Baseline PCs

Baseline PCs<@VM>One of these workload workhorses will be able to go the distance

Need office PCs for the long haul? Find the sweet spot between buying too little and too much power


At first glance, the 600- or 800-MHz Pentium III PCs that are plentiful in today's market look fast and powerful enough to run the standard office applications used in most government offices. And they are'for now.

Gateway's Professional v1000 is priced at $1,099 with a 17-inch monitor, Win98 and Microsoft Office.
But PC manufacturers are hustling to load their machines with Intel Corp. or Advanced Micro Devices Inc. CPUs that go beyond the 1-GHz speed range. Why settle for a Chevy when you can buy a Cadillac for a few dollars more?

In visits to about 75 PC vendor Web sites, I confirmed that the definition of a baseline PC'one with enough muscle to stick around for three or four years'has changed almost overnight. Yesterday you would consider a machine running at 500 MHz or 650 MHz to be built for the long haul. Now, we're talking at or near 1 GHz.

But 1 GHz isn't even a barrier anymore'there are faster Intel Pentium 4 or AMD Athlon Thunderbird processors around. If you're looking for a solid workhorse that will keep you happy for years, I recommend a PC loaded with a 900-MHz Athlon or a 933- or 1-GHz Pentium III. There is plenty of bang for the buck in this range.

I used the online configuration sites of PC vendors to build some baseline PCs using 933-MHz or 1-GHz Pentium III processors. Comparable AMD Athlon processors would be equally suitable. First, I developed a set of criteria for comparing prices of baseline PCs.

  • Processor: 933-MHz or 1-GHz Pentium III

  • Memory: 128M of SDRAM

  • Hard drive: 20G or more

  • Modem: One 56K

  • Media drives: One floppy, one CD-ROM

  • Networking: One 10/100 Ethernet adapter

  • Graphics: Graphics card with 8M or 16M of SDRAM

  • Audio: Any sound card and speakers

  • OS: Windows 2000 Professional is best

  • Software: Windows 2000 Office is best

  • Monitor: 17-inch diagonal screen

  • Expansion slots: At least five PCI slots

  • Ports: One parallel, one serial, two USB

  • Input devices: Mouse, keyboard

  • Warranty: Three years parts and labor.

You can add a lot more to any baseline system, including faster and larger hard drives, Iomega Corp. Zip drives, scanners, bigger monitors and more memory. But the above criteria will get you started.

Don't let processor speed or the base price of a PC serve as your only guides to buying. The vendor Web sites listed in the accompanying chart provide vastly different configuration options, so no two machines listed are the same and the quality of the options can vary greatly. Also, if you don't require a monitor, operating system or productivity software with your purchase, you can easily save $400 or more from what I have listed.

My recommendations for each option follow.

Processor. For now, stick with the venerable Pentium III. Intel intends to kill off the Pentium III in all but its notebook and server series in favor of its fast new Pentium 4 line, but it won't happen overnight. And because the Pentium 4 is designed for Internet audio and video, image processing, video content creation, speech, 3-D computer-aided design and high-end multitasking projects, general office users won't require its power and speed for years to come.

The Lowdown

' What is it? A baseline PC with a 933-MHz or 1-GHz Pentium III processor comes with enough speed, power, memory and peripheral equipment to provide satisfactory performance for most office computing tasks for about three years or longer.

' Where do I get one? You can buy one through the GSA schedule or any retail outlet; just be sure of the specifications you want.

You can quickly design your PC with features that match your budget by using the automatic online configuration services of PC vendors.

I recommend that approach for its flexibility.

' When do I need one? You need a 1-GHz PC when your workload begins to outpace your legacy systems.

' When don't I need one? If your applications don't require fast processor speed and extensive memory'and will not require them for the near future'save some money and buy a slower unit. Also, if you use high-end applications that will outpace the baseline PCs in this guide, buy a high-end Pentium 4 or Athlon workstation at the outset.

' Must-know info? New 1-GHz Pentium III PCs with monitors, operating systems and productivity software are fast approaching the $1,200 price point. Intel will cease production of the Pentium III series in favor of the Pentium 4, but 1-GHz Pentium III machines will likely handle the load in most offices for the next several years.

Any Athlon processor in the 800-MHz to 900-MHz range is as good a choice as the Pentium III. The latest Athlon iteration processes at speeds of 1.33 GHz, but this is still overkill for typical office applications.

Intel's Celeron and AMD's Duron processors represent scaled-down versions of the Pentium and Athlon and are barely adequate for heavy processing requirements.

Memory. You should have a minimum of 128M of synchronous dynamic RAM. With today's PC cases, it's very easy and quite inexpensive to add more SDRAM.

Rambus DRAM (RDRAM) and dual-data-rate SDRAM (DDR-SDRAM) are two new competing memory standards that greatly increase memory speeds from the 133-MHz bus limit of SDRAM to twice that in the case of DDR-SDRAM. RDRAM is now paired mainly with high-end Pentium 4 systems, and DDR-SDRAM is used with some Athlon systems.

Hard drive. There are several factors to consider when choosing a hard drive, primarily rotation speeds and interface types. Rotation speed is an indication of how fast the drive's disk spins and how fast data on the disk can be accessed. A typical midrange PC hard drive spins at 5,400 rpm. Drives that work at 7,200 rpm and 1,000 rpm are slightly more expensive and you can easily substitute them for an older drive when you're ready to upgrade.

It's important to select a good interface, typically a variation of IDE such as Enhanced IDE or SCSI. Look for an Ultra DMA/33 or Ultra DMA/66 drive for the fastest transfer speeds.

Modem. A 56-Kbps modem is standard for basic dial-up communications, including Internet and e-mail services.

Media drives. Just about any PC you buy will include a 1.44M floppy drive and a CD-ROM drive. For a slight increase in price, you can get a DVD-ROM drive, which can handle both CD-ROM and higher-capacity DVD disks. Or, you can swap out your old CD-ROM for a CD-RW'read and rewrite'drive when you want to rewrite data to 650M disks.

Network card. Network connectivity can hardly be considered a luxury in today's office settings. I opted to include a 10/100 Ethernet card with each baseline PC I built in cyberspace.

Graphics card. For typical office applications, a graphics or video card with 8M or 16M of SDRAM is more than adequate. When the time comes for more advanced graphics work, users can opt for a top-of-the-line graphics accelerator such as the NVidia 32M GeForce from NVivia Corp. of Santa Clara, Calif.

Audio. Wraparound stereo sound isn't usually much of a concern among office users. Take the sound card and speaker system that is bundled with the system and upgrade later if you want to.

OS and productivity software. I recommend Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional as the operating system in the typical office setting. A version of it can be bundled with your system, usually for far less money than for the retail version. My choice of office productivity software is Microsoft Office 2000 SBE, for Small Business Edition. This generally is offered as an option by most vendors and contains all the basic productivity tools that most office users require.

Monitor. A 17-inch color monitor is the standard for users who have to spend most of their workdays staring at a screen. Vendors will provide anything from a basic 15-inch monitor to a 20-inch flat screen display. Your best bet: a 17-inch model with 1,200- by 1,064-pixel resolution and a .26 or .27 dot pitch that sells for between $190 and $240.

Expansion slots and ports. Typical desktop and minitower PC configurations offer at least five PCI slots, with perhaps one AGP graphics slot. Bearing in mind that a modem, network interface card and sound card will occupy at least three slots, the two remaining slots provide just enough room for further expansion.

J.B. Miles of Pahoa, Hawaii, writes about communications and computers. E-mail him at [email protected].

Vendor Product Monitor and software Price
ABS Computer
Technologies Inc.

Whittier, Calif.

Performance System 3 17-inch Optiquest Z70 monitor, Win98, Microsoft Office 2000 $1,333
Acer America Corp.

San Jose, Calif.

Veriton 7100, Model T100A 17-inch Acer V771 monitor, Win 2000 Professional, no office productivity software $1,256
Advantage Computers Inc.
Willoughby, Ohio
Intel PC System 17-inch Victronic monitor, Win 2000 Professional, no office productivity software $1,052
Alienware Corp.


Ovni 17-inch Optiquest Q71 monitor, Win 2000 Professional, Microsoft Works 2000 Suite $1,611
A-Tack Inc.

Solon, Ohio

Special #1 17-inch KDS VS07i monitor, Win 2000 Professional, no office productivity software $1,262

Fremont, Calif.

Wintec Ultimate Edge PIII System with 933-MHz PIII processor Monitor not included, Win ME, no office productivity software $1,719
Boldata Technologies Inc.

Fremont, Calif.

SM Series 17-inch monitor, Win98, Office 2000 $1,416
Compaq Computer Corp.


Deskpro EN 17-inch Compaq S710 monitor, Win 2000, Office 2000 $1,226
CyberPower Inc.

Baldwin Park, Calif.

Custom Build System Monitor not included, Win 2000 Professional, no office productivity software $1,052
Dell Computer Corp.

Austin, Texas

Dimension 4100 Series 17-inch Dell E770, Win ME, Office XP $1,278
Digirex Microsystems Inc.

Solon, Ohio

Digirex Pentium III System 17-inch Cybervision C70 monitor, Win 2000 Professional, Office 2000 $1,389

City of Industry, Calif.

Stargaze Series 17-inch monitor, Win ME, Works 2000 Suite $1,149
Everex Systems Inc.

Fremont, Calif.

Model E27726 17-inch monitor, Win ME, Works 2000 Suite $1,356
Explorer Micro Inc.

Worthington, Ohio

Built-to-order Pentium 133

Bus System
17-inch Amptron CS17 monitor, Win 2000 Professional, Office 2000 $1,149
Gateway Inc.

North Sioux City, S.D.

Professional v1000 17-inch EV700 monitor, Win98, Office with free Office XP upgrade coupon $1,099
Hewlett-Packard Co.

Palo Alto, Calif.

Vectra v1400 Series 17-inch Hewlett-Packard 72 monitor, Win 2000, no office productivity software $1,711
IBM Corp.

Armonk, N.Y.

NetVisa A40,
Model 6578RAU with 933-MHz PIII
17-inch IBM G78 monitor, Win98, Lotus Notes Client and SmartSuite licences $1,391
Internet Computers Inc.

Richmond Heights, Ohio

IC Future PIII System Monitor not included, Win ME, no office productivity software $742
Ion Computer Systems Inc.

Hauppauge, N.Y.

IP545EA with 933-MHz PIII processor 17-inch Viewsonic Q75 monitor, Win 2000 Professional, no office productivity software

17-inch Proview monitor, Win 2000 Professional, Office 2000 Professional
M&S Computer Products Inc.

Boonton, N.J.

Built-to-order system 17-inch Proview monitor, Win 2000 Professional, Office 2000 Professional $1,605
Micron Electronics Inc.

Nampa, Idaho

ClientPro CN Minitower

Model CN500G
17-inch Micron 700EX monitor, Win 2000 Professional, no office productivity software $1,206 GSA
Micro Pro Inc.


Pentium III System 17-inch EVision 710P monitor, Win 2000 Professional, Office 2000 $1,514
Midwest Micro

Fletcher, Ohio

Systemax PVW-T8 Venture 17-inch Systemax monitor, Win 2000 Professional, Office 2000 $1,214
Miradex Corp.

City of Industry, Calif.

Royal 933 EB System with 933-MHz PIII processor Monitor not included, Win ME, no office productivity software $879

Davenport, Iowa

Custom System Monitor not included, Win 2000 Professional, Office 2000 $1,145
PC Club

City of Industry, Calif.

EN-IFI 17-inch Realsync monitor, Win 2000 Professional, no office productivity software $1,154
PC Xperts Inc.


Viper 19-inch KDS VS-195e monitor, Win98, no office productivity software $1,384
Polywell Computers Inc.

San Francisco

815MS93301 19-inch Optiquest monitor, Win 2000 Professional, Office 2000 $1,673
R&J Technology Inc.

Diamond Bar, Calif.

Raid Series PC 17-inch Compaq monitor, Win 2000 Professional, no office productivity software $1,324
SAG Electronics

North Andover, Mass.

STB-SD Power Desktop 133FSB 17-inch Hitachi CM-616U monitor, Win 2000 Professional, Office 2000 $1,677
Sony Corp. of America.

Park Ridge, N.J.

VAIO Digital Studio PCV-RX280DS Monitor not included, Win ME, Office 2000 $1,999
Sys Technology Inc.

Cypress, Calif.

Performance Desktop System 17-inch Optiquest Q71 monitor, Win 2000 Professional, Office 2000 $1,115
Systemax Inc.

Port Washington, N.Y.

Tiger P3 1-GHz Computer Monitor not included, Win ME, no office productivity software $999
Toshiba America
Information Systems Inc.

Irvine, Calif.

Equium 8000M Optional 17-inch TekBright 710V monitor, Win 2000 Professional, no office productivity software $1,099
United Micro Corp.

Solon, Ohio

M 9400 19-inch KDS VS-195 monitor, Win 2000 Professional, Corel WordPerfect Office 2000 $1,351
U-tron Technologies Inc.

Fremont, Calif.

ProExcel PH2 Optional 17-inch monitor, Win ME, no office productivity software $1,995
Xi Computer Corp.

San Clemente, Calif.

MTower SP 133 17-inch Optiquest Q71 monitor, Win 2000 Professional, Office 2000 $1,629
XTechnology Inc.

Warrensville Heights, Ohio

Customized PC 17-inch KDS VS7 monitor, Win 2000 Professional, Lotus SmartSuite $1,338


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