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-- by Jim Forbes
Now that the noise surrounding Intel's introduction of its Pentium II family earlier this year is dying down, it's becoming easier to find bargain-priced machines that offer reliable performance and above-average features. Two new 266MHz Pentium II systems reviewed below, the Nova Computer PII-266 and the Quantex QP6/266 SM-4X, match this description. A third, the Sys Performance Pro 266, is by no means bargain priced but instead offers great performance and a marvelous interior design.
Nova Computer PII-266
The Nova PII-266 is a 266MHz Pentium II-based tower that may appeal to anyone on a tight budget who needs an NT workstation. The system configuration we reviewed includes a 266MHz Pentium with 512KB of level 2 cache, 64MB of EDO system memory, a Maxtor 5GB IDE hard drive, a Matrox Millennium video card with 4MB of WRAM, an internal 12X CD-ROM drive, a 56K U.S. Robotics fax modem, a Microsoft Natural ergonomic keyboard, a two-button mouse and a pair of Roland stereo speakers. A 17-inch monitor, which is not part of this system's $2,999 configuration, was also supplied.
The Nova offers what is now the standard complement of external ports: two serial, two USB, one parallel and one audio connector. One feature you may appreciate is the second videoport on the back of the Matrox video card; it allows you to connect monitors originally designed for the Macintosh. The supplied Roland speakers are a cut above most OEM stereo speakers. In fact, the treble and bass responses of the Roland SP1060s are very good.
Nova loads Lotus' SmartSuite office software and provides a collection of CD-ROM titles such as the current edition of Grolier's Multimedia Encyclopedia and Version 4.0 of The Software Toolworks U.S. Atlas.
Access to the interior of the Nova isn't nearly as good as that on Sys Technology's machine (reviewed below). For example, the two open memory slots on the Nova PII are partly blocked by a structural brace running along the horizontal axis of the computer. We have found that NT workstations tend to get loaded with third-party expansion products; our belief is that the interiors of NT workstations need to be as free from clutter as possible. The case on this computer is attached with small Phillips screws. There are only two fans-one mounted in the 235-watt power supply, the other on the heat sink attached to the processor cartridge.
The benchmark results for the Nova's PII-266 were generally below those achieved by the Sys Technology machine (which also runs Windows NT). The Nova's processor averaged 560MIPS, and its hard drive produced 123MB per second of cached-disk throughput. It took the Nova 11.53 minutes to complete our Photoshop/DeBabelizer Pro/MMX script, and 45 and 74 seconds, respectively, to finish the Word and Excel macros in our benchmark suite.
This computer is one of the least-expensive 266MHz Pentium II Windows NT workstations we've tested. Although its performance may be below that of other comparable 266MHz Pentium IIs, such as the HP Vectra VL 6/266 on our WinList, the Nova PII-266 could appeal to bargain hunters who want a basic NT workstation.
Quantex QP6/266 SM-4X
Unlike the other two systems in this review, the Quantex QP6/266 SM-4X comes only with Windows 95, with no option for Windows NT. For $2,999, you get a 266MHz Pentium II with 512KB of internal level 2 cache, a Seagate 6.4GB IDE hard drive, a Toshiba 16X CD-ROM drive, 64MB of EDO system memory and a 56K internal modem. Also included in the system are a Diamond Stealth 3D video card with 4MB of RAM and a MAG InnoVision 17-inch, 720JV2 autosync monitor with 0.28mm dot pitch and a 16.1-inch viewable area.
The motherboard provides two USB, two serial, one parallel, one audio and one game port. A pair of very good Altec Lansing ACS400 speakers are also included, as well as an ACS250 subwoofer. The keyboard features Windows 95 function keys and has better-than-average tactile feedback. In addition, the system comes with Microsoft
Office Small Business Edition.
This Quantex system has room to grow; you open the case by removing small Phillips screws and sliding it off its base. The basic configuration of this system is very good, and it has better-than-average access to interior components.
In our tests, the QP6/266 SM-4X's processor cranked out an average of 556MIPS, and its hard disk produced 73MBps of cached-disk throughput. It took this desktop 11.73 minutes to complete our multimedia benchmark test, and 41 and 78 seconds, respectively, to run our Word and Excel macros.
The QP6/266 SM-4X's performance did not match that of other 266MHz systems currently on our WinList, such as Gateway 2000's G6-266XL with DVD. However, while this machine's performance may not be on a par with computers like the Gateway G6-266XL, its price and basic feature set are noteworthy.
Sys Performance Pro 266
The Sys Performance Pro 266 is designed for power users who prefer to take the time to specify individual components when ordering. The machine we looked at was an NT 4.0 workstation, equipped with a Pentium II 266MHz processor, 64MB of EDO memory, 512KB of level 2 cache, one parallel, two serial, and two USB ports, and one Wide SCSI connector.
Internally, the motherboard is connected to a series of proven components, including a Seagate ST34501W 4.5GB Ultra-Wide hard drive; a Matrox Millennium video adapter with 4MB of video memory; a Cardinal 33.6Kb-per-second modem and an Adaptec SCSI hard disk controller. The standard keyboard includes Windows 95 function keys and a detachable wrist rest. Also included are a 16X CD-ROM drive, an OEM 0.26mm dot pitch, 17-inch monitor (with a 15.9-inch viewable area) and a set of MidiLand MLi 818 external speakers. You specify software, including a choice of Windows NT or Windows 95, when ordering this system.
The Sys Performance Pro 266 is configured as a tower. Remove three knurled screws and one of its sides to open the case. Despite its ample configuration, the Pro 266 has plenty of room to grow. The system we examined has four open internal bays, two unused PCI slots and one unused, shared PCI/ISA slot. One of the things we really like about the Pro 266 is its extremely clean interior layout. In fact, cables for this system are neatly bundled, which helps to improve air flow across the motherboard. The Performance Pro is equipped with a total of four fans and a 235W power supply.
The audio system is a 32-bit Sound Blaster wavetable card. The MidiLan speakers have poor bass response; if you need high-quality audio, our recommendation is to specify different speakers.
The hard drive is reasonably fast, producing cached-disk throughput rates of 217MBps. Most high-end users of this desktop should find the capacity and performance more than satisfactory. The processor averaged 563MIPS in benchmark testing. It took 10.48 minutes to complete our multimedia benchmarks, and 43 and 74 seconds, respectively, to complete our Word and Excel macros.
The Sys Performance Pro 266 is an excellent NT workstation. At $4,696, this machine is pricey, but its configuration produces great benchmarks, and its construction and layout will help ensure its longevity. Although its performance compares very favorably with that of the HP Vectra VL 6/266 ($2,983), the Sys Performance Pro's higher price will keep it from replacing the Vectra on our WinList.
Which PII for you?
Sys Technology surprised us with its Sys Performance Pro 266, which has very good performance and an interior layout we'd like to see implemented in more desktop computers. The performance of the Nova Computer PII-266 was below that of the Sys Performance Pro 266 as well as other NT workstations that are currently on our WinList, but it's noteworthy for its low price. The Quantex system, too, was relatively inexpensive but also produced scores that were below other Windows 95 systems on our WinList of recommended products.