IBM PC 300PL a Real Cost-Saver

SAN MATEO (04/18/2000) - Desktop management is the black hole of every corporate IT department, swallowing horrendous amounts of time and energy with its irresistible pulling force. The time your staff spends on what are often menial tasks wastes their talents and diverts their attention from more important work. Although you'll never be able to control the actions of your users, you can free up valuable time by installing systems that were built with the IT department, and not the gamer, in mind.

One system well-suited to this ideal is the IBM PC 300PL. I looked at one of these systems based on the brand-new 800MHz Pentium III processor from Intel Corp. In addition to having top-of-the-line subsystems that deliver blistering performance, the 300PL is loaded with features that improve security -- both physical and electronic -- and that make deployment and updating nearly automatic. The PC 300PL's intrinsic capability of freeing up countless hours of IT time while increasing the security of your network and assets helps this machine earn a score of Very Good.

Security was the primary concern for this model, which provides protection from both physical and electronic attacks. Perhaps the most interesting feature is the new 256-bit security chip, which Uncle Sam recently approved for IBM Corp.'s use. The chip can be used as, among other things, a tool for digitally signing e-mail so others can't send messages in your name and as a key exchange for encrypting and decrypting data signed with a certified RSA key. You can manage the keys using the Universal Verification Manager downloaded from IBM's Web site.

The PC 300PL's physical security is also quite strong. For example, even when powered off, the LAN card is always on. If the machine were to be unplugged, an alert would be sent to the administrator's server. Further, each machine comes with an RF (radio frequency) tag that will not only report when the box starts to walk away, but can actually say from which door and at what time. The tag can also be configured to hold customized information, such as what disk image the machine is supposed to be deployed with, what department owns it, and so on.

IBM has also extended its Universal Manageability services. New to this system is Alert on LAN, which notifies the administrator when an OS has crashed or the system is in trouble, giving administrators the ability to respond from a remote location. Update Connector provides an easy means of updating the latest drivers and BIOS software on all your machines without you ever having to touch one.

I also did a remote deployment of Windows 2000 Professional onto the machine using LANClient Control Manager (LCCM). By using LCCM on a server, I built the image I wanted, which can include specific applications, and by telling the PC 300PL to boot to the network (i.e., LCCM) it performed an unattended installation. Improvements to LCCM include the capability of creating a backup partition in case something goes wrong with the first partition. And with the included 20GB drive, a second backup image takes up a relatively small space.

As far as performance goes, the PC 300PL was stellar. In our benchmarking suite of 12 popular desktop applications running on Windows 98, the PC 300PL completed the tests in 20 minutes -- that's faster than any machine we have tested, with one exception. My PC 300PL had 128MB of RAM, a 133MHz bus, a 20GB hard drive, and an AGP (Accelerated Graphics Port) video subsystem by Elsa. The video system is based on the NVidia chip set with 32MB of onboard memory.

The only problem I found with the machine was in the video subsystem. Before choosing the Elsa Erazor X graphics card, IBM shipped the system with an inferior card. Unfortunately, the software for the old card was installed along with the software for the new card. I discovered this when no game I installed would run properly. Worse yet, it is very difficult to uninstall the old software, as it requires the presence of the old card. There were also some problems in the way the correct card was configured. In the CMOS, the card is set up as a PCI card, which is slower than the AGP option that should be selected. Further, the system recognized only 4MB of the card's 32MB of RAM.

These difficulties required some troubleshooting and were present in two machines IBM sent me; perhaps IBM will eventually shake out these annoyances.

Overall I was very impressed with the IBM PC 300PL. I gave it a score of Very Good because it is more than a PC with the latest processor. It offers a well-rounded, mature set of IT tools that make deployment and management much simpler and increases the security of the files it transmits and the assets it contains.

Steve Jefferson, a former Test Center editor, is a freelance reviewer in Hawaii. He covers client and server hardware, operating systems, and other products. His e-mail address is stevej@hawaii.rr.com.

AMD Athlon an alternative to Intel

Although there have been hints of it in the past, a viable -- if not superior -- option to systems based on an Intel processor now exists. AMD, Intel's eternal rival, recently put together a demonstration system to show off its new 800MHz Athlon chip. Because AMD's test system came with essentially the same components as IBM's PC 300PL, I've taken the opportunity show you how the two compare.

AMD's system ran through our benchmarking suite faster than any machine we have tested. It was about 5 percent faster than the similarly configured Intel-based IBM PC 300PL. Although the percentage is negligible, the results show that you can get more bang than Intel provides, and possibly for fewer bucks.

I also installed Windows 98, Windows NT Server 4, and Windows 2000 Professional on the system, and ran various applications, including OneSoft's OneCommerce.

This full-fledged e-commerce application includes an ASP (Active Server Pages)-based Web site, Microsoft Internet Information Server, and Microsoft Transaction Server -- all tied to a 2GB Microsoft SQL Server 7 database. I found that all of these applications performed well.

But for "AMD inside" to make big it in the corporate world, it would behoove AMD and its OEMs to do more than run corporate applications. These systems should also come in a package similar to the IBM desktop -- namely one with management and security features that set it apart from the average white box.

You may soon find AMD looking more attractive for your enterprise; it has landed OEM deals with Compaq, Fujitsu, NEC, and Gateway, all of which make small-business desktops and notebooks based on AMD chips. To date, AMD has shipped more than 120 million chips. If it continues to surpass Intel in the performance game, AMD's appeal is sure to increase.

THE BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOOD

IBM PC 300PL

Business Case: Enterprise desktops systems have to be more than fast, they have to be manageable. IBM's PC 300PL comes loaded with hardware and software features that increase security, while greatly reducing the time required to deploy and manage them. This will not only protect your investments, but will free up valuable time for your staff to deploy profit-driven projects.

Technology Case: The 300PL combines a great mix of performance, security, and manageability. A 256-bit security chip, RF label, intrusion alerts, Alert on LAN, a host of management tools, and top-quality components help make this a system that everyone will like.

Pros:

+ Overlapping physical security features+ Built-in, 256-bit security chip+ Quality subsystems+ Great management featuresCons:

- Video subsystem configured incorrectlyCost: $2,196 for the system testedPlatform(s): Supports most major operating systemsIBM Corp., Armonk, New York ; (800) 426-7255; www.ibm.com/pc.

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