Step On It

SAN FRANCISCO (03/20/2000) - The muscle systems on this month's charts, from notebooks aided by Intel Corp.'s SpeedStep technology to desktop chart-makers hitting 800 MHz, pack a sizable herd of ponies under their hoods and stampede over more than their fair share of benchmarks. This month also sees the first Top 30 machine to use the Windows 2000 operating system: The Dell OptiPlex GX300 captures the number five spot on our power chart. Though the Dell proved to be quite fast, we'll need to see more Windows 2000 systems before we can judge how the OS affects performance.

Intel Puts More Speed In Your Notebook's StepA faster processor in your mobile computer seems like a good thing--until you take it on the road and those extra megahertz drain the battery faster than leaving your Yugo's lights on overnight. That's where Intel's new SpeedStep performance technology steps in: It reduces a notebook's clock speed while it's unplugged, conserving battery power. This month, we tested two SpeedStep notebooks: the Dell Inspiron 5000 G650VT and the Quantex W-1511.

The Dell uses a PIII-650/500 SpeedStep processor, and the Quantex uses a PIII-600/500. When tethered to a power outlet, they run at full speed (650 MHz and 600 MHz, respectively), but when relying on battery power, they automatically step down to a "battery optimized mode" of 500 MHz. Intel says the technique reduces a notebook's battery power consumption by 40 to 50 percent. However, our tests show that SpeedStep has a negligible effect on battery life, unless you're constantly pushing the processor to its limits (see Top of the News, March, www.pcworld.com/mar00/p3_notes). But SpeedStep should have greater benefits at faster speeds, Intel promises.

The Dell Inspiron earned an impressive PC WorldBench 2000 score of 127 and landed at number three on the notebooks power chart. The Quantex, with fewer megahertz under its hood, posted an even higher score of 129 and grabbed fourth place on the chart. Those scores make them the fastest notebooks we've tested.

Desktops Zoom To 800 MHz

Four new systems vying for our Top 10 Power PCs chart boast 800-MHz clock speeds. Dell and Micron submitted PIII-800 machines, and Polywell and Sys Technology sent units with Athlon-800 CPUs. The Dell Dimension XPS B800r won top honors in the speed category, posting a PC WorldBench 2000 score of 201 with Windows NT, the fastest performance we've ever seen. But the $3469 price is also one of the highest we've noticed in quite a while, and is due partly to the system's expensive Rambus RAM.

Polywell's Poly 800K7 and Micron's Millennia Max 800, both Windows 98 SE machines, also performed well and secured spots on the power chart. The Sys Performance 800A, however, just missed grabbing a place, mostly because it had too few features for its $2999 price.

In other news, a variety of monochrome lasers from six companies fill up this month's Top 10 Printers chart. Two new models debut on the small-business side--the $549 Samsung QL-6100 enters at number two, and the $499 Brother HL-1270N lands at number five. On the corporate side, Xerox leaps onto the chart at number one, taking the Best Buy slot with its DocuPrint N2125.

Freelance writer Joel Strauch and PC World editors Grace Aquino, Michelle Campanale-Surkan, Lisa Cekan, Katharine Dvorak, Mick Lockey, Kalai Murugesan, Kalpana Narayanamurthi, Karen Silver, and Alan Stafford contributed to the Top 100 this month. Testing was performed by Ulrike Diehlmann, Robert James, Elliott Kirschling, Jeff Kuta, Sean Tieu, and John Tjon of the PC World Test Center. See page 14 for contact information.

PC WorldBench 2000 Launches

To assess the performance of new, more powerful systems, we've updated our PC WorldBench test suite. PC WorldBench 2000 is based on 11 real-world applications: Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Access; Lotus WordPro and 1-2-3; Netscape Navigator; Intuit Quicken; Adobe Photoshop; Corel PhotoPaint; and Visio (by the company of the same name). The WorldBench 2000 score reflects a PC's performance compared with our baseline system, an HP Pavilion 8380 desktop with a 400-MHz Pentium II processor and 96MB of RAM. The baseline system's WorldBench 2000 score equals 100; if another system achieves a score of 110, for instance, then that system is 10 percent faster than the baseline HP machine in performing basic business tasks. (Visit www.pcworld.com/benchmark for details.) All systems in this month's Top 30 desktops, Top 15 notebooks, and Top 15 home PCs charts have been tested with WorldBench 2000. Don't compare their scores with those in previous issues--PC WorldBench 98 scores aren't convertible into WorldBench 2000 numbers.

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