Top 10 Power PCs

SAN FRANCISCO (03/06/2000) - A system needs at least 600 MHz of processing might to make our power chart these days, whether its CPU is a Pentium or an Athlon. But pumped-up processors don't tell the whole story--graphics cards are getting buffed, too. Seven cards in this month's power Top 10 systems carry 32MB of RAM.

1 Dell Dimension XPS T700R

WHAT'S HOT: What happens when you cross Intel Corp.'s new enhanced 700-MHz Pentium III processor with Windows NT? You get the fastest system we've ever seen, with a PC WorldBench 98 score of 373. The 17-inch, Trinitron-based Dell UltraScan P780 monitor adds beautiful display quality to the mix. Our test images had rich, vibrant colors, and text remained sharp all the way up to the maximum resolution of 1600 by 1200. A network card, a 4X CD-RW drive, a modem, and an Iomega Zip 100 drive round out the package.

WHAT'S NOT: Despite a $240 price drop since last month, the XPS T700r still requires a sizable investment. The side of the tower pops off easily, but getting it back in place requires finesse.

WHAT ELSE: The Dimension XPS T700r includes a detailed system manual with extensive troubleshooting information. The Altec Lansing ACS340 speaker set provides crisp sound with powerful bass. You get adequate expansion room, with three open PCI slots and three open bays.

BEST USE: Power users will appreciate this swift, reliable unit's many backup options and its high-capacity hard drive.

2 Gateway GP7-700

WHAT'S HOT: With a PIII-700 processor, the GP7-700 earned a searing 295 on our PC WorldBench 98 tests--the highest score on the power chart for a Windows 98 SE-based machine. The 17-inch EV700 monitor produced sharp text and rich, saturated colors in our test images, and the low price includes an Iomega Zip 100 drive and an APC surge suppressor that protects eight outlets and two phone lines. Getting inside the system is simple, thanks to a side panel that slides off smoothly after you twist a couple of thumbscrews. And the GP7-700 includes both a modem and a network card.

WHAT'S NOT: You get just two open expansion slots--one of which is a lesser-used ISA slot--and interior cabling obstructs access to memory upgrade slots. The system's 10GB hard drive is puny by our power chart standards.

WHAT ELSE: Documentation includes a detailed setup guide and a system manual with many color illustrations. The two-speaker Cambridge SoundWorks SBS52 pumps out rich midrange sound, and the solid keyboard allows smooth typing.

BEST USE: For small to medium-size businesses, the GP7-700 combines the right office-ready features and raw power.

3 Micron Millennia Max

WHAT'S HOT: Thanks in part to the GeForce 256-powered graphics card, our test images and text looked gorgeous on the unit's 19-inch Micron 900LX monitor. The fastest PIII-667 system we've tested with Windows 98, this Millennia Max romped to a score of 293 on our PC WorldBench 98 tests.

WHAT'S NOT: The side of the midsize tower case pops off easily via a handle, but replacing it required some careful maneuvering. The interior is a tad cluttered.

WHAT ELSE: The large interior offers four open PCI slots and four open drive bays, and the 8X DVD-ROM drive produces great images on the large monitor. The system manual offers useful troubleshooting information. We also tested this Millennia Max with a PIII-733, but that system scored only 16 points higher on PC WorldBench 98 and costs $200 more, knocking its overall rating down a few notches.

BEST USE: With its excellent multimedia features and modem (instead of a network card), the Millennia Max would make a great all-around performer for a small, graphics-oriented office.

4 Cybermax Enthusiast A700W

WHAT'S HOT: The Enthusiast A700W offers a great deal for its $2199 price. This Athlon-700 machine's PC WorldBench 98 score of 288 is the second-highest of all the Athlon-700s we've tested. Its CyberMax CX-900N 19-inch monitor displayed vibrant colors in our test images, and the 3dfx Voodoo3 3500 TV graphics board helps it deliver crisp images and includes a TV tuner, a digital VCR, and an FM tuner. An Aureal Vortex2 sound card and Altec Lansing ACS33 speakers generate clear sound with solid bass. For storage, you get a 27.3GB hard drive and an Iomega Zip 100 drive.

WHAT'S NOT: You must remove the entire case (not just a side panel) to reach the interior, and getting the case on and off requires some effort. Inside, bundled cabling obstructs access to the RAM slots.

WHAT ELSE: The 8X DVD-ROM drive, complete with software MPEG-2 decoder, automatically played our test movie smoothly. With four available slots and five open drive bays, the interior offers generous expansion room.

BEST USE: An impressive blend of power, features, and relatively low price makes this system an attractive choice for power users spending their own cash.

5 Polywell Poly 800K7-650

WHAT'S HOT: The 800K7-650 claims the prize as least expensive system on the power chart. Inside the case, neatly bundled wires allow easy access to all components. You get ample expansion room, with four open slots (three PCI and one ISA) and three open drive bays (one of the occupied bays holds a Zip 100 drive).

WHAT'S NOT: The 19-inch DecaView G400 monitor produces fuzzy text and dull colors at all resolutions, though it's fine for standard business use.

WHAT ELSE: The one-piece cover opens without tools, but you must remove the whole thing to get inside. Aiwa's TS-CD40 speakers deliver adequate sound, and video playback on the 6X DVD-ROM drive is smooth, even with other applications open. Polywell bundles Lotus SmartSuite 97 business software with the system--not the most popular office suite, but perfectly adequate for most business applications.

BEST USE: With moderate bang for modest bucks, the Poly 800K7-650 should handle most any task a small business can throw at it.

6 Axis Systems Terra AXM

WHAT'S HOT: This multimedia-ready system includes Cambridge SoundWorks' elaborate CSW 1000 five-piece speaker set, Creative Labs' capable Sound Blaster Live sound card, and 8X DVD-ROM and 4X CD-RW drives with excellent performance.

The unit's 19-inch Jean Company JD199A monitor produces bright colors as well as crisp text.

WHAT'S NOT: The Terra AXM's score of 274 on our PC WorldBench 98 tests is the lowest of any Athlon-650 system we've tested, but only 2 percent below average.

WHAT ELSE: The Terra AXM's interior, though cluttered, provides lots of expansion room, with four open slots and two open drive bays. Its thorough system manual provides plenty of illustrations and tips to help less-technical users.

BEST USE: Although pricey for its CPU class, the Terra AXM offers multimedia features and removable storage that some small offices should love.

7 Sys Performance 600A

WHAT'S HOT: Equipped with a 600-MHz AMD Athlon chip and Windows NT, the Performance 600A racks up a score of 345 on our PC WorldBench 98 test suite, easily outdistancing comparable Pentium III-600 PCs. Two 13.6GB hard drives connect to a Promise UltraDMA 66 PCI card in a RAID configuration to speed up some disk-intensive operations. If you plug two monitors into the Matrox Millennium G400 DH (dual-head) video card, you'll be able to view your desktop across both displays.

WHAT'S NOT: Faded colors and fuzzy text from the Sys Technology SPM17 MS display sandbag the system's graphics potential. One laser-printed setup sheet and a pair of component manuals for the CD-ROM drive and monitor constitute the minimal hardware documentation.

WHAT ELSE: You need a screwdriver to get inside the 600A's all-metal case, but its side panel detaches quickly and slides back on easily--the fit and finish are impressive. The soft-touch keyboard comes with a removable wrist rest.

BEST USE: With a better monitor (or two), the Sys would make a killer 2D graphics workstation: You could keep work on one monitor and tools on the other.

8 Compaq Prosignia Desktop 330

WHAT'S HOT: The unit's 19-inch Compaq S900 monitor delivered deep, rich colors in our test images and sharp text up to the maximum resolution of 1600 by 1200.

Running on a PIII-700 CPU, this Prosignia Desktop earned a PC WorldBench 98 score of 289--average for its processor class. The system's 34GB hard drive is the largest ever on a chart maker.

WHAT'S NOT: At $2726, this unit is the costliest on the chart. Despite its high price, the floppy eject button on our test unit wiggled like a loose tooth.

With only one open drive bay, the PC offers limited expansion room, and two thick audio cables extend across the interior, partly blocking access to expansion slots.

WHAT ELSE: The system includes a 10X DVD-ROM drive and a 4X/2X/24X CD-RW drive--a combination far more useful to a business than a DVD-ROM drive alone.

After loosening two large thumbscrews, we were able to pull off the side of the case with minimal effort, but replacing the panel is a bit trickier.

BEST USE: The Prosignia Desktop 330's network card and bundled Microsoft Office 2000 SBE suit it well for small to medium-size businesses.

9 Amax Microplex 7000

WHAT'S HOT: The Iiyama Vision Master 451 19-inch monitor produced rich colors and crisp text even at the maximum resolution of 1600 by 1200. Amax packs all its documentation, which includes a thick manual with troubleshooting tips and upgrading information, into an easily accessible box. The system also comes with storage aplenty, including an Iomega Zip 100 drive and a 27.2GB hard drive, as well as a couple of connection options--a network interface card and a modem.

WHAT'S NOT: With a score of only 260 on our PC WorldBench 98 test suite, the MicroPlex 7000 ran about 11 percent slower than the competing Micron Millennia Max PIII 667, the fastest system with the same CPU that we've tested. The fairly neat interior doesn't offer much in the way of expansion, having only two open slots and two open bays, and the case feels somewhat flimsy.

WHAT ELSE: Getting at the interior requires little work, because the case comes off and goes back on smoothly. At first we noticed jitters and pixelation when we played our test video at full screen with the 8X DVD-ROM drive, but after we used the DVD player's built-in calibration tool, playback became sharp and steady.

BEST USE: With both a modem and a network interface card, this well-equipped Amax would fit in a networked small office with presentation needs.

10 Systemax Venture PVO-700A

WHAT'S HOT: This small-business-oriented unit includes two connection options: a network card and a modem. The solidly constructed keyboard allows smooth, quiet typing and includes many programmable buttons. This midsize tower offers nearly effortless access to the interior through a sliding side panel. You also get a 4X CD-RW drive and a 10X DVD-ROM drive.

WHAT'S NOT: The system's interior is so cluttered that you can't see the RAM slots, but fortunately you'll find ample room for expansion once you wade in.

No DVD software player was installed with the DVD-ROM drive on our test system, though playback looked smooth after we installed a player ourselves.

WHAT ELSE: Text looks crisp on the AOC Spectrum 7Glr monitor at a resolution of 1600 by 1200, but you probably won't want to crank it up that high. The Altec Lansing ADA305 three-speaker set permits on-screen control when connected through the USB port. A PC WorldBench 98 score of 283 puts the Venture PVO-700A slightly below the average for Athlon-700 machines we've tested, but it's still very quick.

BEST USE: With its CD-RW drive, DVD-ROM drive, modem, and network card, this computer is ready for any office that can pay the $2299 price.

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