Power users, meet your systems matches

All systems
passed for year 2000 readiness and
leap year rollover.





A mighty train without a track goes nowhere fast. Likewise, a mighty PC without
manageability will go nowhere on an office network.


When the GCN Lab asked computer makers to send us power clients to compare, a dozen PCs
arrived. Their Pentium II processors screamed at up to 400 MHz. They had husky hard drives
and breakneck video acceleration. A few incorporated DVD-ROM or Iomega Corp. Zip drives.


Almost every one demonstrated plenty of raw power. But only a few balanced the power
equation with client manageability.


IBM Corp.’s PC300PL, Compaq Computer Corp.’s Deskpro EN 6350 and Dell
Computer Corp.’s OptiPlex GX1 400MTbr+ all earned the GCN Lab Reviewer’s Choice
designation. Each will help bring network tranquility for both user and administrator.


The electrical system of NEC Computer Systems Division’s PowerMate Professional
9000-333 failed in the last days of testing. The remaining eight systems all showed
imbalances in their client equations.


Testing began three months ago, soon after Intel Corp.’s release of the 100-MHz BX
motherboard and the 400-MHz Pentium II CPU. Most of the test systems had the new
processor, but three were pre-BX systems with 333-MHz processors.


CPU clock speed is not enough to determine a system’s mightiness. The lab also
judged four other characteristics:


For the client side of the power equation, we looked at four other parameters:


How the GCN Lab tested
and rated 12 PCs with power users in mind
















DMI browsing and administration require appropriate tools for asset tracking, security,
monitoring and other tasks. IBM’s and Compaq’s tool kits were robust.


A power client should have adequate space for new cards, more memory, additional hard
drives and plenty of ports. No one achieves this as well as Dell. All of the Dell’s
card slots are open, as are half the bays.


For both administrator and client, the operating system bridges the gaps to hardware.
Although Microsoft Windows 98 is gradually infiltrating the client market, the last
version of Windows 95 known as OSR 2.5 came on most of the test units. OSR stands for
Original Equipment Manufacturer Service Release.


Only the Micro-X unit lacked the most up-to-date Win95 version.


Win95’s Plug and Play sometimes makes life a little easier, but the robust, fully
32-bit Windows NT Workstation 4.0 OS gives both administrator and user greater OS
stability. Only Digital sent a dual-boot test system with both OSes installed.


The GCN Lab tested all the systems for year 2000 readiness as well as the leap year
rollover. All passed.


Lab staff barraged each machine with GCNdex32TM benchmark tests, adding one extra: 3-D
tests with public-domain OpenGL tools.


Because these PCs mainly run 2-D office applications, the 3-D tests only slightly
affected the video scores. But some mainstream applications are beginning to use 3-D
components, so the lab decided to assign one-fifth of each unit’s overall video score
to reflect the OpenGL tests.


Power comes at a price. Most of the systems cost around $3,000, although some were
nearly $4,000 and others $2,000 or less. An easy-open chassis and strong client management
might be worth paying for.


Ultimately, IBM, Compaq and Dell all clustered at the high end, though they
weren’t perfect. The rest of the test systems all had individual strengths.


Wow. The IBM Personal Computer 300PL, the first desktop PC Big Blue has sent the lab in
more than three years, turned out to be the stealth bomber of power clients.


The attractive desktop unit had light indicators on the front bezel. A network activity
light showed that the integrated NIC was communicating. The internal speaker had pretty
good sound quality.


Though not as easy to release as Dell’s case, the IBM popped right open after
unhooking two latches. The interior was tight but well-organized with all components in
sight and accessible. Cables and wires lay bundled out of the way. All card slots were
open, as almost everything was integrated.


IBM had upgraded the memory with a second 64M dual inline memory module instead of a
single 128M DIMM, which left only one RAM slot vacant.


This desktop unit’s cramped interior had only one internal bay available. IBM
sells a larger minitower version for those needing greater expandability.


The 19-inch G94 monitor had a grainy display. A step up to the G92 monitor could ease
eyestrain.


The 300PL jammed on the GCNdex32, scoring the top marks on half of the benchmarks. The
10.28 floating-point math score was the highest the lab has seen. Moreover, the 15.15
CD-ROM access score indicated a little better than 30X speed—almost as fast as the
drive’s 32X rating. These days, it’s rare to see scores close to the maximum for
variable-speed CD-ROM drives.


The IBM unit, bundling IBM AntiVirus and numerous tools to supplement Intel
Corp.’s LANDesk Client Manager, could be an administrator’s dream. With all the
power it pumps out, it also should please propeller-heads.


Wow again. The Compaq Deskpro EN improved on Compaq’s older PC lines. The Deskpro
EN 6350 had a more solid feel than its value-priced sibling, the Deskpro EP [GCN, April
20, Page 1].


Two push buttons easily opened this desktop chassis easily and, as with the IBM, the
inside was orderly. The Deskpro did use up one PCI slot for the Fast Ethernet card. The
single vacant bay was external. Compaq also offers a minitower version. Again like IBM,
Compaq opted for a good internal speaker.


Compaq’s Intelligent Manageability software has been around for a while, and its
maturity shows in the tools and robust Intel DMI browser that monitors every component,
even the Compaq V75 display.


Benchmark and other performance rankings were fairly strong. Even with a 19-inch
monitor, the Deskpro cost about $600 less than the IBM unit. That’s why, along with a
Reviewer’s Choice, the Deskpro earned a Bang for the Buck designation.


The Compaq was the only machine running NT that fully turned itself off when Shut Down
was selected from the Start menu. NT’s power management does not do this
itself—Compaq has improved on Microsoft’s OS.


Wow, yet again. It seems almost every time lab reviewers look at an OptiPlex, we come
away impressed. The Dell OptiPlex GX1 had plenty to satisfy both administrator and user.


This minitower had what must be the easiest-to-access interior ever. Pressing a single
button opened the side. The cleanly organized interior showed every single one of the
seven slots available and half of the six bays open, even two exterior bays.


The Dell’s sound blew all the other systems away. Integrated Crystal Audio and
Yamaha SoftSynth pumped through the Altec Lansing ACS295 external speakers. The Trinitron
1600 HS 21-inch monitor would make this a dream system for any multimedia designer.


The monitor and an extra 128M of RAM raised the Dell’s price higher than any of
the others. Even so, it might be worth it after a couple of snags get fixed.


Dell now supplies its own OpenManage Client 4.2 application, which arrived late.
Although it appeared to work fine, some basics didn’t quite compute. For example,
many systems can detect when the case is opened and alert a manager.


We could not get OpenManage to acknowledge one opening. The alert said only
“Unknown,” and the chassis opening did not appear in OpenManage’s event
log. Moreover, OpenManage would not clear the event.


The OptiPlex also sent an error message each time NT was shut down. The message
indicated that the power button had been pressed, but it had not. Some of these kinks
might be worked out in future versions, as the test unit apparently was in preproduction.


At first glance, the Toshiba Equium 7100S seems too small. But for cramped work spaces,
the low-profile chassis could free some desktop real estate.


Toshiba put a lot of thought into the intelligent design. A snap-off panel revealed the
motherboard, which could slide out for access to most components. Even with the monitor
atop the Equium much of the interior could be reached without heavy lifting. The chassis
also could rest on its end like a small tower.


Inside, space was tight. Only two card slots were open, and no bays were available.
Toshiba sells a larger desktop model, the Equium 7100D. Toshiba did not send speakers or a
monitor. Intel’s LANDesk Client Manager was the only administration tool included.


The Digital PC 5510 is a solid system with an odd interior organization and
lower-than-expected performance. Inside the case, the power unit and bays obscured the
motherboard in a tangle of wires and cables. Cards sat on the bottom, the processor and
memory hung from the top.


The sound card’s input/output ports were part of a miniature card above the RAM.
Its placement was so awkward that more than once I accidentally bent the sound board while
accessing the interior. All four slots were vacant, but we think four is too few for a
minitower.


Performance lagged behind that of other 333-MHz systems the lab has examined,
especially in floating-point math, video and CD-ROM access. The math score was the lowest
we’ve seen for a 333-MHz unit, and the 24X CD-ROM accessed at only 10X speeds.


Digital’s ClientWorks had strong administration tools, but Compaq’s
Intelligent Manageability took a more comprehensive approach.


Digital was the only vendor to send a dual-boot configuration, which earned bonus
points.


Not long ago, the lab reviewed a sibling of the Gateway E-4200 [GCN, May 18, Page 36].
Little has changed, except that the E-4200 has switched to using a BX motherboard and a
400-MHz processor.


The chassis intrusion wire was still oddly placed, and the video card remained
underpowered, although not as slow as in the older E-3110. Only the Micro-X system had a
lower video score than the E-4200.


The Gateway unit had sound, although no speakers were included. Its integer math score
came out the highest among the 400-MHz machines.


Only two card slots were open, but the E-4200 did have five open bays for expansion.
The 19-inch Hitachi America Ltd. monitor was pleasing, too.


The Comtrade Screamer AGP XC6/400 might be a solid consumer system, but it won’t
fit into the office without more networking savvy. It lacked a DMI browser and other
utilities. Its benchmark scores were low except for the integer math and hard-drive access
scores.


Accessing the interior took some thought as Comtrade sent little documentation. It
turned out that the screwless faceplate popped off. But sharp metal edges on the card slot
covers wounded one reviewer. The power unit and cables obscured the processor and memory.
Also, all four of the RAM slots were occupied—not good for expandability.


Comtrade included a Zip drive and ergonomic Microsoft Natural Keyboard—both handy
additions. The 17-inch MegaImage monitor turned out to have comprehensive on-screen
commands and a clear image. The external speakers produced low-quality audio, even
compared against some internal speakers.


The CompUSA Inc. American Pro looked and performed just like Micron’s ClientPro
and came in the exact same chassis, which was very hard to access even with only a
thumbscrew and two latches. The side panel just would not pry off.


CompUSA recently announced it was replacing this chassis with a more accessible one.
The American Pro lacked a DMI browser or other client manageability component. CompUSA did
include a Zip drive.


The Real 3D Starfighter video card scored low on the benchmark and could reach only XGA
as its maximum resolution at 32-bit color depth.


The Micron ClientPro came in the same hard-to-open chassis reviewed last year [GCN,
March 31, 1997, Page 30]. Micron included sound but sent no speakers. The ClientPro had
only 64M RAM, and two of its three slots were occupied. Cables and wires got in the way of
components.


The 9.4G IBM drive was the second largest in this comparison, but it made a lot of
noise when the seek head snapped around. Hard-drive access scores were a little low, but
all other benchmarks were solid, and Micron provided Intel LANDesk Client Manager.


The Micro-X MPD-8050G arrived unusable; internal components such as the DVD-ROM drive
were loosely secured. I tightened things up but still could not boot the unit. After
sending it back, I heard from a Micro-X engineer who said it worked fine. So back it came
and started up without incident.


The DVD-ROM and LS-120 drives were the standout components in this unit. A metal panel
and cables obscured half the motherboard, including the single available RAM slot.
Wake-on-LAN and direct-line sound wires got in the way of some of the vacant slots. There
was no DMI browser.


The Micro-X system ran an older Win95 version known as OSR 2.1. Its 6.4G drive turned
in the fastest access for large files in this comparison, but video scores were low.


Last year, SMAC Data earned a Reviewer’s Choice [GCN, March 17, 1997, Page 37]. A year later, the
SMAC Data Business Pro 2000 fell short. It claimed to have a 10/100-Mbps Intel
EtherExpress Pro NIC but came with a 3Com Corp. Fast EtherLink XL 10/100Mb TX card. Both
Intel’s and 3Com’s control panels were loaded, but only 3Com’s utility
worked. There was no DMI browser.


Case access was difficult via four standard screws. Inside, a ribbon cable for the PC
Card reader effectively blocked a shared slot. No additional ISA slot was available.
Cables and wires also blocked the two vacant bays.


SMAC Data’s PC Card reader for two Type II or one Type II and one Type III cards
worked fine, although Windows NT is not the friendliest OS for PC Cards. You must shut
down just to insert or remove them.


The NEC PowerMate Professional 9000 had almost completed testing when its power system
failed. It had great potential—the largest hard drive and the best video
score—but I could not execute all the tests. n


In next week’s issue, the lab will examine four similar clients powered by the AMD
K6 processor.

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