Celebris GL for Win95

This Thursday, we'll witness the birth of Microsoft Windows 95,
an operating system that's already too big for its britches. At least half our current
Windows PCs just can't handle it.


Win95 is feature-rich, graphically powerful and easier than its Windows 3.1x
predecessors. To exploit it, a PC needs Plug and Play capability, true-color video at
fairly high resolution and a bus architecture wide enough to shuttle lots of data fast.
You can run Win95 quite well on older PCs--I do it daily--but a Win95-tuned system
definitely is tomorrow's PC choice.


Digital's Celebris GL is one of the first of that new breed. It comes loaded with an
alphabet of high-performance acronyms: PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect bus), EDO
(Extended Data Output memory), E-IDE (Enhanced IDE drive), ECP/EPP (extended-capability
port/enhanced parallel port) and WRAM (Windows RAM).


At first glance you won't see much difference from any Windows multimedia system,
except for three extra keyboard keys that automate common Win95 system commands. The
differences are under the hood. Just about everything is integrated into the motherboard.
With SCSI, Ethernet, video graphics, 16-bit stereo sound and CD-ROM enabled, all five
ISA/PCI slots are free. SCSI needs an additional cable kit.


The system I tested came with 16M RAM in two of the four single in-line memory module
banks, 120-MHz Pentium chip and 1G hard drive. A lower-end Celebris, at $2,700, has a
90-MHz Pentium, 8M RAM, quad-speed CD-ROM, 845M drive and all the integrated devices
except SCSI. A more Win95-comfortable 133-MHz Pentium Celebris with 16M and 1.2G drive is
$4,300.


Digital will add the Celebris GL to its Nationwide Office Automation for Veterans
Affairs contract when the machine is commercially available--by next month. The Celebris
GL also will appear on Digital's General Services Administration schedule.


The Celebris has a minimum 2M of WRAM--a high-performance Samsung memory technology
developed for full-motion video playback. WRAM sends 64-bit graphics across the 32-bit PCI
local bus.


But what really tunes the Celebris GL for Win95 is support for Plug and Play and the
Desktop Management Interface (DMI), developed by the Desktop Management Task Force. DMI
helps network administrators automate system asset management, one of the toughest jobs in
enterprise computing.


Plug and Play, Win95's most visible and most welcome new feature, auto-installs
compliant devices and negotiates conflicts. This feature alone is worth a new computer--if
you can afford the Plug and Play devices too.


Win95's shutdown routine closes files and clears memory so you can power down without
damage. Win95-tuned systems like the Celebris GL power themselves off and work with
Win95's power management to give you Energy Star compliance with minimal interference.


The Celebris installation routine lets you choose either Windows 95 or Windows for
Workgroups as your OS. My factory-pretested machine came Win95-exclusive, which gave me a
chance to try Win95's video recovery capabilities, since the PC also arrived with video
problems.


It displayed perfectly until it reached the Win95 desktop, where it switched to a
Jackson Pollock-style smear. I'm sure Win95 and Plug and Play could have diagnosed the
trouble, but I couldn't read the screen.


It turned out that Digital had shipped the wrong monitor for the Celebris' high-end
graphics. Switching monitors solved the problem. The bottom line, though, is: If a corrupt
or incorrect video driver makes Win95 unviewable, you're sunk. With Windows 3.x you could
turn to an MS-DOS setup or, with practice, do a blind video reset via keyboard. So far I
haven't found a comparable option in Win95.


The Celebris GL is extremely fast and handles massive graphics data quickly and well.
In coming months, we'll test it in GCN's laboratory with Plug and Play devices and as a
benchmark against legacy systems. Stay tuned.


Digital Equipment Corp., Maynard, Mass.; tel. 508-493-5111.


The downside:


Plug and Play devices will be costly for a while.

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