The top six of 2006

GCN Lab: Year in review

The iMac, now with Intel inside.

In 2006, the Xerox Phaser 6350DP broke the GCN Lab record for fast, accurate color printing.

In 2006, the GCN Lab reviewed hundreds of products. In the end, only 40 contenders received the coveted reviewer's choice designation. Of those, six really were the best of the best. Either they blazed a new trail or they vastly improved an existing one. You can find the full list of 40 products on GCN.com. But here are the top six:

Apple iMac with Intel Core Duo

Hardly anyone would argue that Apple computers are not stylish. But while that style has helped the company enjoy a resurgence in the consumer market, a slick look won't cut it with number-crunching government users who need raw power.

The iMac with Intel Core Duo changes all that.

Apple's groundbreaking decision to adopt a dual-core Intel processor for the $1,699 Core Duo iMac over the IBM PowerPC line of chips really boosted processing power. And it did so without compromising any of the features that make Apple computers so great. Moreover, this iMac plays well with Windows networks.

In short, Apple got everything right with the new Core Duo iMac, earning it a spot on the best of the best list this year, and perhaps reopening the world of government service to Macs.

iMac, Apple Computer Inc., Cupertino, Calif., (800) 692-7753, www.apple.com

Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Enterprise Edition

Although it has always been a popular database program, SQL Server never really experienced the kind of enterprise deployments that competing products like Oracle or IBM DB2 enjoyed.

The major problem with SQL Server 2000 was not the back end, but the user interface. And that is where SQL Server 2005 really shines. We found its Management Studio to be easier to use, allowing us to create a new database quickly. Connecting to external databases is much easier, and once you drop into the database, there are a ton of new features as well.

Management of the database is also a snap, thanks to interesting additions like a new technique called taking a 'snapshot.' This is a read-only view of the database that takes up much less disk space than a full copy. It's a replication method that adds options to your choice of backup procedures and rounds out the vastly improved product in ways that make it highly attractive for large enterprises and overtaxed administrators.

SQL Server 2005 Enterprise Edition, Microsoft Corp., Redmond, Wash., (425)882-8080, www.microsoft.com
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Xerox Phaser 6350DP

At the GCN Lab, we test our color printers hard, using a 30-page graphical document composed of many different formatted graphics, plus colored text and grayscale images. It's a torture test for most printers and in the past has even broken one. Print times of 15 minutes or longer were not uncommon. And the text version could also prove to be a challenge.

The Phaser 6350DP did something in April that no other printer previously could touch: It crunched the all-text document in under a minute, turning in a time of just 58 seconds.

All that speed would be useless if the Phaser was inaccurate, but the color was spot on. And to top it all off, there are a lot of nice features with the unit, like a display that tells you at a glance what page the printer is working with at the moment. Eventually, other printers will match the Phaser's speed if not its color accuracy. But the 6350DP is the first to break the one-minute barrier.

Phaser 6350DP, Xerox Corp., Stamford, Conn., (800) 275-9376, www.xerox.com.

Dell Optiplex GX620

When we started measuring power consumption of desktop computers, we figured that as performance increased with extra memory, better graphics cards and faster CPUs, power consumption would also rise. And for most computers, that held true. Then the GX620 came along.

With a 3.6-GHz Pentium D 960 dual-core processor and 1GB of 533-MHz DDR2 RAM, the GX620 broke the bank for performance, scoring an amazing 10,523 on our GCN/Alterion benchmark, a new record for raw performance. But surprisingly, in a big field of desktop powerhouses, this most powerful one was surprisingly light in terms of consuming electricity. It had the most efficient idle power consumption rates in the review'taking up only 83 watts per second'and remained efficient while in action, spending only 102 watts to open a huge Excel chart.

So here we have one of the fastest systems we ever tested, yet also one of the most economical in terms of price and power consumption. The GX620 proves that solid engineering can sometimes work miracles.

Dell Optiplex GX620, Dell Inc., Round Rock, Texas, (800) 388-8542, www.dell.com

Lenovo M500

In the arena of portable Digital Light Processing projectors, brightness and size are everything. Brightness is important because you don't know what environment you are going to have to project your images in once you arrive at your destination. And, of course, size and weight are important because when you travel, less is more.
So we were quite happy to find the Lenovo M500, with a tiny 2.5-pound frame that was able to throw an impressive 1,080 lumens onto a test screen at 10 feet, no small accomplishment for a small projector.

And the colors on the screen were extremely accurate as well. Reds, which tend to get lost on brighter projectors, were rich and deep, without any trace of the tomato soup color that plagued others we tested this year.

It's not just the M500 DLP that is so bright. The engineers at Lenovo who created such an astounding projector in such a small format are no dim bulbs, either.

M500, Lenovo Group Ltd., Purchase, N.Y., (866) 968-4465, www.lenovo.com

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