supposed to be found here.  Enabling ETBIOS allows the system to boot directly into this mini-OS, and play not only CD audio but DVD videos as well.  We could not find these settings anywhere in the BIOS, even after downloading Version 1.4 from Acorp's website.  Finally, after some repeated head-banging, we acted on a hunch.  Our thought was that the ETBIOS DVD player wouldn't be able to function on every single video card that was installed.  It would, however, know how to use the integrated video.  Following this hunch, we removed the 5900XT, rebooted, and sure enough the ETBIOS settings appeared where they should have been.  This was not covered anywhere in the literature, and it's hardly likely that PC enthusiasts will settle for Intel's Extreme Graphics to suit their needs.  One other hiccup we ran into was the drive format.  We originally had a Samsung CD-ROM drive installed, but could not play an audio CD through the ETBIOS' player.  Only after installing a Lite-On DVD-ROM were we able to play not only DVD movies (obviously) but CD audio as well.  Again, this is not covered in any of the manuals and caused unnecessary confusion.

Overclocking Tools
Not much to work with

       

After experimenting with the ETBIOS, we got around to overclocking the IMC6375.  Our options were very slim in this department.  Under Frequency/Voltage Control, we found choices for disabling Spread Spectrum, CPU Clock settings, and DDR voltages choices.  The front side bus was entered in directly from the CPU Clock menu, with a range from 200MHz to 233MHz.  The choice seems rather limited, but without any CPU Voltage options we probably wouldn't be able to get much further that 233MHz anyway.  Our only voltage options were limited to the RAM, where we could raise the voltage from 2.5V to a max of 3.0V.  One thing that might get overlooked was the DDR speeds, however.  After raising the FSB, you may need to go back and change the CPU:DDR ratio so that the memory doesn't flake out.  But we found the Memory Frequency setting way back in Advanced Chipset menu, and choices for DDR400 (1:1), DDR320 (5:4) and DDR266 (3:2) can be used.



SANDRA CPU Benchmark


PCMark04 Benchmark



We knew full well that Springdale motherboards and the 2.4GHz P4 we use for testing are very capable of superb overclocked speeds, but with our hands tied by the BIOS we couldn't set our sights too high.  In our initial attempt, we set the front side bus speed up directly up to 233MHz, the maximum speed possible, but couldn't boot the system.  After two failed attempts, the CMOS reset back to fail-safe settings and we could try again.  This time, remembering the CPU/DDR dividers, we used the DDR320 setting to bring down the RAM speed to 188MHz (372MHz effective) which was well under the DDR400 the DIMMS were rated at.  This proved to be the trick, and we were able to complete some benchmarks at the maximum speed the BIOS would allow.

As seen in the SANDRA and PCMark04 screen captures, we were now running our 2.4GHz Pentium 4 at 2.81GHz, which actually comes out higher than the expected 2.79GHz (233MHzx12).  As expected, we got some immediate improvement in performance, not only with the CPU, but with relative memory performance as well.  Our new score in SANDRA was well beyond our original results, and bettered the other CPUs used for comparison.  Additionally, the PCMARK04 results we got while overclocked were 16% better for CPU performance and 10% better for the memory.  The jump in CPU performance was right on the money, since the 33MHz bump is just over 16% higher than stock speed.

 

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Testing configuration and SANDRA comparisons

 

How we configured our test systems: When configuring the test systems for this review, we first entered the system BIOS and set each board to their "Optimized" or "High-Performance Defaults".  The hard drive was then formatted, and Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 2 was installed. When the installation was complete, we hit the Windows Update site and downloaded all of the available updates, with the exception of the ones related to Windows Messenger. Then we installed all of the necessary drivers, and removed Windows Messenger from the system altogether. Auto-Updating and System Restore were also disabled, and we setup a 768MB permanent page file on the same partition as the Windows installation. Lastly, we set Windows XP's Visual Effects to "best performance", installed all of our benchmarking software, defragged the hard drives and ran all of the tests.

Test System Specifications
Three of a kind
SYSTEM 1:

Skyhawk echo-Q IMC6375


Intel i865G
Intel Pentium 4 2.4GHz
2x256MB GEIL PC3500 DDR

NVIDIA GeForce FX 5900XT
On-Board 10/100 Ethernet
On-Board Audio

WD "Special Edition" 40GB
7,200 RPM IDE Hard Drive

Windows XP Pro SP2

NVIDIA Forceware v66.93
DirectX 9.0c
SYSTEM 2:

Epox eX5-320S


Intel i865G
Intel Pentium 4 2.4GHz
2x256MB GEIL PC3500 DDR

NVIDIA GeForce FX 5900XT
On-Board 10/100 Ethernet
On-Board Audio

WD "Special Edition" 40GB
7,200 RPM IDE Hard Drive

Windows XP Pro SP2
NVIDIA Forceware v66.93
DirectX 9.0c
SYSTEM 3:

Shuttle SB61G2

Intel i865G
Intel Pentium 4 2.4GHz
2x256MB
GEIL PC3500 DDR

NVIDIA GeForce FX 5900XT

On-Board 10/100 Ethernet
On-Board Audio

WD "Special Edition" 40GB
7,200 RPM IDE Hard Drive

Windows XP Pro SP2
NVIDIA Forceware v66.93
DirectX 9.0c
Preliminary Benchmarks With SiSoft SANDRA 2005
Synthetic Testing Starts with SANDRA

We began our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. SANDRA consists of a set of information and diagnostic utilities that can provide a host of useful information about your hardware and operating system. We ran three of the built-in sub-system tests (CPU Arithmetic, CPU Multimedia, and Memory Bandwidth) that partially comprise the SANDRA 2005 suite of benchmarks.  All of these tests were run with the Skyhawk IMC6375 powered by an Intel Pentium 4 2.4GHz CPU with 512MB of Geil DDR and compared against similar systems from SANDRA's database.



SANDRA CPU Arithmetic Benchmark
Pentium 4 @ 2.4GHz
512MB DDR (CL2)


SANDRA Memory Benchmark
Pentium 4 @
2.4GHz
512MB DDR (CL2)


SANDRA CPU Multimedia Benchmark
Pentium 4 @
2.4GHz
512MB DDR (CL2)

We compared our CPU Arithmetic and CPU Multimedia results to other processors in the database that would be in the same price-point/performance ratio and found that the Shykawk IMC6475 did better than or close to all of the ones we had chosen.  When compared directly to another P4 2.4GHz CPU, the scores we obtained were generally much higher, and performed closer to the 2.8GHz Pentium 4.   As far as the memory bandwidth test went, we were once again close to the top of the list.  The IMC6375 easily bested the 845PE motherboard (single channel memory), but falling slightly behind all of the dual channel boards, such as another 865 from the database, an 875P, and a newer 925.  One thing we noticed when setting up this system was that the BIOS did not offer some of the memory tweaks common to many Springdales that help elevate these boards to Canterwood (i875P) performance levels.  This might help explain the lower than hoped for scores in this test.

 

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PCMark04 Benchmarks

Futuremark PCMark04
More Synthetic CPU and Memory Benchmarks

For our next set of benchmarks, we ran the CPU and Memory performance modules built-into Futuremark's PCMark04.  For those interested in more than just the graphs, we've got a couple of quotes from Futuremark that explain exactly what these tests do and how they work...

 "The CPU test suite is a collection of tests that are run to isolate the performance of the CPU. There are nine tests in all. Two pairs of tests are run multithreaded - each test in the pair is run in its own thread.  The remaining five tests are run single threaded. These tests include such functions as file encryption, decryption, compression and decompression, grammar check, audio conversion, WMV and DivX video compression."

We expected to find that the CPU performance would be high, considering what we had just found with SANDRA, and were not let down in PCMark04.  The Skyhawk PC gave us the highest CPU score out of the three Springdale based SFF PCs.  While we generally find that differences in CPU benchmarks when using similar components can be attributed to certain engineering practices, we found that the Skyhawk's reported CPU score was 2.405 GHZ, slightly slower than the Epox eX5-320S's speed of 2.41GHz, yet it still beat it by 86 points. 

 


"TheMemory test suite is a collection of tests that isolate the performance of the memory subsystem. The memory subsystem consists of various devices on the PC. This includes the main memory, the CPU internal cache (known as the L1 cache) and the external cache (known as the L2 cache). As it is difficult to find applications that only stress the memory, we explicitly developed a set of tests geared for this purpose. The tests are written in C++ and assembly. They include: Reading data blocks from memory, Writing data blocks to memory performing copy operations on data blocks, random access to data items and latency testing."

The memory benchmark within PCMark04 gave us a big surprise, however.  The expectations were that the Skyhawk and Shuttle would both be performing on the same level, and the Epox would place first, since it was the only system with some form of memory enhancement.  Our testing found the Skyhawk machine coming in first once again, performing at nearly 2.5% better than the Epox eX5-320S.

 

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Windows Media Encoder 9 and 3DMark03

Windows Media Encoder 9
Digital Video Encoding

We continued our testing with another application from Futuremark, 3DMark03, and with a video encoding benchmark, Windows Media Encoder 9.  In the WME9 test, we took a 416MB Digital Video file and encoded to a WMV9 format used for streaming video.  Times were recorded in minutes and seconds, with lower times indicating better performance.

Surprisingly, the Skyhawk IMC6375 easily beat out the other two systems, finishing the video conversion in 3 minutes 25 seconds, 15 seconds faster than the nearest competitor.  We were expecting some good "real-world" results based on the synthetic tests we had previously ran, but we were not expecting the IMC6375 to outperform the other systems by such a large margin.

3DMark03
DirectX Gaming Performance

It's not an actual game, but 3DMark03's built-in CPU test is a "gaming related" DirectX metric that's useful for comparing relative performance among similarly equipped systems.  This test consists of two different 3D scenes that are generated with a software renderer, which is dependant on the host CPU's performance.  This means that the calculations normally reserved for your 3D accelerator, are instead sent to the central processor.  The number of frames generated per second in each test are used to determine the final score.

Again we see a big disparity between the Skyhawk and other systems, even when configured with the same components.  The Skyhawk IMC6375 scored 630 points in 3DMark03, 18 points better the Epox eX5-320S and 32 points higher than the Shuttle SB61G2.   The margin of difference remained about the same with what we saw with the PCMark04 CPU test, so at least we're consistent.

 

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Ziff Davis' Winstones 2004

Business &Content Creation Winstones
Real-World Application Performance

Synthetic benchmarks only tell part of the performance story, so we took the Skyhawk IMC6375 to task in some "real world" scenarios as well.  For our first set of real world tests, we did some benchmarking with Ziff Davis' Business Winstone 2004 suite, followed by the more demanding Content Creation Winstone 2004 suite

       The PC Magazine Business Winstone 2004 test utilizes the following applications in its benchmark:

  • Microsoft Access 2002
  • Microsoft Excel 2002
  • Microsoft FrontPage 2002
  • Microsoft Outlook 2002
  • Microsoft PowerPoint 2002
  • Microsoft Project 2002
  • Microsoft Word 2002
  • Norton Antivirus Professional Edition 2003
  • WinZip 8.1



The PC Magazine Content Creation Winstone 2004 test utilizes the following applications in its benchmark:

  • Adobe Photoshop 7.0.1
  • Adobe Premiere 6.50
  • Macromedia Director MX 9.0
  • Macromedia Dreamweaver MX 6.1
  • Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 9 Version 9.00.00.2980
  • NewTek's LightWave 3D 7.5b
  • Steinberg WaveLab 4.0f

The CPU and memory differences were expressed directly in the Winstones, both of them won by the Skyhawk IMC6375.  In Business Winstone 2004, the IMC6375 scored .6 points better than the other two systems, coming out to about a three percent difference in that benchmark.  The performance delta was a bit smaller in the Content Creation Winstone, where only .2 points separated the Skyhawk from the Epox box.  This difference came out to less than one percent, essentially the same output between the systems.

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Gaming Performance

 

Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory
OpenGL Quake Engine Gaming

To start our in-game testing, we ran through a batch of time demos with the OpenGL game Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory.  Wolfenstein: ET is a free, standalone multiplayer game that is based on the original Return to Castle Wolfenstein, that was released a few years back. It uses a heavily modified version of the Quake 3 engine which makes it a very easy to use benchmarking tool.  We ran the test using the "Fastest" setting at a low resolution of 640X480, using 16-bit color and textures.  Running this test with a higher-end graphics card, at these minimal settings, isolates processor and memory performance, without being limited by the graphics subsystem.

The Skyhawk IMC6375 earned top honors in this test, where it outpaced the other two systems by 4.5 to 7 frames per second.  At best, that's about a six percent difference between the fastest and slowest systems, showing off the CPU and Memory differences we reported earlier.

Unreal Tournament 2004
DirectX Gaming Performance

We also tried benchmarking with Epic's Unreal Tournament 2004.  When we tested these systems with UT 2004, we ensured that all of them were being benchmarked with the exact same in-game settings and graphical options, and we dropped the resolution and detail levels to isolate CPU and memory performance.



The Skyhawk IMC6375 also finished tops in Unreal Tournament 2004 testing as well.  It beat out the Epox system by 2.5 frames per second, and 8.3 fps over the Shuttle SB61G2.  Again, using the opposite sides of the performance chart, we have the IMC6375 outperforming the competition by just over 9 percent.

 

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Benchmark Summary and Conclusion

Benchmark Summary: Although all three of our test systems were equipped with the same components installed on Springdale (i865G) based motherboards, the SkyHawk IMC6375 was the "winner" in each benchmark we ran.  Not only did the IMC6375 place first, it often outperformed the other systems by anywhere from 5 to 10 percent.  These results are somewhat surprising as the SkyHawk IMC6375 does not use any kind of memory enhancement technology, which other boards such as the one in the Epox eX5-320S utilize.  We would have expected performance much closer to the rev. 1 Shuttle SB61G2 we used for reference, since the original FB61 motherboard also does not have any enhancements.  The SkyHawk IMC6375 proved to be one of the best performing Springdale based SFF PCs that we have tested.

 

This showcase runs almost completely opposite of the last Small Form Factor PC we reviewed, that being the Foxconn e-bot.  The e-bot had a sleek, contemporary design, yet was handicapped by the SiS661FX chipset, which hampered its performance.  In today's look at the SkyHawk echo-Q IMC6375, we've got a system that performed well, yet suffers from installation problems as well as BIOS limitations.

Although it might not be a huge issue for some builders, we were really surprised to find that most of the cables came loose in the package instead of being pre-routed by SkyHawk.  And the wires that were pre-installed created a mess inside the chassis, which made installation of major components such as the video card problematic.  The outside of the case hardly fared any better.  While we were fond of the LED screen and matching bezels, the overall feel and look of the buttons didn't instill a feeling of quality.  We also found the directions, or lack thereof, for using the ETBIOS functions to be lacking and somewhat frustrating.  It should be made much clearer what setup will be needed to properly use these functions.  We also wish that there would be a way to use the ETBIOS with a third-party video card installed.  Intel's Extreme Graphics engine doesn't suit the needs of many users, leaving them with only two options: use ETBIOS with the on-board graphics or install their own card and miss out. 

These shortcomings outweighed the good performance we saw throughout our benchmarks. Our final rating of the SkyHawk echo-Q IMC6375 SFF PC is going to be 7 on the HotHardware Heat Meter.

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