Big Values from Small Vendors

SAN FRANCISCO (06/23/2000) - While names such as Axis Systems Inc., Micro Express, and Quantex Corp. may not register as strongly as brands like Dell Computer Corp., IBM Corp., and Gateway 2000 Inc., many of these smaller vendors sell desktop systems that would impress even the most brand-loyal fan of big-name machines. Packed with high-end features and topflight warranties, PCs from some less-familiar manufacturers offer enough value to place high in our Top 30 charts--and even dominate one of them.

Although Dell holds the top two spots in our power chart and the number one in our midrange Top 10, Micro Express is number two among midrange PCs and Axis and Micron Electonic Corp. are at four and five on the power Top 10. Most impressively, the first eight slots in our budget chart belong to smaller vendors.

What launches these systems onto the charts? Price, for one thing: Smaller manufacturers--with smaller marketing budgets--often pass cost savings along to their customers. In addition to generous warranties and technical support hours that rival those of the big dogs, strong performance helps bring them to the forefront. Several smaller companies, including Axis and Micro Express, offer four- or five-year system warranties--better than Dell's and Gateway's three-year coverage.

However, fewer people own products from the lesser-known vendors than from big-name companies, and PC World bases its reliability and service ratings on feedback from readers who own the systems. That means we have a harder time establishing track records in these areas for the small fry. Also, bigger companies have bigger tech support teams, so calling a smaller vendor for help might mean encountering longer hold times.

Dot Pitch Confidential

Whether monitors use stripe pitch or dot pitch technology to display text and graphics, prices are sliding downward. That's excellent news for buyers on tight budgets. But should you pay the average $150 premium for a state-of-the-art flat-screen CRT (which uses stripe pitch technology) on the reasoning that stripe pitch is cheaper than it was six months ago? Not according to our chart, where "old school" dot pitch CRTs deliver the best value. Eight of the 19-inch monitors on this month's Top 10 use a dot pitch tube, and six of these cost less than $400--about $50 less than last August's 17-inch Best Buys. You won't forgo image quality with these displays, either:

Most monitors in this price range earned at least a Very Good on our text and graphics tests.

Sprinting Printer

Need a printer to output the sharp text and bright graphics you're seeing on your spiffy 19-inch monitor? Look no further than this month's Top 10 Printers chart, where Lexmark's new Z52 Color Jetprinter earns a Best Buy. It sprints through text at 5.4 pages per minute--near the top speed for any ink jet printer--and at just $179, the price is right. The Lexmark produces light, sharp text and smooth, crisply detailed images. The Z52 is an all-around excellent choice whether you work with text or with more-demanding graphics.


QUESTIONS ABOUT OUR CHARTS? The following information should answer them.

How do the charts work? Each month we test a large number of PCs, printers, scanners, monitors, graphics boards, and modems, and compare them with previously reviewed products. Only the best products land on the Top 10 and Top 15 charts, which are refreshed monthly. System configurations are shown as tested. Vendors may have since changed components.

What does the overall rating mean? This 100-point scale reflects results from our hands-on evaluations and performance tests. A score in the 90s is exceptional, while one in the 70s is above average.

What does the PC WorldBench 2000 score mean? It's a measure of how fast a PC can run a mix of common business applications as compared with our baseline machine, an Hewlett-Packard Co. Pavilion 8380 with a PII-400 CPU, 96MB of RAM, and an 8GB hard drive. For example, a PC that scores 200 is twice as fast as the baseline system.

Where do the scores for reliability, support quality, and support policies come from? Reliability and support quality scores are based on surveys of PC World readers and on anonymous support calls made by PC World staff. The policies score is based on vendor support policies.

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