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March 1996 Reviews

Click here to see a list of all products reviewed this month.

What's Hot!

Borland Delphi 2.

IBM ThinkPad 760CD

HP Vectra VL Series 4 5/166

(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.)

Delphi 2.0

Delphi: One Giant Leap for Programming

By James E. Powell, Northwest Bureau Editor

Delphi 2.0 is a great leap forward in 32-bit application development. This version has everything that made the previous release a joy to work with-from a database wizard that creates one-to-many forms to a speedy compiler. So what's new? Support for Windows 95 and NT (including OLE and Win95 common dialog boxes), new compiler optimizations and much, much more. Borland says Delphi will be Windows 95-certified. More importantly, its new features will let Delphi developers get that same seal of approval for the applications they develop.

Borland has expanded Delphi's encapsulation support, which now lets you create Data Modules to hold data access and business rules. Inheritance now extends to forms, so it's possible to inherit code, objects and properties from one form to another.

The compiler offers access to the entire Windows 95 API, including multi-threading, Unicode strings and MAPI. Delphi replaces VBX support with OCX, which you can customize via inheritance. Sample OCX components for graphing, charting and spell-checking are included in the Developer and Client/Server packs. In addition, Delphi 2.0 supports OLE automation both as controller and server (in-process as well as out-of-process). It's incredibly easy, for example, to write a few lines of Delphi code to open a new Word document and add text. In fact, the code looks much like regular Delphi code: MSWord.Insert(S) where "S" is the text string.

Borland claims Delphi 2.0 applications can run 300 to 400 percent faster than Delphi 1.0 apps. I'll reserve judgment until I see the final product, but performance has definitely improved.

The compiler offers a new set of optimizations, many using CPU registers to reduce call-stack overhead. Unfortunately, you must use the entire set-or nothing.

Delphi's compiler now displays all errors, not just the first. Error messages now suggest possible reasons for the problem and offer code clean-up hints. The compiler will warn you if you're missing USES statements, suggesting you add the appropriate unit to the clause. A new File/Use Unit command lets you browse and insert the unit name into the right place. Borland has built a new DCU (compiled code) file format into Delphi 2.0, so the linker is smarter; it checks on units to see what has to be relinked. It also supports the familiar OBJ file format.

Delphi 2.0 comes in three flavors. Delphi Desktop offers basic tools. Delphi Developer, for professional developers, adds an Object Repository for sharing reusable forms and data modules, and a scalable data dictionary for defining and reusing extended field attributes. It supports ODBC and permits more data-aware components, such as a new multi-object grid that lets you display data in rows or panels that can include drop-down, check-box or memo-field objects.

Delphi Client/Server Suite, for client/server developers, includes SQL Explorer for editing server meta-data (domains, stored procedures and so on), SQL Monitor for tuning performance and the SQL edition of the ReportSmith report writer.

Borland says it will support the 16-bit Delphi 1.0 for the next 18 months or so. Delphi 1.0 is included with version 2.0, so you can build 16-bit apps and then move them to the 32-bit environment by recompiling. You'll only run into problems if you call assembly-language routines or use VBXs and don't have the corresponding OCX. The latter should not be a problem, as most third-party developers have-or soon will have-both.

Borland also created the Open Tools API, for integrating version control, experts, CASE tools and other third-party development products. The Client/Server version uses this feature for building Intersolv PVCS version control; the Developer package includes an interface to PVCS but not the program itself.

There are many minor improvements in the new Delphi. Like C, it now uses double slashes to begin a single-line comment. The Visual Component Library, a collection of 100 drag-and-drop bits of functionality, includes tree views, sliders, progress bars, rich-text editing, list views and status bar controls. The Developer and Client/Server Suite versions have the source code for the library.

An enhanced grid control lets you customize column attributes and build in drop-down combo boxes. Long strings (a new data type) and data structures can store up to 2 gigabytes. New "wide string" styles store double-byte Unicode strings for international applications, and "white characters" store double-byte Unicode characters. Variants, which let you change the type of the variable at runtime, fly in the face of Delphi's strict type checking but are useful in OLE automation. There is also a new currency type for BCD (binary coded decimal) arithmetic that increases accuracy.

The Language Reference Manual, previously an extra-cost option, is now included. My beta copy of Delphi didn't include the new 32-bit ReportSmith, to appear in Developer and Client/Server Suite editions. Its tight integration with Delphi data sources should give you more control over reports that use Delphi code. The product also will include Quick Reports, so you can embed small, fast reports that are compiled within a Delphi application's executable.

All the features that made Delphi 1.0 a terrific tool are still here, and it's relatively easy to learn if you already know Visual Basic or a similar language. The Object Inspector separates properties from methods and, whenever appropriate, provides pull-down lists of valid values.

No software is so great that it can't stand improvement; Delphi 2.0 is no exception. Online help code samples are mere snippets; full examples would show how things fit into an application.

Quite simply, however, Delphi 2.0 is the tool of choice for rapid 32-bit applications development.

-- Info File --
Delphi 2.0
Desktop, $499.95 (competitive upgrade, $199.95 street); Developer, $799.95 (competitive upgrade, $299.95 street); Client/Server Suite, $1,999.95
Pros: Compiler and linker
Cons: Sample code
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.x, NT
Borland International
800-331-0877, 408-461-9195
WinMag Box Score 5

IBM ThinkPad 760CD

Book's a Match for Desktop Systems

By Janice J. Chen

I'm not a fair-weather friend, but my trusty desktop system will have to turn cartwheels to get my attention now that I have the IBM ThinkPad 760CD. The ThinkPad includes everything you need in a multimedia notebook and the kitchen sink.

Well, not really. But my review unit does have a 90MHz Pentium processor with 256KB of level 2 cache, 16MB of RAM, a 1.2GB removable hard drive, a quad-speed CD-ROM drive that swaps out for the 3.5-inch floppy drive, as well as 16-bit stereo wavetable audio and hardware-assisted MPEG II video support. Top that off with the best notebook screen WINDOWS Magazine has ever looked at, and you have a notebook that rivals the most feature-packed multimedia desktop systems.

The screen sets this notebook apart. The LCD is a "black matrix" TFT screen-basically, a TFT screen with a special nonglare capability built in. Not only does it measure a whopping 12.1 inches diagonally, but it also supports Super VGA 800x600 video resolution with up to 65,536 colors. If you connect an external monitor to the system, the ThinkPad will also support up to 1024x768 resolution at 256 colors or 640x480 at 16 million colors. The notebook's flicker-free display is so crisp, accurate and such a pleasure to look at that I don't even want to bother with hooking up my desktop system's 17-inch monitor.

Because it's an 800x600 screen, setting the display to 640x480 resolution results in a black band framing the picture, unless you use the Screen Expansion function available in the ThinkPad Features utility program. It lets you set the image size to the actual screen size, thus eliminating the black band. This function is not as useful as it seems. If you enable Screen Expansion and set the resolution to 640x480, the LCD picture is unacceptably distorted. On the other hand, if you attach an external monitor to the ThinkPad and set the notebook to CRT-only mode, you'll be able to use Screen Expansion to view a 640x480 image at full-screen on the monitor without any evidence of distortion.

The ThinkPad 760CD's other strong suit is multimedia. In addition to the quad-speed CD-ROM that swaps out easily for a floppy drive, the ThinkPad employs two extra processors to provide full-featured multimedia without overloading the Pentium processor: IBM's video decoder chip and its Mwave media processor. The video chip supports MPEG and the latest digital video standard, MPEG II. There's even a built-in video port that allows video and still image capture from devices like video cameras. A video output jack lets you display NTSC or PAL format video to a television.

A digital signal processor, IBM's Mwave media processor provides CD-ROM quality sound as well as fax, modem and telephony capabilities. The 16-bit stereo wavetable audio offers a full-scale audio mixer and Sound Blaster support. It also allows .WAV recording and playback at up to 44kHz sampling and MIDI synthesis with 128 instruments and up to 32 voices. In addition to 28.8Kbps fax modem capabilities, the Mwave processor provides voice mail and full-duplex speakerphone functions with redial, speed dial, hold, mute and conference call capabilities.

Still looking for the kitchen sink? Keep reading. The ThinkPad 760CD is also equipped with two (yes, two) high-speed infrared ports for wireless communication with other infrared-capable products, like notebooks, desktops, printers or even electronic organizers. There's one front port and one back port so you don't have to keep turning the ThinkPad around. The ports support three infrared modes. ThinkPad mode is an IrDA high-speed extension that allows 1.15Mb per second transfer with other ThinkPad 755 or 760 series computers. Generic IrDA 1.0 mode allows up to 11.5Kb per second communication with other IrDA 1.0-compatible products. The third infrared mode, Sharp mode, operates at 9.6Kbps, allowing communication with the Sharp Wizard electronic organizer and other systems with Sharp mode infrared ports.

The ThinkPad 760CD also sports serial, parallel and external Super VGA ports as well as a MIDI/joystick port, a docking station connector, an external floppy drive connector and an external input-device connector for adding an external mouse, keyboard or numeric keypad.

With so many features already built in, you'll be hard pressed to find anything more to add to this notebook, but PC Card slots for two Type I or II or one Type III card open the doors for even further expansion.

IBM's PC Card Director utility facilitates PC Card management. For example, you can register an application and associate it with a particular PC Card so that it starts whenever you insert that PC Card. You can also configure the utility to power off a PC Card when it's not being used, to help extend battery life.

You can expand the notebook by adding components to the UltraBay compartment located underneath the 85-key keyboard. When I received my ThinkPad, the CD-ROM drive, battery and hard drive were installed. A pull on two plastic tape tabs popped the CD-ROM drive out and the included 3.5-inch floppy drive dropped easily in its place. The UltraBay will also accommodate a secondary battery pack or hard disk drive, or other IBM options like a wireless modem or PC Card adapter. A second battery would be advisable, since my review unit's lithium ion battery lasted for only 2 hours of intermittent work (without the CD-ROM drive installed) with power management enabled.

To help you manage all of the ThinkPad 760CD's options, IBM provides the Easy-Setup and ThinkPad Features utility programs. Easy-Setup is the built-in system setup function that you access by holding down the F1 key during boot-up. Despite the name and the flying bird cartoon cursor, I didn't find Easy-Setup particularly useful. The utility does provide a measure of maintenance and security by letting you set the date, time and drive start-up sequence, as well as power-on, hard disk and supervisor passwords.

Much more useful, the ThinkPad Features program controls almost all the ThinkPad features. The program let me access all the features I expected to find in the system setup function, such as power management settings and built-in device setup for the serial, parallel and infrared ports. The graphical "ThinkPad View" interface provides views of the ThinkPad from three different angles with one-touch setup buttons that point to each ThinkPad feature. Click on one of these buttons and you can set up everything from power modes to MPEG video functions. While the icons on the setup buttons are not completely intuitive, when you pass your cursor over one of them, context-sensitive help messages are displayed in the status bar at the bottom of the window. The program seemed a little buggy and ran slowly. Clicking on the Cancel button should let you exit the program without saving changes, but repeated clicking on my part did absolutely nothing.

Using the WINDOWS Magazine tests, I found the ThinkPad's performance to be average for a 90MHz Pentium, not great. The CPU was slow, scoring about 160MIPS on our Wintune benchmarks at both 800x600 and 640x480 resolution. The uncached disk throughput was 1.6MB per second at both resolutions. The video throughput registered 4.83Mpixels per second at 800x600 and a little better than that, 5.17Mpixels per second, at 640x480. Word 7.0 and Excel 7.0 macros ran in 28 and 23 seconds, respectively, at 640x480 resolution and a few seconds slower at the higher resolution.

Measuring 2.1 by 11.7 by 8.3 inches and weighing 7.4 pounds, the ThinkPad is hefty to tote around for a long time. Considering that everything you need for turbo multimedia presentations is built right in, lugging it around may be worth the effort for salespeople and other professionals who give presentations frequently. For the average businessperson, though, it's probably overkill. Still, it's sure to impress all the nouveau techno-snobs flying business class these days. And of course, as an expensive desktop replacement, you can't do much better without a docking station.

Using the ThinkPad 760CD was a pleasure. I even got used to the TrackPoint pointing device, which I usually despise. The clear, flat, matchless screen has spoiled me for the rest of the tiny notebook LCDs out there and maybe even for my big desktop monitor. And my MPEG-lacking desktop system hasn't seen hide nor hair of me lately.

-- Info File --
IBM ThinkPad 760CD
Pros: Screen; MPEG II; modular design; wavetable audio; telephony
Cons: Weight; battery life
IBM Corp.
800-IBM-2YOU, 914-766-1900
WinMag Box Score 4

Hewlett-Packard Vectra VL Series 4 5/166

Speedy System Is Slim, Stylish

By Rich Castangna

I swore I'd never do this again, but wheeling through a half-dozen apps with HP's Vectra VL Series 4 5/166 makes me want to dip into the automotive-analogy well just one more time. Revving up this mighty mite is a little too much like nestling into the seat of a power-packed sports car. Touch this 166MHz Pentium's spacebar, and it springs into action-you can almost feel the wind whipping through your hair.

I tested a preproduction copy of this space-saving screamer. Alongside the Intel 166MHz Pentium CPU and its 256KB of level 2 cache, the test unit's 15.3-by-16.5-by-4.9-inch case held 16MB of RAM, a 1-gigabyte Quantum Fireball hard drive, a Matrox MGA Millennium graphics card with 2MB of VRAM, a Creative Labs Sound Blaster 16 sound card, a quad-speed Sony CD-ROM drive and a floppy drive.

A riser card that plugs into the motherboard holds the Vectra's four expansion slots-two ISA, one PCI and one shared PCI/ISA. The graphics adapter occupies the PCI slot, and the Sound Blaster card fills an ISA slot. The maximum RAM this system can accommodate is 128MB. The floppy and CD drives sit in two of the three externally accessible drive bays, while the drive bay in the rear of the case cradles the hard disk.

A knock-out panel makes it easy to install a tape drive or other peripheral in the vacant external bay.

With a dot pitch of 0.28mm, the 15-inch HP Ergo Ultra monitor delivers crisp images with rich, well-saturated colors. Front-mounted buttons provide controls for degauss, pincushion, height, width, and vertical and horizontal position, along with standard brightness and contrast dials. A recall button resets the display to its factory settings. The monitor toes the standards line with both Plug-and-Play and Energy Star compliance. It also has standby and sleep modes that help keep operating costs down.

The keyboard boasts three Windows 95-specific keys. The two Windows-logo keys that lie east and west of the spacebar will pop up the Start menu with a single touch. Another key saves a trip to your mouse by opening right-button context menus for Windows 95 and right-button-supporting applications. And if you tuck the tiny case away, you can power up the unit with ease by pressing the spacebar. You'll still have to stretch a little to turn it off, however, by pressing the case's front-mounted switch.

For normal typing, the Vectra's keyboard should satisfy even the pickiest touch typist. Its keys look odd at first, rising high above deep valleys separating them, but after running your fingers over the keys for a while, you'll never feel the need to look down again. The keyboard is reminiscent of the old clunky, clicky IBM models that were favorites of hunt-and-peck and touch typists alike.

With a 166MHz CPU under the hood, you'd expect this roadster to roar-and it does. On the WINDOWS Magazine Wintune performance tests, the CPU clocked an average of 306.67MIPS and a shade over 95MFLOPS for floating-point operations. Both scores are typical for this CPU class. The quick Quantum drive dished out data at an average uncached rate of 3.17MB per second, and the Matrox/Ergo Ultra combo pitched pictures to the screen at 18.33 Mpixels per second. On our macro tests, which mimic real-world application use, the Vectra ranked respectably, churning through the Word macro test at an average clip of 13.67 seconds and the Excel macro at 12 seconds flat. Keep in mind that this was a preproduction model; performance may be different for shipping units.

The Vectra's only true downside is its inside. Though it saves you a carload of desktop space, the flip side is that things get a little snug under the hood. The lid of this system's case slips off easily after you disengage two slide locks on the front of the case, but working on the interior requires deft-and preferably slender-fingers. To add a card to the riser or boost the RAM, you have to remove the power supply, which runs all the way from the back to the front of the chassis. The drive bays are also rather tight, so inserting a new drive into the available bay takes some dexterity, too.

As one of the first 166MHz desktop systems, the Vectra VL Series 4 5/166 is more than capable of handling the stiff competition it will doubtless face in this emerging market. Out of the chute, however, HP has one-upped its rivals by staking out a modest piece of real estate with this slim, sporty machine.

-- Info File --
HP Vectra VLSeries 4 5/166
$3,519 (street, for configuration as tested)
Pros: Performance; ergonomics
Cons: Expandability; upgrading
Hewlett-Packard Co.
800-752-0900, 303-635-1000
WinMag Box Score 3.5

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