Systems Under $2,000



AMS InfoGOLD P100

The System in Black Is a Gold-Medal Buy

The tall, charcoal-colored case used by the AMS InfoGOLD P100 is reminiscent of the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Because of the case design, both sides of the motherboard are readily accessible, facilitating both heavy and light upgrades, although getting to the SIMMs is a bit of a project unless you unplug a few things. Cache RAM is socketed, enabling you to leap from 256KB to 512KB.

A black, full-size keyboard and three-button mouse come with the system. Telephony hardware and software include a Creative Labs Phone Blaster, which consolidates a sound card, voice mail/speakerphone functionality and a 14.4Kbps modem into a single, full-length card.

The ArtMedia 15-inch monitor uses a Trinitron tube. Its controls feature two pairs of buttons for each image aspect (size, position, rotation, pincushioning and so forth). However, a kink in the upper-left-hand corner of the image refused to go away no matter what we did. It also showed some moiré, and focus could have been better in the corners, but the monitor's overall image quality is quite acceptable.

AMS InfoGOLD P100
Price: $1,395
Pros: Performance; physical design
Cons: Monitor
Platforms: Windows 3.x, 95, NT
American Multisystems
800-888-6615, 408-945-2296
WinMag Box Score: 4.0


Hewlett-Packard Vectra VL4 5/100 MT

Cool Design, Hot Performance

The Hewlett-Packard Vectra VL4 mini-tower will satisfy even the most demanding user. Our 100MHz Pentium evaluation unit was equipped with a 15-inch monitor, 16MB of EDO RAM (two 8MB SIMMS), a 256KB level 2 pipeline-burst synchronous cache, a 3.5-inch floppy disk drive and a 1.2GB hard disk. Also included were a 4X CD-ROM drive and an S3 Trio 64V+ graphics/video accelerator on the motherboard with 2MB of video memory.

Under Wintune, the system clocked an average of 185.33MIPS for the CPU, 3.3MB per second for the uncached disk score and 9.47Mpixels per second for the video. Elapsed times for the Word and Excel macros were 16.67 and 16.33 seconds, respectively.

As configured, there were two available 5.25-inch external drive bays, one available 3.5-inch internal drive bay and six 72-pin SIMM sockets available (the motherboard can accept up to 128MB). The expansion slots are mounted on a riser card that allows you to install a board without turning the system on its side. A total of six slots-three ISA, two PCI and one shared slot-were available.

The only thing missing in the evaluation unit was a sound card. HP offers other Vectra configurations with various multimedia capabilities.

Hewlett-Packard Vectra VL4 5/100 MT
Price: $1,890
Pros: Construction; performance; accessibility; keyboard
Cons: No sound card
Platforms: Windows 3.x, 95, NT
Hewlett-Packard Co.
800-752-0900, 415-857-1501
WinMag Box Score: 5.0


Dell Dimension P100t

You Are Entering A New Dimension

If the Dell Dimension P100t were a car, it would be neither a Cadillac nor a Miata, but a comfortable midsize that sells like crazy. The mini-tower case is held by a thumbscrew at the top and two plastic tabs at the bottom, so accessing the motherboard takes seconds. The Dimension P100t has a more spacious interior than other mini-towers. The on-board S3 Trio 64 saves real estate by integrating the RAMDAC.

The test unit came with two 4MB SIMMS, which leaves two slots available and easily accessible. The six expansion slots-three PCI, two ISA and one shared-are equally unobstructed save for the dangling floppy drive ribbon. The Creative Labs FM synthesis sound card is the only adapter installed, leaving five slots free. The system comes without an external cache, but the motherboard supports either asynchronous or pipeline-burst cache. The 4X CD-ROM drive occupies one of the three externally accessible drive bays.

The Dimension P100t's performance is on track for a 100MHz unit, but not outstanding. Our Wintune 95 benchmarks and application macros show that it's marginalized by mediocre video and lack of an external cache. The Word and Excel scores were 44 and 24 seconds, respectively. The Quantum Fireball 1080A hard drive scored a 2MB-per-second uncached disk speed.

Dell Dimension P100t
Price: $1,599
Pros: Flexible design; documentation
Cons: No external cache
Platforms: Windows 3.x, 95, NT
Dell Computer Corp.
800-613-3355, 512-338-4400
WinMag Box Score: 4.5


NEC PowerMate V100

Make Connections with This Business System

Whether it's on a LAN using the included 3Com EtherLink III adapter, or exchanging information via the integrated infrared port, the PowerMate V100 has the tools to get your business moving.

The infrared port lights up with every boot, seeking other like devices ready to exchange information. The preinstalled TranXit 2.0 software from Puma Technology provides a platform for infrared, parallel and serial communication between PCs.

The 100MHz Pentium system comes with a speedy 1GB Quantum Fireball hard disk, 16MB of EDO RAM (expandable to 128MB) and 256KB of level 2 cache. NEC's own MultiSync XE15 15-inch monitor produces a clear picture with excellent color and good antiglare protection. A superb NEC MultiSpin 6X CD-ROM drive runs off a SCSI card that's installed in an ISA slot.

NEC's superior speakers give terrific sound reproduction. Sound and video (2MB of DRAM) are located on the motherboard, freeing up slots and space for upgrades.

NEC PowerMate V100
Price: $1,913
Pros: Infrared port; suspend and resume; ergonomics
Cons: Lacks expansion room
Platforms: Windows 3.x, 95, NT
NEC Technologies
800-NEC-INFO, 508-264-8000
WinMag Box Score: 3.5


Tangent MediaGem 5133/95

Born to Be a Multimedia Star

The Tangent MediaGem 5133/95 was born to run-multimedia, that is. It's powered by a 133MHz Pentium with 16MB of RAM and a 512KB secondary cache. Add to that an STB PowerGraph 64 PCI video card with 2MB of EDO DRAM, a Quantum Fireball 1.2GB hard drive and a TEAC 6X CD-ROM drive, and you have one of the fastest, most full-featured 133MHz Pentiums in town. A 17-inch MicroScan monitor rounds out this high-end package.

A Sound Blaster Vibra 16 sound card was installed in our review unit, already upgraded for wavetable operation with an add-on daughterboard. The sound card's audio output feeds to an amplifier that's built into the case. The system also has built-in speakers that are more than adequate for everyday use.

The Tangent 5133 has a built-in microphone as well as a jack for an external mike. A headphone jack disables the built-in speakers. Behind a small door are a joystick/MIDI port, a line-level input to the sound card, and a pair of video input and output jacks that were not used on our test system. They are intended to be connected to a video capture card should you install one.

The system performed as expected for a 133MHz Pentium, scoring 244MIPS for the CPU and 3.4MB per second for the Quantum hard drive. The video score of 15.33Mpixels per second was very good. The Tangent 5133 is very easy to set up, and creates little clutter on a desktop. You'll be able to tackle any multimedia project without having to pull out your computer and reconfigure the wiring on back. The system offers plenty of room for expansion, although you'll probably never need it. However, you might want to add a video-capture card to take advantage of the front-panel video jacks.

Tangent MediaGem 5133/95
Price: $1,895
Pros: Performance; features
Cons: Nonstandard layout
Platforms: Windows 3.x, 95, NT
Tangent Computer
800-800-5550, 415-342-9388
WinMag Box Score: 4.5



Quantex QP5/120 SM-1

System Blends Features, Performance, Price

The Quantex QP5/120 SM-1 provides good performance, features and price. The system comes with a fast 120MHz Intel Pentium processor, 16MB of EDO RAM, 512KB of pipeline-burst cache, a 2.1GB Western Digital hard drive, an Aztech 8X CD-ROM drive, an STB PowerGraph 128 PCI video card, a 33.6Kbps modem and a 17-inch MAG InnoVision monitor. There's also an Ensoniq Soundscape 16-bit wavetable sound card and a pair of Altec Lansing multimedia speakers.

Performance numbers matched or beat those of similarly configured systems. The CPU scored 218MIPS, while the hard disk and video scored throughputs of 1.97MB per second and 9.4Mpixels per second, respectively. Completing our Word and Excel macros in an average of 24.3 and 13 seconds, respectively, the QP5/120 earned its stripes as a truly fast PC.

The QP5/120's motherboard contains three PCI slots, one filled with the STB PowerGraph 64 video card with 2MB of DRAM, and four ISA slots, two of which are occupied by the sound card and modem. The STB PowerGraph card is fast and delivers excellent video, especially when paired with the 8X CD-ROM drive.

Quantex QP5/120 SM-1
Price: $1,999
Pros: Performance; construction; multimedia
Cons: Mouse; keyboard
Platforms: Windows 3.x, 95, NT
Quantex Microsystems
800-632-5022, 908-563-4166
WinMag Box Score: 4.0


Digital Venturis 575 Slimline

No-Frills System Won't Empty Your Pockets

Digital's Venturis 575 is a minimalist's dream. Its spartan design doesn't have all the frills of higher-end systems, but it can handle the jobs that most people do. Getting inside the Venturis is simple. There are only three expansion slots, usable as one PCI and two ISA slots or vice versa. Under the swing-out power supply lurks the hard disk and room for another, which you'll need if you opt for the 420MB Maxtor model that came with this unit.

Everything the Venturis offers is built into its system board. Along with the standard serial, parallel and mouse ports, there's 256KB of level 2 RAM cache that peps up performance. The on-board S3 Trio64 video chip includes 1MB of DRAM, expandable to 2MB for higher color depth. The basic 8MB of RAM is soldered onto the system board; two SIMM slots are included for additional RAM. The review unit had one free external 5.25-inch bay, which is where the optional CD-ROM drive resides.

Performance was average for a 75MHz Pentium unit. Wintune 95 logged scores of 136MIPS for the Venturis' CPU, 1.4MB per second for its uncached disk and 4.5Mpixels per second for video. Our Excel macro was complete in 30 seconds, and the Word macro took 67 seconds. For Pentium power on a budget, the Venturis 575 just might fill the bill. If you can spare a few more dollars, you'll be happier if you add at least another 4MB of RAM and a CD-ROM drive.

Digital Venturis 575 Slimline
Price: $1,888
Pros: Design; setup
Cons: No CD-ROM
Platforms: Windows 3.x, 95, NT
Digital Equipment Corp.
800-DIGITAL, 508-624-6400
WinMag Box Score: 4.0



Micro Express MicroFLEX-686/P166+

Cyrix-Based System Really Rocks

The Micro Express MicroFLEX-686/P166+ system is built around Cyrix's 6x86-P166+ CPU. The configuration includes 16MB of EDO RAM (expandable to 128MB), 512KB cache, a 1.2GB Quantum Fireball hard disk and a Sony 4X CD-ROM drive. The mini-tower has three PCI slots, one filled by an STB PowerGraph Pro 64 video card with 2MB of EDO DRAM. The system also has four ISA slots and one shared ISA/PCI slot, which was occupied by the 16-bit Sound Blaster-compatible ESS audio card.

The system is equipped with a 15-inch GVC monitor with a 0.28-millimeter dot pitch and acceptable image quality. Similarly, the stereo speakers provide basic functionality that should suffice for most applications.

With its Cyrix CPU, this system matched or exceeded the results achieved by a comparable Pentium model in our application macros: Word and Excel macros completed in 11.67 and 10.67 seconds, respectively. The MicroFLEX-686/P166+ is roughly 10 percent slower, however, on our Wintune 95 low-level benchmark tests than an Intel-equipped sibling. Those tests yielded a CPU score of 259MIPS, an uncached disk speed of 3.33MBps and an impressive video rating of 17.67Mpixels per second. The system does not come with a modem or any software other than Windows 95, so it's likely to appeal to upgraders who are satisfied with their current suite of business applications.

Micro Express MicroFLEX-686/P166+
Price: $1,799
Pros: Performance; price; construction
Cons: Documentation; lacks modem
Platforms: Windows 3.x, 95, NT
Micro Express
800-989-9900, 714-852-1400
WinMag Box Score: 4.5


Micro Express MicroFLEX-PCI/166

High-End Peformance For a Low-End Price

The MicroFLEX-PCI/166 delivers excellent, high-end performance for a low-priced system. It has 16MB of EDO RAM (expandable to 128MB), 512KB pipeline-burst cache, a 1.2GB Quantum Fireball hard disk, an STB PowerGraph Pro 64 video card with 2MB of EDO DRAM, a 15-inch GVC monitor with a 0.28-millimeter dot pitch, a 16-bit Sound Blaster-compatible ESS audio card and a Sony 4X CD-ROM drive. The stereo speakers are adequate for most applications. Micro Express uses the PCI Phoenix PnP Flash BIOS for Plug-and-Play compatibility. Of the three full-height external bays, one is occupied by the CD-ROM drive; the floppy drive sits in one of two external, half-height bays. Despite the three available external bays, the 200-watt power supply has only one extra plug.

The Intel-based PCI/166 earned a CPU rating of 303MIPS, uncached disk throughput rate of 3.47MB per second and video score of 18.67Mpixels per second. It finished our Word macro in 12.33 seconds and completed the Excel macro in 11.67 seconds. These fine application test scores are due, in part, to the MicroFLEX-PCI/166's excellent video and disk subsystems, and the 512KB pipeline-burst secondary cache.

You don't get a modem or any software other than Windows 95. Since this system comes without bundled software, you'll have to be satisfied with your current business suite for this computer to be of use. Micro Express backs these systems' impressive price and performance with a two-year parts-and-labor warranty, and a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Micro Express MicroFLEX-PCI/166
Price: $1,799
Pros: Performance; price; construction
Cons: Documentation; lacks modem
Platforms: Windows 3.x, 95, NT
Micro Express
800-989-9900, 714-852-1400
WinMag Box Score: 4.5


Gateway 2000 P5-120

Bare-Bones System Sports Muscle, Not Fat

It's a bare-bones system without a sound card, speakers or modem. But what the Gateway 2000 P5-120 does provide is 16MB of SDRAM, a Mitsumi 8X CD-ROM drive, 256KB of pipeline-burst cache, a 1GB hard drive and a 15-inch monitor. This configuration helped the 120MHz Pentium system fly through our application tests, averaging less than 19 seconds for the Word macro and 15 seconds for the Excel macro. The system's CPU averaged 214.67MIPS, while the hard disk clocked a healthy 3.03MB per second and the video averaged 10Mpixels per second.

The ATI Mach 64 video card with 2MB of DRAM works well with the 15-inch, 0.28mm-dot-pitch Vivitron monitor. The ATI board adds a tab to control selected video settings to Win95's Display Properties dialog box. The P5-120 has seven slots-four for PCI boards and three for ISA boards.

Documentation has always distinguished Gateway machines, and this unit carries on the tradition. The unit ships with only Windows 95 and Microsoft Office. When you first boot up, Windows 95 goes through a modified setup procedure.

Gateway 2000 P5-120
Price: $1,549
Pros: Documentation; ergonomics
Cons: Serviceability
Platforms: Windows 3.x, 95, NT
Gateway 2000
800-846-2000, 605-232-2000
WinMag Box Score: 4.5


Micron P150 Millennia

System's Speed Turns Your Money into Time

If time is money, the 150MHz Pentium-powered mini-tower from Micron looks like a million bucks. The Micron P150 Millennia, an IDE system, includes a 1.2GB Quantum Fireball hard drive and a TEAC 6X CD-ROM drive. It has 16MB of EDO RAM, expandable to 128MB, and 256KB of synchronous-burst level 2 cache.

The P150's CPU scored 269.67MIPS, and graphics tested at 9.8MBps. The disk scores were also admirable: 3.33MB-per-second uncached speed and 20MBps cached speed. Average times for Word and Excel benchmarks were 17 seconds and 13 seconds, respectively.

As usual, Micron has assembled an impressive package, though expansion options are somewhat limited. For example, the system has only two ISA slots available, and they are limited to half-length cards because of the SIMM banks' location. A full-length Creative Labs Sound Blaster AWE32 card occupies the other ISA slot. The system has three PCI slots and one shared slot.

Micron P150 Millennia
Price: $1,999
Pros: Performance; construction
Cons: Location of SIMM slots
Platforms: Windows 3.x, 95, NT
Micron Electronics
800-243-7615, 208-463-3434
WinMag Box Score: 4.5


MidWest Micro P5-75 Office PC

Solid System Will Perform, Not Thrill

Reviewing the MidWest Micro P5-75 Office PC was like getting a sweater for Christmas instead of a fire truck. It's good, functional and worth the money, but hard to get excited about. You get a solid 75MHz Pentium machine with 16MB of 60ns EDO RAM, a 1GB hard drive, a 4X CD-ROM drive and a floppy disk drive. Toss in a Microsoft mouse, an ordinary yet serviceable keyboard and a 15-inch Energy Star-compliant digital monitor, and you have a system configured with quality brand-name components.

Setting up the MidWest Micro P5-75 is simple. All the rear ports are color-coded with stickers, and a corresponding key tells you which serial port is the mouse's domain, for example. The machine's performance is what you'd expect with this configuration. Our Wintune benchmarks rated the CPU speed at 135MIPS, the video speed at 4.6Mpixels per second and the uncached disk speed at 2.6MB per second.

MidWest Micro P5-75 Office PC
Price: $1,480
Pros: Bundled software; components
Cons: Lacks sound card and fax modem
Platforms: Windows 3.x, 95, NT
MidWest Micro
800-728-8582, 513-368-2309
WinMag Box Score: 3.5



Quantex QP5/75 M-1

Powerful System Is for Penny-Pinchers

The QP5/75 M-1 is a 75MHz Pentium system that sells for $1,299 and comes loaded with plenty of multimedia juice. Our review unit was configured with 8MB of EDO RAM, a 1.08GB 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 6.77Mpixels per second.

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.

The QP5/75 M-1's benchmark scores were comparable with those of other 75MHz systems we've tested: 136MIPS for the CPU and 2.03MB per second for the uncached hard disk.

Quantex QP5/75 M-1
Price: $1,299
Pros: Price; features
Cons: Blocked PCI slot
Platforms: Windows 3.x, 95, NT
Quantex Microsystems
800-632-5022, 908-563-4166
WinMag Box Score: 3.5


Quantex QP5/100 M-2

Home/SOHO System Offers Big Value

The Quantex QP5/100 M-2 multimedia computer packs a lot of value for the money. This midsize tower model features an Intel motherboard, a 1GB Western Digital Caviar EIDE hard drive with 256KB disk cache, 8MB of EDO RAM, 256KB of level 2 write-back cache, an Aztech 6X CD-ROM drive and Altec Lansing ACS-5 speakers. There's also a 15-inch monitor with 0.26mm dot pitch, an STB Horizon 64 video adapter with 2MB of DRAM, a 16-bit stereo sound card and an Askey International 14.4Kb-per-second fax modem.

The machine ships with Windows 95 preinstalled. Unfortunately, there is no full-fledged office suite preinstalled, and performance is somewhat lackluster. Though the Wintune 95 benchmark results were acceptable at an average of 178.33MIPS, 1.5MB per second for the hard disk and 5.2Mpixels per second for the video, our application macros ran slowly. The Word macro took an average of 41.67 seconds to execute, while the average time for the Excel macro was 22 seconds.

Quantex QP5/100 M-2
Price: $1,699
Pros: Components; price
Cons: No business software; performance
Platforms: Windows 3.x, 95, NT
Quantex Microsystems
800-632-5022, 908-563-4166
WinMag Box Score: 4.0