Top 10 Midrange PCs

SAN FRANCISCO (05/01/2000) - A new Cybermax almost breaks into Best Buy territory, occupied this month by returning 600-MHz Dell Computer Corp.s--but its Enthusiast K7-750 falls two notches short, coming in at number four. The lower half of the chart experiences a major shakeup, however. Three systems--the Quantex SM700, the Sys Performance 750, and the NuTrend AMD K7-600--make their debuts on our leader board, claiming the seventh, ninth, and tenth spots, respectively.

1 DELL DIMENSION XPS T600R

WHAT'S HOT: With a Pentium III-600E CPU, this Dimension earns a respectable PC WorldBench 2000 score of 136--on a par with some PIII-700s we've tested. Four open slots (three PCI and one ISA) and four open bays offer room for expansion components in this midsize tower's smallish interior. Dell keeps the system's price moderate, despite including Microsoft Office 2000 Professional SBE.

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 a year; however, Dell's systems earn Outstanding reliability scores.

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: With its high-end office suite, this Dimension would excel as a robust starter system for a small business.

2 DELL OPTIPLEX GX110

WHAT'S HOT: The GX110's price dropped $273 to a more affordable $1604--an average price for our midrange chart. With a Pentium III-600 CPU and Windows NT 4.0, the OptiPlex GX110 earned an impressive 173 score on PC WorldBench 2000.

The system's expansion cards connect to a riser card that slides out for easy access. Upgrading will be a snap with four open slots and three open bays, and your IS department will appreciate the easy-service case on this midsize tower.

WHAT'S NOT: The integrated audio and low-end speakers produce weak, tinny sound. If you can talk your IS department into it, upgrade to external Harman/Kardon HK195 speakers for $20 more.

WHAT ELSE: The system ships with a common two-button mouse (upgrading to an IntelliMouse costs $29 extra). The GX110's distinctly corporate configuration includes full remote management, integrated video, chassis intrusion detection, and a case lock.

BEST USE: This powerful managed PC is sure to be a front-runner on any corporation's approved list.

3 MICRON MILLENNIA MAX 667

WHAT'S HOT: This Pentium III-667 system earned a score of 143 on our PC WorldBench 2000 tests, outperforming some PIII-700s we've tested under Windows 98 SE. It ships with encyclopedic documentation and tutorials, including a quick-setup guide; a detailed system manual; and a year of free, unlimited access to Micron University, the company's online training classes. Even the bundled Microsoft Office 2000 Professional suite won't come close to filling the monstrous 27GB hard drive.

WHAT'S NOT: This large midsize tower lacks a reset button. Though you don't need tools to access the interior, reattaching the side panel can be tricky.

WHAT ELSE: There's plenty of expansion room in the neat interior--four open PCI slots and five open bays. You'll have to wriggle through some wires to install additional RAM, however. The 8X DVD-ROM drive played our test movie smoothly, but it bogged down a bit when we opened other applications. Although the system is designed to accommodate additional fans, it already comes with three--one for intake, one for exhaust, and another inside the power supply.

BEST USE: This affordable, well-rounded machine is best suited for a small business or home office that needs to run a powerful application suite.

4 CYBERMAX ENTHUSIAST K7-750

WHAT'S HOT: Quicker than some Athlon-800 systems we've tested, this Enthusiast posted an impressive PC WorldBench 2000 score of 154, and its $1649 price tag won't break the bank. The system is easy to put together, with a handy quick-setup guide, color-coordinated ports, and a detailed system manual filled with helpful illustrations.

WHAT'S NOT: We weren't impressed with the system's display. Colors on the 17-inch CyberMax CX750N monitor appeared washed out in all our image tests, and text blurred when we cranked up the resolution to 1600 by 1200.

WHAT ELSE: Though the case comes off easily, accessing the five open slots (four PCI and one ISA) and four open bays is difficult in the slightly cluttered interior. But the generous software bundle offers Corel's WordPerfect Office 2000, Grolier's Multimedia Encyclopedia Deluxe Edition on DVD-ROM, and Sierra's Visual Home and Master Cook CD-ROMs.

BEST USE: For its moderate price, the Enthusiast K7-750 packs performance and features that any home-office or small-business user would appreciate.

5 GATEWAY GP7-700

WHAT'S HOT: With a Pentium III-700 processor, the GP7-700 earned a respectable score of 147 on our PC WorldBench 2000 tests--the highest among similarly configured systems on the midrange chart. For a moderate price, this exceptionally well-equipped PC includes an Iomega Zip 100 drive, a network card and a modem, and an APC surge suppressor that protects eight outlets and two phone lines. Getting inside the case is simple, thanks to a side panel that slides off smoothly after you twist a couple of thumbscrews.

WHAT'S NOT: Expansion options are limited. You get just two open slots--one PCI, one ISA--and interior cabling obstructs access to memory upgrade slots.

The system's 10GB hard drive is the smallest on the chart.

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

BEST USE: Targeted at small to medium-size businesses, the GP7-700 combines office-ready features with raw power.

6 MICRO EXPRESS MICROFLEX-700C

WHAT'S HOT: This MicroFlex makes upgrades a snap. Turn one large thumbscrew at the top of the case, and either side pops off (and reattaches) smoothly. Though the interior is a bit cluttered, it has four open expansion slots and four open drive bays. The comfy Microsoft Natural ergonomic keyboard makes typing a pleasure. Micro Express offers a generous four-year parts and labor warranty.

WHAT'S NOT: Our test movie on the 8X DVD-ROM drive paused occasionally when we opened other applications. The thick system manual contains many photos, but the pictures are tough to make out. Micro Express's tech support quality rated only Fair in our anonymous calls.

WHAT ELSE: This model's WorldBench 2000 score of 134 falls near the average for Athlon-700 systems we've tested. The 17-inch Impression 7Plus DE-770 monitor displayed deep, rich colors; text remained sharp at 1024 by 768 but blurred a bit at 1280 by 1024.

BEST USE: This system would be at home in any small office that needs athletic performance at a bargain price.

7 QUANTEX SM700

WHAT'S HOT: Setting up this Quantex proves simple, thanks to color-coordinated ports labeled with icons and to substantial documentation, including guides for components. Users with big storage needs will like the 20GB hard drive and Iomega Zip 250 drive. The SM700 also comes with useful small-office features such as a 12X DVD-ROM drive and Corel WordPerfect Office 2000.

WHAT'S NOT: You'll have a tough time reattaching the case's flimsy side, and the cramped interior adds extra work to expansion efforts.

WHAT ELSE: With a score of 143 on our PC WorldBench 2000 tests, the SM700 keeps pace with comparable Pentium III-700 systems. Colors on the 17-inch Quantex XP175D monitor were deep and rich; text looked sharp at standard resolutions but blurred at higher ones. An S-Video output port on the NVidia RIVA TNT2 graphics card lets users switch between a TV and the monitor. Inside, four slots (including three PCI) and three bays provide adequate room to expand.

BEST USE: A small office looking for a lot of storage and midlevel performance would be pleased with this Quantex.

8 SYSTEMAX ASCENT PVO-600A

WHAT'S HOT: Solid multimedia hardware surrounds this reasonably priced ($1449) machine. The 17-inch AOC Spectrum 7Glr monitor produced rich, saturated colors and crisp text, and the Cambridge SoundWorks SBS52 three-speaker set pumps out powerful sound. Unless you traffic in gargantuan files, the 20GB hard drive will take a while to fill up, and the 4X/4X/24X CD-RW drive lets you write and rewrite data to your heart's content. Interior access is outstanding: The midsize tower's case pops off when you depress a lever on the side.

WHAT'S NOT: Though it permits quiet typing, the keyboard feels cheap and flexes easily.

WHAT ELSE: The Ascent PVO-600A earned a 131 on our PC WorldBench 2000 test suite--that's about average for an Athlon-600 system running Windows 98 SE.

Cables crisscross the interior, but you get unimpeded access to the four open slots (three PCI and one ISA) and four open drive bays.

BEST USE: Thanks to its CD-RW drive, top-notch monitor, and good sound system, the Ascent PVO-600A makes a very attractive multimedia PC.

9 SYS PERFORMANCE 750

WHAT'S HOT: Powerful and quick, this Sys Performance earned a 151 on our PC WorldBench 2000 tests, a strong score for a Pentium III-750 running Windows 98 SE. A neat and roomy interior--with cabling bundled and pulled out of the way--offers access to four open PCI slots and five open bays. Corporate users will appreciate the case lock and network interface card--valuable extras for the midrange price of $1899.

WHAT'S NOT: No overall system manual or setup poster ships with the system, so setup and maintenance could be confusing for nontechnical users.

WHAT ELSE: Colors appeared rich and text sharp at a resolution of 1024 by 768, but both looked fuzzy at 1600 by 1200 on the 17-inch Sys SPM-17-MS monitor. A Hercules 3D Prophet DDR-DV1 graphics card uses the faster double-data-rate memory and offers both digital and S-Video output--top-notch features for graphics-intensive work. Because the graphics card doubles as a DVD hardware accelerator, including a DVD-ROM drive with the system would have made sense, but instead you get a 17X-40X CD-ROM drive.

BEST USE: The workplace-ready Sys Performance 750 is a capable, reliable machine for running just about any business application.

10 NUTREND AMD K7-600

WHAT'S HOT: Multimedia goodies abound in the NuTrend AMD K7-600's configuration. The 8X DVD-ROM drive offers smooth software-decoded video playback, and the solidly constructed keyboard provides additional programmable buttons. A large binder contains the comprehensive, well-illustrated system documentation, as well as the software bundle, which includes a copy of Corel WordPerfect Office 2000.

WHAT'S NOT: A below-average score of 127 on our PC WorldBench 2000 tests was all the PC's Athlon-600 CPU could manage.

WHAT ELSE: Colors appeared washed out on the 19-inch ADI GD-166G monitor, but text remained sharp up to the maximum resolution of 1600 by 1200. The ATI Rage 128 graphics card offers S-Video and composite outputs for sending PC signals to a television. The roomy interior has four open slots (three PCI and one ISA) and four open bays for expansion.

BEST USE: Despite the monitor's rather lackluster color display, this NuTrend makes a choice presentation system.

Tech Trend

When System Warranties Conflict

Almost all new PCs come with an overall system warranty, but some vendors offer conflicting and confusing coverage for individual components. For example, some machines have a standard three-year system warranty buttressed by a five-year warranty on the CPU and RAM. Who do you call in year four or five if you run into a problem--the system vendor or the component vendor? We checked around and discovered that on most occasions when something goes wrong, you should call the system vendor first.

"The customer goes through us for everything," says Matt Adams, who serves as manager of emerging technology for Systemax. "As a result, they never have to deal with another vendor."

Sys Technology spokesperson Bill Berry agrees. "Even if a warranty is expired, we'd still like them to contact us so we can try to help them out," he says.

Mona Pal, desktop product manager for Toshiba Computer Systems Group, says Toshiba handles the situation differently. "If a component warranty for a CPU were to outlive the overall system warranty, the customer should contact the hardware vendor, whether it be Intel or AMD," she says.

Generally, though, even if you must ultimately obtain coverage from an individual component vendor, it's a good idea to check with your system manufacturer first. The PC maker can help point you in the right direction.

Also New This Month

We evaluated the following systems along with the others, but they didn't score high enough to reach the Top 10 Midrange PCs chart. For our capsule write-ups, visit PCWorld.com (www.pcworld.com/t10pcs).

*HP Brio BA600

*LEK SpeedPro III 4733.

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