Feds yearn for life in the PC fast lane

Feds yearn for life in the PC fast lane

By Richard W. Walker
GCN Staff

Federal PC users crave megahertz. The more they get, the more they want.

'I've got more to do than I can do in the time I've got to do it, so any way I can save time is going to help me,' said Sammy Easom, a Social Security Administration systems coordinator in Wilson, N.C.

Easom uses a 166-MHz Pentium PC from Dell Computer Corp., the top-ranked brand in the GCN survey. He considers his PC too slow, but that's about to change. He soon will move up to a 266-MHz machine.

'That's not all that great but it will be twice as good as what I've got now,' he said.

About 92 percent of feds surveyed have PCs with processors running at 233 MHz or faster. The largest portion, about 21 percent, use PCs with 233-MHz chips, and 15 percent have machines with 400-MHz chips.

Other chip speeds and user percentages reported in the survey were 266 MHz, 11 percent; 300 MHz, 12 percent; 333 MHz, 7 percent; 350 MHz, 10 percent; 366 MHz, 3 percent; 433 MHz, 3 percent; 450 MHz, 6 percent; and 500 MHz, 4 percent.

Also, the survey found that 68 percent of feds use systems with Pentium II chips, 15 percent Pentium MMX, 9 percent Pentium III and 4 percent Celeron.

In Washington, Dell user Sandra Smith, a federal courts legislative analyst who also provides office tech support, is looking forward to an imminent upgrade to a faster PC, with at least 400 MHz. Her 166-MHz Dell OptiPlex is too slow to handle all the monster programs she has loaded on her hard drive.

'I'm probably the only person in history with a 2.2G hard drive that's almost full,' she said.
''But speed isn't everything.

'It doesn't matter if it's blazing fast if it keeps breaking down,' said Graham Evans, an Army computer scientist at Fort Belvoir, Va., who for about a year has been using a 400-MHz Pentium III PC from Gateway Inc., the No. 2 brand in the survey.

Evans makes a cogent point. At the end of the day, good old reliability'the most important PC attribute for the feds canvassed by GCN'supersedes speed.

'Reliability is probably No. 1 in my book,' Evans said. That's what he likes about his Gateway.

'I've had zero trouble with it,' he said. 'It was just plug it in and go. I've bought Gateway in the past, had good luck with them, and the tech support was always good.'

Dell users that GCN talked with also found their PCs to be highly dependable.

'I haven't had a bit of trouble with this machine for going on almost three years now,' Smith said. 'They're extremely reliable, they're workhorses, and they get the job done.'

Easom's 166-MHz Dell may be a trifle slow, but it has also been reliable. 'I haven't had a bit of trouble with it,' he said.

Lee Green, a Veterans Affairs Department computer specialist in St. Louis, likes the dependability and user-friendliness of his 350-MHz DeskPro from Compaq Computer Corp., the third-ranked brand in the survey.

'It's been reliable,' he said. 'It was pretty much plug-and-play, and there was no problem getting it on the network. It's a user-friendly machine.'

Lee is a fan of the Compaq brand. 'I like Compaq, period,' he said. 'I also have one at home.'

Other feds like Compaq, too. In the 2l/2 years since the last GCN survey on PCs [GCN, March 3, 1997, Page 20], Compaq's share of the market has grown to 12 percent from 5 percent.

There have been other noteworthy shifts in the installed base during that time. In the latest survey, Dell PCs were used by 25 percent of the feds canvassed, up from 20 percent two years ago.

Gateway, which also had a 20 percent slice of the pie in 1997, slipped to 16 percent this year. Micron Electronics Inc. of Nampa, Idaho, rated No. 4 in this year's survey, saw its share of users slide to 7 percent from 11 percent.

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