Top 10 Power PCs

Driven by beefier new processors from AMD and Intel, systems on this month's power chart live life in the fast lane. The Dell Dimension XPS 700r, powered by a Pentium III-700 CPU and running on Windows NT, sets a new PC WorldBench 98 record--and it debuts at number one. CyberMax's AMD Athlon-700-based Enthusiast A700W takes second place on the strength of swift performance, robust features, and an affordable price.

1 DELL DIMENSION XPS T700R

WHAT'S HOT: The 700-MHz Pentium III processor (based on the Coppermine design) running on Windows NT 4.0 produced a record-breaking score of 373 on our PC WorldBench 98 tests. The 17-inch Trinitron-based Dell UltraScan P780 monitor adds excellent display quality to the mix. Colors in our test images appeared deep and vibrant, while text remained sharp up to the maximum resolution of 1600 by 1200. A 3Com 10/100 network interface card, a Sony CD-RW drive, and an Iomega Zip 100 drive round out the package.

WHAT'S NOT: Power and performance don't come cheap. At a hefty $2659, this Dell isn't the priciest machine on our power chart, but it'll put a noticeable spike on your credit card balance. And though the case's side panel pops off easily so you can reach inner components, getting it back on takes some finesse.

WHAT ELSE: The Dimension XPS T700r comes with a quick-setup guide and a thick system manual with detailed troubleshooting info and illustrations. The Altec Lansing ACS340 three-speaker set provides crisp sound and strong bass. Three open slots and three open bays offer fair expansion room, but an internal crossbar and cables impede access to them.

BEST USE: The Dimension's network card and its Zip drive and CD-RW drive (which together accommodate tons of data) makes this a business user's dream.

2 CYBERMAX ENTHUSIAST A700W

WHAT'S HOT: The CyberMax CX-900N 19-inch monitor displayed deep, vibrant colors in our test images. The 3dfx Voodoo3 3500 TV graphics board permits television input and delivers crisp images. The Aureal Vortex 2 sound card and Altec Lansing ACS45.1W speakers generate loud, clear sound with solid bass. Storage won't be a problem for quite a while, thanks to the system's 27.3GB hard drive.

WHAT'S NOT: It's not much of a knock, but this Athlon 700-based machine's PC WorldBench 98 score of 288 is only a few points above the average we've recorded for Athlon-650 systems.

WHAT ELSE: Documentation includes a decent manual--nicely illustrated with screen shots and photos--and a quick-setup guide. The 8X DVD-ROM drive, complete with software MPEG-2 decoder, autoplayed our test movie but paused while other applications were opening. With four open slots and five open drive bays, the interior offers generous expansion room; unfortunately, the bundled cabling blocks access to the RAM slots.

BEST USE: With an Iomega Zip 100 drive, a modem, and an affordable $2299 price, this Enthusiast will make any small-office user bubble with praise.

3 COMPAQ PROSIGNIA 330 PIII-550

WHAT'S HOT: The score of 246 on our PC WorldBench 98 tests is slightly above average for a PIII-550 machine running Windows 98. The system includes great multimedia extras: an Iomega Zip 250 drive, a Diamond NVidia Vanta graphics board, and a Sound Blaster Live card. The 19-inch Compaq S900 monitor offers impressive display quality: Text and images remain crisp even at 1600 by 1200 resolution.

WHAT'S NOT: Some front bezel pieces--the floppy drive faceplate and the eject button, especially--were loose on the unit we saw. Aside from the one open drive bay, you'll find a single free ISA, one open PCI, and one open combination PCI/ISA slot inside.

WHAT ELSE: The Prosignia 330 ships with Microsoft Office 97 Small Business Edition and Norton AntiVirus Deluxe, plus a vast 20GB hard drive to hold them and any other programs you want. The solidly constructed keyboard is a pleasure to use.

BEST USE: The Prosignia hits the target for small-business users who won't accept inferior or integrated components.

4 QUANTEX SM600 SE

WHAT'S HOT: The SM600 SE is one of the fastest Win 98-based PIII-600 systems we've seen. For just $2099, it carries lots of RAM, a large hard disk, an 8X DVD-ROM drive, and an NVidia RIVA TNT2 Ultra video card. Music and movies sound great on the Altec Lansing ADA 305W satellite-and-subwoofer system, which supports Dolby ProLogic Surround Sound controlled by a USB cable. The case interior is spacious and well laid out.

WHAT'S NOT: Three thumbscrews plus an old-school, all-metal wraparound enclosure don't facilitate entry. Labels for the rear ports are inconveniently located on a separate diagram pad.

WHAT ELSE: The clear documentation includes a helpful setup poster but no hard-copy software manuals. Though the 19-inch Diamondtron monitor yielded laser-sharp text in our tests, colors looked slightly faded, and we noticed a dark patch in one corner. You get three open internal and three open externally accessible drive bays, but just one free PCI slot and three open ISA slots (a modem, a network card, and a sound card fill three PCI slots).

BEST USE: The SM600 SE is suited for any office that uses ISA peripherals.

5 IBM PC 300PL

WHAT'S HOT: At $2081, the IBM PC 300PL carries the lowest price of any system on the power chart. Its 13GB hard drive and Iomega Zip 100 drive provide plenty of storage space, though not as much as some other power PCs offer. IBM bundles its own ViaVoice dictation software and Lotus SmartSuite with the system.

WHAT'S NOT: We had varying degrees of success reaching reps during our anonymous tech support calls. When we got through, technicians were generally knowledgeable, but they sometimes seemed rather impatient.

WHAT ELSE: This midsize tower includes a built-in ethernet connection, and it has two open bays and five open expansion slots. The system's PC WorldBench 98 score of 232 matches the average for PIII-500 machines running Windows 98.

BEST USE: The PC 300PL would work well as a presentation PC or multimedia development system for business users in a networked office.

6 MICRON MILLENNIA MAX 600

WHAT'S HOT: The Millennia Max 600's NVidia GeForce 256 graphics card joins forces with the bundled 19-inch monitor to produce radiant images. Colors appear rich and text remains crisp up to the maximum resolution of 1600 by 1200. The Millennia Max 600 also has plenty of expansion room inside its case--five open slots and five open drive bays.

WHAT'S NOT: The integrated Sound Blaster AudioPCI chip and the Advent AV009 three-speaker set produce robust bass through the subwoofer but mediocre sound from the satellites. Though the side panel pops off easily--thanks to a single handle on the back of the PC--replacing it takes more effort.

WHAT ELSE: With a 254 PC WorldBench 98 score, this machine delivers average performance for a PIII-600 system running Windows 98. Its $2301 price tag is also average for a power system. The Millennia Max 600's manual has lots of useful photos, and you get a quick-setup guide. The 8X DVD-ROM drive autoplayed our test video, and playback was smooth even with other apps open.

BEST USE: Equipped with a modem but no network interface card, the Millennia Max 600 is most appropriate for small offices. Vibrant display quality and flawless DVD playback cater to those who give lots of presentations.

7 POLYWELL 800K7-650

WHAT'S HOT: The Polywell's fine PC WorldBench 98 score of 277 falls a few points shy of the scores earned by other Athlon-650 systems we've tested.

Inside the case, wires are neatly bundled to allow easy access to all components. The Poly offers ample expansion room, with four open slots and three open drive bays (one of the filled 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 nondemanding tasks. The silver case looks like something spray-painted at Bubba's Body Shop.

WHAT ELSE: At $2295, the 800K7-650 is fairly inexpensive for a power system.

The one-piece cover opens without tools, but you must remove the whole thing to get inside. The unimpressively constructed Aiwa TS-CD40 speakers deliver adequate sound. Video playback on the 6X DVD-ROM drive is smooth, even with other applications open, but movies didn't start automatically in our tests.

Polywell bundles Lotus SmartSuite 97 with the 800K7-650.

BEST USE: Even with its mediocre monitor, this powerful system should be able to drive any small office for many moons.

8 AXIS SYSTEMS ORION 100A DVD

WHAT'S HOT: The Orion packs a Zip 100 drive, a 6X DVD-ROM drive, and a 4X CD-RW drive. The ViewSonic G770 19-inch monitor displays clear text and graphics even at 1600 by 1200 resolution. The Creative Labs Sound Blaster Live audio card and classy Cambridge SoundWorks 1000 speaker system provide terrific Surround Sound. DVD video playback is great, even with other programs running.

WHAT'S NOT: Removing the case involves taking off the top and then the side panels.

WHAT ELSE: The Orion's PC WorldBench 98 score of 241 is average for a PIII-550 running Win 98. Microsoft's Natural Keyboard allows smooth typing. Rear ports are labeled but not color-coded.

BEST USE: The Orion would make a great presentation system, thanks to its formidable multimedia features.

9 MICRON MILLENNIA MAX 733

WHAT'S HOT: The Micron Millennia Max 733 system zoomed to a score of 309 on our PC WorldBench 98 tests, the fastest score that we've ever recorded for a Windows 98 computer. This Micron boasts a vibrant 19-inch monitor and a graphics card built around the NVidia GeForce 256 chip. DVD-ROM playback looked smooth even when we had other applications open.

WHAT'S NOT: The midsize tower's side panel comes off easily when you pull down a handle in the back, but it goes back on less obligingly.

WHAT ELSE: The Monsoon MM-700 flat speakers deliver excellent sound in conjunction with system's Aureal Vortex 2 sound card. Four open slots and five open bays provide plenty of expansion room. And you can install or remove expansion cards without tools, thanks to a sliding rail that holds the cards.

The system manual features many photos, and the quick-setup guide and Micron University tutorial CD-ROMs are nice extras.

BEST USE: With no network card, the Millennia Max 733 would be ideal for a small office in search of cutting-edge performance.

10 SYS PERFORMANCE 600A

WHAT'S HOT: The Sys parlayed its 600-MHz AMD Athlon chip into a PC WorldBench 98 score of 345, beating comparable Pentium III systems running Win NT. Two 9.1GB hard drives link to a Promise UltraDMA 66 PCI card in a RAID configuration to accelerate certain disk-intensive operations. Plug two monitors into the Matrox Millennium G400 DH (for dual head) video card to view your desktop across both displays. Creative Labs' Sound Blaster card delivers fine audio. Sys's labor warranty is unusually long.

WHAT'S NOT: Faded colors and fuzzy text from Sys's SPM17 MS monitor sandbag the system's graphics potential. Hardware documentation consists of a single laser-printed setup sheet and component manuals for the CD-ROM drive and monitor. Sys cuts tech support from 24 hours daily to 9 hours on weekdays after the first year.

WHAT ELSE: At $2299, it's relatively inexpensive for a power system. You need a screwdriver to get inside the all-metal case, but the side panel detaches quickly and slides back on easily--the fit and finish are impressive. The soft-touch keyboard has a removable wrist rest.

BEST USE: With a better monitor (or two), the Sys would be great for 2D graphics--you could keep your work on one display and your tools on the other.

TECH TREND

Is a True 1-GHz Desktop Just Around the Corner?

As processor speeds gallop toward the gigahertz (1000-MHz) mark, you may wonder which vendor will reach that milestone first. In recent weeks, systems like the Sys Performance 700A and the CyberMax Enthusiast A700W, which sport AMD's 700-MHz Athlon processor, impressed us with their performance. Then came Intel's new Pentium III-733 chip. The Micron Millennia Max 733, based on that processor, is the fastest Windows 98 PC we've seen. So how far are we from a gigahertz CPU? In one sense, we're already there.

The aptly named KryoTech firm uses refrigeration to supercool its systems' processors so that they outpace their rated clock speeds. The company began shipping Super-G, a supercooled 1-GHz computer, on December 1, 1999.

Unfortunately, the components required for cooling the processor make for a very heavy PC--around 60 pounds instead of 15 to 20.

Meanwhile, other vendors are pursuing more traditional avenues in their quest to break the 1-GHz barrier. "We will provide high-performance processors--for all users--that don't require expensive add-ons [like refrigeration]," says Intel spokesperson George Alfs. For its part, AMD supports supercooling--but like Intel, it doesn't endorse overclocking. "There's no easy way to go about overclocking our systems anymore," says AMD spokesperson Drew Prairie, whose company has changed its chip design to make the chips difficult to overclock.

Stay tuned.

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 PC World Online (www.pcworld.com/t10pcs).

*Axis Systems Terra AXM/AMD 650

*Sys Performance 700A

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