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9/96 Reviews Systems: Midwest Micro 3D Interactive MPEG PC

Listing of September 1996 Reviews

System's a Treat for Dollars and Senses

By James Alan Miller

Interactivity is usually a good thing in computing. But when it comes to the wallet/computer salesman interface, you want to keep interactivity to a minimum. MidWest Micro's 3D Interactive MPEG PC won't let your wallet grow distressingly thin, and its configuration rivals more expensive offerings from the major PC players.

The 3D Interactive MPEG PC is a solid performer with some admirable features, including a 166MHz Pentium processor, 512KB of pipeline burst cache and an Acer 8X CD-ROM drive with a convenient tray mechanism. This MidWest Micro system performed well on WINDOWS Magazine's Wintune benchmarks. The system earned a mark of 301MIPS on the CPU test, placing it right in the middle of the 166MHz Pentium-class machines we've tested.

On the hard-drive performance test, the system notched an admirable 3.57MB per second uncached throughput. Its 13Mpixel-per-second video score wasn't exceptionally high, but it's more than acceptable for most applications. On our real-world application benchmarks, the 3D Interactive did quite well, completing the Word macro in only 14 seconds and the Excel macro in 12.33 seconds.

Inside the system's handsome mini-tower case sits an Intel motherboard equipped with the Triton PCI chipset. The CD-ROM drive sits at the top of the tower, with two empty external 5.25-inch bays below. A free external 3.5-inch bay is also available underneath the bay holding the floppy drive. Filling the free external bays may be a chore, as you must remove the CD-ROM drive to get to the 5.25-inch bays and drag out the floppy drive to reach the 3.5-inch bay.

On the system's front panel, you'll find a large power button, alongside buttons for reset and the anachronistic "turbo" function. Three LEDs indicate the status for power, hard-drive access and the turbo setting.

The 3D Interactive has only two internal bays, one of which holds the big 2.5-gigabyte Quantum EIDE hard drive. The drive comes partitioned because Windows 95 doesn't yet support drives with capacities exceeding 2GB.

The inside of the unit's mini-tower is also marred by messy wiring. The tangle of wires makes access to the SIMM sockets and their 16MB of EDO RAM (expandable to 128MB) difficult at best. But if you poke around inside, you'll find two available PCI slots and an empty shared PCI/ISA slot. At the back of the case are parallel, 25-pin serial, 9-pin serial, keyboard and mouse ports. A heat sink and fan mounted atop the CPU help keep it cool.

The system's key multimedia components occupy two ISA slots and a PCI slot. Video is supplied by an ATI 3D RAGE video card with 2MB of DRAM in the PCI, and a ReAlMagic Maxima MPEG decoder. The audio side of the multimedia scene comes from a Creative Labs AWE32 wavetable sound board in the ISA slot, and Altec Lansing ACS-31 speakers with subwoofer. You can expand the MIDI range of the sound card by adding DRAM to its SIMM slots. A MidWest Micro 15-inch monitor completes the picture. ATI's driver software offers good image controls such as position, size and refresh rate adjustments, as well as horizontal and vertical synchronization. You can also use the panning feature, which lets you pan the screen image in four directions and zoom in and out. There are also ample controls to adjust color.

I found the 3D Interactive's 15-inch monitor disappointing, because of its small size (13.8-inch viewable area) and mediocre image quality. I'd expected a 17-inch display to back up the high-powered processor; MidWest tells me it will upgrade to a 17-inch monitor by the time you read this.

The monitor's controls-horizontal and vertical position and size, pincushion, rotation, brightness and contrast-are minimal (it even lacks a degauss button). The monitor has a 0.28mm dot pitch and a maximum resolution of 1280x1024 pixels. It's Energy Star- and VESA DPMS-compatible.

Monitor mediocrity notwithstanding, the software that comes with the system will get you started down the multimedia path immediately. Among the included titles are Space Ace, Silent Steel, Flash Traffic: City of Angels, Cowboy Casino and the Aladdin Interactive Storybook. Also provided are Microsoft's Games for Windows 95, Microsoft Works and Windows 95 Starts Here, a tutorial CD-ROM. There's also a CD-ROM with previews of more than 70 Microsoft programs.

At $2,499, the 3D Interactive MPEG PC offers a good-and economical-multimedia solution. I look forward to seeing this system with a modem and a better monitor, but it's still an excellent starting point for multimedia applications.

--Info File--
MidWest Micro 3D Interactive MPEG PC
Pros: MPEG; 3-D video
Cons: Internal wiring; monitor
MidWest Micro
800-728-8582, 513-368-2309
WinMag Box Score: 3.0

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