Top 10 Power PCs

SAN FRANCISCO (05/01/2000) - The Dell Computer Corp. OptiPlex GX300, number five on last month's chart, rises to the top of this month's chart thanks to a $493 drop in price. Gateway 2000 Inc. also hits the chart with an 800-MHz version of its GP7, while Sys introduces the Performance 850A, with an Athlon-850 processor; both systems boast impressive speed and massive hard drives.

1 DELL OPTIPLEX GX300

WHAT'S HOT: Running Windows 2000 Professional, this OptiPlex posted a PC WorldBench 2000 score of 165, trailing the Windows NT machines on the chart but outpacing all the Windows 98 ones. The price of the GX300 has plummeted by $493 since last month. A tidy interior offers 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 monitor delivers vibrant colors and crisp text at resolutions up to 1600 by 1200.

WHAT'S NOT: Even with its price drop, this $2974 model is hardly cheap. Dell posts most of its documentation online; the hard copy of the main system manual contains only the bare minimum, and you won't find any paper documentation for individual components (though you can order it for free).

WHAT ELSE: Despite the easy-service chassis, the memory slots are buried, and the interior feels cramped until you swing the power supply out of the way. But thanks to the 8X/4X/32X CD-Rewritable drive, making backups 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, albeit for a lot of bucks.

2 DELL DIMENSION XPS B800R

WHAT'S HOT: Throw a PIII-800EB CPU into a Windows NT 4.0 machine, and you've got rip-snorting speed: This Dell's score of 201 on our PC WorldBench 2000 tests 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 Office 2000 Small Business Edition.

WHAT'S NOT: Empty your wallet: The Dimension XPS B800r costs $3229, even after a $240 price cut. And while Dell provides ample documentation for the standard equipment, our unit lacked paperwork for some extra components.

WHAT ELSE: The system uses expensive, high-speed Rambus DRAM (RDRAM), which is designed to rev up memory-intensive apps. Despite the add-in goodies, this Dell 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.

3 MICRON MILLENNIA MAX 800

WHAT'S HOT: This 800-MHz Millennia Max's motherboard provides both Slot 1 and Socket 370 processor slots, so you can upgrade the system with either type of CPU. A well-designed interior offers four open slots and five open bays, and its power supply swings out to clear even more workspace. Text stayed sharp up to the unbelievably high resolution of 2048 by 1536 on the 19-inch Micron Trinitron CPD-4401 monitor. Colors appeared rich (albeit a tad dark) on test images.

WHAT'S NOT: There's neither a removable storage option nor a CD-RW drive. And this PIII-800 unit scored a 149 on our PC WorldBench 2000 tests, only six points better than its PIII-677 cousin, the Millennia Max 667.

WHAT ELSE: This Millennia earned a plus for documentation, thanks to its setup poster and thorough system manual, but it lacked some component manuals. At $2599, the PC's price has fallen like a coyote holding an anvil ($500 in one month). The large midsize tower features twin fans, a case lock, and a side that pops off smoothly (it requires some fiddling to get back on, however).

BEST USE: With its excellent monitor, this PC makes a pretty--but pretty expensive--presentation system.

4 HP VECTRA VL600

WHAT'S HOT: Armed with Windows NT 4.0 and a Pentium III-733 processor, the VL600 ripped through our PC WorldBench 2000 tests with a score of 190. Pop off the solid side panel, using a pull-out handle at the top (similar to Apple's G4), and you'll discover a fairly neat interior with five open PCI slots and three open drive bays with toolless quick-release tabs.

WHAT'S NOT: At a rather high $2598, this Vectra doesn't come cheap and--like the Millennia Max 800--lacks a removable storage option. HP provides no documentation for components. The quick-release drive carriers seem less sturdy than those we've seen in other systems.

WHAT ELSE: The Vectra VL600 ships corporate-ready with a network card and a sturdy case lock (complete with its own keys). The keyboard features microphone and headphone jacks. HP's 17-inch HP71 monitor--the only 17-incher on the chart--provides sharp text up to its maximum resolution of 1280 by 1024, but the colors in our test images appeared a tad dark. Because the PC uses Rambus DRAM, it leaves just one memory slot open (systems with RDRAM can have only two slots on the motherboard).

BEST USE: The Vectra VL600 is a powerful PC aimed at corporate workgroups.

5 GATEWAY GP7-800

WHAT'S HOT: A speedy score of 156 on PC WorldBench 2000 places the Gateway GP7-800 near the front of the pack among similarly configured PIII-800 systems (second only to the Best Buy Quantex SM800). The gargantuan tower offers lots of room for expansion, with three open PCI slots and six open bays. Bundled with a network interface card, a hefty 30GB hard drive, and Microsoft Office 2000 Small Business Edition, the GP7-800 is ready for business.

WHAT'S NOT: For $2428, we'd expect a DVD-ROM or CD-RW drive, but the PC ships with a 17X-40X CD-ROM drive.

WHAT ELSE: Colors on the Gateway EV910 19-inch monitor looked rich but a tad dark, while text remained sharp up to the maximum resolution of 1600 by 1200.

The system is simple to set up, with labeled, color-coded ports and a side panel that's easy to remove and reconnect. Documentation for individual components isn't included, but the system manual is thick and features helpful color illustrations, useful upgrading tips, and troubleshooting information.

BEST USE: For performance and expandability, the GP7-800 shouldn't disappoint.

6 QUANTEX SM800

WHAT'S HOT: With a score of 148 on our PC WorldBench 2000 test suite, the SM800 earned high marks for a PIII-800EB running Windows 98 SE. (Editor's Note: The print version of the June Top 10 Power PCs chart incorrectly ranks the SM800 due to a misprint in its PC WorldBench 2000 score.) If the monstrous 40GB hard drive proves insufficient for your storage needs, you can use the included Iomega Zip 250 removable media drive. The SM800 also uses a Guillemot GeForce 256 3D Prophet graphics card for outstanding graphics quality.

WHAT'S NOT: The somewhat flimsy case on this standard minitower took some work to reattach. At its bargain price, the system lacks a network interface card, which might limit connectivity options.

WHAT ELSE: The SM800 provides lots of room for expansion, with four open slots (three PCI and one ISA) and three open bays, but the system's somewhat cramped interior makes access difficult. The solid multimedia keyboard supports smooth typing, and its extra programmable buttons allow handy shortcuts. Corel WordPerfect Office 2000--a strong suite of software tools for the small-office user--also comes with the system.

BEST USE: The business extras and top-notch performance make this PC at home in a nonnetworked small office.

7 ABS PERFORMANCE 1

WHAT'S HOT: Packed with a PIII-700 CPU and a massive 256MB of RAM, the ABS Performance 1 earned a scorching PC WorldBench 2000 score of 151, the highest we've seen so far for a Windows 98 machine with a PIII-700 CPU. The Performance 1 is easy on the eyes, too: The ADI MicroScan 6P 19-inch monitor produced crisp text, even at 1600 by 1200 resolution, though colors looked slightly washed out. The Creative Labs Live Drive occupies one externally accessible drive bay and provides external ports for audio input and output.

WHAT'S NOT: During our tests, we noticed slight pauses in DVD video playback on the 8X DVD-ROM drive when we opened other applications.

WHAT ELSE: A cut of $500 slashes the Performance 1's price to $2199, making it one of the least-expensive systems on this month's chart, though it is still pricey for a PIII-700 system. A large binder holds the system documentation.

Clearly labeled ports make for quick setup.

BEST USE: For a power user interested in gaming or audio manipulation, the ABS Performance 1 is a good deal.

8 AXIS SYSTEMS ORION CXV

WHAT'S HOT: The Orion CXV's PC WorldBench 2000 score of 132 makes it one of the fastest Pentium III-600EB units we've tested with Windows 98. The system sports an 8X DVD-ROM drive (which played test movies smoothly and clearly) and a 4X/4X/24X CD-RW drive. Besides quick speed and strong features, the Orion carries the lowest price on our chart--just $2027--but this price is high for a PIII-600EB system.

WHAT'S NOT: You must remove four screws and take off the entire case to get inside; cables hinder access to the RAM slots and two open bays. The system lacks a printed manual, too, though an electronic one is loaded on the system.

WHAT ELSE: The electronic manual contains lots of information on troubleshooting and setup. Audiophiles will love the Altec Lansing ACS33 speaker set, which delivers crisp sound in concert with the Creative Labs Sound Blaster Live card.

BEST USE: This Orion works well as a stand-alone PC for general business use.

9 SYS PERFORMANCE 850A

WHAT'S HOT: With twin 20.5GB hard drives (connected by a Promise Ultra ATA/66 RAID card), the Sys Performance 850A offers ample storage. One of the first Athlon-850 systems we've tested for the Top 100, it sprinted to a 198 on our PC WorldBench 2000 benchmark tests, a respectably high score even for a system running Windows NT 4.0.

WHAT'S NOT: For $2699, we'd like to see more than just a standard 17X-40X CD-ROM drive.

WHAT ELSE: The 19-inch ViewSonic Professional Series PF790 monitor uses a "perfect flat" picture tube. It produces crisp text up to the maximum resolution of 1280 by 1024, but colors looked washed out. The Matrox G400 Max graphics card offers comprehensive output options: dual-head display, S-Video, and composite out for connecting a second monitor or for television or DVD playback.

BEST USE: With an Athlon-850 CPU inside, this PC should keep corporate users ahead of the game for a while.

10 POLYWELL POLY 800K7

WHAT'S HOT: The 19-inch ViewSonic E790 monitor displayed great-looking colors and easily readable text up 1600 by 1200 resolution. And because the VisionTek NV994 graphics board includes a digital output port, you can use it to drive a digital flat-panel monitor.

WHAT'S NOT: The Poly's cramped interior doesn't give you much room to work in, and the rear ports are labeled with stickers that could easily come off.

WHAT ELSE: Though the 800K7's score of 151 on PC WorldBench 2000 was one of the highest by an Athlon-800 unit running Windows 98, it still just matches that of the PIII-700-equipped ABS Performance 1. The PC uses two 13.6GB hard drives connected to an IDE RAID card to speed disk-intensive tasks. The thick system manual contains detailed information but too few illustrations. A cut of $120 brings the price down to $2275.

BEST USE: This Poly makes a fast utility vehicle for a small office.

Tech Trend

How Big Can Hard Drives Get?

Not too long ago, vendors predicted that the hard drive size limit was near and warned that existing storage technologies had to change for drives to get much larger. Luckily, today's hard drives use more sophisticated magnetic storage technology, which involves increasing areal density (the number of bits that can be packed into each square inch of each side of the magnetic disks, or "platters," inside the drive). Current hard drives hit 15GB per platter, permitting two-platter, 30GB drives.

IBM's new Deskstar 40GV drive takes advantage of this greater areal density, with 14.3 billion bits of data per square inch on a 40GB drive. The company hasn't stopped there--it recently released a 75GB drive, the Deskstar 75GXP.

A size boundary still exists for hard drives, according to Steve Wilkins, the strategic marketing manager for drive-maker Quantum; it's just higher than previously expected. "Currently, it's thought to be between 70 and 100 gigabits per square inch. It's a ways off, but at the rate we're doubling [drive capacity], within five years' time, it's going to be a problem [again]," he says.

Once that size limit is reached, the billions of bits of information on your drive will be so tightly packed that they may not be able to hold their magnetic charge. Then, Wilkins says, "Your drive, apart from being a very good random number generator, won't be much good as a storage device." But Wilkins feels that the drive size limit could be raised again. "We try to bend the laws of physics wherever we can."

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 Power PCs chart. For write-ups, visit PCWorld.com (www.pcworld.com/t10pcs).

*HP Vectra VL600

*NEC PowerMate 2000

*Premio Apollo 820.

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