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.)

Plextor 4PleX Plus

SCAM Drive Is No Hoax

by: James E. Powell

Plextor's 4PleX Plus 4.5X drive goes beyond Plug and Play. It supports the new SCAM (SCSI Configured Auto Magically) standard, so you can connect the drive to a SCAM-compliant SCSI board and all SCSI ID conflicts with existing equipment will be eliminated.

Installation under Windows 95 is amazingly simple. I installed the external drive to a BusLogic FlashPoint LT SCSI board (which supports SCAM) on an ACMA Pentium 120 machine running Windows 95. The ACMA had a built-in Mitsumi 4X CD-ROM (EIDE) drive already installed. Upon starting Windows 95, the system recognized the new board immediately, so I installed the BusLogic-supplied drivers. Recognition of the Plextor drive was automatic, and it was completely compatible with the Mitsumi drive.

The 4PleX's performance is remarkable. Its average access time, a combination of seeking and reading data, was 129 milliseconds, compared to 277ms for the Mitsumi drive. The data-transfer rate was a very speedy 749,014 bytes per second.

The Plextor Manager for Windows 3.1 and 3.11 includes a device driver and CD-ROM utilities that control the drive's speed and display its transfer rate. It also enables AutoPlay, a feature built into Windows 95 that automatically starts playing a CD audio or runs a data disc when the CD is inserted into the drive.

The 4PleX Plus comes alone or bundled with Adaptec's AHA-2940 PCI to Fast SCSI host adapter. For speed and simple operation, the 4PleX Plus is a knockout.

--Info File--
Plextor 4PleX Plus
Internal, $359; external, $449; PCI Bus Mastering Controller, $220
Pros: Performance; affordable
Cons: Requires SCSI adapter
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.x
800-886-3935, 408-980-1838
WinMag Box Score: 5.0

Xerox Document WorkCenter 250

More Than the Sum of Its Parts

by: Hailey Lynne McKeefry

It just doesn't add up ... a scanner, printer, fax machine and copier should cost a lot more than the Xerox Document WorkCenter 250. But, fortunately, the WorkCenter's price (under $700) is as modest as its footprint (16 by 18 inches), making it a good choice for small offices.

I liked the WorkCenter right out of the box. The unit's Quick Install poster walked me through the process of hooking up the unit. The software installation was equally simple, and I was ready to work in less than 20 minutes.

The ink jet printer provides good-quality 300-dot-per-inch output. The type was dark and, although typed characters appeared slightly fuzzy at the edges, the overall effect was clear and crisp. This printer isn't as good as a laser, but the results were professional enough to satisfy most users.

The paper tray accommodates up to 100 sheets of letter-, A4- or legal-sized paper. The printing was slow (3 pages per minute), especially for large print jobs, but would be adequate for anyone doing dozens, rather than hundreds, of pages per day or week.

The copier let me make up to 99 copies at a time and reduce or enlarge my originals from 50 percent to 200 percent. The TWAIN-compatible scanner processed pages at 10 seconds per page at 300dpi. The 9600bps modem is on the slow side.

The software sets this product apart from many in its class. The unit comes with Xerox TextBridge Professional Edition for optical character recognition, Delrina WinFax Lite for faxing and Xerox ControlCenter for configuration.

The TextBridge software is the same full-featured version that is selling for $349 separately. It provides an easy-to-use interface, along with powerful OCR capabilities and seamless integration with many familiar applications (like Word).

The ControlCenter software let me control just about every aspect of the unit, such as resolution, constrast, redialing, collation and more, right from my desktop. There were also options for entering up to 100 autodial numbers and 10 mailboxes. The printing configuration utility let me control the print direction, the page orientation, the font, the paper size, the graphics density and other printing defaults.

The Xerox Document WorkCenter combines affordability, high-quality software and good design in a multifunction office machine that would be a welcome addition to any home office.

--Info File--
Xerox Document WorkCenter 250
Under $700 (street)
Pros: Versatile; inexpensive
Cons: Slow printing
Xerox Desktop Document Systems
WinMage Box Score: 4.0

Hayes Optima 288

Comm-plete Modem for Data, Voice

by: Marc Spiwak

Most small businesses want to look--and function--like big ones. For a relatively low price, the Hayes Optima 288 voice/fax/data modem gives a small office many of the resources of a Fortune 500 company.

With a maximum baud rate of 28.8Kb per second and V.42bis data compression, the unit's data throughput is up to 230Kbps--twice as fast as a 14.4Kbps modem. The Optima 288 is also a fax card that lets you send and receive faxes. If you've already got a scanner, you can scan and fax to your heart's content.

But the Optima 288 also offers telephony features. For example, it can serve as a voice-mail system with up to 10 mailboxes that you can fully customize. You can set up a different outgoing message for each mailbox, and then have callers press 1 for accounting, 2 for sales and so on. This allows a single phone line to perform like a corporate headquarters, and also gives callers a very professional impression of your company.

Software bundled with the modem lets you easily configure and control all of its functions. You can also use your favorite communications software with it. A remote-configuration option lets you set up the modem over a phone line. The modem will distinguish among incoming voice, data and fax calls, and then direct the call to the appropriate software. The unit also features flash ROM for easy, fast upgrades.

Though the Optima 288's $579 price tag isn't exactly pocket change, the modem's power and versatility make it money well spent for small businesses.

--Info File--
Hayes Optima 288
Pros: Easy setup; allows use of a single phone line
Cons: PriceHayes Microcomputer Products
770-840-9200, fax 770-441-1238
WinMag Box Score: 5.0

Altra Felix

This Felix Is No Feline

by Hailey Lynne McKeefry

I always thought that Felix was a cat--but it's not. It's really a mouse, and I've never seen a rodent like this before.

The Felix combines the stationary platform of a trackball with a movable cursor controller that looks like a miniature mouse. The oval controller defines cursor placement as you move it within a one-inch square set into the top of the platform. (A microprocessor inside the base tracks the cursor to ensure that it goes where it should.)

It took me a while to get used to this new way of mousing. The controller has a nub on the left and right sides for gripping, and three buttons at the top (traditional right and left, as well as a programmable middle button). At first, the fluid movement of the handle made the cursor seem loose and hard to control.

Once I had used the Felix for a few minutes, however, I realized that the secret was to use my thumb and fourth finger to steady the controller and make precise movements. Double-clicking remained difficult because the buttons were stiff, and pushing hard tended to make the entire unit skew slightly.

The Felix is a high-resolution (640-dot-per-inch) device that translates into preciseness in cursor movement. This input device senses the speed with which you move the mouse and adjusts the cursor movement accordingly.

The product's shape allowed my wrist to rest comfortably, and the cursor controller's design meant I didn't have to move my wrist to move the cursor. I also didn't have to clear off a large area of my desk to give myself room to work, as I do with an ordinary mouse.

The unit is sealed so that you don't have to do the type of house-cleaning that a regular mouse or trackball demands. There is no way that dirt or grime can reach the mechanism that controls the Felix, so cleanup is a matter of wiping off the outside of the unit.

The Felix comes with its own drivers but is compatible with Microsoft drivers; when I plugged the device into my Windows 95 PC, it was recognized without a problem. For those that aren't currently using a Microsoft driver, the unit comes with a diskette of special drivers designed for the Felix. The unit is covered by a one-year guarantee.

If ergonomics are your concern but you don't want to abandon your mouse for a trackball, you may very well consider this pointing device the cat's meow.

--Info File--Altra FelixPrice: $69.95 (street)Pros: Small footprint on desktopCons: Stiff buttonsAltra800-726-6153, 307-328-1342

WinMag Box Score: 3.5

Motorola Marquis PCMCIA 28.8 modem/fax/LAN adapter

Triple-Threat Comm Card Is PCMCIA Perfection

by: Jonathan Blackwood

It's awfully hard to see how Motorola could have crammed any more functionality into this small a space. The Marquis is a multifunction Type II PCMCIA card that combines a 28.8Kb-per-second fax modem (14.4Kbps maximum throughput for the fax) with a 10BaseT Ethernet network adapter. It even performs network and LAN functions simultaneously.

It's so well designed and so well made that it's virtually a set-it-up-once-and-forget-about-it device.

The setup--in Windows 95--took all of two minutes. Plug in the card, and you get a dialog box that says (in so many words), "I think this is a 3COM adapter" (3COM provided some of the technology and the drivers). Say yes, and it works. I did, and for the past month I've been using nothing but a single notebook computer that I carry with me for all my work. You will have to set up your machine for your network, but you'd have to do that with any network interface card. Motorola even guarantees that the card will work with your PCMCIA Type II-equipped machine or you can return the card for a full refund. There's also a five-year limited warranty.

Unlike some other PCMCIA cards, there is no pop-out connector for this 0.2- by 2.1- by 3.4-inch card, meaning you will need to carry a couple of cable connectors, one for the phone line and one for the network connection. But face it: Even with those pop-out connectors, you have to carry a phone cord with you anyway, and the pop-outs have a nasty tendency to break. So for my money, I'll take the Motorola approach.

Incidentally, Motorola will be introducing another PCMCIA card, the Mariner, that should be on the market by the time you read this. It will actually cram more functionality into the same space, in the form of a cellular capability that will be able to transmit and receive data through the most popular brands of cellular telephones. You'll probably have to setttle for a 14.4Kbps cellular connection, though.

--Info File--
Motorola Marquis
Pros: Installation; performance; utility
Cons: Price; no cellular support
Motorola PCMCIA Products Division
WinMag Box Score: 5.0

The Envelope, Please

Announcing Our Top Desktop Systems

by: David Gabel

In this issue, we inaugurate a new feature of our product reviews: WINDOWS Magazine Recommended products listings.

This month, we are listing 10 recommended systems in each of three categories: Performance Systems, Midrange Systems and Budget Systems.

Of the many desktop systems that we have reviewed since November 1995, these are the products that stood head and shoulders above the rest.

We evaluated these systems on criteria such as setup, documentation, ergonomics, construction and serviceability, and expandability. In each case, our reviewers assessed products from the user's point of view. The ratings in each category have been compiled to yield an overall Windows Magazine Box Score. We've also indicated the lowest-priced product and top performer in each group.

Over the next two months, we'll expand this section with more Recommended lists. In March, we'll highlight the top software that we've reviewed, and in April, we'll add a category for hardware other than desktop systems. This last group will include almost all the hardware items--notebooks, storage devices, modems, video cards, multimedia devices, monitors and so forth--that any computer user could want. We'll apply the same stringent requirements that we used for systems. And we'll use the same philosophical approach: What do I, as a user, want this product to do, and how well do I want it to perform?

These monthly charts will provide you a continuing source of WINDOWS Magazine Recommended products.

Click Here to see a 163KB bitmap image of artwork which goes with this article, entitled:
Performance Desktop Systems

Click Here to see a 173KB bitmap image of artwork which goes with this article, entitled:
Midrange Desktop Systems

Click Here to see a 172KB bitmap image of artwork which goes with this article, entitled:
Budget Desktop Systems