Top 15 Home PCs

SAN FRANCISCO (01/31/2000) - If you're short on space and money, check out Gateway 2000 Inc.'s Astro. Its all-in-one case combines the CPU, monitor, and speakers in a tidy package. And its $799 price can't be beat: You get a decent-performing system with a 15-inch monitor and a 4.3GB hard drive. But thrift has its limitations. If you want top speed and flashy features, consider one of the systems on our power chart.

1 DELL DIMENSION XPS T650r

WHAT'S HOT: Dell Computer Corp.'s Dimension XPS T65or boasts great speed for its price and CPU class, sprinting to a PC WorldBench 98 score of 278. In our multimedia tests, we saw super-fast frame rates on AVI video playback and 3D games, thanks in part to its high-end NVidia GeForce 256 AGP graphics board.

Dell's 19-inch M990 monitor displayed rich, luscious colors in our graphics tests and generated crisp, readable text, even on small fonts, when we set the display to 1280-by-1024 resolution. Dell's version of Microsoft Corp.'s Natural Keyboard Pro is equipped with programmable buttons, multimedia controls, and two USB ports.

WHAT'S NOT: The XPS T650r is the second most expensive home PC here. The swank Harman/Kardon HK595 speakers and subwoofer account for some of its $2489 price.

But the hefty subwoofer is paired with speakers that deliver only moderate volume and middling tonal quality. Another quibble: We had to bump up the monitor's brightness to comfortably view DVD movies, then return to original settings for other tasks.

WHAT ELSE: The XPS T650r offers great expandability, with three open drive bays (two external and one internal) and three open PCI slots. A plastic bar spanning the front of the case blocks access to several of the slots, although it can easily be removed. The T650r also features an Iomega Zip 100 drive. Dell includes a clearly illustrated setup poster and a handy pamphlet. Plus, the well-organized reference and troubleshooting guide tackles key maintenance issues. Dell's software bundle includes Microsoft Works 4.5 and Microsoft Web Publishing.

BEST USE: A great PC for the power user who wants expandability.

1 DELL DIMENSION XPS T500

WHAT'S HOT: This model's 3dfx Voodoo3 3000 card delivers strong graphics, and its video-out port lets you view games and other video on a TV screen. A Turtle Beach Montego II sound card and Altec Lansing ACS340 speakers produce crisp sound, and an easy-to-use CD-player interface makes adjusting audio settings a breeze. This system also features a Zip 100 drive.

WHAT'S NOT: The system comes with a minimal software bundle of Microsoft Works Suite 99 and one game--Descent FreeSpace; other systems on the chart provide a wider array of applications.

WHAT ELSE: With a PC WorldBench 98 score of 228, the XPS T500 is plenty fast for most office applications, but it still ranks as average for a P-III-500 system. DVD videos played smoothly.

BEST USE: The Dimension XPS T500 is a good all-around workhorse for office tasks and games, but the thin software bundle may disappoint first-time buyers.

1 GATEWAY ASTRO

WHAT'S HOT: The Astro's all-in-one case is easy to set up, thanks to an illustrated setup booklet, a well-written manual, and an online-based "Quick Answers" database that covers maintenance and how-to issues. The entire system is the size of a 15-inch monitor, with a slightly swollen base. Budget shoppers will appreciate the Astro's $799 price.

WHAT'S NOT: While the all-in-one design makes setup easy, it makes upgrades impossible. You can't remove the case to install new components, and you'll have to send the unit to Gateway for any repairs. In terms of performance, the Astro's PC WorldBench 98 score of 181 is somewhat slower than other home systems with a Celeron-400 processor. Its built-in speakers sound terrible.

WHAT ELSE: Text looked crisp on the Astro's 15-inch monitor at 800-by-600 resolution, and colors appeared realistic, though they lacked richness.

BEST USE: The all-in-one design and low price make the user-friendly Astro a terrific candidate for first-time users on a tight budget.

New This Month

We tested seven new systems this month. And five of them broke into our Top 15 Home PCs chart, including our top budget PC from Gateway.

Another newcomer, the Quantex GX700, is a speed demon. It's the first Pentium III-700 home system we've tested, and it soared to a PC WorldBench 98 score of 293--the fastest we've seen from any home PC. The NVidia GeForce 256-based graphics board helped churn out breakneck speed in 3D games.

Micron Technology Inc.'s 600-MHz Pentium-III Millennia Max offers strong performance. Its two flat-panel Monsoon MM-700 speakers (each about the size of a large billfold) and a subwoofer produce great sound. Access to the interior is a snap--literally. One flick of a latch and the cover pops right off.

At $3229, Compaq Computer Corp.'s Presario 5900Z-700 is the most expensive home PC here, but you get a lot for the money. It has speed and plenty of extras such as a built-in Ethernet port, a Diamond Rio MP3 player, an LG Electronics CD-RW drive, and a Klipsch Pro Media v2-400 sound system with four satellite speakers and a subwoofer. Its AMD Athlon-700 CPU pushed the system to a blistering WorldBench 98 score of 288--the second fastest home PC we've seen and just a few points behind the Quantex GX700.

Kirk Steers is a contributing editor for PC World. Joel Strauch is a freelance writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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