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-- by James Alan Miller
Sometimes it's tough to decide which-if any-of the new systems equipped with Intel's Pentium with MMX technology is right for you. Two promising and affordable 200MHz MMX desktop PCs, National Microcomputers' Expert MMX P200 and Pionex's Elite Pentium 200 with MMX Technology, offer solid multimedia extras. But a few gotchas mar these systems' attractiveness.
National Microcomputers Expert MMX P200
Because of its tool-free, mini-tower chassis design, the Expert MMX P200 is a breeze to enter. You simply turn a thumbscrew and slide off the cover. The unit has two free 5.25-inch external bays and two empty 3.5-inch bays inside. Externally, you'll find a Cyberdrive 12X CD-ROM drive, while internally there's a 3GB Western Digital hard disk. Quarterdeck's CD Certify Pro and a 32MB file-transfer test both reported that the 12X CD-ROM drive performs at its rated speed.
Unfortunately, the system has messy internal wiring, which makes it difficult to access SIMM slots. This is important to keep in mind if you plan to upgrade the system's memory in the future. The Expert MMX P200 comes with 32MB of EDO RAM, which is expandable to 256MB. It has 512KB of pipeline-burst cache. One ISA and two PCI slots are available.
The system offers a Matrox Mystique PCI graphics board with 4MB of SGRAM. Although the Mystique graphics board supports 3D, it doesn't provide hardware MPEG. The company compensates for this by providing software MPEG.
The Expert MMX system's ADI Microscan 17-inch monitor displays a good but unexceptional picture. The unit has a 0.28mm dot pitch and on-screen controls with mostly basic options for adjusting an image's color and position. The Microscan monitor meets the MPRII standard for low emissions; it also meets the EPA Energy Star and VESA DPMS requirements for efficient power management.
The unit bundles good ACS53 Altec Lansing speakers and a subwoofer. However, a slight buzzing occurred during testing, which subtracted from the sound system's overall performance. The Expert MMX P200 also comes with a Creative Labs 32 Plug-and-Play wavetable sound card and a U.S. Robotics 33.6Kb-per-second modem. The modem is firmware-upgradable to the company's X2 technology (which promises one-way transfer rates to 56Kb)
The system's benchmark performance was unexceptional; it produced average scores on our Wintune tests. However, the Expert MMX P200 did deliver good scores when it was run using Intel's proprietary MMX benchmark tests. Like similar MMX machines, the Expert's CPU is rated at 391MIPS, while its video receives a respectable rating of 20.67Mpixels per second. Uncached hard disk scores were mediocre: 1.77MB per second. However, the Expert scored well when running macros. It performed the Word macro in 11 seconds and completed the Excel macro in 8.33 seconds.
Pionex Elite Pentium 200 with MMX Technology
Like the Expert, the Elite system uses a mini-tower chassis and has messy internal wiring, which could make upgrading the system more troublesome. Unlike the Expert's, the Elite's case requires tools to open it. The unit contains three empty 5.25-inch external bays and two 3.5-inch internal bays. Its 12X Toshiba CD-ROM drive performs at its rated speed. The Elite's Western Digital hard disk, at 2.5GB, provides slightly less disk space than that of the Expert; the Elite's 200-watt power supply is also less robust.
The unit has 32MB of EDO RAM expandable to 128MB, half the Expert's capacity. It has 512KB of pipeline-burst cache. You get three PCI and four ISA slots, with two of each available. The placement of the CPU and its large heat sink on the Pionex's proprietary motherboard blocks the installation of long form factor ISA cards in two of the ISA slots.
The Elite comes with a Diamond Stealth Video 3D 2000 graphics board with 4MB of EDO RAM and hardware MPEG. The 17-inch MAG InnoVision DX 700T is brighter and has better color saturation than the Expert's Microscan. It has a 0.25mm aperture-grille pitch and, like the Expert monitor, complies with the MPRII low-emissions standard and EPA Energy Star and VESA DPMS power-management guidelines.
In addition, the Elite's display has a fine collection of on-screen controls. These controls include brightness, contrast, position, size, pincushion, rotation, degauss, trapezoid, parallelogram, convergence and color. However, neither system's monitor matches the Crystal Scan 700 17-inch display used on the rival Gateway 2000 P5-FPC with MMX Technology, the current WinList product of choice in this category. The Gateway unit offers an excellent picture and some of the best on-screen controls available from PC-bundled monitors.
The Elite's sound system uses a pair of Altec Lansing speakers, but they don't include a subwoofer, as the Expert's system does. Surprisingly, however, we were happier with the Elite's sound performance despite its lack of a subwoofer.
The Elite PC also includes an Ensoniq Soundscape Vivo wavetable sound board, and a 33.6Kbps full-duplex CPI modem and microphone with Microsoft Phone software.
The Pionex Elite Pentium 200 with MMX Technology was outperformed by the Expert MMX P200 during MMX tests, but it earns comparable marks under our non-MMX benchmarks. It scored 387.67MIPS for the CPU, 23.33Mpixels per second for video and 2MBps for uncached hard disk. In macro testing, the Elite earned the same 11-second mark for Word as did the Expert and scored a speedier 7 seconds for Excel.
Despite its poorer MMX performance, the Pionex Elite system makes its case by offering good all-around hardware and software bundles. National Microcomputers' Expert comes closer to receiving our WinList seal, but it doesn't offer quite the same performance, case design or monitor display quality of the Gateway 2000 P5-FPC with MMX. Nevertheless, both systems are worthy contributions to the MMX family.