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May 1996 WinLab Reviews

See a complete listing of this month's product reviews.

(Editor's Note: The WinMag Box Score: rates products on installation, usability, supporting materials, functionality, performance and utility. Our overall ratings follow this scale: 5,Outstanding or breakthrough product, best of its kind; 4, Exceeds expectations, superior to most competing products; 3, Works well, meets all our expectations, no major problems; 2, Has serious difficulties or limitations; 1, Has critical flaws. A list of recommended products follows the Reviews section.)

Systems This Month…

High-end Pentiums take the spotlight this month, with new 166MHz systems from Gateway and HP, and a pair of 150MHz machines from Quantex and DTK.

Gateway 2000 P5-166

Towering Inferno: Big 166 Sizzles

By Janice Chen

New 166MHz Pentium systems are springing up all over, but Gateway 2000 is poised to tower over the competition with the Gateway P5-166. Literally. This tall system stands just under 23 inches high and casts a giant shadow over most other systems when it comes to drive expandability.

Gateway's new behemoth houses a whopping seven internal and five external drive bays. In my review unit, the 3.5-inch floppy drive and the Wearnes 6X CD-ROM drive occupy two of the externally accessible drives. Only one of the seven internal drive bays is filled by the 2-gigabyte Seagate hard disk.

As you may begin to surmise, this system is not just big; it's power packed. The 166MHz chip is complemented by 16MB of EDO RAM, expandable to 128MB, as well as 512KB of pipelined burst cache. My late preproduction system was also configured with a Matrox MGA Millennium PowerGraphics video card with 2MB of WRAM and an Ensoniq SoundScape wavetable synthesis sound card. A pair of Altec Lansing ACS-400 speakers and an ACS-250 subwoofer take full advantage of the Ensoniq card, providing you with excellent Dolby Surround Sound. A Telepath II 28.8Kbps fax modem-made for Gateway by U.S. Robotics-provides high-speed communications.

Despite all that drive bay potential, expansion slots are not so abundant. The Telepath II fax modem and the Ensoniq SoundScape card take up the two ISA slots. The Matrox video card occupies one of three PCI slots. Nevertheless, a free, shared PCI/ISA slot keeps expansion possibilities more flexible.

I'd like to see Gateway change the case, which is held on by eight screws. A case that comes off without a screwdriver is much more convenient.

Gateway doesn't cut corners when it comes to user interface: The P5-166 is equipped with Gateway's own 104-key AnyKey keyboard. The programmable keyboard provides good tactile response and adequate audible feedback, and has Windows 95-specific keys for accessing the Start menu and simulating a right mouse click. The ergonomic Microsoft Mouse 2.0a is a nice touch. The system also includes Gateway's Vivitron 1776, a 17-inch monitor with a 0.25mm dot pitch. With its sharp, flat picture and convenient up-front controls, the Energy Star- and MPR II-compliant monitor was a pleasure to use.

The P5-166 comes with Windows 95 preinstalled and tons of bundled software, including Microsoft Office Professional & Bookshelf and Encarta 96.

But let's face it: The main reason to invest in a 166MHz Pentium is performance, and the Gateway P5-166 doesn't let you down. Tested with the WINDOWS Magazine's Wintune 95 benchmark suite, the P5-166's CPU registered 302MIPS, right up there with the other 166MHz systems we've tested. The video score was also just above average at 16Mpixels per second. The uncached disk score of 3.7Mb per second was actually one of the best scores we've seen, and the Word and Excel scores of 12 and 10.33 seconds, respectively, were also stellar.

Bigger doesn't always mean better, but it's hard to go wrong with this giant. The Gateway P5-166 gives you all the tools for taking multimedia to new heights.

Info File
Gateway 2000 P5-166
Pros: Performance; drive expandability; monitor
Cons: Case awkward to open
Gateway 2000
800-846-2000, 605-232-2000
WinMag Box Score: 4.0

HP Vectra 500 Series 515MCx

166 Suits Small Office

By David Gabel

Folks with small offices have had to settle for stripped-down corporate workhorses or underpowered home systems. Well, Hewlett-Packard is responding to the small-business crowd with a chorus of "This one's for you." The HP Vectra 500 Series 515MCx is the small-business manager's dream come true. It has everything you'll need to bring your office up to speed, such as built-in telephony capabilities, useful software and tech support that doesn't require a systems-support guru on your end.

The Vectra boasts a 166MHz Pentium microprocessor, 1.6-gigabyte hard disk drive, 16MB of RAM, 256KB of level 2 cache, a 4X CD-ROM drive and a 15-inch monitor with up-front controls that make adjustment a breeze. The Vectra also offers full telephony features, including voice mail and autodial, using a 28.8Kbps, simultaneous voice/data modem and an Mwave-based sound system with included headphones.

The case has two levers in the front that you flip up, freeing the case so you can pull it forward and off. The cavernous mini-tower has lots of expansion room: one free internal 3.5-inch drive bay, two free external 5.25-inch bays, two free PCI bus slots and two free ISA slots. All but one of the slots can accommodate full-length cards. Even the motherboard is easy to upgrade: Pull on a lever and the motherboard slides out of the chassis.

Bundled software includes ClarisWorks, Lotus Organizer, CompuServe, America Online, remote-control software for HP tech support and more. There's also a clever power management package that shuts down the computer and monitor after a preset period of time. A touch of the spacebar awakens the system.

With a 166MHz Pentium, this Vectra is no performance slouch. Measured with the Wintune 95 benchmark suite, the CPU racked up a score of 302MIPS, equaling the ARM P166 Terminator III reviewed last month. In fact, compared with the systems listed under the WinLab Recommended Desktop Systems in the April issue, that CPU score ranks this machine fourth among systems over $3,000. Uncached disk performance was 3.3MB per second, also among the best we've seen, and the video scored an impressive 13Mpixels per second, thanks to the S3 Trio 64 video accelerator on the motherboard with 2MB of video RAM. The machine's Word macro score was 19.8 seconds, a bit slow given its excellent low-level scores, and its superior Excel score was 14 seconds.

Overall, I liked this machine. If the price seems steep, keep in mind that I reviewed the Cadillac version. HP thinks most of these machines will sell at about $1,800, sans monitor. Such a machine has a 100MHz processor, 8MB of RAM and a 1.2GB disk, but is otherwise identical to my fully loaded review unit.

Info File
HP Vectra 500 Series 515MCx
Without monitor, $3,017 (street);
monitor, $409 (street)
Pros: Performance; software
Cons: Keyboard
Hewlett-Packard Co.
800-752-0900, 415-857-1501
WinMag Box Score: 4.0

Quantex QP5/150 SM-2

Premium Parts Don't Add Up to Pricey PC

By James Alan Miller

The latest multimedia monster from Quantex Microsystems will help you scare up some serious savings. The QP5/150 SM-2 is a powerful 150MHz Pentium system that provides an awe-inspiring feature set at a price that won't intimidate you.

My mid-size tower review unit came with a total of six free drive bays: three 3.5-inch internal and three 5.25-inch external bays. A massive 2GB Seagate hard disk was installed below the power supply alongside the two empty internal bays. Now, the bad news: If you want to add drives to the empty bays, you'll have to move the hard disk to a lower bracket. Poorly arranged power supply wires also block these empty bays, making upgrades even more of a hassle. Fortunately, the third free internal bay stands vertically to the right of the others and is easy to access.

The floppy drive and speedy Aztech 6X IDE CD-ROM drive are located underneath the three free external bays. The CD-ROM drive has its own headphone jack, volume control, play and skip buttons, as well as the standard button to open and close the tray. The front of the case offers distinct power and reset buttons that are clearly marked. There are also LED indicators for hard disk access and power.

The Biostar motherboard incorporates Intel's Triton PCI chip set and 256KB of pipeline-burst cache. Nestled under a heat sink, the 150MHz processor keeps its cool, while a large fan further dissipates heat. The four SIMM sockets are situated in the rear right-hand corner of the motherboard. In two of these sockets sit a total of 16MB of EDO RAM, which you can upgrade to 128MB, though the awkward internal wiring makes accessing the sockets a bit difficult.

To the left of the SIMM sockets are three empty PCI slots. A fourth PCI slot contains the video card-an STB Powergraph Trio64V with 2MB of EDO RAM. The Powergraph driver utility appears in the taskbar on bootup and is well designed and useful. While the Powergraph is a solid card and more than adequate for most business and multimedia needs, Quantex offers the Diamond Stealth 64 card as an upgrade.

Unfortunately, one of the PCI slots is unusable, because a bracket for the serial and parallel ports is installed in the slot. Installing the ports in the case's back panel would have been a better design decision. Two of the four ISA slots are occupied by a SupraExpress 28.8Kb-per-second modem and an Ensoniq 16-bit wavetable sound card. The CD-ROM's audio plugs directly into the sound board. Altec Lansing speakers and a sub-woofer round out the multimedia components.

The QP5/150 comes with MAG Inno-Vision's DX1795, a 17-inch monitor with a 0.26mm dot pitch. The Plug-and-Play-compatible monitor has a user-friendly on-screen menu for controls, with 13 preset and eight user-configurable display modes. The DX1795 has an admirable range of controls and handles resolutions up to 1280x1024 pixels. Controls include standards such as brightness, contrast, degauss, and horizontal and vertical position and size, as well as pincushion, trapezoid, rotation and a color manager. The color manager extends three preset color temperatures and lets you manipu-late red, green and blue gain individually. The monitor is compliant with the Swedish MPRII emissions and VESA DPMS energy-savings standards. Its overall picture is very good-excellent, in fact, for a system at this price and configuration.

You'd expect the QP5/ 150's blazing 150MHz Pentium processor to leave tire marks on your applications, and it does. Measured with WINDOWS Magazine's Wintune 95 benchmarks, the CPU maintained a speedy throughput of 273.33MIPS, right up there with the very best 150MHz performers. The uncached hard disk score was also among the best, coming in at a fast 4.33MB per second. The solid video mark of 12Mpixels per second was average for a similarly configured system. The unit performed exceptionally on applications benchmarks, with scores of 15 seconds for Word and 13 seconds for Excel, falling just short of our highest 150MHz marks.

Like other Quantex systems I've seen recently, the QP5/150 SM-2 arrives configured with plenty of software. The bundle is centered around Novell's PerfectOffice, which features WordPerfect, Presentations, Quattro Pro, InfoCentral and Envoy. Other applications include Quicken, Mindscape's Reference Library, the Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia and Al Unser Jr. Arcade Racing. There's also plenty of software for catching the online wave, such as America Online, CompuServe, Prodigy and NetCruiser.

The QP5/150 SM-2 bundles many excellent features at a price that is almost too good to be true. For excellent performance and high-quality multimedia, this system is a brute that will keep the competition on its toes.

Info File
Quantex QP5/150 SM-2
$2,899 (direct)
Pros: Hard disk; sound card; price
Cons: Internal wiring
Quantex Microsystems
800-632-5022, 908-563-4166
WinMag Box Score: 3.5


Quin-tessential Performance

By James Alan Miller

You'll feel mighty with a QUIN on your side, especially one with a speedy 150MHz processor. DTK's QUIN-54M/P150 arrives in a roomy, midsized tower case and features excellent performance as well as a superior Diamond Stealth video card.

The simple, elegantly designed case comes with the floppy drive at the top and the power button immediately to the right. You'll appreciate this placement if you put the system under your desk. A blazing TEAC 6X CD-ROM drive sits underneath the floppy drive, and below that are three free 5.25-inch external drive bays. There's also a reset button and two LED indicators for power and hard disk access. A set of Lasonic speakers is also included.

Conveniently, you can open the case without a screwdriver: Just pull the front bezel off the case by grasping the bottom of the bezel and the rest of the case comes off easily. I discovered this by trial and error since the manual doesn't describe this relatively easy procedure, showing a case with screws rather than one without.

Inside, the QUIN-54M/P150 has three available 3.5-inch drive bays. All the empty bays are easily accessible, and DTK bundles brackets and screws to keep new drives in place. Another drive bay holds a massive 2-gigabyte Seagate IDE hard disk.

DTK pulls out the stops to keep the CPU cool and running smoothly. The 150MHz Pentium processor sits directly beneath a heat sink and a small fan; a larger fan is attached to the front of the case. The four SIMM sockets stand in the rear right corner of the motherboard. My review unit came with 16MB of EDO RAM, which you can expand to 128MB. There's also 256KB of secondary pipeline burst cache, expandable to 512KB. The motherboard incorporates Intel's Triton PCI chip set. The system's internal wiring and the position of one of the internal bays make accessing the SIMM sockets troublesome.

Things get even messier when you examine the PCI and ISA slots, as well as the placement and cabling for the serial and parallel ports. Although two PCI slots appear to be free, neither is usable. Connectors for the parallel port and two serial ports, a DB-9 and DB-25, block each one. The impressive video card, a Diamond Stealth 64 with 4MB of VRAM, sits in a shared PCI/ISA slot, while a Creative Labs 16-bit Sound Blaster, FM synthesis sound board is in an ISA slot. While the Diamond video board is one of the best you'll find in a desktop PC, the sound card is at the bottom of the 16-bit audio range-PCs of this price and configuration usually offer a wavetable audio solution.

The worst system component is the monitor. My review unit came with DTK's own 15-inch model. Not only does the picture lack focus, but it also appears splotchy with a slightly dark tinge. You can't even adjust the picture to fill up the whole screen horizontally, as it maxes out with about three-quarters of an inch to go before bending abruptly at the four corners. Controls are limited to the most basic functions. Similarly configured and priced systems typically offer much better quality 17-inch monitors.

DTK is attentive to ergonomics relative to your hands, though. First, you get the excellent and comfortable Microsoft Mouse 2.0. Second, the QUIN bundles the ergonomic Microsoft Natural Keyboard. This large, sleek device is designed to prevent typing-related disorders like carpal tunnel syndrome, and is also ideal for those already afflicted. There's a comfortable wrist rest and the keys are placed so your hands fall in a more natural position when typing.

Performance is where the QUIN-54M/P150 really excels. Tested with Wintune 95 benchmarks, the CPU landed in the upper range for 150MHz systems with a score of 274MIPS. Though the hard disk and video scores were not as remarkable- at 3.6MB per second and 10.33Mpixels per second, respectively-they were still admirable. Most notable, however, were the QUIN's marks of 14.67 seconds on the Word macro and 10.33 seconds for the Excel macro. The Excel score is competitive with 166MHz system scores.

Oddly, the system arrived with no bundled software other than Windows 95 and the Diamond Stealth 64 In Control Tools 95. The In Control Tools are perhaps the best video card utilities available for Windows 95, letting you change resolution and color depth on the fly. Nevertheless, other systems of comparable power and price offer much more software.

At $2,850, the QUIN-54M/P150 offers excellent performance. Unfortunately, when it comes to features, the system falls considerably short of other similarly priced 150MHz systems.

Info File
$2,850 (street)
Pros: Performance; case; video card
Cons: Monitor; software
DTK Computer
800-289-2385, 818-810-0098
WinMag Box Score:: 2.5

Micro Express MicroFLEX-PCI/P133

Vibrant Video Marks Micro's 133

By John J. Yacono

Walking the tightrope balancing cost and features is never easy, but the Micro Express MicroFLEX-PCI/P133 teeters only a little, adding a few perks to an otherwise typical 133MHz Pentium.

There's plenty of expansion room, with two 3.5-inch and two 5.25-inch drive bays ripe for the taking, and many free card slots. The memory slots are behind some cabling, but the motherboard rests on a panel held by just two screws, making any major mother-board upgrade easy. The floppy cable was unattached when I received the system, and cables for the CD-ROM and hard disk were attached to the drives but not to the motherboard.

Once I connected the cables appropriately, the 1.28-gigabyte Quantum Fireball hard drive and HiLite quad-speed CD-ROM drive were up and running. The hard disk performed well, clocking in 3.27MB per second uncached throughput on the Wintune 95 benchmarks, average for a system with this configuration.

One noteworthy feature is the 17-inch Smile monitor, which produced a sharp image and had easy-to-use controls. The horizontal-size setting is limited though, leaving 0.25-inch black mar-gins on the left and right sides.

Another plus is the system's enhanced-capabilities parallel port, which was not activated in the system BIOS and Windows 95. Setting up the BIOS correctly and reinstalling the printer port in Win95 unleashed the power of this data spigot, which cranked out an impressive 481KBps.

The audio system was also a dichotomy. The excellent Creative Labs AWE32 sound card was limited by a mediocre speaker system (sans subwoofer). The standard keyboard was pleasant to use and had a noticeable tactile click. The comfortable Microsoft Dove bar-type mouse was a serial model, which left me with one less external port.

Micro Express doesn't provide much of a software bundle; there is no office suite or other productivity package. Communications programs for faxing and data were included to accompany the 28.8Kbps fax modem.

Low-level benchmark performance measured with Wintune 95 was standard for a 133MHz Pentium; the CPU scored 245MIPS. The exception was an outstanding video score, thanks in part to the Matrox MGA Millennium video card with 2MB of video memory: 16.67Mpixels per second.

Provided my experience with the cable assembly was a fluke, this is not a bad system for the price. Its performance and video quality will please anyone, and it provides nice perks like the AWE32 sound card and room for expansion.

Info File
Micro Express MicroFLEX-PCI/P133
Pros: Video; BIOS; sound card
Cons: Software bundle; speakers
Micro Express
800-989-9900, 714-852-1400
WinMag Box Score: 3.0

Quantex QP5/75 M-1

Just a Few Dollars Collars a Multimedia Machine

By Marc Spiwak

The phrase "multimedia on a shoestring" conjures up images of stripped-down PCs in my skeptical mind, but Quantex is out to prove me wrong. Its new QP5/75 M-1 is a 75MHz Pentium system that sells for $1,449-less than a 486 DX2/66 cost only a year ago-but it comes loaded with plenty of multimedia juice.

My QP5/75 M-1 review unit was configured with 8MB of EDO RAM, a 1.08-gigabyte Seagate hard drive and a Toshiba 4X CD-ROM drive. The installed STB PowerGraph 64 video card came with 1MB of EDO DRAM. The 2MB version of this card is a barn-burner, and this 1MB sibling is no slouch either: The QP5/75 M-1 scored an impressive 6.77Mpixels per second on the Wintune 95 video test, better than any other P75 I've tested. And you can add more memory to the video card.

Topping off the system are a 16-bit FM synthesis sound card, a 14.4Kbps fax modem and a 15-inch MAG InnoVision monitor. The unit's Win95 keyboard and ergonomic Microsoft mouse are nice touches. The mini-tower case has one internal and two external drive bays free as well as one PCI and two ISA slots free. As in the Quantex QP5/150 SM-2 also reviewed this month, one of the P5/75's PCI slots is unnecessarily blocked by a bracket for a serial and parallel port.

With the exception of the stellar video performance, the QP5/75 M-1's benchmark scores were comparable to other 75MHz systems I've tested: 136MIPS for the CPU and 2.03MB per second for the uncached hard disk.

The Quantex QP5/75 M-1 provides a comprehensive multimedia feature set at a price to please the penny-pincher in all of us.

Info File
Quantex QP5/75 M-1
$1,449 (street)
Pros: Price; features
Cons: Blocked PCI slot
Quantex Microsystems
800-632-5022, 908-563-4166
WinMag Box Score: 3.5
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