Product Focus: PCs

Dozens of technology companies are constantly offering better and faster PCs. Here's some of the latest and greatest, including tips on navigating your way through the waters.

by / July 31, 1996
The personal computer market has matured. In the old days, IBM, Commodore, Apple and a few others stood alone as the manufactures of quality machines. Today, dozens of newcomers have brought their offerings to the table. Thus, procurement officers have a broad and diverse array from which to choose.

When examining their needs, procurement people must consider how the machine is going to meet the needs of the job. Obviously, an office assistant doesn't need 180MHz of speed to perform word processing, while an engineer using a CAD program will be hindered with a 66MHz model. While anyone would love a lightning-fast PC fully rigged with surround-sound speakers, a CD-ROM player and 20 million colors, such a machine may not be the best one for the job.

Compaq Computer Corp. has a reputation for producing quality PCs. Their line includes the DeskPro, DeskPro XL, Prolinea and others. The DeskPro offers intelligent management features, including AssetControl, which allows managers, for example, to analyze and track office desktops on-site or remotely.

Another feature is the IntelliSafe hard drive, which predicts and alerts the user of an impending failure. This allows users a supplementary safeguard, in addition to regular backups, to protect valuable data. As an added bonus, Compaq includes a pre-failure warranty that allows users to replace the drive before it fails.

The DeskPro offers a broad range of standard processor speeds and comes with a 32-bit PCI, Ethernet or IBM ISA Token Ring with preinstalled network drivers, 8MB or 16MB of standard RAM (expandable to 192MB), two PCI/ISA shared slots, hard-drive memory varying from 840MB to 2GB, and more.

It also comes with software programs preinstalled, including Windows 95 or 3.1, Compaq Insight Management for Windows 95, Compaq Diagnostics for Windows Utility, Compaq Control Center, Network Setup Utility and Ethernet NIC drivers.

For workers who need higher levels of performance, the DeskPro XL might be the ticket. This machine offers top-level performance with a processor speed that starts at 100MHz and includes a 1.05GB or 2.1GB hard drive. An obvious workhorse, the XL includes enough memory and speed for high-end applications, such as AutoDesk's AutoCAD or graphics programs like PhotoShop or QuarkXpress.

Unlike many other computers, the XL contains a SilentCool fan that prevents users from having to listen to the constant "hum" that can be heard on most PCs. It also offers multimedia capabilities, including an optional quad-speed CD-ROM or re-writeable PD-CD drive, an integrated high-fidelity speaker and microphone, volume control, an external microphone and headphone jacks.

Managers working under budget constraints may want to research the ProLinea, a full-featured, price-competitive machine that comes standard with energy-saving features. The ProLinea comes in 100MHz, 120MHz, 133MHz, 150MHz or 160MHz models which can be upgraded at any time. The ProLinea contains two PC/ISA shared slots, two ISA slots, one Compaq option slot, three externally accessible drive bays and one internal drive bay.

It also features first-rate security, including a power-on password, setup password, QuickLock, QuickBlank, keyboard password, network server mode, diskette boot control, diskette control, FLASH ROM lock, parallel interface control, serial interface control, diskette drive control, hard drive control and U-bolt/cable lock provision.

For more information, contact Compaq Computer Corp., P.O. Box 692000, Houston, TX 77269, or call 800/345-1518.

Swan Technologies makes an all-out effort to help its customers. If you're uncertain of what PC features you need, the company supplies a handy guide called The Swan Technologies PC Configuration Planning Guide. This convenient reference explains basic features included in its product line. Swan's goal is to help you get the maximum computing value, build a computer configuration with the correct options for the tasks you wish to perform, and identify the computer with the best performance to meet your needs.

Swan's PowerHouse desktop series is well-suited for the government market. It includes plug-and-play peripherals, systemboards equipped with several expansion slots, three PCI slots for adding PCI peripherals, enhanced 64 graphics accelerator card, Extended Data Out (EDO) memory for graphic acceleration and Pentium processor speeds that run between 100MHz and 166MHz.

It also comes standard with a PCI local-bus interface, 1.6GB hard drive, six-speed CD-ROM drive and a 1.44MB floppy disk drive. These features, although optional in most systems, come with every PowerHouse machine, making it a valuable investment that won't end up costing extra for add-ons.

For details, contact Swan Technologies, 313 Boston Post Rd., Ste. 200, Marlborough, MA 01752, or call 508/460-4218.

What makes NEC products stand out from the crowd are the extra services the company provides with each purchase. NEC recently introduced the PowerMate series, which features Pentium processor speeds between 75MHz and 133MHz. This new line comes with NEC's commitment to offer desktop products with low failure rates, better technical assistance and less down time. This means customers can obtain technical support seven days a week, 24 hours a day, by calling the corporate desktop warranty program at 800/388-8888.

Other standard warranty features include a three-year warranty, on-site service for the first year, on-site response within 16 business hours, and on-site warranty for NEC monitors if purchased with the system.

The PowerMate itself comes in several system models, including the VE, V, P and Pro series. Each system comes standard with 8MB or 16MB of RAM, 16.7 million colors, 32-bit Bus Mastering enhanced IDE, 145 watts of power and a 28.8kpbs modem. The VE series includes a quad-speed CD-ROM while the V, P and Pro feature a six-speed model.

For further details, contact NEC Technologies, 339 N. Bernardo Ave., Mountain View, CA 94043, or call 415/528-6000.

A review of PCs couldn't be complete without a mention of IBM's latest product line. IBM recently revamped its popular Aptiva machine by increasing its Pentium processor speeds to 150MHz and 166MHz. Other new features include a six-speed CD-ROM for smoother animation and video, a four-speed CD-ROM changer that stores up to four CDs at once and allows for continuous, random or shuffle play of audio.

Other basic extras include full-screen MPEG support, 1MB of VRAM (expandable to 2MB), up to 16 million colors, accelerated 64-bit graphics, 16-bit CD-quality sound, SoundBlaster support, two stereo speakers with built-in amplifier, and a 14.4kbps or 28.8kbps modem.

An Aptiva purchase includes lots of software titles. Some of these titles include Windows 95, Microsoft Works 3.0, Quicken for Windows, Wall Street Money, Launch Pad, Journalist for CompuServe, Aptiva Communication Center, Internet Access Kit, and America Online, CompuServe or Prodigy trial subscriptions. Dozens of other educational and multimedia titles come with it as well.

For further details, contact IBM Personal Computer Co., Rte. 100, Somers, NY 10589, or call 914/766-3457.

Micron has just added to its Millennia TransPort notebook with the addition of a 12.1 inch active-matrix display. The new display will support up to 800x600 resolution and is run by a integrated graphics accelerator with 1MB EDO Memory. With an upgrade price of only $200 over the standard 11.3 inch screen, Micron positions itself as an industry leader again.

The Micron Millennia TransPort still holds all the power and usage of a desktop computer with the modular bays for peripheral and drive replacement. Designed around an Intel 133MHz processor and the Intel PCI mobile 430MX chipset, the TransPort also offers two Type II and one Type III PCMCIA slots and two Infrared Ports (one front, one rear). The TransPort comes standard with a removable CD-ROM and an integrated SoundBlaster 16-sound chip for multimedia applications. With the addition of the MicronDock and MicronExecutive desktop package you have the power of a desktop and the convenience of a notebook.

The Micron Millennia Transport is preloaded with Microsoft Windows 95 and Microsoft Office 95. It also comes with a Samsonite custom nylon carrying case, and is covered by the MicronPower five-year/three-year limited warranty.

For further details on the Micron Millennia TransPort or any of Micron's other products, contact Micron at 800/588-4803, x 5348.

Although Apple is just getting over its $740 million loss and adjusting to a new CEO, it still continues to offer the best alternative to Windows with its Power Mac models. The 7200, 8500 and 9500 models come with PowerPC 604 microprocessors that run at lighting speeds of 150MHz and support up to 200MHz. Apple also expanded the minimum entry-level hard drive configurations to 1.2GB.

All models ship with System 7.5.3 preinstalled, Apple Internet Connection Kit, which includes Netscape Navigator 2.0, Claris Emailer Lite and others. The 7200 comes with 8MB of RAM (expandable to 256MB); the 8500 and 9500 come with 8MB or 16MB of RAM (expandable to 768MB). Hard disk drives come in either 1.2 GB or 2GB and all machines are Energy Star compliant.

To learn more, contact Apple Computer Inc., 1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino, CA 95014, or call 408/996-1010.

Overall, if you examine the Pentium market, 133MHz to 150MHz seems to be the basic range of offerings. On the other hand, Digital unveiled its new line of 180MHz and 200MHz Pentium Pro processors that are being placed in their Celebris XL line of workstations.

Celebris offers speed, but in the process shortchanges a few of the added features found on some other desktop models. For example, instead of offering a six-speed CD-ROM, the Celebris comes with a quad-speed. For workers who are unconcerned about CD-ROM performance and don't use much multimedia, this feature shouldn't be considered a negative.

The Celebris base configuration features 16MB of RAM, a graphics card, 1.44MB floppy drive, 256KB WB Cache, Windows NT installed and more. The high-end configuration includes 32MB of RAM, 3D graphics card, 2GB SCSI drive with ultra SCSI adapter and more.

For information, contact Digital Equipment Corp., Maynard, MA 01754, or call 508/264-7981.

For those who don't like to fool around putting a machine together, Dell offers the Dimension XPS Pro, a Pentium Pro processor machine that comes fully configured. The XPS Pro180n and Pro200n systems are based on the 180 and 200MHz processor and include the 440FX chipset, which offers a faster EDO memory.

The XPS features a 2GB SCSI drive, a new chassis that offers easier access to internal components through an improved layout, more efficient cooling, EDO RAM that starts at 16MB, and an eight-speed CD-ROM player on the 200n. The XPS also offers a new video solution via the Number Nine Imagine 128 Series 2 card, which provides fast performance for 32-bit applications. This is a valuable feature if you intend to use graphics and video-intensive environments that require high-end desktop publishing, complex imaging and multimedia.

For further details, contact Dell Computer Corp., 2214 W. Braker Lane, Ste. D, Austin, TX 78758, or call 512/728-1531.

Michelle Gamble-Risley is the publisher of California Computer News.