Feb 1996 Reviews

For a full listing of this month's reviews, click here.

(Editor's Note: The WinMag Box Score rates products on installation, usability, supporting materials, functionality, performance and utility. We use a 5-point scale:
1 poor, 2 fair, 3 good, 4 very good and 5 outstanding. A list of recommended desktop systems is at the end of the Reviews section; in future months, other hardware and software products will be added to the Recommended list.)

What's Hot

Head to Head: 200MHz Pentium Pros

New Pros Are Pentium Poetry

By Janice J. Chen, Reviews Editor, Systems and Cynthia Morgan, Reviews Editor, Software

Whoever gave the P6 chip the moniker "Pentium Pro" deserves 40 lashes with a wet resistor. It's a silly name for a processor that means serious business; there's nothing silly about cybersurfing at 200MHz. Still new enough to fall into the what-to-give-a-power-freak-who-has-everything category, these 200MHz Pentium Pro systems are fast enough to make RISC chip makers a bit nervous. Married to Dell's excellent Dimension XPS system and Micron's Pro Magnum Plus SCSI machine, this chip is definitely going places fast.

We checked out prototypes of the Dell Dimension XPS Pro200 and the Micron Pro 200 Magnum Plus. They are slick, well-constructed systems, and they are fast. Both units will be shipping by the time you read this. Both review PCs came in a mini-tower configuration, which is laudable because this setup gives you Pentium Pro power without becoming a major piece of office furniture.

The Dell Dimension we reviewed came loaded with 128MB of RAM (no, that's not a typo), the maximum that can be installed on this system, which has four SIMM slots. This much RAM is expensive, and the price of the system as tested is a whopping $9,899. Realistically, though, you won't need much more than 32MB of RAM, which brings the price down to a more reasonable $5,999.

For either price, you also get a 6X CD-ROM drive, a 2GB hard drive, the 256KB cache internal to the P6 chip, a 17-inch Dell monitor and Altec Lansing speakers with a big subwoofer. The Dimension offers three PCI and two

ISA expansion slots, plus a slot that's shared between ISA and PCI buses. The Creative Labs Sound Blaster AWE32 card fills one ISA slot, and a Number Nine Imagine 128-bit graphics card with 4MB of VRAM occupies a single PCI slot. One internal and two external drive bays are free in this configuration, but there's a total of six: two internal and four external. The Dimension's price also includes a three-year warranty and one year of Windows NT support.

The Micron Pro 200 Magnum prototype we looked at was configured with 32MB of RAM (expandable to 256MB), a Plextor 6X SCSI CD-ROM drive, a 2GB Quantum Grand Prix Fast 20 SCSI hard drive, a 15-inch monitor and Jensen JPS 45 speakers. There are two PCI and three ISA expansion slots, as well as one shared

PCI/ISA slot. A Sound Blaster AWE32 card fills one of the ISA slots, while a Number Nine 128-bit video card with 8MB of VRAM takes up one PCI slot. Another PCI slot is taken by a Bus Logic Flashpoint Ultra SCSI Fast 20 controller card. Unfortunately, this leaves you with only the one shared slot as an option for adding PCI-bus cards. There are three drive bays available (one internal and two external) among a total of six bays (two internal, four external). The Magnum has a three year warranty on parts and a one-year on-site labor offer.

The Dimension and the Magnum both come in tool-free cases; a snap of the front bezel and a turn of a thumbscrew will get you inside. The Dell chassis is virtually the same as that of the XPS P166c, also reviewed in this issue; there are few differences between them. Only one difference is truly significant: Dell shifted the processor location in the Pentium Pro version, getting it out of the way of full-size ISA expansion cards.

Both systems pay attention to ergonomics: The keyboards provide adequate tactile response, and the two 0.28mm-dot-pitch monitors were easy on the eyes. We preferred the Micron's Microsoft mouse to the Dell-branded rodent.

Micron ships all of its Pentium Pro systems with Windows NT 3.51, and the Pro 200 Magnum was no exception. As expected, it whizzed through our Wintune 95 benchmarks with an average of 417MIPS, the fastest system we've tested to date with the exception of a dual-processor Pentium Pro. The Dimension Pro200, which was also running Windows NT 3.51, registered 416MIPS, roughly 25 percent faster than Dell's other Pentium Pro machine, the Dimension XPS Pro150.

The 200MHz Pentium Pros blew the doors off our real-world applications tests. The Micron completed the Microsoft Word and Excel tests in 7.67 and 5.33 seconds, respectively. The Dell knocked almost three seconds off its 150MHz P6 cousin's score on the Word test, completing the simulation in an average of 8 seconds. Similarly, it also took 5.33 seconds to complete the Excel benchmark, as opposed to the 150MHz's 7.11 seconds.

Although the Micron system was configured with an 8MB video card (compared to 4MB on the Dell card), the Wintune video scores did not reflect this difference: The Pro 200 Magnum scored 13Mpixels per second, behind the Dimension's zippy 19.67. The Magnum's lower score may be due to older NT video drivers, since the same system got much higher video scores when tested under Windows 95 (vendors tend to ship Win95 drivers earlier). Both systems scored relatively low in uncached disk throughput, with 1.5MB per second for the Dell and 2MB per second for the Micron. It's important to remember that these are preproduction systems; performance may vary considerably in production units.

What's not to like about 200MHz speed? We liked almost everything about both machines--except, of course, their price tags. With fast 166MHz Pentiums coming out for under four grand, $6,000-plus seems a lot; but that's not out of line for two of the first 200MHz Pentium Pros on the block. Still, it makes us wonder if waiting a month (or six) wouldn't pay off as prices fall. On the other hand, if you've always wanted a speed demon of your very own ... The WinMag Box Score rates products on installation, usability, supporting materials, functionality, performance and utility. We use a 5-point scale: 1 poor, 2 fair, 3 good, 4 very good and 5 outstanding. A list of recommended desktop systems is at the end of the Reviews section; in future months, other hardware and software products will be added to the Recommended list.

-- Info File --
Micron Pro 200 Magnum Plus
Pros: SCSI; performance; construction
Cons: Only one free (shared) PCI slot
Micron Electronics
800-243-7615, 208-463-3434
WinMag Box Score: 4.5

-- Info File --
Dell Dimension XPS Pro200
$9,899 (with 128MB of RAM), $5,999 (with 32MB of RAM)
Pros: Speed; construction
Cons: Mouse
Dell Computer Corp.
800-289-3355, 512-338-4400
WinMag Box Score: 4.5

Head to Head: Remote Control

pcAnywhere and Remotely Possible/32

No Host Too Remote for These Two

by: Rich Castagna

It's been said that getting there is half the fun. But when "there" is a host computer hundreds or thousands of miles away, you want to get there as quickly as possible with little or no fuss. Remote control programs can't transport you, but they can put you in touch with what you left behind. Two of the newest remote control programs are veteran performers done over to fit the 32-bit world of Windows 95. I tested betas of pcAnywhere, a perennial favorite among remote controllers, and Remotely Possible, an able performer that connects over virtually any kind of wire.

Both programs come from the bare-bones school of interface design, although pcAnywhere offers assistance navigating its unadorned landscape. The first time you run pcAnywhere, a wizard springs into action to help you get going. Program wizards are available for many other operations and can be called into action with a click on the Quick Start button.

Remotely Possible, on the other hand, leaves you to your own devices. But despite its spare interface, you're hardly left alone in the wilderness with only a five-button button bar and seven menu items. Clicking on the button festooned with a graphic of a key opens the Edit Access Codes dialog box. The basic information you enter in this dialog defines access privileges for a remote caller, including the caller's name, log-in name and password. You can also add a callback number and define specific access rights by checking off boxes for Remote Control, Chat, Receive Files, Send Files and Enable Callback.

The second button in the row, with its picture of a machine gear, lets you get to the program's inner workings to set your personal preferences. The tabbed dialog provides access to additional controls such as host screen blanking, wallpaper disabling and hiding the host's version of Remotely Possible to prevent remote tampering with the master machine's settings. The Dial tab offers several choices, including an inactivity time-out period, and the Event Log tab lets you chronicle all remote sessions with time- and date-stamped details of file transfers, host and viewer log-ins, chat sessions and other session activities. That's all you do to set up the host in Remotely Possible.

PcAnywhere's options are even more straightforward, and it gives you more setup choices and flexibility. In addition to its Quick Start button, pcAnywhere's button bar accesses the program's key communications functions, including host and remote sessions, file transfers, network connections and links to online services. You click on a button for a communications service, and a screen appears with icons that represent different connection setups. You use the menus or right-button clicks to define connections or click the Quick Start button to summon a wizard.

With both programs, you set up multiple host sessions to accommodate a variety of remote users. For Remotely Possible, you have to go back to the Edit Access Codes dialog and create a new user entry. The same is accomplished in pcAnywhere by clicking on its cordial Be a Host PC button. You can double-click on the Add a Host icon and a wizard will take over--requesting vital statistics, such as the name and type of connection. You can then define the connection details by right-clicking on the new icon and selecting Properties from the context menu that appears.

PcAnywhere's Properties dialog box has neatly arranged tabs for modem and connection type, and for setting session parameters such as disabling the host's keyboard and mouse, and blanking the host's screen. You define remote callers' access rights on the Callers tab. You can set a connection to let any caller connect or to let only certain remote users log in. If you're selective about who logs in, another wizard appears and walks you through defining the authorized callers' log-in names and passwords. The Security Options tab lets you set up your remote control safety net with safeguards such as a log of failed connection attempts, limited log-in attempts per call and automatic disconnects after a period of inactivity. When you're done picking options for the host connection, a double-click on its icon will launch it and tuck it in the background until a remote calls in.

While Remotely Possible doesn't offer pcAnywhere's array of options, you put the host into ready mode just as easily--that is, when you realize that the button with a PC resting in the palm of a hand will do the trick.

To set up a remote connection in Remotely Possible, click on the Connect button (with yet another arcane identifying graphic) and then either choose an entry from the address book or create a new one on the Dial tab in the dialog box. After you select an entry--or add a new one-- click on the Viewer button at the bottom of the dialog to initiate the connection.

Remote setup for pcAnywhere is similar to host setup. You click on the icon to add a remote control item and one of the program's ubiquitous wizards pops up. The wizard helps you through the basics; then a right-click on the newly created icon opens its context menu, in which you make additional setting adjustments for the remote connection. You identify the host you're calling, its phone number and your log-in name and password.

Another pcAnywhere option lets you capture a remote control session so that you can play it back later. If your remote sessions consist of the same steps each time you log, this is a great way to create a keystroke-saving shortcut.

When a pcAnywhere remote connects, you start in the terminal mode where you enter your log-in name and password--if you haven't set up the session for automatic log-in.

If dialback security is in force on the host side, a notification will appear that the host will call you back at the phone number contained in your profile. If your profile does not include a dialback number, you'll be asked to enter a current session number for the host to use.

Remotely Possible's hookup process is simpler. You log in directly, or the host will call you back if your profile requires callback. When I attempted a hookup, the host's screen displayed cleanly on the remote, although it was at a higher resolution than the remote's display. Because of the resolution differences, the entire host screen couldn't fit on the remote's display, and was truncated on the right and bottom. But the program's panning worked well, and simply moving the cursor to one of these edges brought the hidden screen sections quickly into view. You can switch back to Remotely Possible's main interface to choose other remote operations. When you do, the host's screen remains displayed, but in a much smaller window. This allows access to Remotely Possible's menu, where you can select Switch to launch other features such as file transfer and chat.

PcAnywhere can handle differing screen resolutions, too, but its screen rewrite performance is better when the two match. If the host's display is greater than the remote's, you shift the bigger screen around as you do with Remotely Possible. You can also click on an icon that will resize the host screen to fit the remote's viewing area.

Of the two remote control programs, pcAnywhere, with its simple interface and wizards, is easier to set up and use. Remotely Possible is leaner but also less intuitive, and lacks some useful features such as roving callback. PcAnywhere's clear dialog boxes and logical organization make its comprehensive, sophisticated remote control features easy to understand and use.

--Info File--
not available at press time
Pros: feature set, ease of use
Cons: Wizards only offer basic help
Platforms: Windows 95, NT 3.51
Symantec Corp.
800-441-7234, 541-334-6054
WinMag Box Score: 4.0

--Info File--
Remotely Possible/32
Pros: Session logging
Cons: Feature set; interface
Platforms: Windows 95, NT
Avalan Technology
800-441-2281, 508-429-6482
WinMag Box Score: 3.0

IBM ThinkPad 365CD

Value Is the Story of This Blue Book

by: Jim Forbes

Gone are the days when IBM was the first name that popped into your mind when you thought of desktop computers. The company takes a backseat to no one, however, when it comes to notebooks. There's a lot to like about IBM's ThinkPad notebooks. Aside from their durability, these units incorporate great technology. And they have what has to be the best keyboard ever installed on a notebook computer.

The ThinkPad 365 is IBM's value-priced notebook. The basic configuration includes a 486DX4/75 processor, a 10.4-inch dual-scan passive-matrix screen, an infrared transceiver, a Type III PCMCIA slot (which accepts two Type II cards), a 3.5-inch floppy disk drive, a port replicator, serial and parallel ports, 340MB or 540MB hard drives, local-bus accelerated graphics, 8MB of RAM and IBM's TrackPoint III pointing device.

The ThinkPad 365 comes with a strong software bundle that includes PC DOS 7.0 and the option to load either OS/2 Warp or Windows 3.x. But if you want to run Windows 95, you'll need either to order it configured that way from the factory, or to upgrade it yourself.

The unit I tested was a ThinkPad 365CD, which included the optional 10.4-inch active-matrix color screen, an internal dual-speed CD-ROM drive, 16MB of RAM, an external 3.5-inch floppy disk drive, a MIDI/Joystick port and a Sound Blaster 16-compatible audio subsystem (made by Ensoniq).

Despite the fact that the notebook lacks an integrated palm rest, I like its layout. In fact, what I like best about the ThinkPad is its full-size, 85-key Lexmark keyboard. It's not wrong to love a notebook for its keyboard if you spend as much time at your computer as I do.

The traveling weights for the ThinkPad 365 line vary from about 6 pounds to 6.6 pounds. At 1.9 by 11.7 by 8.3 inches, these notebooks are slightly smaller than most. Since most of the notebooks I've tested recently use trackpad pointing devices, I was grateful for the ThinkPad's TrackPoint III pointing device. This machine has a black case and is well put together, with easy access to its internal bays should you want to upgrade your memory or hard drive. In fact, the durability of IBM's notebooks is one of many reasons I like its products, even though the company does not appear to be in any great rush to use the latest processor technology. Some competitors now offer Pentium notebooks with lithium ion batteries and 16MB of standard RAM at this price point, however.

The processor is an IBM 486 DX4-compatible chip, with 8KB of internal cache. While this is no state-of-the-art processor, it should be adequate for most needs. The graphics subsystem uses a graphics accelerator and 1MB of video memory. The active-matrix display is on a par with those used by other top-ranked notebook manufacturers.

The ThinkPad 365's battery life is remarkable for a value-line notebook. I was consistently able to get 3.2 hours of use on its power cell. And this battery life was achieved with a nickel metal hydride battery, rather than a lithium ion one. Had I used more

stringent power conservation, I could have extended the battery life. IBM uses a small recharger that reduces the overall travel weight, but it can take up to 2 hours to recharge the battery with the power off. The ThinkPad 365 also has better-than-average power-management features, which makes it even more attractive if you frequently drift far from wall outlets.

On our Wintune 95 benchmarks, the ThinkPad 365's processor scored 59MIPS. The 540MB hard disk had a 1.06MB-per-second uncached throughput and the ThinkPad's video scored 2.86Mpixels-per-second. It took an average of 82.66 seconds and 48.15 seconds, respectively, to execute our Microsoft Word 7.0 and Excel 7.0 benchmarks.

There are often subjective differences between how a machine performs and how it benchmarks. While the benchmarks for the ThinkPad 365 are lower than most notebooks on the market, I like this machine's feel, above-average battery life and the fact that it's built like a tank. Throw in the CD-ROM drive and multimedia sound, and you've got almost everything you need to replace your desktop system. Except a Pentium, of course.

--Info File--
IBM ThinkPad 365CD
$3,589, as reviewed
Pros: Keyboard; battery life; weight; construction; display
Cons: Performance
IBM Corp.
800-772-2227, 919-517-1950
WinMag Box Score: 3.5