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6/96 Reviews System: AST Advantage 828

Complete listing of June 1996 reviews

Price and Performance: Cents and Sense

By James E. Powell

AST wants to deliver power to the people-especially people who have to pinch a few pennies when shopping for a new, high-performance system. The AST Advantage 828 is several hundred dollars less than most big-name 166MHz Pentium systems, but those savings don't translate into sacrifice.

The well-constructed system offers expandability to go along with its solid performance. The 828's 166MHz Pentium processor sits in an upgrade-friendly ZIF socket, and is ably assisted by 256KB of level 2 cache and 16MB of 70-nanosecond RAM, upgradable to 128MB. The 828 also has a flash BIOS and supports Windows 95 Plug and Play.

The mini-tower system has five 16-bit ISA slots and two PCI slots. One ISA slot holds an ATI Technologies 28.8Kbps fax modem, but everything else is built into the system's motherboard, leaving an ample six slots available for additional expansion cards. Three thumbscrews provide easy access to the system's inner workings, but the uniquely designed case lets you twist a single thumbscrew and slide off the case bottom to easily reach the vertically oriented expansion slots.

Peripheral connectors at the back of the system consist of one parallel and two serial ports, ports for a keyboard and a mouse, and an array of audio connectors-a MIDI port, and line in, line out and speaker jacks.

My evaluation system had a Western Digital Caviar 31200 1.2-gigabyte hard disk, but AST said the 828 will ship with a 2.1-gigabyte drive. The disk in the test system yielded an average uncached data throughput of 2.17MB per second when tested with WINDOWS Magazine's 32-bit Wintune benchmarks. The hard disk occupies one of the three internal full-height bays, while one of the three external full-height bays is filled with a Torisan 6X three-CD changer. A half-height bay holds the 3.5-inch floppy drive. There are additional controller and power connectors and cables that make it convenient to add drives. The unit's 200-watt power supply is able to handle additional peripherals.

An ATI mach-64 PCI graphics set with 2MB of DRAM is integrated on the motherboard. The mach64 supports MPEG playback and resolutions up to 1280x1024 with 256 colors. Tested with Wintune, the video system registered a so-so average score of 9.43Mpixels per second. A monitor is not included in the standard configuration, but a 15-inch, 0.28-millimeter dot pitch model is available from AST for an additional $400.

The AST 828's 16-bit, Sound Blaster-compatible stereo sound is also motherboard integrated. A pair of 10-watt Labtec stereo speakers and a microphone complete the sound system. Other system components include a two-button mouse and a 104-key keyboard with Windows 95 keys.

The Torisan CD changer is the system's weakest component. It uses a cartridge that holds three discs, and its driver creates three Explorer icons for drives D: , E: and F: . However, clicking on E: or F: has no effect. From DOS, you can switch drives and the Torisan switches CDs, so you can jump between D: , E: and F: as though they were three separate CD-ROM drives-but you can't do so in Windows 95. To access the "virtual" E: or F: drives, you indicate which drive you want to select by using the preloaded CD Smart Manager software. You then use Explorer's D: icon to access the disc. A small button on the front of the drive also lets you switch between CDs.

The 828's performance is competitive with similarly configured systems. Its processor clocked 300MIPS-about average for a 166MHz Pentium system. The system completed our Word 7.0 macro test in an average of 26 seconds, and the Excel macro in 18.67 seconds. The system is loaded with useful, quality software. In addition to Windows 95, the bundle includes Lotus SmartSuite 96, Quicken SE, the 1996 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, Rand McNally's TripMaker SE, Mayo Clinic Family Health Book, Multimedia Connect (for using your modem as a telephone answering and voice messaging system) and several children's titles. Start-up kits for several commercial online services, such as Reuters Money Network and Dow Jones Personal Journal, are included. Radish's VoiceView TalkShop lets you use the modem to communicate and share files.

Some of the software included with the Advantage 828 is marginal, like the investment calculator and a vehicle maintenance log, but it's an excellent bundle overall. The system also comes with AST Works II, a navigation tool that will point you to the extensive online documentation, such as the TalkShop user guide. A Make Disk utility will offload the documentation that you don't need to keep online, freeing up some of the hard disk space. There's also a diskette that will restore your system to its original factory configuration, which is very handy if problems arise.

The AST Advantage 828 further blurs the line dividing home from business systems. This machine can satisfy both camps, with plenty of multimedia moxie and more than enough power for demanding business users.

Info File
AST Advantage 828
$2,899 (without monitor)
Pros: Speed; construction; software
Cons: CD-ROM drive
AST Research
800-876-4278, 714-727-4141
WinMag Box Score 3.5
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