Top 10 Power PCs

SAN FRANCISCO (06/23/2000) - You may wonder what happened to systems with the heralded 1-gigahertz processor, as none appear on our chart. Last month one 1-GHz system, the Gateway 2000 Inc. Select 1000, edged into a spot, but it has dropped off due to a price increase. Taking its place at number ten is NuTrend Computer Products Inc.'s Athlon Ultra, a newcomer that offers acceptable CPU performance and top-notch features. The Dell Computer Corp. Dimension XPS B800r holds steady in the top spot.

1 DELL DIMENSION XPS B800R

WHAT'S HOT: Throw a Pentium III-800 CPU into a Windows NT 4.0 machine, and you've got ripsnorting speed: This Dell's score of 201 on our PC WorldBench 2000 test suite is the highest attained by any NT system we've seen. Top-drawer extras include an 8X/4X/32X CD-RW drive, an Iomega Zip 100 drive, both a modem and a network card, and Microsoft Corp. Office 2000 Small Business Edition.

WHAT'S NOT: Although Dell provides ample documentation for the standard equipment, our unit lacked paperwork for some extra components. A $116 price drop makes the system more affordable, but it's still the second most expensive machine on the chart.

WHAT ELSE: This PC uses high-speed Rambus DRAM (RDRAM), which is designed to rev up memory-intensive apps. You'll also rev up the overall cost of the system if you upgrade the RAM in the future, as this type of memory is expensive.

Despite all of its add-in goodies, the XPS B800r still provides two open PCI slots and three open bays in its neat interior. You also get a quick-setup manual and a thick troubleshooting guide.

BEST USE: For users who must have everything--regardless of sticker price--this Dell looks like a million bucks.

2 DELL OPTIPLEX GX300

WHAT'S HOT: Dell trims $159 off the sticker price from last month, moving the OptiPlex GX300 up into Best Buy territory. Running Windows 2000 Professional, it posted a PC WorldBench 2000 score of 165, trailing the Windows NT machines but outpacing all the Win 98 systems on the chart. A tidy interior provides chassis intrusion detection, a case lock, a swing-out power supply, five open PCI slots, and three open (and toolless) drive bays. Dell's 19-inch UltraScan P991 flat-screen CRT monitor delivers vibrant colors and crisp text at resolutions up to 1600 by 1200.

WHAT'S NOT: Even with its price cut, this OptiPlex costs more than any other system on the chart. Dell posts most of its documentation online; the print version of the main system manual contains only the bare minimum, and paper documentation for individual components isn't included (though you can order it for free).

WHAT ELSE: Despite the easy-service chassis, the memory slots are buried, and the system interior feels cramped until you swing the power supply out of the way. Thanks to the 8X/4X/32X CD-RW drive, making backups of critical or time-sensitive files is fast and easy.

BEST USE: For businesses that want to get started with Windows 2000 Pro as soon as possible, this OptiPlex offers a substantial bang, but be prepared to pay a lot of bucks for the privilege.

New on the Chart

10 NUTREND ATHLON ULTRA 2

WHAT'S HOT: High-end multimedia features distinguish this system. For starters, the Lite-On 19-inch monitor delivers lush colors and sharp text, all the way up to 1600 by 1200 resolution, thanks in part to the Creative Labs 3D Blaster Annihilator Pro graphics card. An 8X DVD-ROM drive and Creative's five-speaker FPS 2000 Digital stereo sound set complement the easy-on-the-eyes image quality. Inside the spacious midtower, three open PCI slots and four open bays provide excellent expansion room. Relatively inexpensive at $2209, the NuTrend also packs a generous 30GB hard drive.

WHAT'S NOT: You must remove two screws to gain access, but the side of the case slides off and back on smoothly. The system lacks individual component manuals for the video and sound cards, which would come in handy for troubleshooting.

Typing can be a tad noisy, due to the keys' flimsiness.

WHAT ELSE: With an Athlon-850 processor inside, this Ultra earned a 146 score on our PC WorldBench 2000 tests--about average for similarly equipped systems.

The software bundle includes Corel's WordPerfect Office 2000 and Grolier's Multimedia Encyclopedia.

BEST USE: With its solid performance and superb multimedia features, the NuTrend Athlon Ultra 2 would make an outstanding presentation machine for a small office.

Also of Note

So far, the systems we've seen with gigahertz processors usually don't offer enough of a power boost to offset their hefty prices and earn spots on our power chart. This can be true of computers with slightly slower processors as well. Our advice? Let prices cool down a little bit before you start investing in these gigahertz-level machines for your business.

Several new PCs we tested this month are cases in point.

Dell's 1-GHz Pentium III-1000 racehorse, the Dimension XPS-B1000r Special Edition, is a Windows 2000 system. It posted the highest PC WorldBench 2000 score we've seen for that operating system (178)--but its price of nearly $4000 sandbagged it, even when you count a tricked-out package that includes an 8X/4X/32X CD-RW drive, a generous 40GB hard drive, and an excellent 19-inch flat-screen display (the Dell UltraScan P991).

The Kingdom Excalibur PIII-850 also missed our chart. Its near-astronomical $3697 price is almost $700 higher than that of Gateway's Select 1000. The Kingdom has a slower processor--a PIII-850--and its 147 score on our PC WorldBench 2000 tests wasn't appreciably faster than the average score of PIII-700 systems we've seen. Nonetheless, it offers innovative technologies.

The system's hybrid 4X DVD-ROM and 6X/4X/24X CD-RW drive saves you a drive bay--letting you record CDs and play DVDs in the same drive--and allows you to store your critical data on CD-ROMs. Still, we did have a few quibbles: The hybrid drive adds too much cost, and its less-than-cutting-edge performance mars its overall practical appeal. The flat-panel OptiQuest L700 monitor is flashy, but unless you have your heart set on a thin display, the small 15-inch screen size and relatively lackluster image quality aren't worth the extra cash outlay.

Somewhat more affordable, the Micron Electronic Corp. Millennia Max 866 costs a still-steep $2899, but it offers a PIII-866 CPU and many dual-performance options. With a 12X DVD-ROM drive and a 8X/4X/32X CD-RW drive, a modem and a network interface card, and Slot 1 and Socket 370 processor ports on the motherboard, this packed PC is ready for most office requirements, including a future upgrade of the CPU. But, as with the Dell and Kingdom systems, its price held it back.

Tech Trend

How Much Power Is Enough?

Know the wattage of your PC's internal power supply--this information can be valuable in preventing system lockups and slowdowns (the more peripherals you have, the more power you need to run them). To find the wattage, check the side of the power supply (inside the case) or refer to your manual. With smaller PCs--those with little room for adding peripherals--the power supply plays a lesser role. "You can get by with 135 to 150 watts with a small system," says Ken Lam, vice president of marketing at PC vendor ABS. But if you're using a high-end system and plan to upgrade someday, you'll want a bit more power behind it to support the extra load. Lam recommends at least 235 to 250 watts.

"With [systems in] the Pentium III family, 200 watts is the minimum you should have," says Brian Zucker, Dell's spokesperson for small business and consumer products. The 200-watt estimate has remained solid for several years, he notes, adding, "As the technology improves, power consumption often winds up going down."

Like the PIII, AMD's Athlon chip also has a big appetite for power. AMD spokesperson Drew Prairie acknowledges that fact: "With a high-end system--one using a GeForce graphics card, for example--it can't hurt to have a 300-watt power supply."

Adding other peripherals such as CD-RW drives and DVD-ROM drives can also cut into a system's power resources. "Our experience indicates that having a power supply that's too small can create problems," says Lam. "And with a bigger power supply, the system will be more stable." Most cases allow you to replace the current power supply with another one. It's an upgrade that usually involves more manual dexterity (with the screwdriver and such) than technical know-how.

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