SAN FRANCISCO (04/06/2000) - The typical midrange PC this month runs at a fleet 650 MHz and costs a modest $1650. The Dell Computer Corp. Dimension XPS T600r and the Micron Millennia Max 667--both new--take the number one and number two spots on the chart, respectively. The Micron posted a stellar PC WorldBench 2000 score of 143.
1 Dell Dimension XPS T600R
WHAT'S HOT: With a Pentium III-600E CPU, this Dimension earns a respectable PC WorldBench 2000 score of 136--on a par with some PIII-700s we've tested. Four open slots (three PCI and one ISA) and four open bays offer room for expansion components in this midsize tower's smallish interior. Colors appeared rich and crisp on the 17-inch Dell M780 monitor, and text stayed sharp up to the maximum resolution of 1280 by 1024. Dell keeps the system's price moderate, despite including Microsoft Office 2000 Professional.
WHAT'S NOT: You can type smoothly on the well-constructed Dell QuietKey keyboard, but not as quietly as its name suggests. The Dimension's labor warranty lasts for only a year; however, Dell's systems earn outstanding reliability scores.
WHAT ELSE: The thorough system documentation includes a setup poster and guide, a thick reference, and a troubleshooting manual. The side of the case comes off easily after you loosen a thumbscrew and lift two levers.
BEST USE: With its high-end office suite, this Dimension would excel as a robust starter system for a small business.
2 Micron Millennia Max 667
WHAT'S HOT: This Pentium III-667 system earned a score of 143 on PC WorldBench 2000, outperforming some PIII-700s we've tested under Windows 98 SE. It ships with Micron's extensive documentation and tutorials, including a quick-setup guide, a detailed system manual, and a year of free, unlimited access to Micron University--the company's online training classes. The bundled Microsoft Office 2000 Professional suite may take up quite a bit of disk space, but won't come close to filling the monstrous 27GB hard drive. Colors on the 17-inch Micron 700Dx monitor appeared deep and vibrant, and text looked crisp and clear at resolutions up to 1280 by 1024.
WHAT'S NOT: This large midsize tower lacks a reset button. Though you don't need tools to access the interior, replacing the side panel can be tricky.
WHAT ELSE: There's plenty of expansion room in the neat interior--four open PCI slots and five open bays. You'll have to wiggle through some wires to install additional RAM, however. The 8X DVD-ROM drive played our test movie smoothly, but it bogged down a bit when we opened other applications. Although the system is designed to accommodate additional fans, it already comes with three--one for intake, one for exhaust, and another inside the power supply.
BEST USE: With no network interface, this well-rounded machine is best suited for a small business or home office that needs a powerful application suite.
3 Dell Optiplex GX110
WHAT'S HOT: With a Pentium III-600 CPU and Windows NT 4.0, the OptiPlex GX110 earned an impressive score of 173 on PC WorldBench 2000. The system's expansion cards connect to a riser card that slides out for easy access. Upgrading will be a snap with four open slots and three open bays, and your IS department will appreciate the easy-service case on this midsize tower.
WHAT'S NOT: The integrated audio and speakers produce weak, tinny sound. If your IS department can be talked into it, upgrade to a set of external Harman/Kardon HK195 speakers for $20 more.
WHAT ELSE: The system ships with a common two-button mouse (upgrading to an IntelliMouse costs $29 extra). The GX110's distinctly corporate configuration includes an integrated network card, full remote management, integrated video, chassis intrusion detection, and a case lock.
BEST USE: This powerful managed PC is sure to rank high on any corporation's approved buy list.
4 Gateway GP7-700
WHAT'S HOT: With a Pentium III-700 processor and Windows 98 SE, the GP7-700 earned a blazing 147 score on PC WorldBench 2000. Gateway's 17-inch EV700 monitor produced sharp text and rich, saturated colors in our test images. This exceptionally well-equipped PC includes an Iomega Zip 100 drive, a network interface card, a modem, and an APC surge suppressor that protects eight outlets and two phone lines. Getting inside the system is simple, thanks to a side panel that slides off smoothly after you loosen a couple of thumbscrews.
WHAT'S NOT: You get just two open expansion slots--one PCI, one ISA--and interior cabling obstructs access to memory upgrade slots. The system's 10GB hard drive is the smallest on the chart.
WHAT ELSE: Documentation includes a detailed setup guide and a system manual with many color illustrations. The two-speaker Cambridge SoundWorks SBS52 pumps out rich midrange sound, and the solid keyboard allows smooth typing.
BEST USE: Targeted at small- to medium-size businesses, the GP7-700 combines the right office features with raw power.
5 Micro Express Microflex-700B
WHAT'S HOT: This MicroFlex makes upgrades a snap. Turn one large thumbscrew at the top of the case, and either side pops off (and reattaches) smoothly. Though the interior is a bit cluttered, it has four open expansion slots and four open drive bays. The comfy Microsoft Natural ergonomic keyboard makes typing a pleasure--if you're accustomed to its design. Micro Express offers a generous four-year parts and labor warranty.
WHAT'S NOT: The thick system manual contains many photos and illustrations, but it looks as if it were photocopied, and the pictures are tough to make out. Our test movie in the 8X DVD-ROM drive paused occasionally when we opened other applications.
WHAT ELSE: The PC's WorldBench 2000 score of 134 falls near the average for Athlon-700 systems we've tested. Its 17-inch Impression 7Plus DE-770 monitor displayed deep, rich colors; text remained sharp at 1024 by 768 resolution but blurred a bit at 1280 by 1024.
BEST USE: This system would be at home in any small office that needs athletic performance at a bargain price.
6 Systemax Venture PVO-600A
WHAT'S HOT: Solid multimedia hardware surrounds this reasonably priced ($1499) system. The 17-inch AOC Spectrum 7Glr monitor produced impressively rich, saturated colors and crisp text, and the Cambridge SoundWorks SBS52 three-speaker set pumped out powerful sound. Unless you traffic in gargantuan files, the 20GB hard drive will take a long time to fill up, and the 4X/4X/24X CD-RW drive lets you write and rewrite data to your heart's content. Interior access is outstanding: The midsize tower case pops off smoothly when you depress a lever on the side.
WHAT'S NOT: Though typing is quiet, the cheap-feeling keyboard flexes easily.
Its keys--especially <Backspace>--are so small that they invite mistakes.
WHAT ELSE: The Venture PVO-600A earned a 131 on our PC WorldBench 2000 tests--average for an Athlon-600 system running Windows 98. Cables crisscross the interior, but you'll enjoy unimpeded access to the four open slots (three PCI and one ISA) and four open drive bays.
BEST USE: With its CD-RW drive and top-notch monitor and sound, the PVO-600A is an attractive multimedia PC.
7 Cybermax Enthusiast A650W
WHAT'S HOT: The $1699 Enthusiast A650W shows how a midrange system should handle multimedia. The 19-inch CyberMax AT1097F Trinitron monitor displayed rich colors in test images, and text remained crisp at resolutions up to the maximum 1600 by 1200. The Altec Lansing ADA305 three-speaker set produced excellent sound, and it has USB connectivity so you can control it on screen.
The 8X DVD-ROM drive played our test video smoothly, even when we opened other applications. Video playback benefits from the bundled Creative Labs NVidia GeForce 256 graphics card.
WHAT'S NOT: The Enthusiast A650W posted a score of 133 on PC WorldBench 2000--a tad low for the Athlon-650 units we've tested, but not far off.
WHAT ELSE: To get inside you must remove the entire case; but because it's fastened with thumbscrews, you don't need tools. You'll find lots of expandability--four open slots and six open bays in a mostly clear interior.
BEST USE: Built to handle everything from business applications to occasional gaming, this PC should attract experienced users who lack money to burn.
8 Quantex SM667
WHAT'S HOT: The SM667 posted a score of 138 on our PC WorldBench 2000 suite, which is about average for the Pentium III-667 systems we've tested. With four open slots and four open bays, the minitower case has plenty of expansion room.
The keyboard provides buttons for frequently used applications and Web sites.
Color-coded ports aid setup.
WHAT'S NOT: You must remove two screws to free the flimsy side panel, and the plastic tabs that secure it are easy to bend; the interior is fairly cluttered.
The 17-inch Quantex XP175N monitor displayed washed-out colors and blurry text at normal resolutions.
WHAT ELSE: The Altec Lansing ACS 33W system delivered crisp, strong audio from the Aureal Vortex2 sound card. The slim system manual provides many screen shots, and the documentation includes a setup guide.
BEST USE: The Quantex SM667 should be suitable for small offices that need only modem connectivity.
9 AcerPower 4400
WHAT'S HOT: The system manual packs tons of illustrations and a truckload of excellent upgrading information. The well-designed desktop configuration features a case lock and a cover that easily slides off. The system comes with Wake-on-LAN and chassis intrusion detection features. Intel LANDesk Client Manager is included on disk (it's not preinstalled).
WHAT'S NOT: Some of the added features collide--literally. We had trouble reattaching the case cover because it didn't quite line up with the case lock.
The unit earned a 118 on our PC WorldBench 2000 tests--one of the lowest scores we've seen for a PIII-600. A metal panel secured by a screw blocks access to an internal drive bay (but the panel isn't very hard to remove). Acer's system reliability rated only Fair in our most recent survey.
WHAT ELSE: Desktop cases can be a tight squeeze, but we found more expansion room than we'd expected--two open slots and three open bays. The 17-inch Acer 77C monitor produced adequate colors in our test images and mostly sharp text, though it began to get fuzzy at the maximum resolution of 1280 by 1024.
Advent's two-speaker AV120 set attaches to the sides of the monitor; it's easy to set up but delivers only mediocre sound.
BEST USE: A slim desktop with management features, the AcerPower 4400 should suit corporate buyers trying to save space and a few bucks.
10 NEC Powermate ES
WHAT'S HOT: Atop the well-designed midsize tower, a silver strip holds buttons for sleep and volume control, as well as a headphone jack and a USB port. The interior has three open drive bays and four free PCI slots (plus one ISA), but expansion cards must be installed upside down. Documentation includes a quick-setup guide, and a thick manual with many helpful pictures and ample troubleshooting information.
WHAT'S NOT: A flimsy expansion bay cover awkwardly blocks all four bays. After opening the system, you have to shove the bundled cables to replace the tower's side panel. The NEC's score of 125 on our PC WorldBench 2000 tests is a bit low for Pentium III-600 machines.
WHAT ELSE: Colors appeared washed out on the 17-inch NCM 1720 monitor, but text stayed sharp up to the maximum resolution of 1280 by 1024. The system contains a built-in network interface, a case lock, and chassis intrusion detection.
BEST USE: This NEC might appeal to corporate users who want to keep an eye on their company assets.
Hit the Reset Button (If You Have One)
PC manufacturers often try to streamline their systems, eliminating little-used features when they can. Some have even gone so far as to dispense with floppy drives. But should this housekeeping extend to the reset button?
Patrick Kimball, a spokesperson for Micron PCs, says that improvements in the operating system and in ease of use helped convince the company to eliminate the reset button from its consumer-oriented Millennia Max line. "Windows 98 and NT give you better software control in the event of a freeze, so you often don't need to reset," he says.
Philip Chang, engineering manager at Umax Computers, has a different opinion.
"There are some hardware issues where the whole system will hang--beyond the operating system's control--so you still need a manual reset button," he says.
Chang believes that users can damage their hard drive or power supply if they use the power button to hard-reboot their system.
But Steve Wilkins, strategic marketing manager for hard-drive manufacturer Quantum Corporation, says that newer hard drives are built to withstand a hard reboot. "The protection built into newer drives makes them okay to power off," he says. "They can stand up to the rigors of real life--either someone switching them off or a power failure." That said, Wilkins still considers it handy to have a reset button: "The software out of Redmond does tend to hang now and then."
Although pulling the plug isn't exactly treating your computer gently, choosing one system over another shouldn't come down to whether one of them includes a reset button.
Also New This Month
We evaluated the following systems along with the others, but they didn't score high enough to make the Top 10 Midrange PCs chart. For write-ups, visit PC World Online (www. pcworld.com/t10pcs).
*Axis Systems Orion 100C DVD
*Compaq Prosignia Desktop 330
*Polywell Poly K7-650.