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-- by Jonathan Blackwood
Add another Intel Pentium processor to the ever-expanding array of chip choices: the MMX-enabled 233MHz P55C. While not the speediest chip on the market, it's still fast by most measures and less expensive than higher-speed alternatives. Many users might find it a good compromise between speed and affordability.
On the plus side, it's about 16.5 percent faster than the 200MHz P55C, both in clock speed and processing power, as measured in MIPS. However, its raw CPU performance doesn't measure up to that of its Pentium II siblings, clocking in 21 percent slower than the 266MHz PII and 10 percent slower than the 233MHz PII.
Still, these results are close enough to the PII's that factors like type and amount of RAM, hard disk speed and video adapter can make a real difference. Equip one of these 233MHz Pentiums with NT 4.0, 64MB of fast SDRAM and a fast Ultra-Wide SCSI hard disk, and it'll run applications faster than a 266MHz Pentium II with lesser components. But one wonders whether the 233MHz Pentium will carve a new niche, slay competitors from AMD and Cyrix, or simply cannibalize sales of Intel's own higher-priced processors.
We reviewed a pair of 233MHz P55C systems this month, from Dell and Gateway 2000. These powerful systems, equipped with excellent components, large hard disks and 32MB of RAM, are worth a close look.
Dell Dimension XPS M233s
The engineers and product managers at Dell have been on a roll for several months now, and the company's new offering continues the streak. This is a very well-equipped system: 32MB of SDRAM, 512KB of level 2 pipeline-burst cache, a Matrox Millennium II video adapter with 8MB of RAM, a 6.4GB (nominal) IBM EIDE hard disk and a built-in Iomega Zip drive. Also included are a U.S. Robotics 33.6Kb-per-second modem, an NEC 12X to 16X variable-speed CD-ROM drive and a Creative Labs AWE 32 sound card with Altec Lansing ACS290 speakers. The 17-inch Samsung-built dot trio monitor has a 15.8-inch diagonal viewing area, on-screen controls and 0.28mm dot pitch.
In typical Dell Dimension fashion, you enter the case by removing a single thumbscrew. Inside are three PCI slots (two are available), two ISA slots (one is available) and one shared ISA/PCI slot occupied by the sound card. There are two internal drive bays, (one occupied by the IBM hard disk) and five externally accessible drive bays, two of which are available. The Dell/Intel motherboard makes use of Intel's 440VX chipset and an AMI BIOS. All bays, bus slots and SDRAM slots are easily accessible. On the back of the unit are several ports-two USB (Universal Serial Bus), two PS/2, one serial, one parallel and one joystick-as well as connections for a microphone and speakers. Besides Windows 95, this system ships with Microsoft Office 97 Small Business Edition.
The Dell XPS M233s beat the Gateway 2000 system by a slim margin on our benchmarks. It hit 440MIPS, 2.7MB-per-second uncached disk throughput and 52Mpixel-per-second video throughput. Its average times to execute our application macros were quite good as well: 9.33 seconds for Word 7.0, 6 seconds flat for Excel 7.0 and 15.33 minutes for our MMX/DeBabelizer Pro/Photoshop script.
The XPS M233s is a superb system that is among the first 233MHz Pentium systems on the market. Its only direct rival is the Gateway 2000 G5-233 system reviewed below, although similarly priced and configured Pentium II and K6 systems are worth considering as alternatives.
Gateway 2000 G5-233
The curvy, "new look" Gateway case is certainly attractive, but we were more concerned with what was inside. The configuration we tested boasted 32MB of RAM, a 5.1GB (nominal) Maxtor hard disk (the system now ships with a 6.4GB hard disk, 512KB of level 2 cache), an STB Nitro 3D video adapter with 4MB of EDO RAM and a U.S. Robotics 56Kbps modem. Also included are a Toshiba 12X to 16X variable-speed CD-ROM drive, an Ensoniq sound card with Altec Lansing ACS410 speakers and ACS251 subwoofer, and a 17-inch (16-inch diagonal viewing area) Invar shadow mask CrystalScan monitor with on-screen controls and a 0.28mm dot pitch. The plethora of ports includes two USB, two PS/2, one serial and one parallel, with connectors for speakers, microphone and joystick as well.
To access the Gateway G5-233's interior, twist off two thumbscrews. Once inside, there's plenty of room for expansion with three internal drive bays (two available) and five external bays, three of which are available. At 145 watts, the power supply is a bit stingy. Of the three PCI slots, one is free; of the two ISA slots, one is free, and the shared ISA/PCI slot is also available.
Software includes Microsoft Office 97 Small Business Edition, Microsoft Money 97, Microsoft Automap Streets Plus 1997 Edition, Microsoft Encarta 97 and a collection of MMX-enabled entertainment titles.
The Gateway came very close to the Dell's performance on our Wintune 97 benchmarks: 438MIPS, 2.87MBps uncached disk throughput, and 42Mpixel-per-second video throughput. Application macros were similarly good. Average times to execute were 10 seconds flat for Word, 6.67 seconds for Excel and 15.35 minutes for our MMX/DeBabelizer/Photoshop script.
The Gateway P5-233 sets a new standard of value and performance. The Dell XPS M233s nudged past it in most performance categories, but the differences are negligible. And the Dell offers less in the way of speakers, modem and software, but costs $450 more-though you do get a $149 Zip drive and extra video RAM. You wouldn't go wrong with either of these terrific systems, but it's the Gateway G5-233 that becomes the first 233MHz P55C Pentium system to earn a spot on our WinList.