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April 1996 Features

A New Destination for Desktops

By Janice J. Chen, Reviews Editor, Systems,
and Jim Forbes, Silicon Valley Bureau Editor

The new Destination system from Gateway 2000 is a multimedia dream machine. Join us for a sneak preview of this unusual and innovative computer.

Imagine viewing your favorite Web sites on a monitor as big as your local sports bar's wide-screen TV. Now envision yourself typing commands on a keyboard that doesn't tether you to your desk, but lets you move freely about the room. Picture yourself comfortably ensconced on your living-room sofa, wielding a wireless mouse while you select the images appearing on the 31-inch monitor in your entertainment center.

We got our hands on a preproduction model of a new Gateway 2000 system that lets you do all that and more. Best of all, it won't cost you a fortune, and you won't have to wait till the next millennium to try it yourself. It will be available this spring and cost less than $4,000. Here's one of the first looks at Gateway 2000's Destination.

With the Destination, Gateway didn't try to reinvent the wheel. Instead, the company integrated several existing technologies-a wireless keyboard, a remote mouse and a monitor with 31 viewable inches-to create a whole new paradigm. A TV/video controller lets you add cable and VCR input, while a high-fidelity audio card provides stereo sound. The result is a multimedia dazzler with a 31-inch screen that will cost less than a more traditional high-end multimedia system with a 21-inch monitor.

The Destination ups the ante for any system looking for high marks on the cool scale. By combining innovation and affordability, the Destination may well set a new standard in the home entertainment arena, or even in corporate conference rooms, where you can use it for collaborative work, presentations, training or videoconferencing.

In fact, the system adds a new dimension to workgroup computing. When the two of us started to write about this new PC, we hovered around a notebook computer, each vying for the keyboard. Finally we came to our senses, and moved our document onto the Destination we were testing. Sitting 10 feet from the CPU, we passed the keyboard back and forth-with no cables to tangle-and watched our prose appear on the 31-inch screen.

We'll Take You There

Not surprisingly, the 31-inch monitor is the first thing you notice about the Destination. The sleek black unit resembles a big-screen TV, except the standard monitor controls are located behind a door at the bottom of the screen. Made for Gateway by MAG InnoVision, the monitor uses a Mitsubishi TV tube and contains PC-grade electronics that handle PC RGB signals, rather than a television tuner's emitted signal. While the video subsystem and the monitor are both capable of higher resolutions, Gateway decided to optimize the video subsystem to display information at 640x480-pixel resolution-good thinking since anything more than that would render many images too small to view from 10 feet away. We were impressed by the clarity and definition of the video, text and graphic images that this system generates.

The underlying computer is a high-performance Gateway 120MHz Pentium with 16MB of EDO RAM (expandable to 128MB), 256KB of pipelined burst cache, a 1.2-gigabyte EIDE hard drive and a Wearnes 6X CD-ROM drive. Although our preproduction system came with separate video and TV tuner cards, by the time the system ships it will have a customized STB PCI local-bus TV/VGA card with 1MB of VRAM. The STB card will be cable-ready, with S-Video and NTSC inputs and hardware-based compression/ decompression. The Destination will also be configured with a 28.8Kbps fax modem and a high-fidelity STB sound card with a signal-to-noise ratio of 80+ decibels.

Two wireless input devices top off this multimedia dream machine: the keyboard and the Fieldmouse remote control/pointing device. Both units use radio frequency rather than infrared signals, so you can control the system without having to point the device directly at the system. To conserve the AA batteries' life, almost everything on both devices-including the keys, buttons and trackball-goes into sleep mode between inputs. The exception is the keyboard's touchpad, which sleeps after 5 minutes and wakes when you hit its Resume button.

The Fieldmouse combines TV and PC/mouse controls with an integrated trackball. The Fieldmouse took a little getting used to, but once we got the hang of it, surfing the Internet was as easy as switching between cable channels. Left and right mouse buttons are located below the trackball. A button underneath the device-where your index finger naturally falls as you hold it-serves as an extra left mouse button. The preproduction keyboard had an integrated touchpad and Windows 95-specific keys that gave us direct access to the Start button and provided right mouse-button commands. It included controls for changing volume and for switching channels on the TV tuner, as well as buttons for muting the system and quickly accessing favorite or most recently viewed channels on the TV tuner.

Windows 95 will come preinstalled on the PC, but at press time Gateway had not determined which software bundle it would offer. However, the system will definitely include the Harman Interactive Group's TeNet software interface. TeNet lets you select television stations and control the entire entertainment ensemble through an on-screen control panel. You can also link to a computerized version of TV Guide. To access weekly program listings, you dial an 800 number and download information for your local viewing area. It took us about 8 minutes to download a week's listings for an area with more than 50 channels. The service costs about $5.95 a month.

Although the Destination is optimized for multimedia rather than for business applications, the 120MHz CPU's performance in this system was comparable to other 120MHz desktop systems we've reviewed. The results of WINDOWS Magazine's Wintune 95 benchmarks, as well as our Office 95 macros, were above average and reflect the Destination's underlying PCI architecture and use of accelerated graphics.

As PCs evolve, the line between home and office use is blurring. The Destination is a case in point: While the technology is perfect for group projects or presentations, its matte black case and slick monitor will also fit right in with your home entertainment system. The high-speed modem and excellent graphics make it an ideal Internet access machine. The likely addition of an ISDN modem will take this system to even more compelling destinations.
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