Back to May 1996 WinLab Reviews
Up to Table of Contents
Ahead to May 1996 Recommended

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.)

Xerox DocuPrint 4517

As You Like It: Net Printer Adapts

By Hailey Lynne McKeefry

The Xerox DocuPrint 4517 is the printer for anyone who has happily hummed along with the Burger King commercial: "Special orders don't upset us." This laser printer's bare-bones configuration provides economy and performance, while a long list of optional equipment ensures that this small-network unit suits your needs exactly.

The standard printer is a network workhorse, without outstanding features. It can spit out up to 17 pages per minute and can handle a duty cycle of up to 50,000 pages per month. Combined with a resolution of 600x600 dots per inch (1200x600 dpi with laser modulation), these specs make the Xerox Docu-Print 4517 just the ticket for small to medium-sized workgroups.

The printer, which measures a fairly compact 11.6 by 17.4 by 16.5 inches and weighs 41 pounds, comes with a universal paper tray that holds 250 sheets of letter, folio, legal, executive or A4 paper, as well as a 100-sheet bypass feeder. Other features include 2MB of memory (expandable to 64MB) and 45 scalable PCL-compatible fonts.

The unit's real advantage is its abundance of options, which can be added to make the printer suitable for just about any application. For example, the mailbox/collator option ($1,099) provides 10 private, lockable document bins. Each bin can be accessed only with a password entered at a keypad on the collator. This option allows offices with security needs to put a printer in a centralized area rather than in a separate locked room.

The printer, which comes standard with a parallel bidirectional interface, does not have a network card. You can buy any of three network interface cards (Ethernet, Token Ring or Local-Talk) at street prices ranging from $101 to $497. The Ethernet and Token Ring cards feature flash memory to allow you to update the network OS without buying a new card.

Perhaps your group prints huge volumes of documents or uses media of many different sizes; you can add up to two 500-sheet paper cassettes ($269 each) for a total capacity of 1,350 sheets. An envelope feeder ($269) holds up to 75 envelopes. Other options include a duplexing unit (for double-sided documents), a 500-sheet offset catch tray, a hard drive and memory upgrades.

The basic DocuPrint 4517 provides the speed, print quality and price that will make it a welcome addition to any workgroup with basic computing needs. Best of all, this is one printer that you probably won't outgrow.

-- Info File --
Xerox DocuPrint 4517 Desktop Laser Printer
$1,850 (street)
Pros: Optional equipment
Cons: No-frills software
Platforms: Windows 95,3.1x, NT
Xerox Corp.
800-34-XEROX, 716-442-4028
WinMag Box Score: 3.5

UMAX Maxmedia TV Mini

TV Tunes In to Big-Picture Presentations

By Marc Spiwak

Large-screen TVs have spoiled us to the point where we sometimes wish we could have computer monitors of equal size. There's a problem, though: Even 20-inch monitors are very expensive, and anything larger than that falls into a rarefied category where money seems to be no object. Big companies can afford these monitors, but even little guys can enjoy big pictures with the UMAX Maxmedia TV Mini.

The TV Mini is a pocket-sized device that converts the VGA output from a PC into an NTSC or PAL signal that can be displayed on a regular TV. The TV Mini supports resolutions up to 640x480 pixels for NTSC and 800x600 pixels for PAL. It outputs composite video, S-video and RGB component video.

The TV Mini installs between the VGA output of a computer and the monitor, leaving the original functionality intact. Controls allow you to adjust the TV picture's color, brightness, horizontal position and size, and vertical position.

I was able to get the TV Mini working in only a few minutes, and no adjustments were required. While the picture on the TV was not nearly as clear as the one on the monitor, it's a reasonable trade-off for having such a large display available inexpensively. There was also some jitter in the TV picture, which is unavoidable due to incompatibilities between VGA and NTSC.

The TV Mini is also useful for training sessions involving large groups, game players who demand big-screen action, and for recording PC video on a VCR to make demo tapes. The TV Mini is a cost-effective way to get the big picture.

-- Info File --
UMAX MaxmediaTV Mini
Pros: Low price for big-screen display
Cons: Image quality
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.1x
UMAX Technologies
800-562-0311, 510-651-4000
WinMag Box Score: 3.5

Sharp PC-3060

Cyrix Heart Beats in Budget Book

By James Alan Miller

Individuality runs deeper than the skin of Sharp's slate-blue- and periwinkle-hued PC-3060. The 3060's heart beats to its own rhythm, using a Cyrix 100MHz 5x86 CPU instead of an Intel processor.

With a suggested price ranging from $2,299 to $2,599, the 3060 is marketed as a budget system. You get a large 10.4-inch dual-scan passive-matrix screen as well as 32-bit VESA local-bus video with 1MB of memory.

My review unit had 16-bit Sound Blaster Pro-compatible sound, built-in stereo speakers and a built-in microphone. The 3060 also includes a 500MB hard disk, 8MB of RAM (expandable to 40MB), a 14.4Kb-per-second fax modem, a nickel metal hydride battery and a Glide Point touchpad pointing device. The 3060 can take two Type II PCMCIA cards or a Type II and Type III card simultaneously.

The infrared port supports the IrDA and ASK infrared communications standards. Other ports include audio jacks as well as serial, parallel, PS/2 keyboard and VGA ports.

The system's LCD status bar delivers up-to-the-minute information on various system functions. The roomy keyboard incorporates an embedded numeric pad and a function key that lets you adjust many system functions.

The 3060's Wintune 95 CPU mark was typical for its Cyrix processor, at 112MIPS. The unit achieved a very good video score of 4.5Mpixels per second, not bad for a notebook at this level. Performance fell off markedly under the hard disk test, though, as the 3060 earned a rather low 0.5MB per second. It did a good job executing our Excel macro in 37 seconds, but its 66-second time on the Word macro was only fair.

Though it's an adequate system by most standards, what's most impressive about the Sharp PC-3060 is the price.

Info File
Sharp PC-3060
$2,299 to $2,599
Pros: PC Card slots; touchpad
Cons: Setup; RAM
Sharp Electronics Corp.
800-BE-SHARP, 201-529-8200
WinMag Box Score: 2.5

MidWest Micro SoundBook IIp

90MHz Book Is a Sound Investment

By Sara G. Stephens

MidWest Micro again undercuts the competition with its 90MHz Pentium SoundBook IIp. In fact, MidWest Micro has shaved $800 off the price tag of the SoundBook Plus (Reviewed in July 1995).

The SoundBook IIp offers all the apps provided in its predecessor, including Lotus Organizer, Microsoft Works and Windows 95. What it doesn't offer is the 14.4Kb-per-second PCMCIA modem bundled with the SoundBook Plus.

Packing a decent 16MB of RAM, the 4.5-pound notebook deserves the name portable. Unfortunately, the unit is saddled with a yesteryear nickel metal hydride battery-far from on par with the lithium ion batteries that are now common in the competition.

MidWest has replaced its traditional notebook pointing stick with a bottom-center-located trackpad that measures 2.5 inches wide by 2 inches tall. I'm still trying to get used to trackpads, so it's hard to say whether my problems with this one are specific to the manufacturer: On several occasions, I inadvertently moved blocks of text when my finger grazed the device pad as I tried to place the cursor. The SoundBook IIp's trademark extra-wide palm rest, however, works better with the trackpad than it did with the previous models' stick.

The notebook's no-frills controls exemplify simplicity at its best: The only non-keyboard buttons are a power switch and screen-refresh button. Below the screen panel sits an LCD that illustrates standard status indicators such as power, battery and caps lock.

A pair of one-inch-square speakers flank the notebook's screen. Audio is strong but a little on the tinny side. The unit's Energy Star-compliant display sometimes yielded quirky screen refreshes. Ten minutes after powering up, it still rippled through unexpected refreshes.

The SoundBook IIp features two PCMCIA slots, a 3.5-inch floppy drive bay, serial port, parallel port and docking station slot. The notebook's nylon carrying case comes with elastic straps that snap over the machine to further secure it during travel.

The unit posted a CPU score of 166MIPS on our Wintune tests. Video zipped along at 3.4Mpixels per second-quite good for a notebook. The hard disk performed at an admirable 1.6MBps uncached. The notebook fared adequately on the WINDOWS Excel macro, with times averaging 33 seconds. Its 90-second time on our Word macro was less impressive. If you're looking for a workhorse notebook at a rock-bottom price, the SoundBook IIp is a sound deal.

Info File
MidWest MicroSoundBook Iip
Pros: Design; price; software
Cons: Performance; nickel metal hydride battery
MidWest Micro
800-203-3012, 513-368-2309
WinMag Box Score: 2.5

Ultimate MPEG Video Upgrade Kit

One Card in a Slot for Two on the Aisle

By Marc Spiwak

When desktop video first became a reality, the postage-stamp-sized video windows were barely visible, let alone entertaining. All that changes with the introduction of the Ultimate MPEG Video Upgrade Kit from Vision Interactive Publishing. It's here today, and it lets your PC produce full-screen, full-motion video.

The upgrade kit includes both the Ace Movie Master MPEG decoder card and video discs-you have a choice of either sports titles or movies. The ESPN Sport Pack includes eight ESPN sports video CDs and eight ESPN interactive CD games.

I checked out the Orion movie pack, which includes eight full-length movies from Orion and two interactive CD titles. The videodiscs conform to the White Book standard for video CDs and should play on all compatible MPEG 1 decoders. They'll also play on a Philips CD-I machine.

The Movie Master decoder card pops into an empty expansion slot; it has two video connectors and one stereo audio jack on its back plate. There are no jumpers to set. An included VGA pass-through cable connects the output of your existing video card to the input of the MPEG decoder. Your monitor then connects to the output of the decoder. Regular video passes right through the card. The audio jack on the decoder's back plate connects directly to amplified speakers or to the input of a sound card. The installation software came on a single diskette, and it installed without any problems.

The only question I have is this: Which movie should I watch next?

Info File
Ultimate MPEG Video Upgrade Kit
Pros: Full-screen movies
Cons: Video cards will ultimately include MPEG decoders
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.1x
Vision Interactive Publishing
714-833-1822, fax 714-833-3620
WinMag Box Score: 3.0

Pioneer DRM-624X

CD Switcher Attacks Stacks of Discs

By Lori L. Bloomer

The CD shuffle isn't a new dance craze. It's a distracting-if not downright irritating-juggling act when you need to switch CD-ROM discs quickly. If you frequently consult more than one reference source at a time, you're probably all too familiar with the disc shuffling routine.

The solution, of course, is a CD-ROM jukebox unit. Until recently, these models were expensive, slow or both. Pioneer has solved the problem with the DRM-624X, a 4.4-speed CD jukebox with a manufacturer-listed seek time of 110 milliseconds and a transfer rate of about 675KB per second. That's faster than a 4X drive's standard 600KBps transfer rate and 150ms access time, but not quite as fast as a 6X drive, which offers transfer rates of up to 900KBps.

This unit is a SCSI 2-compliant drive that's compatible with any SCSI-2 card-in theory, at least. In reality, it likes Future Domain hardware best of all, or cards with ASPI drivers. It has DIP switches on the rear of the chassis for SCSI ID and termination; audiophiles will be glad to know it also features a stereo headphone jack and an RCA jack. This means your DRM-624X can serve double duty as a garden-variety audio CD player.

The drive is easy to install and get running. Once it's ready to go, restarting your system will force the Pioneer to poll all drives upon startup-a bit slow, but worth the wait. The jukebox then remembers what each slot of the magazine contains and assigns each slot a different drive letter. This is convenient because it does not require a reset and re-polling of drive contents every time you switch discs, but it can prove problematic for people with network connections who may not have six drive letters available.

The company claims that the unit takes only five seconds to switch discs. I found the results a bit slower than that, with the worst case being 10 seconds.

The street price of this unit recently dropped to $475, making it a good bet for those who are thinking of buying additional drives but don't want the hassle of configuring multiple CD-ROMs. The Pioneer's ability to configure each disc into a separate drive letter also makes it suitable as a shared network drive for low-traffic LANs. But most of all, it's a cost-effective way to end the CD-ROM shuffle.

Info File
Pioneer DRM-624X
$475 (street)
Pros: Ease of use; convenience
Cons: Some problems with certain SCSI cards
Pioneer New MediaTechnologies
800-444-6784, 310-952-2111
WinMag Box Score: 4.0

Lexmark Color Jetprinter 2070

PC Provides Power, Control for Color Jet

By James E. Powell

You'll like the Lexmark Color Jetprinter 2070-that is, if you've got a fast Pentium system powering it. This printer's performance depends on the system it's hooked up to more than any other printer I've seen.

The Jetprinter 2070 is a general-purpose color ink jet that can print on single sheets, envelopes, labels, index cards and transparencies with equal ease. The 150-page sheet feeder stacks paper vertically, and the fold-down protective cover serves as the single-sheet feeder guide. The 2070 can handle letter, legal, A5, A4 and index card-sized paper. The unit ejects paper in the front and stacks it on a pull-out paper support.

The 2070 assembles in seconds, thanks to a very good Quick Start card. The fold-down cover protects the inner workings and the two ink cartridges-one for black and the other for color-which are easy to snap in their holder. The installation disks contains drivers for both Windows 3.1x (which I tested) and Windows 95.

The excellent software control panel lets you manage print density (either 300x300dpi or 600x600dpi), the type of image you're printing (I switched to monochrome to improve performance when printing normal correspondence) and the paper you're using. You also use the program to change printer cartridges, clean print nozzles and perform other maintenance.

If noise is an issue, you're better off with a quieter model, such as a Hewlett-Packard 660C or a Canon BubbleJet. Print speed depends upon the presence of a bidirectional parallel printer port. For example, using a four-year-old 33MHz 486 with 16MB of RAM and an AT-class parallel port, the Lexmark printed in fits and starts.

When connected to a new 133MHz Pentium with a bidirectional parallel port and 16MB of RAM, the 2070 took just 18 seconds to print my test documents. Noise is less annoying when your paper seems to fly out of the printer. the Lexmark 2070 deserves a look.

Info File
Lexmark Color Jetprinter 2070
$479 (street)
Pros: Windows 95 and 3.1x software controls
Cons: Noisy
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.1x
Lexmark International
800-891-0331, 606-232-2000
WinMag Box Score: 3.0

Plasmon PD2000e PD/CD Drive and CDR4220

Double-Duty Drive and a Solid CD-R

By James E. Powell

Double-duty peripherals are rare, but offer greater convenience and save space. Plasmon's new PD2000e PD/CD Drive is one such unit, competing with drives from Panasonic and other manufacturers. It combines a 4X CD-ROM drive and a 650MB rewritable drive. The PD2000e uses a slide-out tray to hold either the 650MB optical cartridge or a CD-ROM, and the installation program (for Windows 95, 3.1x or NT) uses a separate drive letter for each. My benchmark tests showed the CD-ROM drive performed at the 4X level, with an average data-transfer rate of 648KB per second and an average data access time of 308 milliseconds. The PD isn't as fast as a hard disk, copying at 185KBps, compared with a hard-disk-to-a-second-hard-disk copy rate of 5.0MBps.

The bundle comes with CorelSCSI, a utilities collection that includes a CD audio player and configuration tools, as well as an Adaptec 16-bit SCSI card.

The Plasmon CDR4220 CD-Recordable drive offers mass storage at less than 2 cents per megabyte. The preproduction package I tested included the same Adaptec SCSI card and cable as the PD/CD drive. The 2X write/4X read drive is compatible with several standard CD recording formats, including CD-ROM XA, Multisession CDS, CD-I and CD audio, writing either 650MB (63-minute) or standard 680MB (74-minute) discs.

The CDR4220 comes with Easy-CD Pro, a mastering/staging program. The user guide helps you through installation, then you must use the online help system to learn the ropes. There's a Test mode that makes sure your hard disk is fast enough to feed the CDR4220 files so the buffer doesn't run dry. I had no trouble writing files from my 3-year-old system's hard disk or a 2X external CD-ROM drive on the same SCSI chain.

The drive and software worked well, though I had to use the 1X write speed to ensure the write buffer was always full. That's a small price to pay for copying files from one CD to another. Alignment and recording accuracy were perfect-I was able to play the resulting CDs on a wide variety of drives.

Though a bit pricey, the CDR4220 is solidly constructed and worked right out of the box the first time.

Info File
Plasmon PD2000ePD/CD Drive
Price: $699 (street)
Pros: Reliable 4X CD performance; CorelSCSI utilities
Cons: PD speed
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.1x, NT
WinMag Box Score: 3.0

Plasmon CDR4220
$1,249 (street)
Pros: Construction
Cons: Software documentation
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.03.1x, NT
Plasmon Data
800-445-9400, 408-474-0100
WinMag Box Score: 3.0


Low-Priced Drive Has 6X Appeal

By John Perry

It's beyond me why anyone would want anything but the TEAC CD-56E 6X IDE CD-ROM drive for his Windows 95 machine. It's easy to install and configure, and the performance is exceptional, providing superior video quality and audio synchronization.

The TEAC's seek time is 110 milliseconds, while its average access time is 140ms. Its data-transfer rate is 900KB per second, and it comes with a 256KB buffer. Its performance is similar to that of the NEC MultiSpin 6Xe I evaluated previously (Reviewed in September 1995), and that's pretty good considering it costs less. The drive weighs 1.98 pounds, measures 1.6 by 5.75 by 8 inches and easily slides into a 5.25-inch drive bay.

Unlike most single-play CD-ROM drives in today's market, the front panel offers only an ejection button, adjustable volume control and a headphone plug. All other controls are provided by software. The TEAC supports Kodak Photo CD, Red Book audio as well as MPC 3.

The only jumper controlling the TEAC defines the unit's Master/Slave relationship. The motorized disc tray is protected by an automatic dust door, ensuring years of use with standard CDs. Sound Blaster compatibility and rear audio jacks deliver sound options.

And what peripheral would be complete without multiple tech support channels? TEAC provides a round-the-clock BBS (213-727-7660), fax on demand (213-727-7629) and live support (213-726-0303). It lacks a Web site, but plain-Jane service enables low prices. The TEAC CD-56E drive is a great value for the price.

Info File
$199 (street)
Pros: Fast; affordable
Cons: None
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.1x,
NTTEAC America
800-888-4923, 213-726-0303
WinMag Box Score: 4.0
Back to May 1996 WinLab Reviews
Up to Table of Contents
Ahead to May 1996 Recommended