Top 10 Midrange PCs

SAN FRANCISCO (07/26/2000) - Two new PCs climb aboard the chart this month. Sys Technology Inc.'s Performance 800 distinguishes itself with raw horsepower--the Pentium III-800EB system delivers the fastest performance on the chart. The other new machine, ABS's Conquest GL, includes a 19-inch monitor that displays crisp images. Meanwhile, Dell Computer Corp. discontinued the Dimension XPS T600r, making room at the top for Gateway Inc.'s GP7-700, which boasts a generous price cut.

1 GATEWAY GP7-700

WHAT'S HOT: A hefty US$305 price drop since June helps lift the GP7-700 into Best Buy land (it was our number one power PC back in March, when it cost $2198). With a Pentium III-700 CPU and running Windows 98 SE, this Gateway earned a PC WorldBench 2000 score of 147, the highest we've recorded for a system with this configuration. For the competitive price, you get a well-outfitted, network-ready system replete with a network card, a modem, and an APC surge protector that guards eight outlets and two phone lines. The system interior is easily accessible, thanks to a side panel that slides off smoothly after you loosen a couple of thumbscrews. Even at $1453, the GP7-700 comes with Microsoft Office 2000 Small Business Edition and an Iomega Zip 100 drive.

WHAT'S NOT: The GP7-700 provides just two open slots--one PCI and one shared PCI/ISA--and interior cabling obstructs your access to the memory upgrade slots.

WHAT ELSE: The documentation includes a detailed setup guide and a system manual with plenty of color illustrations. The two-speaker Cambridge SoundWorks SBS52 set pumps out rich sound, and a solid keyboard allows smooth typing.

BEST USE: Aimed at small to medium-size businesses, the GP7-700 combines attractive pricing, office-ready features, and plenty of power.

2 QUANTEX SM667SX

WHAT'S HOT: Quantex's SM667sx posted a score of 138 on our PC WorldBench 2000 tests, about average for the Pentium III-667 systems we've tested. With four open slots and four open bays, the machine offers ample expansion room. The keyboard provides buttons for instant access to 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. Once inside, you'll find a fairly cluttered interior. The 17-inch Quantex XP175N monitor displayed washed-out colors and blurry text at the standard resolution of 1024 by 768. (We suggest upgrading the monitor.)WHAT ELSE: The Altec Lansing ACS 33W system delivered crisp, strong audio in concert with the Aureal Vortex2 sound card. The documentation includes a helpful setup guide and a slim system manual with lots of screen shots.

BEST USE: This Quantex suits the small office set up for modem connectivity.

New on the Chart

5 SYS PERFORMANCE 800

WHAT'S HOT: Featuring a PIII-800EB processor and Windows 2000 Professional, the Performance 800 earned impressive marks on our PC WorldBench 2000 tests: Its 180 score tops the previous high of 178 from the PIII-1000-based Dell Dimension XPS-B1000r Special Edition. Despite its midrange price of $1799, the Sys Performance 800 packs a 10X DVD-ROM drive, an LS-120 drive for small backups, a network card, and a Matrox dual-head video card, to which you can connect a pair of monitors for a double-width desktop display.

WHAT'S NOT: The system lacks an overall user manual, though manuals for components are included. Sys includes no office suite or other productivity software, and you must remove two screws to open the case and gain access to the interior.

WHAT ELSE: Smooth guide rails make removing the side panels easy. The roomy, neat interior contains four open PCI slots and five open drive bays for expansion. Colors on the 17-inch Optiquest Q71 monitor looked somewhat light on our test photos, although spreadsheet and document text was crisply legible at the standard resolution of 1024 by 768.

BEST USE: This Sys would work well for people who want to move up to Windows 2000 Pro with a minimal investment.

8 ABS CONQUEST GL

WHAT'S HOT: With an Athlon-850 processor inside, this ABS earned an above-average score of 150 on our PC WorldBench 2000 tests. Its 19-inch Lite-On B1996NSL monitor delivered deep, rich colors and crisp text. Only slight blurring occurred at the extremely high resolution of 2048 by 1536 provided by the Guillemot Cougar Video Edition graphics card (which also offers S-Video input and output and composite input). With the exception of those who work with CAD applications, most people will find text at that resolution too eye-straining to work with for 8 or more hours a day. The system's neat interior contains four open PCI slots and four open drive bays. Extras include a microphone, a 10X DVD-ROM drive, and Creative SoundWorks Digital speakers that deliver solid sound despite their unimpressive size.

WHAT'S NOT: To open the GL's sturdy case, you must remove two screws. The system manual contains no model-specific information.

WHAT ELSE: Though generic, the manual offers helpful upgrading details and lots of color illustrations, and ABS packs all the paperwork in a large but handy binder. Corel's WordPerfect Office 2000 anchors the software bundle. The fairly large multimedia keyboard, which houses many programmable buttons and includes an attachable wrist rest, supports smooth typing with only a little clacking from the responsive keys.

BEST USE: Excellent multimedia features and speedy performance make this ABS a good choice for any small office with a penchant for graphics work.

Also of Note

Another new system this month, NuTrend's Intrepid XE, sporting a Pentium III-733 processor, just missed the chart, partly because its performance ranks slightly below average for a PIII-733 PC. Nevertheless, the system does offer several desirable multimedia components, including a 10X DVD-ROM drive that features good playback and the same stellar 19-inch Lite-On B1996NSL monitor with deep colors and sharp text that the eighth-place ABS Conquest GL uses. The keyboard offers plenty of smooth typing with a minimum of clacking noise, but its construction felt flimsy. A binder conveniently houses the system's documentation and software CD collection; its contents include a large illustrated setup poster, Corel's WordPerfect Office 2000, and Grolier's Multimedia Encyclopedia.

Like NuTrend's Intrepid, Micro Express's MicroFlex 900A was a near miss this month, despite several noteworthy features. For a low price of $1399, Micro Express configures this computer with an Athlon-900, helping the 900A earn a middle-of-the-road score of 151 on our PC WorldBench 2000 tests. However, the 900A's performance is nearly indistinguishable from that of its Athlon-850 cousin, the Micro Flex 850A--number seven on this month's chart.

With the 900A, you also get an 8X DVD-ROM drive and an ELSA Erazor X2 graphics board that features fast DDR memory and S-Video output--helpful when you need to send that sales presentation to a television set. Unfortunately, the standard-issue 17-inch Impression 7VX monitor delivered only mediocre text on our image-quality tests, marring what could have been a Top 10 system.

Processor Prices

Often you can save a lot of money without compromising performance by choosing a processor with a slightly lower clock speed. For example, the average PIII-866 system we've tested earned a PC WorldBench 2000 score of 158, while the average PIII-800 system earned a WorldBench score of 150--a difference of less than 5 percent, which most users can't detect.

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