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What to look for ...
High-End Desktop Systems
By Serdar Yegulalp, Technical Editor
Investing more than $3,000 in a PC means you're probably out to do serious work, whether you intend to use the machine as a standalone workstation or as a server on a network.
Think a bit about what you're planning to do with this new workhorse. A Web server will need to be equipped differently than a high-end graphics box--and a Net-surf machine is going to be different from both of those. But in this price bracket, certain things are true no matter what you buy.
Many systems now have in-demand features as part of their motherboard design. Check this feature set for items that match your own wish list.
- The bare essentials: At this price, you should get at least a 133MHz Pentium processor, plus a 1.2-gigabyte or bigger hard drive, PCI revision 2.1 bus and at least 16MB of RAM.
- NT: Nothing Tougher: If you're using the machine as a standalone or non-mission-critical workstation--word processing, moderate graphics, Internet browsing and so on--Windows 95 does the job and will most likely come shipped with the machine. But Win95 can only get you so far if you're talking serious computing--desktop publishing, CAD, rendering, heavy math. In those cases, NT might be a better bet. This rule goes double for those who choose to take the Pentium Pro plunge: The P6 chip flexes its silicon muscles best in a purely 32-bit environment.
- You must remember this: The 16MB lower limit for memory is just that: a bare minimum, especially with Windows NT. We recommend 24MB to 32MB of RAM for a standalone workstation, depending on the jobs it's taking on, and at least 64MB for a server.
- Past the Pentium: Intel's Pentium Pro is a speed demon, to be sure, but if you decide to take the plunge, don't do it casually. Use the P-Pro for its target applications: heavy graphics and design, back-office-style information serving (Web publishing, databases, Lotus Notes or Exchange server) and so on. Also insist on getting a machine with the most recently updated support chips, and don't run anything less than Windows NT on it; Win95's 16-bit components degrade the performance of a P-Pro. Other high-speed, high-volume options include Digital's Alpha series of processors (available in single- or multiple-processor configurations) and the various RISC chips. The Alphas lead this pack in terms of sheer performance power, but they're limited by only being able to run Windows NT for the Alpha, as well as Alpha-only software.
- Room to move: Spending $3,000 for a machine you can't expand is a waste. Get at least three ISA and three PCI slots. If you have to choose between ISA and PCI, go PCI: More and more devices that previously existed only in ISA configurations are being reintroduced as PCI-bus models. Don't forget about drive bays, both internal and external; a server-level system, if it doesn't come with hot-dock SCSI drive bays, is going to need plenty of mounting space for drives.
- Goodies: Make sure you're getting, at least a 6X CD-ROM, a 28.8Kbps modem, a keyboard, a mouse and, especially, a monitor that lives up to the price. A 17-inch or larger monitor that can handle 1280x1024 pixels should be the bottom line.
- Video: More system motherboards now come with local-bus video as part of their package. It frees up a PCI slot, for one thing and can always be overridden later by plugging in a video card of your own choosing.
- Networking: If you're know you're going to be hooking up this machine to a network, whether just a simple office LAN or the Internet itself, it makes sense to find a unit with Ethernet built into the motherboard.
- SCSI: Whether you're attaching hard drives, SCSI drives, tape drives, scanners or any other kind of SCSI hardware, a SCSI port on the motherboard makes wiring in such peripherals far easier, and frees up slots inside the machine for other hardware.
- Audio: Not a crucial feature, but if you intend to use your workstation for multimedia, it couldn't hurt to have audio integrated onto the motherboard--again, it saves a slot now, and another board can always be used to supplant it later.
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Copyright © 1997 CMP Media Inc.