SAN FRANCISCO (03/03/2000) - There's action this month on the midrange chart, as two new systems debut. One of them, Dell Computer Corp.'s Dimension L600r, grabs the top spot; it's an excellent choice if you need fast performance, a good monitor, and superior reliability. If space constraints and a tight budget limit your options, check out Gateway 2000 Inc.'s $799 Astro, which remains our number one pick in the budget category.
1 Dell Dimension XPS T650R
What's Hot: Though we're beginning to see faster systems carrying more-powerful processors, this Pentium III-650 system boasts great speed for its CPU class, sprinting to a PC WorldBench 98 score of 278. In our multimedia tests, we obtained spiffy frame rates on AVI video playback and 3D games, thanks in part to the high-end NVidia GeForce 256 AGP graphics board. Dell's 19-inch M990 monitor displayed luscious colors in our graphics tests and generated crisp text (even at small font sizes) at 1280 by 1024 resolution. Dell's version of Microsoft's Natural Keyboard Pro features programmable buttons, multimedia controls, and two USB ports.
What's Not: The swank Harman/Kardon HK595 speakers and subwoofer account for some of this PC's $2349 price. But the hefty subwoofer is paired with speakers that deliver only moderate volume and middling tonal quality. Another quibble:
We had to bump up the monitor's brightness to view DVD movies comfortably, and then return to the original settings for other tasks.
What Else: The XPS T650r offers great expandability, with three open drive bays (two external and one internal) and three open slots. A plastic bar (which you can easily remove) spans the front of the case, blocking access to several of the slots. The system comes with an Iomega Zip 100 drive. Dell includes a well-illustrated setup poster, and its nicely organized troubleshooting guide tackles key maintenance issues well. The accompanying software bundle includes Microsoft Works 4.5 and Microsoft Web Publishing.
Best Use: A great PC for the power user who wants lots of room to expand.
1 Dell Dimension L600R
What's Hot: The L600r, one of two Pentium III-600E systems we've seen, earned a PC WorldBench 98 score of 263. Graphics on the 17-inch Trinitron monitor look lush. Text was easy to read at 1024 by 768 resolution, though at higher resolutions we had to adjust the refresh rate to eliminate some distracting flicker. The Altec Lansing ACS 304 speakers and subwoofer produce rich sound.
Want to create your own home network? The L600r packs a 3Com networking card that uses your phone lines to connect PCs. (You'll need to install a similar card in each of your other PCs to make a connection.)What's Not: The L600r posted disappointing frame-rate marks in our 3D gaming tests. Video playback looked blocky on both Redline Racer and Incoming. Frame rates for AVI playback, on the other hand, were excellent. Both results are consistent with those of other systems that use Intel's integrated 810 chip set. One free PCI slot and one free drive bay limit the system's expandability.
What Else: System setup is a snap thanks to a helpful, well-illustrated instruction sheet and clearly marked cables and connectors. A reference and troubleshooting manual provides lots of basic maintenance advice. A comprehensive help system resides in the PC's hard drive. The robust software bundle includes Microsoft's Worksuite 99.
Best Use: The speedy L600r can handle most home or home-office tasks, as long as you avoid fast-moving games and other demanding graphics applications.
1 Gateway Astro
What's Hot: The Astro's all-in-one case makes it easy to set up. A well-written manual and an online-based "Quick Answers" database cover maintenance and how-to topics. The entire system is the size of a 15-inch monitor, with a slightly swollen base. Budget shoppers will like the Astro's $799 price.
What's Not: The compact design makes upgrades almost impossible. You can't remove the case to add new components, and you have to send the unit to Gateway for repairs. With a PC WorldBench 98 score of 181, the Astro trails other Celeron-400-based home PCs.
What Else: Text on the Astro's 15-inch monitor looked crisp at 800 by 600 resolution. Colors appeared realistic but not rich.
Best Use: The compact, user-friendly Astro suits PC novices looking for a reliable, low-cost machine.
We tested seven new systems this month, but only three of them managed to achieve the scores necessary to muscle their way onto the charts.
Debuting at number two on the midrange chart is CyberMax's Enthusiast A 550B.
Its AMD Athlon-550 CPU performs on a par with Intel's PIII-600, and the 550B costs less than many PIII systems. Our advice? Use those savings to upgrade from the monitor bundled with the system to a flat-screen display.
Also new is Hewlett-Packard's 8595c, the first system packing a Pentium III-733 CPU to grab a Top 15 Home PCs ranking. The HP 8595c has a huge 36.5GB hard drive, too. Despite the HP's impressive PC WorldBench 98 score of 288, however, the PIII-700-based Quantex GX700 remains the fastest home PC we've seen, with a PC WorldBench 98 score of 293.
Where's the woof? Fancy speakers sound flat on Dell's $2349 Dimension XPS T650r.
A generous $390 price cut raises Compaq's souped-up Presario 5900Z-700 a notch in the power rankings.
Kirk Steers is a contributing editor for PC World.