Top 15 Home PCs

SOME PEOPLE NEED SPEED--pure and simple. If this is what you're craving, check out Dell's new Dimension XPS T650r. This is our first look at a Pentium III-650-based home PC, and its stellar performance comes as no surprise, compared to other systems with older CPUs. With a PC WorldBench 98 score of 278, this speed demon sets the record as the fastest home PC we've ever tested.

1 DELL DIMENSION XPS T650R

WHAT'S HOT: Dell's Dimension XPS T650r boasts blistering speed--it's the top performer for this current mix of home machines. In our multimedia tests, we saw lightning-fast frame rates on AVI playback and 3D games, thanks in part to the high-end NVidia GeForce 256 AGP graphics card. Dell's 19-inch M990 monitor displayed luscious colors in our graphics tests, and it generated crisp text at 1280 by 1024 resolution, even with small fonts. Dell's version of the Microsoft Natural Keyboard Pro comes with programmable buttons, multimedia controls, and two USB ports.

WHAT'S NOT: The XPS T650r is the most expensive home PC on the chart. The swank Harman/Kardon HK595 speakers and subwoofer account for some of its $2559 cost.

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

WHAT ELSE: The XPS T650r offers good expandability, with three open drive bays and three open slots. A plastic bar spanning the front of the case blocks access to several of the PCI slots, although it can easily be removed. Dell includes a clearly illustrated setup poster and a handy reference 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 options.

1 DELL DIMENSION XPS T500

WHAT'S HOT: This Dell uses a 3dfx Voodoo3 3000 card (with a TV-out port) to deliver strong graphics and a Turtle Beach Montego II sound card with Altec Lansing ACS340 speakers to produce crisp sound. An easy-to-use CD-player interface makes adjusting audio settings a breeze. The XPS T500 also comes with an Iomega Zip 100 drive.

WHAT'S NOT: At $1789, this is the most expensive midrange home PC.

WHAT ELSE: With a PC WorldBench 98 score of 228, the XPS T500 is plenty fast for most office applications. Videos played back smoothly. The system is equipped with Microsoft Works Suite 99 and even a game--Descent FreeSpace.

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 MICRON MILLENNIA C466

WHAT'S HOT: With a Celeron-466 CPU and an integrated NVidia Riva 128ZX graphics chip, Micron's Millennia C466 is pretty fast for a budget machine, earning a PC WorldBench 98 score of 203. Its keyboard sports a handy volume knob, CD player controls, and Internet access buttons.

WHAT'S NOT: After using a screwdriver to remove the cover, you'll find only one free memory slot, one open PCI slot, and one open ISA slot. The power supply restricts access to the CD-ROM drive and the one free externally accessible drive bay. On top of that, the bundled Advent AV009 speakers sound a bit tinny and flat.

WHAT ELSE: Well-marked cables and connectors aid setup. The printed manual provides good instruction, but the text is geared for experienced users.

Microsoft Works Suite 99 is the only notable bundled software.

BEST USE: With above-average speed, the Millennia C466 is an inexpensive workhorse for standard office tasks.

New This Month

We recently tested seven new systems. Although Dell's Dimension XPS T650r earned a Best Buy, two other chart-makers are worthy of mention as well.

For a midrange PC, Micron's $1717 Millennia Max 533 is affordable and fast. The system's PC WorldBench 98 score of 236 is average for its configuration but offers lots of room to expand. Five free PCI slots, three free externally accessible drive bays, and two free internal drive bays are up for grabs.

Better yet, the case sports an easy-off door and provides unobstructed access to all the PC's innards.

Good color-coding of the connectors and cables made the setup process straightforward and very easy. Although Micron's 17-inch 700CX monitor generally displayed rich colors and clear text, small fonts looked fuzzy at resolutions higher than 800 by 600 pixels. And audiophiles will be unimpressed by the flat, tinny sound of the bundled Monsoon MC-200 speakers and subwoofer.

The Quantex M466c is a great deal for a budget system. The $999 price includes a Canon BJC-1000 ink jet printer. The M466C's PC WorldBench 98 score of 209 ranks it above average for a Celeron-466. And the roomy interior can accommodate expansion cards and extra drives in its two free slots and three free bays.

On the downside, the MidiLand MLi-450 speakers and subwoofer produced mediocre sound when playing audio CDs and muddled sounds when playing a DVD movie. The 17-inch Quantex AT897C-1 monitor didn't fare so well, either. The smallest fonts looked blurry when displayed at 1280 by 768 pixels.

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

BEYOND THE TOP 15

We evaluated the following systems along with the others, but they didn't score high enough to reach the Top 15 Home PCs chart. For write-ups, visit PC World Online (www. pcworld.com/top400/newhomepcs).

*HP Pavilion 8550c

*HP Pavilion 8575c

*Micron Millennia C500

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