Top 15 Home PCs

SAN FRANCISCO (03/20/2000) - You'll find lots of fresh faces on our charts this month, all tested under our new PC WorldBench 2000 test suite. Four systems debut on the power list, including the Best Buy Gateway 2000 Inc. Select 800, the first AMD Athlon-800-powered home PC we've tested. Meanwhile, Dell Computer Corp.'s compact and affordable WebPC nabs the budget Best Buy, thanks to easy setup and an LS-120 SuperDisk drive.

1 Gateway Select 800

WHAT'S HOT: Speed-hungry users will like the moderately priced Select 800. An Athlon-800 processor powered it to a PC WorldBench 2000 score of 147--one of the highest marks we've recorded for a home PC. The system's graphics also impressed us: Its Creative Labs 3D Blaster Annihilator graphics board with 32MB of memory posted superior 3D-gaming test speeds in Expendable (75 frames per second) and Flight Simulator 2000 (34 fps). The system offers ample room for expansion, with two internal and three external drive bays open, plus three open PCI slots. The Boston Acoustics Digital BA735 sound system--two satellite speakers and a subwoofer--sounded rich and clear.

WHAT'S NOT: Unlike most home PCs we see, the Select 800 lacks a reset button on the front of the case. Inside the machine, a fan blocks access to the memory slots and drive bays, complicating the upgrading process. The sparse documentation can complicate setup for nontechies.

WHAT ELSE: The 19-inch Gateway VX 900 monitor displayed rich, realistic colors and clear small text with no flicker, even at 1600 by 1200 resolution. The sturdy keyboard has four programmable buttons for launching applications.

Bundled software includes Microsoft Works Suite 2000 and Norton AntiVirus 2000 (a PC World Best Buy). At $2399, the Select 800 is reasonably priced for a power system.

BEST USE: The Select 800 is a speedy machine suitable for demanding database chores and 3D gaming.

1 Dell Dimension L600R

WHAT'S HOT: Colors on the Dell Dimension L600r's 17-inch Trinitron monitor look lush. Text was easy to read at 1024 by 768 resolution, though at higher resolutions we had to adjust the refresh rate to eliminate some distracting flicker. The Altec Lansing ACS304 speakers and subwoofer produce rich sound.

Want to create a home network? The L600r's 3Com networking card uses your phone lines to connect PCs. (You'll need a similar card in each of your other PCs to make a connection.)WHAT'S NOT: This system ran sluggishly in our 3D-gaming tests and displayed slightly pixelated scenes in Expendable and Quake 3 Arena. Both results are consistent with those we've recorded for other PCs that use Intel's integrated 810 chip set. One free PCI slot and one free drive bay offer limited expansion opportunities.

WHAT ELSE: The L600r, which has a Pentium III-600 CPU, earned a PC WorldBench 2000 score of 130--about average for its processor class. System setup is a snap thanks to a helpful, well-illustrated instruction sheet and clearly marked cables and connectors. A reference-and-troubleshooting manual provides lots of basic maintenance advice. A comprehensive help system resides in the PC's hard drive. Microsoft's Works Suite 99 is bundled.

BEST USE: The L600r can handle most home or home-office tasks, as long as you avoid fast-moving games and other demanding graphics.

1 Dell WebPC

WHAT'S HOT: This affordable PC's small footprint is about the size of a place mat. Its slight, hourglass-shaped, black plastic case measures about 10 inches in both depth and height--ideal for anyone with limited desk space. Setup is simple, too: You connect the mouse and the keyboard to separate USB ports, attach a phone line to the modem port, and plug in the power cord.

WHAT'S NOT: The WebPC did poorly in our tests, earning a PC WorldBench 2000 score of 86--the slowest in this bunch--and producing occasionally choppy 3D-gaming performance. Since the WebPC has no expansion slots or drive bays, you can never upgrade it. And because it relies exclusively on USB ports, you'll need an adapter if you want to connect such devices as parallel-port printers. The machine forgoes a floppy drive, but our test unit came with a 120MB external SuperDisk drive, along with two disks. (Without the removable storage drive, the PC would cost $779.)WHAT ELSE: Graphics and text looked good at 800 by 600 resolution. The keyboard has three handy programmable buttons and two USB ports. You also get Microsoft Works Suite 2000 and McAfee VirusScan.

BEST USE: Great for budget-minded shoppers but not for future upgraders.

What's New

One new midrange home system that missed the chart is Compaq's $1398 Presario EZ2200. This easy-to-use PC has a side panel you can pull off for quick (albeit constricted) access to memory sockets and two open PCI slots. A 17GB hard drive and a CD-RW drive offer storage options.

With a PC WorldBench 2000 score of 97, the EZ2200 recorded below-average performance for a Celeron-500-based PC. It also ran slowly in 3D games and generated some banded images in Quake 3 Arena and Expendable. And because the CD-ROM and CD-RW drives are mounted vertically on the front of the case, placing a CD in either drive is cumbersome.

Kirk Steers is a contributing editor for PC World.

Also New This Month

We evaluated the following systems along with the others, but they didn't score high enough to reach the Top 15 Home PCs chart. For write-ups, visit PC World.com (www.pcworld.com/top400/newhomepcs).

*ABS Multimedia System 1

*ABS Performance PC System 2

*Acer Aspire 6422

*Compaq Presario EZ2200

*CompUSA PC Home Series HS500K

*CompUSA PC Pro Series PS733K

*Gateway Profile 2 500cx

*HP Pavilion 6640c PC

*Nutrend Maestro GE

*Nutrend Sierra LE.

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