Overall, the SMAC system lacked that certain polish you find
among more established companies. The stickers were a little lopsided, and the metal and
plastic casing didn't have the refined feel of a Dell or Gateway unit. But that didn't
keep me from awarding this system a well-deserved Reviewer's Choice.
It sounds like a broken record for Dell to win another Reviewer's Choice designation,
but Dell has done it again with this administrator-friendly and client-power system.
The OptiPlex Gs+ had the easiest-opening chassis of all-simply press two buttons on the
sides and the OptiFrame chassis pops open [GCN, Jan. 13, Page 30].
Video and Ethernet were conveniently integrated on the motherboard, leaving all five
card slots vacant. Other OptiPlex motherboards integrate video and sound. You could even
upgrade the networking to Fast Ethernet without a card. The PCI/ISA slots were part of a
removable cage for easy card insertion.
Where the slots excelled in upgradeability, the bays disappointed. Only one external
bay was available. A second internal bay lacked the appropriate screw holes and was
The Dell was one of three systems that can turn themselves off when told to shut down,
and it was the only system that can be scheduled to start up before you arrive at work.
Removing the single panel from the side of the Micron Millennia LXA minitower was a
A single thumbscrew and two latches secured the panel. I had to pry it off with a
flathead screwdriver. Putting it back on was even more aggravating, bordering on hopeless.
Even so, the Micron was elegant. It was the only system to include a Zip drive from
Iomega Corp. It had good upgradeability and top-notch components. The price was nice, too,
leaving $123 to buy options-perhaps speakers for the sound card integrated onto the
The 15-inch monitor could have used an upgrade, though it was pretty good. The Micron
turned itself off when Windows 95 shut down, like the Dell. GCNdex benchmark scores
were satisfactory, bordering on above-average for a 166-MHz Pentium.
If your clients need multimedia, EPS Technologies' Evolution EV-3 has a 200-MHz Pentium
This new Intel chip blew away some benchmark scores, rivaling the Pentium Pro in SMAC's
Though it was competitive, it didn't quite surge to the top across the board.
And processor power wasn't what counted the most.
The PC's case had improved since the GCN Lab last glimpsed the Evolution's innards
[GCN, July 8, 1996, Page 1], but it remained awkward both to remove and replace. Four
standard screws secured the computer's shell.
Inside, EPS Technologies generally bundled wires out of the way. If you need to access
any component, you are forced to snip the ties holding the wires.
The two full-size external bays were hard to reach, and the two available 312-inch
bays-one external, one internal-were even tougher to access.
The Evolution contained an evolutionary throwback. Instead of the standard six-pin
PS/2-type keyboard plug and nine-pin serial plug, the Evolution EV-3 has a thick five-pin
keyboard connector and one 25-pin serial plug.
You could choose either DIMMs or SIMMs for the EV-3, which is nice for buyers that are
trying to maintain consistency in their RAM chips.
Unfortunately, both DIMM slots were occupied, which left no openings for upgrades.
The Evolution EV-3, however, did come with excellent speakers from Labtec Enterprises.
It also came with a vibrant 17-inch CTX monitor.
Then there's always good old Gateway 2000. Good, because the P5-166 was generally
trustworthy. Old, because it still had the same old case.
Commercial customers can buy Gateway's new case that opens by twisting two thumbscrews,
but not government customers-not yet, at least.
Gateway officials wouldn't say whether they will switch to the new, easy-to-open
chassis for government buyers.
Opening the P5-166 required removing seven standard screws.
The system lacked some bells and whistles, but the P5-166 remains a good offering,
especially at $1,818.
Hard-drive scores were low, probably due to the 1G size of the Western Digital Corp.
drive. Larger-capacity disks usually access much faster.
Performance isn't everything in this comparison.
But the performance of Compaq's entry-level Deskpro, a 133-MHz Pentium, was
There may be a reason for it. Compaq originally shipped a 100-MHz Pentium. Shortly
after it arrived, the company's federal group sent news about price drops. Then Compaq
sent a 133-MHz Pentium chip to replace the installed 100-MHz CPU. I popped one out and put
the other in, but I'm not convinced the motherboard was properly optimized for the new
To make things even more interesting, the federal group has dropped prices yet again,
so Compaq's 166-MHz Pentium model could now slip in under the $2,000 price cap for this
I've raved before about the Compaq Deskpro's accessibility [GCN, Aug. 26, 1996, Page
The 2000's case was secured by two thumbscrews, and most components were reachable by
loosening one or two screws.
Add Compaq's Intelligent Manageability, which gives an administrator control over the
Deskpro, and you have the ideal client-if performance were a little more robust.
When I first looked at a Nexar Technologies system [GCN, July 29, 1996, Page 1], the
Nexar 9041 was a powerful and inexpensive novelty.
It boasted a hot-swappable hard drive and a removable panel for access to RAM,
processor and cache.
My criticism back then was that the Nexar lacked a second panel to access PCI and ISA
slots-the places most administrators would upgrade or add components.
The Nexar II line has that second panel. Nexar planned on sending such a system, but
what arrived did not have the second access panel.
The new E-9102 was almost a duplicate of the old 9041. Nexar later said it had sent the
innards of the new system, with USB and dual DIMM/SIMM support, but in an older case.
That prototype status may explain why GCNdex performance was slower than with the
The Ethernet card was supposed to be Windows 95 Plug and Play-compatible, but the OS
would not recognize the ISA NIC. It had to be installed manually.
This was a solid system with good design, but my criticisms of the TD-20 focus on
production snafus. Intergraph Corp. until recently was known for its high-end workstations
and servers. Now the company has entered the low-cost PC market.
Intergraph meant to ship a 200-MHz Pentium Pro. An Intel sticker on the case said a
Pentium Pro chip was inside. But the GCNdex32 scores made me wonder. Opening the case, I
found an ordinary 200-MHz Pentium.
Also, the keyboard and mouse port labels were reversed. Had you followed the little
symbols, you'd have put the keyboard connector into the mouse port and vice versa.
Intergraph's first 15-inch monitor was dead on arrival. A second one worked fine and
had a clear image.
The TD-20's GCNdex32 scores were respectable, though not tops among 200-MHz Pentium PCs
the GCN Lab has tested.
Six thumbscrews secured the TD-20's casing. Cables were tucked out of the way. The
minitower case seemed a bit meager with only two full-size external bays. One held the
speedy 8X CD-ROM drive, and the other was obscured by the power unit and its wires.
The DFI Landmarq, like the EPS, combined old and new technology for a dual-personality
To the thick, old five-pin keyboard plug and 25-pin serial port, it added two USB
plugs. However, those plugs blocked an open PCI slot-a poor configuration choice.
DFI occupied a PCI slot with a regular Ethernet card rather than slipping it into an
ISA slot. A 10-megabit/sec card doesn't benefit from PCI's 132-megabyte/sec speed-ISA's
5-megabytes/sec would be adequate.
Getting inside required loosening two screws to remove a side panel. To install any bay
component, you'd have to remove the other panel, also held in place by two screws.
The interior seemed crowded, with lots of wires. Accessing the available full-size bays
might require removal of the power supply.
The DFI had the distinction of being the least expensive of all 13 systems, thanks to
its 133-MHz Pentium processor.
Government Micro Resources sent a good system, but its benchmark performance was a
little below average for a 200-MHz Pentium machine.
The hard-drive scores for the GMR were especially low.
The Micron Millennia, built around a 166-MHz Pentium and exactly the same 1.6G Western
Digital Corp. drive, worked much faster.
This was the third of the three systems that could turn themselves off at the Windows
95 shut-down request.
GMR's system required removal of six screws to access the interior and, like the EPS,
it didn't want to reassemble.
The GMR had good expandability, though access to the external bays was somewhat
The monitor fell short-way short. The 15-inch Mag Innovision Co. display was out of
focus and hard to see.
The colors generally looked bland and small text was illegible. I checked for magnetic
interference, but it simply was a poor monitor.
The novelty of the Dunn Computer All-in-One is its compact footprint.
Basically a 17-inch monitor with CPU built into the base, this "moniputer"
lacked room for expansion.
With CD-ROM and 312-inch floppy drives installed, there were no remaining external
bays, so devices such as an Iomega Zip drive or a PC Card adapter would have to be
attached as peripherals. Also, there were no available internal bays. Don't plan on adding
memory later, either.
Any administrator would find access to the RAM slots nightmarish. The entire casing and
components had to be disassembled to access the slots-three cards and 10 screws, minimum.
Two SIMM slots were occupied by the generous 32M of RAM. Two DIMM slots were vacant.
The computer half of the All-in-One, secured by two standard screws, slid out like a
drawer in the back.
Dunn's literature and World Wide Web site claimed five slots available: three ISA and
But the system the GCN Lab reviewed had just four-two ISA, one PCI and one shared. Two
were occupied by the sound card and NIC.
Despite the all-in-one moniker, the Dunn lacked true integration. Short cables
connected the video to the monitor and the sound card to the speakers. Benchmark scores
were slightly above average for a 166-MHz Pentium.
Although the system did have two fans-one on the processor and a second above the hard
drive-the tight space and airflow might cut performance.
The monitor was unremarkable but clear.
Although it is powerful, MidWest Micro's system earned a blank grade due to its failed
The Office Pro 180 turned in strong GCNdex scores except in one area: hard-drive
In fact, most other entries performed better on large-file access than the Office Pro.
MidWest Micro split the 2.5G drive into two partitions of 1.9G and 600M because of
Windows 95's 16-bit File Allocation Table.
But there is a version of Windows 95 that supports 32-bit FAT. And Windows NT 4.0
Workstation, an optional operating system, also supports 32-bit FAT.
But NT costs a little more and would have pushed the Office Pro 180 over the $2,000
Even with 16-bit FAT, though, hard-drive performance should have been better.
With NT and a working NIC, the MidWest Micro PC might present strong competition to the