Top 100

SAN FRANCISCO (03/06/2000) - Joel Strauch contributes regularly to the Top 100.

PC World editors Michelle Campanale-Surkan, Lisa Cekan, Katharine Dvorak, Mick Lockey, Kalai Murugesan, Kalpana Narayanamurthi, Karen Silver, and Alan Stafford contributed to the Top 100 this month. Testing was performed by Ulrike Diehlmann, Robert James, Elliott Kirschling, Jeff Kuta, Sean Tieu, and John Tjon of the PC World Test Center.

It's getting tough to tell the cheetahs from the alley cats on our Top 30 desktop charts. Four-legged speed typically comes paired with fearsome prices, but we've recently started seeing some very fleet systems prowling our midrange chart. Normally, the hottest new machines debut on the power chart and then migrate to the midrange Top 10 as they grow older and cheaper. This month, two fast models debut on the midrange chart.

Micro Express tops our midrange list with its new $1499 MicroFlex-700A (AMD Athlon-700 power inside), while Quantex Corp. snares third place with a fast new Pentium III-667 system, the SM667, at $1749. The money you save has to come from somewhere; where are these vendors cutting their costs?

Stray Cats Show Claws--And Flaws

Compared to the big cats occupying the power chart, the MicroFlex and the SM667 scrimp on some components, but depending on what you use your system for, you may not notice. The MicroFlex uses an ATI Rage Pro graphics card, which was merely middle-of-the-road a year ago but remains more than adequate for business use. MicroExpress includes a DVD-ROM drive, but it's an older, 6X version. For its part, Quantex supplies a lower-quality 17-inch monitor--no Trinitron here. Neither bundles any pricey business software, and you certainly don't get extras such as a Zip or CD-RW drive, or even a network card.

These systems are great if you need something fast and lean--and you want to put off upgrades for another day. However, remember that those upgrades--a new graphics board here, a removable media drive there--can cost much more when purchased off the shelf than when obtained as part of a system bundle.

Bonus Business Features

Two new Acer models--the AcerPower 4400 and AcerPower 8600--feature extras that corporate buyers expect. Acer not only equipped each with a case lock, but added chassis intrusion detection as well. A button under the exterior panel connects via a wire to the motherboard; in conjunction with Intel LANDesk management software, it can alert an IS manager via the company network when anyone opens the system, thereby protecting the company's investment. The 4400 also includes a network interface card with Wake-on-LAN, a feature that lets you or your MIS guru boot it remotely for software installations during off-peak hours. Neither Acer PC made it onto the charts this month, but you can read reviews of them at PC World Online.

Other units on our charts do offer some of these corporate features, including the Dell OptiPlex GX100 and the Gateway E-1400, both of which made our Top 10 Budget PCs chart.

Corporate features can differentiate companies' product lines. Dell's OptiPlex models include them, but its Dimension PCs do not. Other corporate-focused lines are Compaq's Deskpro, Gateway's Enterprise, HP's Vectra, and Micron's ClientPro. For the home, Compaq offers the Presario line, Gateway the Essential, HP the Pavilion, and Micron the Millennia.

While remote diagnostic and monitoring features are rarely necessary for home users, they can be beneficial in the corporate environment where an IS staff may support hundreds of PCs. They may not always make the charts, but systems such as the AcerPower units receive bonus points in our grading system for providing these business extras. --Joel StrauchYour Guide To The Top 100Questions about our charts? The following information should answer them.

How do the charts work? Each month we test a large number of PCs, printers, scanners, monitors, graphics boards, and modems, and compare them with previously reviewed products. Only the best products land on the Top 10 charts, which are refreshed monthly. System configurations are shown as tested. Vendors may have since changed components.

What does the overall rating mean? This 100-point scale reflects results from our hands-on evaluations and performance tests. A score in the 90s is exceptional, while one in the 70s is above average.

What does the PC WorldBench 98 score mean? It's a measure of how fast a PC can run a mix of common business applications as compared with our baseline machine, a Gateway PMMX-200 with 32MB of RAM, a 2GB hard drive, and 512KB of secondary cache. For example, a PC that scores 200 is twice as fast as the baseline system.

Where do the scores for reliability, support quality, and support policies come from? Reliability and support quality scores are based on surveys of PC World readers and on anonymous support calls made by PC World staff. The policies score is based on vendor support policies.

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