Five Celeron clients do a balancing act
Five Celeron clients do a balancing act<@VM>Lab finds five good clients but only one with extraordinary value
New Intel 810 chip set adds value, but only three of the five systems tested come in under $1,000
By Michael Cheek
Desktop client price and performance were going to reach an optimum balance with the recent introduction of the 810 chip set from Intel Corp.'or at least that was the idea.
To cut costs, Intel designed the 810 motherboard from three chips to handle the Accelerated Graphics Port, primary memory banks and graphics memory. Only three of the five 466-MHz systems tested came in under the $1,000 threshold, however.
Celeron client prices haven't quite reached the bargain basement yet, although Premio Computer Inc.'s $619 entry certainly deserves its Bang for the Buck designation. Despite its extraordinary value, the Premio Centella CS1 lacked appropriate client management tools.
The Reviewer's Choice designation goes to Compaq's Deskpro EP C466, which cost the most at $1,049.
The GCN Lab looked at inexpensive Celerons earlier this year [GCN
, March 15, Page 41]. Their prices, with the then-new 400-MHz processors and earlier motherboards, were higher than for the current 810 Celerons, but not by much. In fact, the Compaq Deskpro then cost $1,161. So does that mean the 810 chip set saved about $112?
Benchmark scores for the five Celeron 810s in this review ranged within 7 percent of one another.
For Compaq that's probably true. But in the March review, the cheapest model was $949, whereas this review's lowest-priced is $619'a gap of $330.
Price aside, all five clients turned in solid performances.
Under Ziff-Davis Benchmark Operation's Winstone 99 Version 1.1, scores ranged within 7 percent of one another. Only one highly unusual score threw things out of whack.
The IBM PC 300GL received a 135.0 score on the Business Graphics WinMark; others came in between 94.1 and 98.3. That's a large difference.Graphic advances
The graphics subsystem makes the 810 chip set what it is. When Intel introduced AGP in 1997, the graphics card could borrow primary RAM bank memory for high-end mapping. The 810 chip set takes this a step further.
Instead of borrowing, the graphics subsystem uses as much or as little main memory as it needs. An 810 motherboard doesn't require dedicated graphics memory, although it can have up to 4M of dedicated video RAM, as the lab's specifications to makers indicated.
With more RAM, video performance improves. Intel has a good multimedia tutorial on the Web at developer.intel.com/design/chipsets/810/
The test systems were configured for normal office use, and the GCN Lab did not apply any high-end tests to them. Most Celeron systems do best at basic tasks that do not involve multitasking or complex data crunching.
All the 810 Celeron clients earned unspectacular overall grades, from B+ to B'. Each excelled in some areas and earned lower marks in others. I expected the five to cluster together because the 810 motherboard takes some of the variables out of the equation, but I did not expect so close a bunching.
The Compaq Deskpro EP C466 had many good qualities, although its high price pushed the overall grade down to a B+. Some resellers offer similarly configured systems for much less'for example, $699 with 32M of RAM and a 4.3G hard drive.
The test Deskpro had 64M of RAM and a 6.4G hard drive'more appropriate with Windows 2000 on the horizon.
Except for the IBM's unusually high video score, the Deskpro's benchmark performance ranked just about the highest.
Inside, Compaq showed its usual care for interior components. The organization and expansion room surpassed that of all the others'especially the presence of one shared PCI/ISA and one ISA slot.
All 810 motherboards are capable of supporting ISA, but most, including the other four in this review don't. Compaq is aware that large organizations such as the government have many legacy ISA cards deployed. Including an ISA slot is a good move for those users.
The interior was close to perfect except for the lack of integration for the 10/100-Mbps network adapter, which took up one of the PCI slots.
The Deskpro's versatile chassis could easily transform from a minitower to a full-size desktop unit, making it suitable for most office spaces.
The Dell OptiPlex GX100's small-form-factor chassis would be ideal for cramped spaces, and its purple, silver and beige chassis looked cool. Where expandability isn't a concern, the GX100 might be ideal even if space isn't at a premium.
I liked the industrial design but found the chassis less easy to open than others in the OptiPlex line, which require only pressing two buttons to pop the top. But a quick jerk did open and close it more easily than is the case for most client PCs.
The GX100 had the only 810 motherboard with an integrated network adapter. But it lacked integrated sound, although there appeared to be space enough for audio on the motherboard and room at the back for the various plugs.
A sound card took up one of the GX100's two PCI slots, further lowering its features and configuration score.
To save space, the small-form-factor OptiPlex had a thin CD-ROM drive similar to those in notebooks'a good idea. Perhaps a DVD-ROM drive, Iomega Zip drive or other storage component could be swapped out, as in a notebook, in future units.
Price put the OptiPlex squarely in the middle of the roa, at $857. Ultimately, lackluster benchmark performance hurt the OptiPlex, although the scores weren't far out of line with others in the review.
The IBM PC 300GL's impressive video numbers probably helped it to the top spot on ZD's Business Winstone 99. But I'm not certain why.
The PC 300GL acted more like a possessed PC than a calm client. Sometimes, after it had been sitting idle, it would suddenly reboot when I moved the mouse to wake it from slumber. If the machine was turned off and I pressed the power button, it sometimes wouldn't come to life until I pressed the button again.
The 810 chip set hasn't quite brought Celeron client prices to the bargain level.
Because all the systems basically had the same motherboard and chip set and almost identical configurations, the spooky super-graphics performance seemed a little weird. Maybe the oddness came from a bit too much jostling in shipping. Overall, I saw nothing that would make me suspect foul play.
The 300GL's interior lacked the exquisite attention to detail found inside the 300PL, which earned a Reviewer's Choice among 550-MHz Pentium IIIs [GCN, Aug. 30, Page 31]
. The 300GL Celeron had its power unit in the center, blocking much interior access and even making some PCI card slots hard to reach.
The power unit apparently could be made to swing out of the way, but there was no clear labeling to show how. Cables and wires were not well bundled, and a few got in the way of the PCI slots.
Like its Pentium III cousin, the 300GL had the sharp external card slot protectors that have sliced my fingers in the past.
Legend GEC's Titan C466 did not stand out in this crowd, with the lowest benchmark performance on ZD's Business Winstone 99 and a lackluster PC AlertIII client management tool.
One improvement over the 550-MHz Titan Pro Pentium III, also reviewed in the Aug. 30 issue, was that the Titan C466 had a single thumbscrew for access to the interior. But the inside was full of obtrusive cables and wires.
Like the IBM's power unit, the Legend's sat in the center and blocked access.
The Premio Centella CS1's lack of a client management tool cut its usability score severely. Wow, though, what a price at $619.
The thumbscrew that secured the side panel was unnecessary because two latches held the panel firmly in place.
With a couple of minor design changes, Premio Computer could give the likes of Dell and Compaq a real contest, at least in bargain systems. I suspect such PCs are the first indicators that the sub-$600 models dominating today's home market are inching into the enterprise.
Given time, some of them just might achieve the balance necessary to attract government buyers. The Premio Centella comes close. Compaq and Dell need to drop their pricing a little.
|Deskpro EP C466|
Compaq Computer Corp.
Dell Computer Corp.
Premio Computer Inc.
City of Industry, Calif.
|Value||Poor; a perfect system had it not cost so much||Fair; low price offset by mediocre performance||Poor; neither the most expensive nor the most expandable||Good; includes Microsoft mouse and keyboard||Excellent; best price|
|Pros and cons|
|Pros||Solid benchmark performance; room to grow||Compact chassis; only one with integrated NIC||Mysteriously high graphics performance||Single thumbscrew access||Low price|
|Cons||NIC not integrated; too expensive||Sound wasn't integrated; disappointing performance||NIC not integrated; cluttered interior; sharp card covers||NIC not integrated; cluttered interior||No client management tools; NIC not integrated|
|Client management (Part of usability grade)|
|Included tools||Compaq Intelligent Manageability||Dell OpenManage Client||Intel LANDesk Client Manager||PC AlertIII||None|
Serviceability (Part of usability grade)
|Chassis accessibility||Good; toolless: two thumbscrews||Good; two buttons, but not as easy as other OptiPlex chassis||Fair; toolless: three thumbscrews||Fair; toolless: one thumbscrew and two latches||Fair; toolless: one thumbscrew and two latches|
|Interior organization||Excellent; everything accessible, cables under control||Fair; power unit gets in the way||Good; a little tight, but small form factorthe way; cables need to be bundled||Fair; power unit gets in||Good; most cables out of the way|
System (Part of features and configuration grade)
|Industrial design||Good; easy to convert||Excellent; funky and compact||Fair; another beige box||Fair; another beige box||Fair; another beige box|
|Expandability||Excellent; two available bays, space for four PCI cards, one ISA and one shared||Poor; sound took up one of the two PCI slots; no bays||Good; one external bay and room for three more PCI cards||Fair; one external bay and room for two more PCI cards||Good; two external bays and room for two more PCI cards|
Benchmarks (Part of performance grade)
|Business Graphics WinMark||98.2||94.1||135||95||98.3|
|Business Disk WinMark in megabytes/sec||2.8||2.1||2.6||2.4||2.3|
|Features and configuration|
|C || |