SAN FRANCISCO (03/21/2000) - Wish you had a second PC for your home or office but don't want to spend a lot of money? The Applica Inc. Multimedia and Vega Technologies Inc.'s Buddy B-210A offer users on tight budgets the next best thing to another desktop system. Both products allow you to connect a second monitor, keyboard, and mouse to your existing Windows 95 or 98 PC so two users can share applications, files, printers, a modem, and a single Internet connection.
The $249 Applica Multimedia and the $169 Buddy use the same core technology (Vega licenses it from Applica), but they have slightly different features.
Both come with add-in PCI cards, which provide graphics support and connections. Applica's package also includes a sound chip for shared system audio. To install the Applica, you plug a microphone and a second monitor, mouse, keyboard, and speaker set directly into the back of the card. (A 25-foot extender cable is available from the vendor for an additional $30). With the Buddy, you plug one end of the included 50-foot Category 5 network cable into the card and the other end into a small "Buddy" box, which also accepts connections from the second monitor, keyboard, and mouse. The product does not support sound, though.
Applica advises you to use at least a Pentium II-300 system with the Multimedia; Vega says the Buddy will work with a Pentium-133 PC. Both vendors' RAM recommendations vary depending on the operating system you use. I tested both on a PII-333-based system equipped with 96MB of RAM. Installation was a breeze; I had each product up and running in about 15 minutes. After installing the drivers and support software, I created a second user profile in Windows (a simple process that requires filling in a pop-up menu at start-up). I could then access all the applications on the main system. To use my browser, I simply changed a setting so that it connected to the Internet via a LAN instead of dialing my ISP.
Even after you factor in the cost of the extra hardware, both the Applica Multimedia and the Buddy B-210A deliver a second PC at minimal cost, and without forcing you to manage the chore of setting up a new operating system and applications. As its audio support suggests, Applica's entry is focused at gamers. And by the time you read this, Applica expects to ship a new version with enhanced graphics and sound--for $50 less. For small business, however, the Buddy's lower price, long connection cable, and easy setup make it a better choice.
My Buddy: The B-210A uses standard network cabling and a small "Buddy" box to support connections up to 50 feet away.
Sound decision: Applica Multimedia supports sound and connects equipment up to 25 feet away from the main PC.
Pro: Provides audio support.
Con: Extender cables cost extra ($30 for a 25-foot length).
Value: Great choice for gamers.
Street price: $249
Product Info No. 668
Pro: Easy connection at distances up to 50 feet from main PC.
Con: No audio support.
Value: Better fit than the Applica for small businesses.
Street price: $169