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-- by Jim Forbes
Like a baseball player, a PC manufacturer rarely hits a home run the first time at bat. I can quickly catalog the companies that have succeeded: Apple and Compaq. To that short list I now add Toshiba, with its new Infinia line of desktop computers.
The stylish Infinia will compete alongside the Compaq Presario 3020, Gateway 2000 Destination and IBM Aptiva S66 in a new class of ultrachic, high-performance style machines that break new ground in features, ergonomics and design. After spending some time with the new lineup, I predict the Infinia will be a runaway success in this category.
Already three models strong, the Infinia line's dark-gray color and design will appeal to executives as well as home- and small-office users. The Infinia also provides tremendous, albeit 16-bit, stereo with Surround Sound, outstanding video, great performance and unsurpassed utility. This machine sets new standards in ease of use, an area desktop computer makers should attend to if they're going to compete.
The Infinia has a mini-tower case with a sculpted front and a stylishly designed monitor (sold separately). The keyboard and monitor for this system are the same deep-gray color. The 0.28-millimeter dot-pitch monitor display is sharp at resolutions up to 1280x1024 pixels, and the system's integrated graphics subsystem offers relatively good performance. Base units start with 16MB or 32MB of memory, and 133MHz, 166MHz or 200MHz Pentium processors, with prices starting at $1,599. The Infinia might drive the price of competitive products such as the Compaq Presario, the Gateway 2000 Destination, the Apple Macintosh and some IBM Aptiva family members right into the ground.
The icing on Toshiba's Infinia cake is its Universal Serial Bus (USB) implementation, which enhances multimedia and greatly eases the use of a new class of extremely intelligent peripherals (the heart and soul of Infinia). Although Compaq and other companies may ship USB-equipped systems, Toshiba actually puts the standard to use.
The unit I tested, the $2,799 Infinia 7200, comes standard with 32MB of RAM, a 3GB hard disk drive and a 200MHz Pentium processor. It packs an 8X CD-ROM drive, an internal 3.5-inch floppy disk drive, a keyboard, a Microsoft mouse, a USB and a wireless remote. The 28.8Kbps modem with DSP can be software-upgraded to run at higher speeds. The system's 17-inch monitor is obviously designed to sit beside the system case. In addition to the two USB ports, you get a number of other external interfaces. These interfaces include a standard serial port, an ECP parallel port, an SVGA video port, two PS/2 serial ports (one for the mouse and the other for the keyboard), an external microphone jack, a speaker-out jack, a line-in jack and a MIDI/GAME port.
It took me only 10 minutes to unpack the monitor and system case, and connect the cables. Like other system makers in this market, Toshiba wisely uses color-coded cables to simplify setup, but it gets only average marks for the Infinia documentation. Although easy to read, the documentation could better explain how to program and use the Infinia's InTouch control module. Still, be sure to read the manual before you use the system-it will make it much easier to take advantage of all the neat new features.
Toshiba built into the Infinia acoustically isolated Sound Blaster Pro-compatible stereo speakers, a phone answering system, a Super VGA display adapter with 2MB of fast EDO memory and a television tuner. The TV tuner/video adapter and modem are feature cards, taking up two of the six available slots. The modem is in an ISA slot and the TV tuner/videoboard is in a PCI slot.
The internal design is pleasing. You open the box by sliding off one side of the case. Inside, you'll find ample room to change or add peripherals or to add more memory. Toshiba uses Intel motherboards for the Infinia, a design point I like. Most inside components are easily accessible. The power supply on all three initial versions of the Infinia is rated at 200 watts; ventilation appeared more than adequate.
The monitor contains a slot for a device called the InTouch module, the central control for this system's telephone, audio, CD-ROM, television and radio tuner functions. The 7200's InTouch module includes an LCD panel to show system status, telephony data, and the radio or television station you're set to receive. Toshiba's home electronics roots show here; the InTouch module uses understandable icons similar to those found on many VCRs and CD players. The InTouch modules supplied with the 166MHz and 133MHz versions of this machine use LEDs to show television, radio tuner and telephone/message system status.
I found it very easy to set up and begin using the Infinia 7200's tuner and telephone/messaging systems, a welcome departure from my experience with other living room PCs. This process is helped considerably by the InTouch module. The Infinia's tuner is cable ready, so you merely connect the leads. I was impressed by the quality of broadcast television images displayed on both the 17- and 15-inch monitors.
This system's audio quality is remarkable. Although the two speakers (set on either side of the monitor but mechanically isolated from the monitor case) are driven at only 5W, they have tremendous range, great sound and very good tonal separation. The Infinia's audio subsystem is based on FM synthesis technology and includes a 3-D Surround Sound chip. The stunning results compare nicely to the audio produced by the Gateway 2000 Destination in its stock configuration.
This system uses a Microsoft mouse and standard 104-key keyboard with integrated palm rest and Windows 95 function keys. The controls are placed where you expect them on a mini-tower, although this system comes with suspend and sleep-mode mechanisms that could eliminate your need to turn the system off.
The 7200's remote control lets you operate the computer as you would a television, stereo or home entertainment system. I strongly recommend you purchase the remote control as an option on the 7130 and 7160 models because it really extends the entertainment options' usefulness.
The software bundle is suitable for a home system. The Infinia comes with Microsoft Works, Windows 95, Microsoft Money, Dow Jones Personal Journal, Encarta, and Quicken SE. Other programs include Microsoft Plus, Golf and Internet Explorer, as well as Get Ready for School Charlie Brown, Mayo Clinic's Family Health, Investor Insight and Rand McNally's Tripmaker. And that's not all. You also get SimCity 2000, Terra Topia, Family Album Creator, Multimedia Connect Home, Mediamatic's MPEG Arcade Player SE and Shanghai's great moments, among other programs.
This system's benchmarks were nearly on par with those for other PCI-based systems equipped with comparable Pentium processors. Its processor produced an average of 342MIPs, and the Western Digital hard drive scored 3.26MB per second on our Wintune throughput tests. The Infinia's video subsystem cranked out 12.66Mpixels per second-about average for desktop computers equipped with adapter cards that have been optimized for use with video tuners, but a bit slow compared with straight video subsystems. Partly for this reason, the Infinia turned in below-average scores for a 200MHz desktop during our application tests, about 12 seconds for the Excel macro and 16.33 seconds for Word.
The Infinia 7200 has a clean design, which will complement your office or living room. It offers unsurpassed utility, great entertainment value and performance that outshines that of the Compaq Presario 3020, which it replaces on our Recommended List. It also costs less.
How much do I like the Infinia 7200? Enough to buy one for myself.
Copyright © 1997 CMP Media Inc.