AMD's K-5 Pro90 rivals Pentium for compatability, price

When people ask me which computer to buy for home use, I generally suggest the same
hardware I'd recommend on the job.


But in upgrading an old 66-MHz 486 at home, I surprised myself.


After much searching, and with no limited General Services Administration schedules to
battle, I settled on the perfect machine, from CyberMax Computer Inc. of Allentown, Pa. It
came with Advanced Micro Devices' 90-MHz K-5 PR90 processor, a roomy minitower case, 1.5G
Enhanced IDE hard drive, 16M RAM, floppy drive, Microsoft Windows 95, Win95 keyboard and
Microsoft serial mouse.


If you were to buy this on the job, it would easily fit as a government credit card
purchase, even with the extras below. For home use, it came well within the less
than-$2,500 budget I usually recommend.


I kept my existing NEC Technologies 17-inch monitor, Creative Labs Sound Blaster 32
card, Altec Lansing speakers, Hayes Optima 288 V.34 modem and network card. Feeling the
need for a few extras, I picked up another 16M of RAM, a second 2M EIDE drive and an
eight-speed IDE CD-ROM drive, and soon my wallet was $500 lighter.


Installation of these extras brought surprisingly little pain. The RAM upgrade was the
hardest, because the single in-line memory module slots were very tightly placed next to
an interior wall. My large hands further complicated the task.


The second hard drive required only a jumper setting change to make it my "slave''
or secondary drive. The wiring connections all fitted nicely, and the 8X CD-ROM drive slid
effortlessly into the roomy case and plugged into an extra IDE interface.


The sound card and network card practically jumped into their slots. I was almost done.
I plugged the 10Base-T cable from the network card to the five-port hub of my home
network--wait, this is starting to sound a bit geeky.


Home network? We all have our weaknesses.


To my surprise, the hardest part was now behind me. I'20started the machine and waited
while Windows 95 installed itself, recognizing all the peripherals. I twiddled with the
TCP/IP and NetBEUI settings and set up a little workgroup. Getting bored because things
had gone so well, I partitioned and formatted the second drive to get it ready for the
ultimate test.


After I'd played around a little, installing Microsoft Office for Win95 and a few other
applications, I held my breath and popped the Windows NT 4.0 Workstation CD-ROM into the
drive.


This was the acid test of compatibility, because NT 4.0 has a known reluctance to
install on anything outside the approved hardware list. But a little voice in my head
shouted, "Go for it!"


I feel a little sheepish reporting that the installation of NT 4.0 went flawlessly and
the CD-ROM was recognized at once, as was the SCSI chip on the Sound Blaster board. I set
up a workgroup server and automatically started server services.


The TCP/IP setup went right along as expected. I tested the peer Web server, and all
was well. I set up a dial-in networking connection and tested it out. Perhaps the
off-hours I spend ramping up on the latest technologies paid off in an uneventful
installation.


So far, I've been pleasantly surprised by the AMD K5-powered CyberMax, though I had
some compatibility worries going in, based on rumors I've heard. But no compatibility
problems have cropped up with these various peripherals and applications used in a
real-world fashion.


The AMD K-5 is not only x86 software-compatible, it's designed for pin compatibility
with the Intel Pentium, and the CyberMax box sports a "Designed for Windows 95"
label. In fact, the 90-MHz AMD K-5 processor has performed way beyond my expectations,
seemingly on a level with 133-MHz Pentiums and beyond, although I haven't run any
benchmark tests.


The other desktop machine on my home network is a 75-MHz Pentium, and the K-5 just
speeds by it. I'm very pleased with my AMD K-5 machine, which is why I'm still sitting in
front of it at 10:30 p.m. writing this column. If you're about to flash that government
credit card, you might want to widen your sights a little for non-Intel alternatives.


For more information, see the World Wide Web page at http://www.amd.com,
   or call CyberMax at 800-695-4103.


Charles S. Kelly is a computer systems analyst at the National Science Foundation.
You can e-mail him on the Internet at ckelly@cpcug.org.
This column expresses his personal views, not the official views of NSF.



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