Bargain PCs

Bargain PCs<@VM>These low-cost PCs come with everything most users need<@VM>These low-cost PCs come with everything most users need (cont.)

Take a component-by-component approach to finding the lowest price without sacrificing the performance you need

By John McCormick

Special to GCN

The average office worker doesn't use all of a high-end PC's power; it's difficult to buy a new computer that won't perform well running an office suite or accessing a network.

The place to save when buying a computer is on the box itself. Except for programmers and people working with multimedia or graphics, user satisfaction'and productivity'will depend more on the quality and size of the monitor and
the feel of the keyboard than on having a superfast microprocessor.

A Gateway GP7-550sE comes with a 550-MHz Pentium III processor, 4.3G hard drive, 32M of RAM and a 15-inch monitor. It's priced at $1,099.

Some low-end PCs include monitors, but if the computer will be used several hours daily or more, upgrading to a better monitor is always a good idea.

New keyboards cost as little as $10; many low-priced PCs come with one that doesn't cost much more, and anyone who will be typing all day will likely need a better keyboard.

Many touch typists miss the solid, old IBM typewriterlike keyboards. Cherry Electrical Products of Pleasant Prairie, Wis., at, offers similar keyboards these days that cost upwards of $100.

The way most users interact with a PC is through the keyboard and the monitor; a word processor's productivity does not depend on whether these are connected to a $3,500 1-GHz Pentium III PC or a $600 AMD K6 box. But it will improve with a larger monitor and a more cozy keyboard.

Micron PC's Millennia Max comes with a 533-MHz Pentium III Processor, 10G hard drive, 64M of RAM and includes a 17-inch monitor. It's priced at $1,286.

Companies can do several things to keep PC prices down and still deliver quality computers.

For one thing, even if processor speed is important, the brand name isn't. Removing the 'Intel Inside' designation by choosing a processor from Advanced Micro Devices Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., with similar clock speed can save $100 or more.

If you stick with Intel Corp. components, a Celeron runs most applications as fast as a similar-speed Pentium III.

CPU clock speed is always highlighted in ads, but bus speed'the speed at which data can be passed between the microprocessor and RAM, hard drive and other components'is usually ignored. Both are equally important in a high-performance PC.

Low-cost PCs have a 66-MHz or 100-MHz bus, which is fine for most tasks. Machines designated as home computers often have hot 3-D graphics cards, making them a poor choice for the office. Choosing a slower graphics card with less video memory can easily trim $50 from a system's price.

Dropping legacy printer and serial ports in favor of USB ports can cut more than $100 from a PC's price without any performance compromise. Companies are introducing new legacy-free PCs that offer only USB connections.

Vendors also trim prices by using slower hard drives. SCSI drives are the best choice for high-end systems, but an 80-Mbps SCSI interface costs $150, while a 66-Mbps IDE controller costs $50. A 2G Seagate SCSI drive costs $100, while a 10G IBM IDE drive costs $140 from the same vendor, JDR Microdevices of San Jose, Calif., at

The bottom line: There is a difference between a $3,000 PC and a $900 PC, but the difference may not matter in your office.

Look for a good match between processor speed, RAM speed, hard drive interface and bus speed. Buyers don't really need to pay a lot attention to this; vendors take great care to match component performance'except for processor speed, which they often push as a glamour selling point.

When a model is available with a choice of processors, the middle speed will probably make the best use of the other components, but the slowest may well be fast enough for your office use.

Beware, though, that not everything that lowers the price of a PC amounts to a bargain.

Although there are a number of ways companies can keep the cost of a PC down without compromising quality, some companies save even more through poor quality control or poor support.

A PC with a good reputation is easily worth an extra $100.

PC pointers

  • Most software runs almost as quickly on a Celeron processor as it does on a Pentium III.
  • Keyboard and monitor quality are more important, in many office settings, than processor speed.
  • 64M of RAM is plenty for most users.
  • Vendor support and quality control are critical considerations when buying low-cost PCs.
  • Bundled software isn't free; don't get what you don't need.
  • Don't pay for a modem or network interface card you don't need.

  • Expansion is easier with Universal Serial Bus components, so it's less important to buy pre-installed devices you may never use.
  • Legacy ports let you reuse legacy hardware such as keyboards and scanners, so you'll likely want both legacy and USB ports.
  • Don't skimp on memory and hard drive capacity to get a faster processor.
  • Don't try to force a bargain PC on a graphics professional; such units cannot handle the massive files and video demands.
  • Don't try to force a bargain PC on a graphics professional; such units cannot handle the massive files and video demands.

John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with computers since the early 1960s.

VendorProductProcessorClock speedOperating systemHard drive capacityRAMUSB portsSpecial features
(all include 56-Kbps modem unless noted)
Acer America Corp.
San Jose, Calif.
APSe-1602Celeron500 MHzWin988.4G64M2CD-ROM, 10/100 NIC, no modem$599
APSe-T600APentium III600 MHzWin9810G64M2CD-ROM, 10/100 NIC, speakers, Lotus SmartSuite$833
8400-T733APentium III733 MHzWin9820G128M2DVD, 10/100 NIC, speakers$1,291
4300-T65OAPentium III650 MHzWin9810G64M2CD-ROM, 10/100 NIC, no modem$843
APSe-T650APentium III650 MHzWin9810G64M2CD-ROM, 10/100 NIC, speakers, Microsoft Works$859
Compaq Computer Corp.
DesktoPentiumCeleron500 MHzWin9510G64MNoCD-ROM$890
Deskpro ENCeleron500 MHzWin956.4G64MNoNo CD-ROM, 10/100 NIC$890
Presario 7360K-6500 MHzWin9810G64M2CD-ROM, Microsoft Works$599
Prosignia DesktoPentium 320Celeron466 MHzWin984.3G32MNo15-inch monitor, CD-ROM, Microsoft Word 2000$819
Cybernet Manufacturing Inc.
Newport Beach, Calif.
Elite-1 model ACeleron400 MHzNone4.3G32M2Zero-footprint, everything in keyboard, 10/100 NIC, no CD-ROM, no modem$650
Elite-1 model GCeleron533 MHzNone4.3G128M2Zero-footprint, everything in keyboard, 10/100 NIC, CD-ROM$1,004
Dell Computer Corp.
Austin, Texas
WebPC.466rCeleron466 MHzWin986.4G64M515-inch monitor, CD-ROM, Microsoft Works Suite 2000$758
Dimension L500cxCeleron500 MHzWin984.3G32M215-inch monitor, CD-ROM, no modem, Microsoft Works Suite 2000$699
Dimension L600rPentium III600 MHzWin984.3G32M215-inch monitor, CD-ROM, no modem, Microsoft Office 2000$879
Gateway Inc.
North Sioux City, S.D.
E-1400 ManagedCeleron433 MHzWin9810G64MNo15-inch monitor, CD-ROM, 10/100 NIC$999 $799 $1,099
GP6-433C SECeleron433 MHzWin984.3G32MNo15-inch monitor, CD-ROM, 10/100 NIC$799
GP7-550SEPentium III550 MHzWin984.3G32MNo15-inch monitor, CD-ROM, 10/100 NIC$1,099
Hewlett-Packard Co.
Palo Alto, Calif.
Brio D9664TCeleron433 MHzWin954.3G32MNoCD-ROM, no modem$499
Brio BA 600 MTPentium III550 MHzWin9810G64MNoCD-ROM$999
Vectra D8183TPentium III500 MHzWin958.4G64MNoCD-ROM, no modem$999
IBM Corp.
Armonk, N.Y.
PC300GLCeleron466 MHzWin988.4G64MNoCD-ROM, Microsoft Office 2000, Lotus SmartSuite, ViaVoice Gold$959
PC300GLCeleron466 MHzWin988.4G64MNoCD-ROM, 10/100 NIC, no modem, Microsoft Office 2000, Lotus SmartSuite, ViaVoice Gold$969
PC300GLPentium III450 MHzWin9813.5G64MNoCD-ROM, Microsoft Office 2000, Lotus SmartSuite, ViaVoice Gold$1,159
PC300PL Pentium III600 MHzWin9810.1G64M2CD-ROM, 8M SGRAM, Lotus SmartSuite, no modem$1,259
Megamax Inc.
City of Industry, Calif.
Inmax GS-433 Web CruiserCeleron433 MHzWin986.4G64M2CD-ROM, 10/100 NIC, speakers, microphone$549
Inmax GS-400 Web Cruiser Workstation Celeron400 MHzNT1.2G64M2CD-ROM, 10/100 NIC, speakers$419
RS 500 WorkstationPentium III500 MHzNT6.4G128M217-inch monitor, CD-ROM, 10/100 NIC,100M ZIP drive, microphone$1,049
ADV 3D DVDPentium II350 MHzWin9810G128M217-inch monitor, DVD, 480-watt speaker and subwoofer, Lotus SmartSuite 97$969

VendorProductProcessorClock speedOperating systemHard drive capacityRAMUSB portsSpecial features
(all include 56-Kbps modem unless noted)
MEI-Micro Center Inc.
Columbus, Ohio
PowerSpec PC 4611Celeron466 MHzWin984G32M2CD-ROM, 10/100 NIC, speakers, Microsoft Works$399
PowerSpec PC 4830Celeron500 MHzWin9810G64M2CD-ROM, 10/100 NIC, speakers, Microsoft Works$599
PowerSpec PC 7450Pentium III600 MHzWin9817G64M2CD-ROM, speakers, Microsoft Works$999
Micro Pro Inc.
NetCraft 1112CLCeleron433 MHzWin988.4G64M2DVD, NTSC video, Corel Suite2000$612
Constellation 3512ADK6-2500 MHzWin988.4G32M215-inch monitor, CD-ROM, Corel Suite2000$799
Constellation 4512MPPentium III550 MHzWin9813.6G64M217-inch monitor, CD-ROM, Corel Suite2000$1,179
Micron PC Inc.
Meridian, Idaho
Millennia MaxPentium III533 MHzWin9810G64M217-inch monitor, CD-ROM, 10/100 NIC, Microsoft Office 2000$1,286
Quantex Microsystems Inc.
Somerset, N.J.
M533cCeleron533 MHzWin9810G64MNo17-inch monitor, CD-ROM, speakers, Corel WordPerfect Office 2000$879
M650vPentium III650 MHzWin9815G64MNo17-inch monitor, CD-ROM, speakers, Corel WordPerfect Office 2000$1,029
M667tPentium III667 MHzWin9815G128MNo17-inch monitor, CD-ROM, 250M ZIP drive, speakers, Corel WordPerfect Office 2000$1,229
SB600cCeleron500 MHzWin9810G64MNo15-inch monitor, CD-ROM, 10/100 NIC, speakers$799
Sony Vaio Direct
San Jose, Calif.

PCV-R545DSPentium III500 MHzWin9820G128MYesDVD, CD-RW$1,500
SysteMax Inc.
Port Washington, N.Y.
Ascent PMA-500KCeleron500 MHzWin9810G 64M2CD-ROM, 10/100 NIC, speakers, Microsoft Works$599
Ascent PMA-600aAnthlon600 MHzWin9820G 64M2DVD, 10/100 NIC, speakers, subwoofer, Microsoft Works$999
Business 433CCeleron433 MHzWin200010G 64M215-inch monitor, CD-ROM$799
Corporate 500Pentium III500 MHzWin 200010G64M215-inch monitor, CD-ROM, Fast EtherLink$1,049
TigerDirect Inc.
TM44DK6-2300 MHzWin988G 32M No15-Inch monitor, CD-ROM, speakers$550
TM50DCeleron400 MHzWin988G 32MNo15-Inch monitor, CD-ROM, speakers$590
TM68APentium II450 MHzWin988G96MNo15-Inch monitor, CD-ROM, speakers$705
TM43FPentium III500 MHzWin9815G96MNo17-Inch monitor, CD-ROM, speakers$980
Tiny Computers Inc.
Tacoma, Wash.
Millenium Power System 500Pentium III500 MHzWin9813G64MNo17-inch monitor, Lotus SmartSuite, DVD, color printer$1,299
United Micro Inc.
Solon, Ohio
United M1000Pentium III550 MHzWin9810.6G64M2speakers, CD-ROM$989
United M7000Athlon K7550 MHzWin9813.6G64M2speakers, CD-ROM$989
Zerus Hardware Inc.
Springfield, Mo.
Z-Machine WorkstationK2-6366 MHzNo1.2G32M 2CD-ROM, 10/100 NIC, no keyboard, no mouse$299
Z-Machine 2Celeron466 MHzNo8.4G32M2 CD-ROM, 10/100 NIC$499
Z-Machine 7Pentium III600 MHzNo8.4G32M2 CD-ROM, 10/100 NIC$799

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