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-- by James Alan Miller
Does getting twice the processing power at less than twice the price strike you as a pretty good deal? American Multisystems InfoGOLD Dual PPro 200 workstation is a dual 200MHz Pentium Pro, Ultra SCSI system that comes packed with name-brand components. This Windows NT 4.0 workstation delivers fantastic expandability and terrific performance at the very competitive price of $5,295.
The thoughtfully designed unit comes in a full-size tower case. It's easy to service and has several expansion options. You get two free 5.25-inch external bays. Above them are a 1GB Iomega SCSI Jaz drive, an 8X Fast SCSI-2 NEC CD-ROM (it'll be a 12X Toshiba drive by the time you read this), a floppy drive and a 4.3GB Fast/Wide SCSI-2 Quantum Atlas hard disk. Running at a demanding 7200rpm, the drive has an access time of only 8 milliseconds. It generates a lot of heat, so American Multisystems put it into an external 5.25-inch bay with its own fan. The drive has a five-year warranty.
The toolless chassis slides open to reveal three empty 3.5-inch internal drive bays. Four internal fans keep it cool. Besides the fan on the hard drive, there are fans beneath the 300-watt power supply, soldered to the front bottom of the case and on top of each CPU's heat sink.
The Intel PR440FX ATX motherboard (441FX chipset) is easy to access and service. You can slide it out the rear of the case after removing several screws. The motherboard has Fast/Ultra Wide SCSI-2 support, which allows you to daisy-chain up to 15 devices. In addition, the Jaz drive is attached to its own SCSI card in one of the PCI slots. This SCSI card supports up to seven devices. Of the two additional PCI slots, one is free, and the other holds a 128-bit Matrox Millennium 3D graphics video card with 4MB of WRAM (expandable to 8MB) and hardware MPEG. A shared PCI/ISA slot holds the 33.6 Diamond Supra Express modem.
The system's internal layout and wiring leave you plenty of room to access the motherboard without removing it. For instance, you get unobstructed entry to the four DIMM slots, which are right in the middle of the board. Each of the first two slots holds 32MB EDO DIMMs, for a total of 64MB of memory. You can expand memory to a whopping 512MB.
In addition to on-board SCSI, you get two USB serial ports and integrated 100Mb Ethernet. Also on-board is a Yamaha audio chip for Sound Blaster Pro 16-compatible FM synthesis sound. But the sound system, featuring Mli 691H speakers, is perfunctory at best. It's disappointing that a system of this quality would have such pedestrian sound, even though this may not be the primary concern of its users.
The ArtMedia 17-inch monitor delivers a superb, finely detailed image with good color rendition. You get a wide array of on-screen controls, including convergence, pincushion, rotation, size, position, brightness, contrast and color temperature adjustment. The monitor has a 0.25mm aperture-grille pitch and a maximum resolution of 1280x1024. A large, comfortable Windows 95 keyboard and an ergonomic Microsoft Mouse complete the package.
The system blew through Wintune and application macros. Under Wintune, it achieved impressive scores of 833MIPS for the CPUs and 50Mpixels per second for video throughput. Uncached hard disk throughput was 1.6MB per second. On our application macros, it earned terrific marks of 6.67 seconds for Word and 3.67 seconds for Excel. Since neither Excel nor Word takes advantage of dual CPUs, we used a beta version of WinLab's new Microsoft Access database macro to see how big a difference two CPUs can make. The Dual PPro's score of 69 seconds made it almost twice as fast as the single 200MHz Pentium Pro processor Micron Millennia Pro Plus (on our WinList), which had a score of a little over 2 minutes.
In fact, few current applications can take advantage of a two-CPU system, which is generally aimed at the graphics, design and animation markets. Programs like Photoshop for image editing and Kinetix's 3D Studio Max for animation can make use of two CPUs. Some database software, such as Microsoft Access, can also employ a second processor. So before you decide to buy one of these powerhouses, make sure it addresses your needs.
The Dual PPro is a bargain, but some may want to buy the single-processor system, which is $700 less. You can add a second processor later, though both must be of the same "stepping," or precise version. CPU prices drop all the time, so you might save a considerable amount of money by adding a second processor later.
The InfoGOLD gets added to our WinList as the first dual-processor Pentium Pro we've recommended. Although the InfoGOLD isn't for everyone, you'll be hard-pressed to find a high-performance, feature-rich system like it at such a price.