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Shuttle SB95P v2 SFF XPC
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Date: Apr 07, 2005
Section:Systems
Author: Robert Maloney
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Introduction and Specifications

When it comes to making Small Form Factor PCs, we find that most manufacturers need to make compromises in order to create a viable product.  Radical heat dissipation techniques typically consume much of the area in already cramped confines, motherboards are usually cut-down versions of full-sized models which, in turn, have fewer features or capabilities, and typically these motherboards are based on an older more mature chipset.  Just recently we have taken looks at other SFF PCs, one of which, the Skyhawk IMC6375, was still based around the 865PE chipset, now nearing two years since it was initially released.

Shuttle, on the other hand, always seems poised on the edge of the curve.  While their somewhat boxy enclosures are not always the flashiest of the bunch, it's what's on the inside that really counts, right?  Today we get to look at one of their latest releases,  the Shuttle SB95P v2 XPC.  Based on the Intel i925XE chipset, which supports both 800 and 1066 MHz FSB based Pentium 4 CPUs as well as DDR2, and RAID, this Small Form Factor PC is all set to make it in the "big" world.  Let's take a look at the various specifications of the SB95P and see how it compares against it's full-sized brethren.

        
CLICK ANY IMAGE TO ENLARGE

Specifications of the Shuttle SB95P v2
Nothing lacking here...

















Processor
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_Intel Socket 775 Pentium 4

Memory
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_Dual-channel DDR2 533/400
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_2x DIMM slots (2GB max)

Motherboard
·
FB95 (proprietary)

Intel 925XE + ICH6-R chipset
· 1066/800 MHz FSB
· 1 x1 PCI Express slot

· 1 x16 PCI Express slot

Audio
·
_8 channel audio
·
_Digital (SPDIF) audio ports
·
_Analog audio ports

Network
·
_Gigabit LAN - Broadcom

Storage
·
_4 Serial ATA 150 headers
·_RAID (0,1) with Intel Matrix Storage Technology
·
_(1) IDE header
·_(1) FDD header
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_5.25" storage bay x 1
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_3.5" storage bays x 3

















Front-panel I/O
·
_8-in-1 card reader
·_2x USB 2.0 ports
·
_FireWire 400 port
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_Microphone port
·
_Headphone port
·
_Power button
·
_Reset button

Rear-panel I/O
·
_PS/2 Keyboard socket
·
_PS/2 Mouse socket
·
_2x USB 2.0 ports
·
_FireWire 400 port
·
_Gigabit LAN (RJ-45)
·
_8 channel audio out
·
_SPDIF I/O ports
·
_Coaxial Audio port
·
_Serial port
·
_CMOS Reset button
·
_Optional Parallel port

Silent X (system cooling)
·
_Integrated Cooling Engine (ICE)
·
_Intelligently-engineered airflow mechanics

Power Supply
·
_Silent X 350W

Dimensions (L x W x H, mm)
·
_325 x 210 x 220

Weight (net / gross; kg, lbs)
·
_4.25 (9.35) / 6.05 (13.31)






The Bundle:

One of Shuttle's new features in their 'P' Chassis line is toolless drive installation
.  Whereas in the past drives were screwed directly into the drive rack, which was then screwed down to the frame, Shuttle has instead turned to sets of brackets that allow for quicker and easier installations.  One set was already in place on the rack itself, while additional brackets for floppy drives and additional hard drives came in small baggies.  We highlighted additional since the SB95P has a new trick up its sleeve: the main hard drive requires almost no installation time at all.  The only means necessary to install a hard drive require lining up holes in the casing with 4 pins on the drive rack.  Line the pins up, push down on the drive, and you're done.  The two brackets in the package are used for adding in SATA drives along the top of the unit, suitable for RAID configurations.  That brings the total number of hard drives that can be installed in this unit up to three, all in a container the size of a large toaster.

To suit the needs of connecting these devices, most of the cabling has been pre-installed and pre-routed for optimal placement and airflow.  Thus, the only cables found in the bundle are to be used for the addition of a floppy drive, which in most cases would be completely optional.  Drive shields, a power cable, and a small tube of thermal paste round out this collection.  And, of course, there were the various manuals and driver media that one needs in order to install or troubleshoot their setup.

 

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Closer Inspection of the SB95P

 

The SB95P Up Close
Bam! Shuttle kicks it up a notch

      

       

 As we stated in the introduction, Shuttle's systems have typically been a bit boxy for some tastes, although that's not necessarily a bad thing.  Rather than tinker with the shape, they have invested their efforts instead on sprucing up the faceplate and improving internal configurations and airflow routing.  The chassis itself is constructed entirely of aluminum, serving a dual purpose: it keeps the weight of the system down and allows for quicker heat dissipation.   Painted entirely in black, it perfectly offsets the gunmetal gray plastic overlays used on the face plating.

There are two drive bays and a front I/O panel concealed behind these retractable face plates.   The frontside I/O panels includes audio jacks as well as two USB ports and one FireWire connection.  Along the top, there's a sleek looking 8-in-1 card reader.  All cards are inserted in a slot no larger than a typical credit card scanner, so it doesn't draw any undue attention to itself.  It fact, when all bays are closed over, the only real break in the visuals comes from the chrome power button and a miniscule reset button underneath. 

      

The backside of the SB95P is pretty much straight forward stuff port-wise.  The major change with the 'P' chassis' is how hot air is removed in three zones using two fans along the top and one larger one from the power supply in the middle.  An additional fan can be seen by peeking in the side grating, which is used as part of Shuttle's ICE technology.  These zones are graphically displayed below, and are broken down as follows:  the CPU zone, Power Supply and Graphics card zone, and the Hard Drive zone.  Initially, air enters in along vents on the sides of the chassis as well as from the front of the unit.  At the CPU, this cooler air is used to ventilate the heatsink and is sucked out the other side immediately.  Readers may have noticed that the placement of the CPU socket is towards the front rather than the rear, which leaves the rear section entirely open.   Excess heat from graphics cards, chips, etc. is moved out using two 60mm fans as well as by the fan on the PSU. 

To get a closer look at how this all works, we opened up the SB95P and immediately saw how the placement of the heatsink towards the front really opened things up.  First thing we did was remove the drive cage, which requires popping off two soft brackets.  We could then look down directly at the heatsink, held down by four retention screws, and connected to some ductwork.  At the other end was an 80mm fan designed to pull in air and blow it directly out the side of the chassis.   As you can see, the rest of the motherboard is plainly visible, making it a breeze to install components without bumping into things and also helps keep the air moving about; particularly good for cooling the heatsink placed over the Northbridge. Power is supplied by a 350W SilentX PSU, which is both powerful (by SFF standards) and quiet.   Booting the system using the original BIOS would cause the fans to rev up rather loudly at first, but a later revision corrected that problem for quiet operation throughout.  

      

      

When we were discussing the bundle, we mentioned the relatively new screwless drive installation, and to be fair it works well in most cases.  We did have a few problems that we wanted to bring to light, however, that some users may want to consider.  The retention brackets on the drive cage were sometimes too easy to give way.  While it made removal and installation of the cage easy, there were instances where we bumped the cage when installing other components that would pop the brackets right off.  In the same vein, the 4-pin hard drive mechanism gave us a bit of trouble.  Two metal stays run alongside the hard drive, and are supposed to keep the drive in place.  In our setup, one of these broke loose from the chassis, and the hard drive would only sit on the pins, but could easily slide up off of them.  There were also "radiation" shields that Shuttle recommended be installed, but these too would pop out of their moorings and bounce around inside the system.  There's nothing worse than showing up for a LAN party, only to hear assorted pieces of metal banging around inside your PC.  These are definitely some areas that Shuttle will need to improve on with future models.

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BIOS options and overclocking results

 

Examining the BIOS of the SB95P
The "setup" for our setup

       

      

      

Shuttle used the ever-popular Phoenix / AWARD BIOS for the SB95P, which was fully stocked with options for controlling each and every aspect of operation.  The SB95P supports not only IDE and SATA drives, but will allow for SATA RAID configurations as well, using the ICH6R chipset.  In other words, the SB95P could support an IDE hard drive, as well as two SATA drives running in RAID0, something commonly seen in full-size systems.

Most other options were standard stuff, such as picking a boot order for the drives, and whether or not the on-board audio, LAN, and Firewire ports are to be enabled.  Under PC Health, fan speeds, voltages, and temperatures are monitored.  Users can select whether or not to run the fans at percentages of the maximum speed, or leave it on 'Smart Fan' and have the system automatically decide what is best at that moment.  In the last section, Frequency and Voltage Control, the SB95P can be tweaked a bit to squeeze out a little more performance.  DRAM timings can be left at By SPD, which will detect the timings using Serial Presence Detect registers on the memory.  These can also be manually lowered to improve performance somewhat, although finding timings that work can sometimes be a chore.  Finally, there's some options for changing the CPU Speed as well as CPU, DDR, and Chipset voltages, which are covered in the next section. 

Overclocking Tools
An Overclocker's Delight!

      

   

At first glance, the SB95P seems ready for overclocking.  The CPU front side bus speed can be set anywhere between 100MHz and 355MHz, and there's even an option to lower the multiplier from the default value (in this case 17x) to 14x for high-end Prescott CPUs, which in some cases could allow for higher overall FSB speeds.  Omitted from this section of the BIOS, however, was any way to lock down the PCI-e clock, which could spell doom for severely high overclocked speeds.  For each change we make to the FSB to increase the CPU speed, we're also raising the speed of the PCI-e link as well.  Voltage options were OK for the CPU, reaching a ceiling at 1.5875V, which should be enough for the speeds we intended on hitting in an SFF PC.  DDR2 Voltages can be set at Auto, 1.8V, 1.85V, and 1.9V and the ChipSet Voltage also has four options as well for Auto, 1.55V, 1.66V, and 1.70V.



SANDRA CPU Benchmark


PCMark04 Benchmark


Since this was the first time we had overclocked this particular P4 550 3.4 GHz CPU we weren't exactly sure how far we would get.  Some CPUs just do better than others for various reasons, and you're never quite sure until you get your hands dirty.  We quickly moved up to the 230MHz FSB range without any problems, and this only required some slight adjustments on the CPU and DDR2 voltages.  We were not able to get much further than this, however.  Booting into Windows was possible at 235MHz, but benchmarks would not complete.  240MHz resulted in a complete lockup at during POST and forced us to clear the CMOS to try again.  This was tried at both 14x and 17x mulitpliers with the same result.  It looked as if the lack of ability to lock down the PCI-e bus might be holding us back, but it turns out that we got the same overclocking results on the Epox 5LWA+.  Thankfully, Shuttle has included a 'Clear CMOS' button right on the back of the SB95P, which made resetting the BIOS much easier than previously possible.

Our final stable overclock came out at 232MHz, a modest increase in overall speed equalling about a 16% jump in speed.  As seen in the SANDRA and PCMark04 screen captures on the left, we were running just shy of 4GHz (232MHz x 17).  The increased FSB improved not only our CPU performance, but the memory as well, as it was now running at close to 310MHz.  Our new score in SANDRA was well beyond our original results, and was able to outpeform a 3.6GHz Pentium 4 in SANDRA's database.  Additionally, the PCMARK04 results we got while overclocked were 13% better for the CPU peformance and 15% better for the memory.

 

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The Setup and SANDRA results

 

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 1536MB 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
All Intel All The Time
SYSTEM 1:

Shuttle SB95P


Intel 925XE Chipset
Intel Pentium 4 550 3.4GHz CPU
2x512MB Corsair XMS2 Pro DDR2

ASUS Extreme AX800XL
On-Board 10/100/1000 Ethernet
On-Board Audio

120GB Seagate Barracuda
7,200 RPM SATA Hard Drive

Windows XP Pro SP2

ATi Catalyst 5.3 Drivers
DirectX 9.0c
SYSTEM 2:

Epox 5LWA+


Intel 925XE Chipset
Intel Pentium 4 550 3.4GHz CPU
2x512MB Corsair XMS2 Pro DDR2

ASUS Extreme AX800XL
On-Board 10/100/1000 Ethernet
On-Board Audio

120GB Seagate Barracuda
7,200 RPM SATA Hard Drive

Windows XP Pro SP2

ATi Catalyst 5.3 Drivers
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 Shuttle SB95P powered by an Intel Pentium 4 550 3.4GHz CPU with 1GB of Corsair DDR2 and compared against similar systems from SANDRA's database.



SANDRA CPU Arithmetic Benchmark
Pentium 4 550 @ 3.4GHz
1024MB DDR2 (CL4)


SANDRA Memory Benchmark
Pentium 4 550 @ 3.4GHz
1024MB DDR2 (CL4)


SANDRA CPU Multimedia Benchmark
Pentium 4 550 @ 3.4GHz
1024MB DDR2 (CL4)

In all three areas we tested, the SB95P produced scores that were almost exactly comparable to a 925 board in SANDRA's database.  The CPU performance in particular was right on target, with only a few points separating our real-world results from the stock scores.  Memory bandwidth was down from the expected results, with our 925XE based board producing results more typical of an 875P.  What should be taken out of these results is the fact that Shuttle's system doesn't lack any of the power of a full-sized system; the SB95P consistently scored at or near the top of the charts in all performance areas.

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PCMark04 Comparisons

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."

The PCMark04 CPU testing was really close with a difference of only eight points making it too close to call.  The SB95P hung right alongside EPoX's enthusiast-class 5LWA+ without a problem.


"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 scores were just as close, only in reverse order.  In this test, the Shuttle SB95P just beat out the Epox 5LWA+ by 22 points, but again this difference is so minimal the two systems can be considered equals.  It remains to be seen whether this parity will remain throughout the rest of our testing.

 

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Business and Content Creation Winstones

Business & Content Creation Winstones
Real-World Application Performance

Synthetic benchmarks only tell part of the performance story, so we took the Shuttle SB95P 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

Performance was on par in the Winstones as well.  In both the Business and Content Creation Winstone 2004 testing, the Shuttle SB95P was only a fraction behind the similarly powered Epox 5LWA+.  The small differences are well within the margin of error for benchmarks like this, so we will have to call this one a tie as well and move on.

 

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LAME MP3 Encoding and 3DMark05

 

LAME MP3 Encoding Tests
Breaking the Sound Barrier

In our custom Lame MP3 encoding tests, we convert a large digital audio file to the MP3 format, which is a very popular scenario that many end users work with on a regular basis, to provide portability and storage of their digital audio content.  In this test, we chose a large 223MB WAV file (a never-ending Grateful Dead jam) and converted it to the MP3 format.  Processing times are recorded below.

Only 3 seconds separated the two systems, with the fastest time going to the Epox 5LWA+.  This delta in performance (about 2%) is so slight that most users would not even notice when converting files, especially smaller ones. 

3DMark05
DirectX Gaming Performance

3DMark05's CPU test module gives us an idea of how these systems will perform in a DirectX gaming environment, with the main emphasis of the test focused on CPU throughput and overall system bandwidth.  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.

3DMark05 was our first taste of gaming, although we focused solely on CPU performance rather than running the entire suite of tests.  It was in this test that we saw the first measurable separation between the two systems.  Although we had typically seen differences in previous benchmarks along the lines of 1-2%, we saw the Shuttle lagging behind the Epox board in 3DMark05 by double that amount.

 

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Wolfenstein - Enemy Territory and UT2004

Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory
OpenGL Quake Engine Gaming

To start our in-game testing, we ran through a some 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.

Much like 3DMark05, the Epox 5LWA+ easily outpaced the Shuttle SB95P in Wolfenstein - Enemy Territory by 6.5 frames per second.  This benchmark ran by in a blur, and it's hard to make critical judgments of any system when a game running at over 140fps.

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.



Performance comparisons using Unreal Tournament 2004 mirrored the results we saw with Wolfenstein ET.  Again, we've got the Epox 5LWA+ leading the Shuttle SB95P by just over 7 frames per second.  It appears that these differences in gaming scores are apparent regardless of engine type or resolution.

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High Performance Gaming

 

Doom 3 Multiplayer Time Demo
Taking the bottleneck off the graphics card...

For our next game test, we benchmarked both test systems using a custom multiplayer Doom 3 timedemo. We lowered the resolution down to 640 x 480, and configured the game to run at its "Low-Quality" graphics setting. Although Doom 3 typically taxes today's high-end GPUs, when it's configured at these minimal settings it's more CPU and Memory-bound than anything else.

Our low resolution Doom 3 testing resembled the previous gaming benchmarks.  Without trying to sound redundant, we've got the Shuttle SB95P trailing the Epox 5LWA+ by just over 6 frames per second.  These differences amount to approximately 4-5% performance lost by the SFF PC.  We're still impressed, however, to be getting this kind of performance from one of these little boxes, and decided to turn up the heat in our final test.

Doom 3 High Quality Gaming Test
And then putting the bottleneck right back on!

In this final test, we took the Shuttle SB95P with an Asus Extreme AX800XL installed in it, and tried to simulate typical gaming setups.  We ran though resolutions from 1024X768 to 1600X1200, with 4x AA and 8x Anisotropic Filtering enabled in the game engine.  Again, this was the very same setup we used in our stability and burn-in tests; we've only changed the resolutions and graphic settings to put more of the hurt on the video card.


As you can see, the frame rates scaled well all the way up to and including 1600x1200, where we were still able to get over 45 fps.  If there has been any doubt as to whether or not the SB95P is equipped for high performance LAN gaming, then these results should lay those fears to rest.

 

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Performance Analysis and the Conclusion

  

 

System Performance Analysis: The Shuttle SB95P kept pace with the full-sized Epox 5LWA+ in almost all benchmarks, only dropping slightly behind in a few of the low-resolution in-game tests. The frame rates in those tests usually amounted to a 4-5% difference in performance.

Shuttle has definitely taken some strides with the SB95P, most of which were positive.  However, in our eyes at least, some aspects of the P series could be improved. The new layout of the chassis works perfectly; moving the ICE technology based cooling solution towards the front of the chassis provided much needed room for drive installation and efficient cooling of the entire system using the three cooling zones.  The quiet operation of the unit impressed us as well, as we would have expected the noise output of four distinct fans to be somewhat overwhelming.  This holds especially true when overclocking the CPU and running games at higher resolutions. And the SB95P came equipped with a quality 350W PSU that not only ran quiet, but supplied enough juice to power both a Prescott CPU and a Radeon X800XL.

Our only concerns were focused on the screwless drive mounts. The physical implementation of the brackets and radiation shields could use some improvement.  Had only one of them failed on us, we would have been far less critical, but to have a couple of the drive rails and a radiation shield pop out of place left us a bit worried.  We were lucky that we heard the pieces running loose in the system after moving the PC from the labs to another location; it could have been much worse had the system been turned on with these pieces hanging loose inside.

Overall though, the SB95P is truly a portable powerhouse.  This SFF PC has all of the features and many of the same capabilities of a full-sized system.  We're giving the Shuttle SB95P XPC an 8.5 on the Heat Meter. Had it not been for the issue we had with the drive rails, we would have had very little to hold against the SB95P.

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