GCN reviewer finds himself awed by power of new PC

Making the switch from a mainstream office computer to the ultimate workstation-class
PC can be a bit daunting, even for an enthusiast.


As soon as I knew the huge box had been shipped, I began to track it via the Web. I
wondered how the truck driver was doing and hoped that he would not hit many potholes.


And then it arrived—a titanic tower so tall it threatened to block out the sun, or
at least the GCN Lab’s fluorescent lights.


I have always used good, modern PC equipment. I upgrade my home computer every two
years, which is almost a necessity for an avid gamer. In the lab, I’ve reviewed
plenty of up-to-the-minute hardware and have always had access to one or two 233-MHz
Pentiums as personal systems.


So when lab manager Michael Cheek said he was ordering a workstation for me, I
didn’t react much to the paper specifications. I mean, how much faster in real-world
terms is 450 MHz compared with 300 MHz? The answer: I’m now gratefully washing
Cheek’s car once a week.


My new system, a Dell Computer Corp. Dimension XPS R450, has a 450-MHz Pentium II
processor with an extra kick from 256M of RAM. The extras include a 19-inch monitor, a
top-of-the-line speaker system with sub-woofer, a 14G hard drive and a very fast graphics
accelerator card.


Once I had cleaned the drool off the big monitor, I sat down to see how applications
would run. I normally test new software twice or three times a week, so there were plenty
of possibilities.


I started with Microsoft Word, and there I ran into the biggest disadvantage of so much
horsepower: It’s hard to rein in.


One wrong move and suddenly I would find myself at the bottom of a 30-page document. I
could literally scroll through 100 pages in less than 3 seconds.


A consultant once told me that the best way to avoid fast scrolling is to type at an
Apple Macintosh, which has slower processor speeds. Excuse me while I laugh.


The advantages of horsepower far outweigh annoyances from too-fast scrolling. Sure, you
could buy a Geo Metro and avoid the speeding tickets often associated with a Porsche. But
if you can easily afford the high-performance car, why lowball your work performance?


I soon found that everything about the new system just seems to work better.
Multiprocessing is a breeze. I can keep more than 10 programs running at once without even
a hiccup.


This is a huge help for a reviewer. Speech recognition software, for example, takes a
seemingly endless time to process speech patterns, locking up the system for other tasks.
Now I can run even Adobe Photoshop while other applications are humming along unnoticed in
background.


And speaking of Photoshop, I’ve never seen it work better. Highly detailed photos
load in less than a second. Making screen shots for my articles takes about half as long
as on a 233-MHz system.


In general, I’m unrestricted in the software I review, and almost every package
can have all the resources it needs. I can focus exclusively on the software and not the
resource limitations.


With the nVidia ZX graphics card from nVidia Corp. of Sunnyvale, Calif., backed up by a
powerful processor, I almost never see the screen slow down, even for multiple objects.
Run-of-the-mill simulations approach lifelike quality.


A high-end machine just seems to enhance all the software it touches.


For $1,000 or $2,000 more than a standard PC, you can buy a friendly monster like mine.
Whether you want it for simulation or plain old number-crunching, you won’t be
disappointed.  

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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