Top 10 Power PCs

SAN FRANCISCO (05/26/2000) - Got CPU envy? If you simply must have the latest in processor power (and you've got the cash to pay for it), the machines on this month's chart just might satisfy your craving. Three speedy new systems appear on the chart, including the Gateway 2000 Inc. Select 1000--the first 1-gigahertz PC on the Top 10.

1 DELL DIMENSION XPS B800R

WHAT'S HOT: Throw a PIII-800 CPU into a Windows NT 4.0 machine, and you've got ripsnorting speed: This Dell's score of 201 on our PC WorldBench 2000 tests is the highest attained by any NT system we've seen. Top-drawer extras include an 8X/4X/32X CD-RW drive, an Iomega Zip 100 drive, both a modem and a network card, and Microsoft Office 2000 Small Business Edition. Dell cut the price almost $500 this month, lifting this PC into first place.

WHAT'S NOT: Even with the price drop, the Dimension XPS B800r is still fairly expensive at $2735. And while Dell provides ample documentation for the standard equipment, our unit lacked paperwork for some extra components.

WHAT ELSE: The system uses high-priced, high-speed Rambus DRAM (RDRAM), which is designed to rev up memory-intensive apps. Despite the add-in goodies, this Dell still provides two open PCI slots and three open bays in its neat interior. You also get a quick-setup manual and a thick troubleshooting guide.

BEST USE: For users who must have everything--regardless of sticker price--this Dell looks like a million bucks.

2 AXIS SYSTEMS TERRA AXD

WHAT'S HOT: For less money than some of the other systems on the power chart, this $2399 Axis abounds with multimedia features, including an 8X DVD-ROM drive bolstered by a hardware decoder card and a Cambridge SoundWorks FPS1000 five-speaker set pumping out rich surround sound. With an AMD Athlon-850 CPU and Windows NT 4.0, the Terra earned a score of 194 on our PC WorldBench 2000 tests--not the highest we've seen in similarly configured systems, but well above par. Colors on the 19-inch Axis 900CX monitor appear vibrant, and text looks sharp at the standard resolutions.

WHAT'S NOT: The two drive bays block access to the free RAM slots, making it a bit of a chore to add more memory. You also have to remove four screws and tug off the entire case to get inside.

WHAT ELSE: A detailed system manual offers substantial troubleshooting and upgrading information, and Axis provides thorough documentation for individual components. The midsize tower has three open PCI slots and two open bays. The 8X/4X/32X CD-RW drive lets you back up your data quickly.

BEST USE: With its loads of multimedia features, this Axis would make an excellent presentation system.

3 MICRON MILLENNIA MAX 800

WHAT'S HOT: A well-designed interior offers four open slots and five open bays, and its power supply swings out for even more elbow room. Text stayed sharp up to the unbelievably high resolution of 2048 by 1536 on the 19-inch Micron Trinitron CPD-4401 monitor. Colors appeared rich (if a tad dark) on our test images.

WHAT'S NOT: There's neither a removable storage option nor a CD-RW drive. And this PIII-800 unit scored just 149 on our PC WorldBench 2000 tests--only six points better than its PIII-677 cousin, the Millennia Max 667.

WHAT ELSE: This $2499 Millennia earns a plus for documentation, thanks to its setup poster and thorough system manual, but it lacks some component manuals.

The large midsize tower features twin fans, a case lock, and a side that pops off smoothly (though reattaching it takes some fiddling). The 800-MHz unit's motherboard provides both Slot 1 and Socket 370 processor slots, which allows you to upgrade the system with either type of CPU.

BEST USE: With its excellent monitor, this PC makes a pretty presentation system.

4 DELL OPTIPLEX GX300

WHAT'S HOT: Running Windows 2000 Professional, the OptiPlex GX300 posted a PC WorldBench 2000 score of 165, trailing the Windows NT machines but outpacing all the Win 98 systems on the chart. A tidy interior provides chassis intrusion detection, a case lock, a swing-out power supply, five open PCI slots, and three open (and toolless) drive bays. Dell's 19-inch UltraScan P991 monitor delivers vibrant colors and crisp text at resolutions up to 1600 by 1200.

WHAT'S NOT: This $2948 OptiPlex is hardly cheap. Dell posts most of its documentation online; the print version of the main system manual contains only the bare minimum, and paper documentation for individual components isn't included (though you can order it for free).

WHAT ELSE: Despite the easy-service chassis, the memory slots are buried, and the interior feels cramped until you swing the power supply out of the way. But thanks to the 8X/4X/32X CD-RW drive, making backups is fast and easy.

BEST USE: For businesses that want to get started with Windows 2000 Pro as soon as possible, this OptiPlex offers a substantial bang, albeit for a lot of bucks.

5 GATEWAY GP7-800

WHAT'S HOT: A speedy PC WorldBench 2000 score of 156 places the Gateway GP7-800 in the front of the pack among similarly configured PIII-800 systems. The gargantuan tower offers lots of room for expansion, with three open PCI slots and six open bays. Bundled with a network interface card, a hefty 30GB hard drive, and Microsoft Office 2000 Small Business Edition, the GP7-800 is ready for business.

WHAT'S NOT: For $2428, we would expect a DVD-ROM or CD-RW drive, but the system ships with a standard 17X-40X CD-ROM drive.

WHAT ELSE: Colors on the 19-inch Gateway EV910 monitor look rich but a bit dark, while text remains sharp up to the maximum resolution of 1600 by 1200.

The system is simple to set up, with labeled, color-coded ports and a side panel that's easy to remove and reconnect. The system manual is thick and features helpful color illustrations, useful upgrading tips, and troubleshooting information.

BEST USE: For those who need performance and expandability, the GP7-800 won't disappoint.

6 QUANTEX SM800

WHAT'S HOT: Earning a score of 148 on our PC WorldBench 2000 tests, the SM800 turned in above-average performance for a PIII-800 running Windows 98. If the monster-size 30GB hard drive proves insufficient for your storage needs, you can use the included Iomega Zip 250 removable-media drive. The SM800 also uses an NVidia GeForce 256 AGP graphics card for outstanding image quality.

WHAT'S NOT: The somewhat flimsy side panel of this minitower takes some work to reattach. At its bargain $2149 price, the system lacks a network interface card, which might limit connectivity options.

WHAT ELSE: The SM800 provides lots of room for expansion, with four open slots (three PCI and one ISA) and three open bays, but the system's somewhat cramped interior makes access difficult. The solid multimedia keyboard supports smooth typing, and its extra programmable buttons allow handy shortcuts. Corel WordPerfect Office 2000--a strong suite of software tools for the small-office user--comes bundled with the system.

BEST USE: The business extras and its solid performance make this PC at home in a nonnetworked small office.

7 DELL DIMENSION XPS B866R

WHAT'S HOT: Running Windows 2000 Professional and with a Pentium III-866 CPU inside, this Dimension hustles, earning a score of 170 on our PC WorldBench 2000 tests. The XPS B866r also includes some of the latest hardware and software within its midsize tower: an Iomega Zip 100 drive, a fast 8X/4X/32X CD-RW drive, and a 30GB hard drive for plenty of storage and backup room; and both a network interface card and a modem. The 19-inch Dell UltraScan P991 monitor won't disappoint either. Powered by an NVidia GeForce double data rate graphics card, it displays rich colors, and text remains crisp at the maximum resolution of 1600 by 1200.

WHAT'S NOT: Of course, you can expect to pay for all of these extras: At $3179, this Dimension is the most expensive PC on the chart. The components also contribute to a somewhat cluttered interior.

WHAT ELSE: Documentation includes a helpful setup poster and a huge reference and troubleshooting guide, but you get no manuals for individual components.

Accessing the system's interior is simple, thanks to a thumbscrew that enables the side to slide on and off easily. Two open PCI slots and three open bays provide room for expansion.

BEST USE: For an office that's looking for the latest and greatest features with performance to match--and is immune to sticker shock--this Dell will fit right in.

8 POLYWELL POLY 800K7

WHAT'S HOT: The 800K7's score of 151 on PC WorldBench 2000 tests was one of the highest we've seen so far for an Athlon-800 unit running Windows 98. The 19-inch ViewSonic E790 monitor displays rich, deep colors and easily readable text at up to 1600 by 1200 resolution. And because the NVidia GeForce 256 AGP graphics card includes a digital output port, you can use it to drive a digital flat-panel monitor.

WHAT'S NOT: The Poly's cramped interior doesn't give you much room to work, and the rear ports are labeled with stickers that could easily come off.

WHAT ELSE: This machine uses two 13.5GB hard drives connected to an IDE RAID card to speed disk-intensive tasks. The thick system manual holds lots of information but too few pictures.

BEST USE: This Polywell makes a fast utility vehicle for a small office.

9 SYS PERFORMANCE 850A

WHAT'S HOT: Coming with twin 20.5GB hard drives (connected by a Promise Ultra ATA/66 RAID card), the Sys Performance 850A offers ample storage. One of the first Athlon-850 systems we've tested for the Top 100, it zoomed to a score of 198 on our PC WorldBench 2000 benchmark tests--respectably high even for a system running Windows NT 4.0.

WHAT'S NOT: The price of the 850A increased $100 from last month. For $2799, we'd like to see more than just a standard 17X-40X CD-ROM drive.

WHAT ELSE: The 19-inch ViewSonic Professional Series PF790 monitor displays crisp text up to the maximum resolution of 1280 by 1024, but colors look washed out. The Matrox G400 Maxx graphics card offers comprehensive output options: dual-head display, S-Video, and composite out for connecting a second monitor or for television or DVD playback.

BEST USE: With a speedy Athlon-850 CPU inside, this PC should keep power users ahead of the performance curve for a while.

10 GATEWAY SELECT 1000

WHAT'S HOT: Multimedia features highlight this Gateway, the first 1-GHz system on the chart. Movies on the 12X DVD-ROM drive look sharp and steady, and the 19-inch Gateway VX900 monitor produces vibrant colors and crisp text even at 1600 by 1200 resolution. Other handy extras include a sturdy multimedia keyboard with several programmable buttons as well as a 4X/4X/24X CD-RW drive should the 30GB hard drive prove insufficient for your storage needs.

WHAT'S NOT: You'll pay steeply ($2899) for the Athlon-1000 CPU inside without getting any benefit in added performance: The PC WorldBench 2000 score of 155 is one of the slowest for all gigahertz systems we've tested so far--and barely faster than the similarly configured Athlon-850 systems we've seen.

WHAT ELSE: Opening the tall midsize tower is simple; after removing two large thumbscrews, the solid system side slides off and back on smoothly via guide rails. Although cables clutter the interior somewhat, three open PCI slots and four open drive bays provide lots of expansion room.

BEST USE: For those lusting after a gigahertz machine, the Gateway Select 1000 certainly meets the spec. But buyers needing power can find better value in a less expensive system.

Tech Trend

Microsoft Windows 2000...in 2000?

The latest iteration of Microsoft Corp.'s operating system--Windows 2000--has been slow to show up in the systems on our Top 10 PCs charts. While some PC vendors are readily offering Windows 2000, others say their customers don't want to make the transition from Windows NT to the new OS just yet.

Windows 2000 first appeared on the May Top 10 Power PCs chart, in the Dell OptiPlex GX300 (number four this month). According to Anne Camden, a Dell spokesperson, the upgrade rate to Windows 2000 has been about what the company expected. "[The upgrade] has not been, nor will it be, a quick transition," she says.

Axis Systems offers Windows 2000 as an option, but Willy Hsu, an Axis spokesperson, says that the company is not getting many requests for the new OS. "Only about a quarter of our [customers] have said that they're considering upgrading in the next three months--they want to wait for all the bugs and incompatibilities to be worked out."

Other vendors are more readily making the change. "There really isn't any...reluctance on Micron's part," says Patrick Kimball, a Micron spokesperson.

Even those customers who are reluctant to embrace Windows 2000 don't have any disparaging remarks about the OS, says Axis Systems' Hsu. "Nobody's saying it's a bad operating system, but the main response we've been getting has been, 'Not yet'."

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 PCWorld.com (www.pcworld.com/t10pcs).

*ABS Performance 1 Athlon

*AcerPower 8600

*Polywell Poly 800K7-1000.

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