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WinLab Reviews
Head to Head: 200MHz P55C MMX Desktop Systems
200MHz MMX Is New Desktop Standard

-- by Jonathan Blackwood, Cynthia Morgan and James E. Powell

It doesn't take long for a new processor to take center stage. Intel's 200MHz P55C MMX-enabled Pentium, released last February, is now the mainstream processor for both corporate and consumer markets. Last month we reviewed business machines in this class. This month we look at "enthusiast" units, sold more typically to power users and hobbyists than to corporate customers.

Acma EXP 200

The Acma EXP 200 comes with 32MB of RAM (expandable to 128) and 512KB of pipeline-burst cache. It sports two USB ports, two serial ports, one parallel port, a joystick port, and two PS/2 ports for the keyboard and mouse. There's a built-in 16-bit Creative Labs Sound Blaster-compatible sound system using a Yamaha OPL3-SA chipset and a pair of Altec Lansing ACS51- powered speakers. The U.S. Robotics 33.6Kbps Sportster fax modem occupies one ISA slot; the other is free. A PCI slot is taken by the video card; two others, plus a shared ISA/PCI slot, remain open.

An STB Velocity 3D card with 8MB of EDO VRAM drives the video. We tested the unit with both the Impression Vienna Pro 17-inch monitor (included in the system price) and a ViewSonic VP140 LCD panel monitor, and picture quality at 1024x768 resolution was excellent. The Vienna Pro, based on the Mitsubishi DiamondTron tube, offers a 0.25mm stripe pitch flat-screen, nonglare tube with a 16.1-inch diagonal viewing area. The monitor's capable of 1600x1200.

An external 3.5-inch bay houses the Toshiba floppy disk drive. Of the three external 5.25-inch bays, one is taken by the 12X Toshiba CD-ROM drive, another by a 3.2GB Quantum Fireball EIDE hard drive, which was partitioned into a 2GB and a 1GB drive.

What separates the Acma from its competition is its spacious, well-designed interior. Everything is easily accessible: Each expansion slot can hold a full-length card, there's clear access for adding extra memory, and the pathway to the empty bays is unobstructed. The fans are quiet and efficient.

The Acma performed well in our Word and Excel macro tests. At 800x600 and 65,000 (16-bit) colors, it completed Word in an average of 12.33 seconds and Excel in just 7 seconds. Our graphics-based MMX-enabled DeBabelizer Pro script (running Photoshop filters) executed in an average of 16.92 minutes. Its Wintune 97 scores checked in at 383MIPS, video throughput was 28Mpixels per second, and uncached disk throughput was 1.9MB per second. The Wintune scores are just average for a 200MHz P55C system, with disk throughput that was anemic compared to the other systems in this review. In addition, the video system is much better suited for 1024x768 at 65,000 colors, for which the STB Velocity 3D shines.

The system does not include a comprehensive software package. It comes with Windows 95 (the SR2 version) and Microsoft Office 97 Professional, sign-up kits for online services and telephony applications for the modem.

Though the EXP 200 is a fine system, it's a bit slower by almost every measure than the Zenith Performance CX 200, which remains on our WinList.

Dell Dimension M200a

It's not often you can buy a nicely configured PC for under $2,000, but Dell's new M-series definitely fills that bill. It features a Pentium MMX processor, in either 166 or 200MHz clock speeds. We looked at the 200MHz version (the Dimension M200a) and found an exceptional value.

The M200a offers 16MB RAM, a 12X CD-ROM, a 2.1GB EIDE hard drive, a very nice 15-inch monitor (the Dell 15LS), 512KB of pipeline-burst cache and Microsoft Office 97 Small Business edition. Basically it's a Win95-only solution as sold by Dell, although with another 16MB of RAM it would serve quite nicely as an NT Workstation system. The M200a also comes with a Creative Labs Sound Blaster 16 sound system and a 33.6Kbps modem.

The side-opening cover snaps off easily, and inside the M200a has room for expansion. All three PCI slots are free, and one of the three ISA slots remains empty after the other two are plugged with modem and sound card. Four of the seven drive bays remain free, three of which are external. One of two DIMM slots is open; a single 16MB module fills the other. Like most new PCs, this one offers two USB ports.

The M200a comes with an S3 Virge video subsystem with 2MB RAM, 3D graphics and support for resolutions up to 1280x1024 pixels at 256 colors. We tested it at 800x600 pixels and 65,000 colors, at which it scored a respectable 31Mpixels per second. Our MMX test completed in an average of 18.57 minutes-about average for a machine in this class.

In our testing, the M200a's processor clocked 383MIPS, while uncached disk throughput measured 3.27MBps. These scores bested those of rival Compaq Deskpro 2000 5200/1800 in two areas: The Compaq's scores were 365MIPS, 3.57MBps uncached disk throughput and 14Mpixels per second video throughput. The M200a completed our Word 95 and Excel macros in average times of 12.87 seconds and 9 seconds, respectively.

The Dell M200a offers plenty of room for growth and reasonable performance at an excellent price. Spend another hundred or so for extra memory, and you've got a system you can live with for a long time. In addition, the Dell's price of $1,979 includes a CD-ROM drive and a monitor, while the $1,899 Compaq Deskpro system does not. For those reasons, the Dell M200a replaces the Compaq Deskpro 2000 5200/1800 on our WinList.

MidWest Micro MWA-200-T 15th Anniversary PC MidWest Micro may not be the best-known PC manufacturer, but it's been around since 1982. To celebrate its fifteenth anniversary, MidWest Micro put together a powerful and feature-rich P55C 200MHz Pentium with MMX system that includes just about everything a home user needs. Such performance doesn't come cheap, however: The tab for this system is $2,899.

What you get for the price is a lush collection of peripherals, and entertainment and educational software. The feature list is impressive: 32MB of synchronous DRAM (expandable to 256MB), 512KB of level 2 cache, a Quantum Fireball 6.4GB (nominal) hard disk, ATI's All-in-Wonder TV tuner 3D graphics card with 4MB of EDO DRAM, and a 17-inch (16.1-inch viewable) Mag InnoVision monitor with on-screen controls and 0.26mm dot pitch. Add to that a 16X (maximum) Toshiba CD-ROM drive, a Boca Research 33.6Kbps modem, a Creative Labs Sound Blaster AWE 64 sound card matched to Altec Lansing ACS 400 speakers and an ACS 250 powered subwoofer.

Top the hardware configuration off with a Microsoft Natural Keyboard, a Microsoft IntelliMouse and a Sidewinder Game Pad, and it's clear MidWest Micro gives you a plethora of peripherals. To open the case, you have to remove three thumbscrews, revealing plenty of expansion space: Two PCI and two ISA slots are available, as are one internal and three external drive bays.

The 15th Anniversary PC ships with an impressive array of Microsoft's edutainment titles, including Encarta, Cinemania, Money, MS Soccer, MS Golf, Fury3, Arcade and Julia Child's Home Cooking with Master Chefs. There are even three MMX titles: Eraser, POD and The Ultimate Human Body. But the only productivity software included is Microsoft Works.

Performance on our Wintune benchmarks was respectable: an average of 385MIPS, uncached disk throughput of 7.5MB per second, 30Mpixels per second video throughput. The MWA-200-T completed our applications macros in average times of 11.33 seconds for Word and 8.33 seconds for Excel; average time for our MMX test was 16.98 minutes.

The 15th Anniversary PC succeeds with quality components and scads of fun software, but fails with productivity titles. A number of systems are available that offer similar performance and features for a bit less money, such as the Zenith Performance CX 200 ($2,799) which retains its place on our WinList.

The verdict

You can't go seriously wrong if you choose any one of these three systems; they're all built by companies with good reputations. The performance of each is quite similar; the biggest difference is in the price, and that's where the Dell Dimension stands out. Even if you add upgrades, such as a 17-inch monitor and 16MB of RAM, you'd still wind up paying below $2,500. This earns the Dimension a slot on our WinList.

Acma EXP 200
Bottom Line: Beautifully designed system with well-chosen peripherals, but only average performance
Price: $2,795
Platforms: 3x, 95, NT
Pros: Excellent design; good choice of components, including monitor
Cons: Disappointing uncached disk speed
Strongest Rival: Zenith Performance CX 200

Acma Computers, 800-578-1888, 510-623-1212. Winfo #821

MidWest Micro MWA-200-T 15th Anniversary PC
Bottom Line: For the home enthusiast or SOHO user who wants a machine for earning, learning and entertaining
Price: $2,899
Platforms: 3x, 95, NT
Pros: Features; performance; top-quality components
Cons: Price; lack of productivity titles
Strongest Rival: Zenith Performance
CX 200

MidWest Micro, 800-728-8582, 513-368-2309. Winfo #822

Dell Dimension M200a
Bottom Line: Performance outstrips price in this 200MHz Pentium MMX econobox
Price: $1,979
Platforms: 95
Pros: Great price; reasonable performance; expandability
Cons: Comes with only 16MB RAM
Strongest Rival: Compaq Deskpro 2000

Dell Computer Corp., 800-338-8542, 512-338-4400. Winfo #675

Windows Magazine, August 1997, page 124.

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