Top 10 Midrange PCs

SAN FRANCISCO (06/23/2000) - Two new systems jostle their way onto the chart this month. The ABS Multimedia VL earns third place with an attractive blend of solid speed and the lowest price in this Top 10. It's a good choice if you are not looking for the extensive software bundles offered by vendors such as Dell Computer Corp. The NuTrend Computer Products Inc. Sierra LE also debuts; its performance closely matches that of the ABS, and it adds a few more features, but it also carries a higher price.

1 DELL DIMENSION XPS T600R

WHAT'S HOT: With a Pentium III-600 CPU and running Windows 98, this Dimension earns a hearty PC WorldBench 2000 score of 136--on a par with some PIII-733s we've tested. Four open slots (three PCI and one ISA) and four open bays offer plenty of room for upgrades, despite this midsize tower's smallish interior.

You pay a reasonable $1489 and still get Microsoft Office 2000 Small Business Edition as well as Dell's highly rated service and reliability.

WHAT'S NOT: You can type smoothly on the solid Dell QuietKey keyboard, but not as quietly as its name suggests. The Dimension's standard labor warranty lasts for only one year, less than most.

WHAT ELSE: The system ships with thorough documentation, including a setup poster and guide, and a thick reference and troubleshooting manual. The side of the case comes off easily after you loosen a thumbscrew and lift two levers.

BEST USE: The Dimension is a first-rate choice for almost all general business computing needs.

2 MICRO EXPRESS MICROFLEX 850A

WHAT'S HOT: A hefty $150 price cut lifts this Micro Express into Best Buy territory. Packing a speedy Athlon-850 CPU and running Windows 98, the system earned a score of 153 on our PC WorldBench 2000 tests, the second highest on the chart. The easy-open midsize case, secured by one thumbscrew, provides unimpeded access to three open PCI slots and four open bays. Micro Express offers a generous four-year warranty on both parts and labor, more than most vendors.

WHAT'S NOT: Colors on the 17-inch Impression 7VX monitor looked rich, but text appeared slightly blurry at the standard resolution of 1024 by 768. In our anonymous calls to Micro Express's tech support, we received only Fair service.

WHAT ELSE: Detailed information in a spiral-bound system manual and color-coordinated ports make the MicroFlex easy to set up. Typing on the Microsoft Internet keyboard is smooth and quiet, with plenty of programmable Web buttons to give you quick access to Net and system applications.

BEST USE: The Micro Express MicroFlex 850A provides heady performance at a great price for any small office.

New on the Chart

3 ABS MULTIMEDIA VL

WHAT'S HOT: Blazing a trail with a score of 143 on our PC WorldBench 2000 tests, this ABS garnered impressive marks for an Athlon-700 system running Windows 98. The Multimedia VL comes with a handy binder to keep bundled software and documentation in one convenient place. The large system manual contains plenty of helpful color illustrations, and you'll also find documentation for individual components. Thanks in part to a mighty Hercules double data rate graphics board (which also offers S-Video and digital outputs), the 17-inch monitor produced vivid colors in our test images, and text looked sharp at the standard resolution of 1024 by 768.

WHAT'S NOT: You must remove two small, easy-to-lose screws to open the system, and then lift off the entire midsize tower case to access the interior (though it does come off smoothly). A no-frills keyboard permits quiet typing, but it flexes too much for our liking, and the keys feel cramped.

WHAT ELSE: The system's interior offers ample expansion room, with three open PCI slots and four open bays. Our test system included Corel Corp. WordPerfect Office 2000, a microphone, and two demonstration games.

BEST USE: The Multimedia VL is the hot pick if you're looking for a maximum of horsepower at a minimum price.

9 NUTREND SIERRA LE

WHAT'S HOT: Voluminous room to grow characterizes the Sierra LE. Not only does its roomy interior have four open PCI slots and four open bays, but its motherboard supports both Slot 1 and Socket 370 processors, giving you more options if you upgrade the CPU down the road. The ATI Rage Fury Pro graphics board features composite and S-Video output and composite input, a plus if you're interested in video editing or other graphics-intensive work.

WHAT'S NOT: To gain access to the roomy interior, you need to remove two screws. At 1024 by 768 resolution, the 17-inch Optiquest Q71 displayed rich colors, though not as bright as others we've seen. Tech support in our recent anonymous calls earned only a Fair rating.

WHAT ELSE: With a score of 142 on our PC WorldBench 2000 tests, this system performed slightly above average for PIII-733 systems running Windows 98 SE.

The keyboard's keys seemed flimsy, but typing felt smooth and the keyboard has easy-access programmable buttons for common functions, such as volume control.

Corel's WordPerfect Office 2000 and Grolier's Multimedia Encyclopedia make up the software bundle. A large binder houses all the documentation and CDs.

BEST USE: With good performance, plenty of expansion options, and an attractive price, the Sierra LE makes a solid general-purpose system that can expand along with your company. It's also suitable for anyone who can do without extensive technical support or hand-holding.

Also of Note

The rest of the new systems we tested this month offer high performance, competitive prices, or fetching features--but not in a winning combination. We like the corporate-level features of the IBM PC 300GL, including a network interface card, case lock, and Wake on LAN--a good mix of components for any business. The system earned a respectable score of 145 on our PC WorldBench 2000 tests, but its $1718 price unfortunately made it less appealing.

Similarly, the IDot.com SA Series 750--powered by an AMD Athlon-750 CPU--offers extra features like a network card and a 10X DVD-ROM drive, and it earned a 140 on our WorldBench tests. But that score matched those of many Athlon-700 and Athlon-650 systems, and the IDot's price of $1766 kept it at bay.

Like the IBM Corp. and the IDot.com, the Toshiba Corp. Equium 7350D we tested has a price at the upper end of average ($1730) and ships with a heap of corporate-ready features--network interface card, case lock, and LANDesk software. We also liked the system's pop-out motherboard--good at upgrade time.

But though the Toshiba may rival the IBM and IDot.com in price and features, it falls well behind in performance. This Equium earned only a 129 on our PC WorldBench 2000 tests --tying for the lowest score among PIII-733 systems running Windows 98.

We also tested two compact desktops with Celeron-533 CPUs. While their prices fall at the lower end of the spectrum, so does their performance. The $1349 Toshiba Equium 7350S earned only a 102 on our PC WorldBench 2000 tests. It comes with a network interface card and LANDesk software for corporate users, but its low score weighed against it.

At $1268, the other compact--the NEC Corp. PowerMate ES Slimline--packs just slightly more punch (it scored 106 on PC WorldBench 2000) in an even smaller package. This model offers a front USB port, as well as front headphone and microphone outputs and volume control. With a network interface and chassis intrusion detection, the PowerMate ships ready for corporate offices. But while the model can sit either flat or upright as a minitower, its support legs are flimsy (one broke off when we lifted the case on its side). And neither the NEC nor the Toshiba offers much expansion room--the PowerMate provides three open PCI slots and the Equium only two.

Hewlett-Packard Co.'s e-Vectra 600 EB almost squeezed onto the chart, but its price and below-average performance kept it off. It also features a compact case, but its lack of open bays and slots won't appeal to companies needing a system that can grow along with their business.

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More about ABS AustraliaAMDATI GroupCorelDell ComputerHewlett-Packard AustraliaIBM AustraliaIDot.comMicro ExpressMicrosoftNECNuTrend Computer ProductsSierraToshibaVectra Corporation

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