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-- by John M. Cummings
Hewlett-Packard's Vectra 500 Series is more than simply a collection of economical systems: It is a computing solution that responds to a real need in the small-business world. Businesses in this market segment are unlikely to have a formal MIS department, so reliability and ease of maintenance are key purchasing factors.
The system we reviewed, the Vectra 500 Series Model 320 5/133, comes in a slimline desktop case measuring 4.9 by 16.5 by 15.3 inches. It can be opened with a key for a quick look inside, where you'll find an AMD-K5 microprocessor with a power rating of PR133, meaning it offers roughly the performance of Intel's 133MHz Pentium. Though no speed demon, the 320 5/133 was certainly usable, and we found no incompatibilities in our testing.
The Vectra 500 320 5/133 comes with 16MB of EDO RAM (upgradable to 192MB), 256KB of level 2 cache, a 1.2GB (nominal) hard drive and a 1.44MB floppy disk drive. What's noticeably absent from the system is a CD-ROM drive.
Installing the most typical business software is a chore on a system without a CD-ROM drive, as we discovered when we attempted to load our benchmark applications. Ultimately, we resorted to installing a SCSI card and an external PD/CD-ROM drive; a small-business owner is unlikely to have such equipment in his or her arsenal. HP offers an optional CD-ROM drive for $169, and models with a built-in CD-ROM drive (and a PR166 processor) begin at $1,083 (without monitor)
The Vectra comes with two serial ports and one parallel port, along with one PCI, one shared PCI/ISA and two ISA slots. It also has 1MB of video memory, expandable to 2MB. The keyboard is easy to navigate and comfortable to use.
While a monitor is not included with the Vectra, a choice of a 14- or 15-inch model is available. The HP Vectra 500 Series 15-Inch Monitor (13.7 viewable) is the model HP recommends and the one we evaluated. The monitor delivers an excellent image with its Invar shadow mask and 0.28mm dot pitch.
The Vectra Series comes standard with Windows 95 and a complement of installed utility and administrative software, including HP Message Sender, HP Help and HP Support Center. These programs are designed to enable Hewlett-Packard to provide remote support to a largely nontechnical user. It's a nice touch indicating that HP understands this marketplace. The Vectra series also offers a three-year product warranty, including one-year, on-site service and free access to the HP technical support line for one year.
In our Wintune tests, the Vectra's scores were on a par with those of a 133MHz non-MMX Pentium, though the video was sluggish at a color depth of 16 bits. It racked up 204MIPS and 16MB-per-second cached-disk throughput, but only a dismal 4Mpixels-per-second video throughput. It took 125 seconds and 310 seconds, respectively, to run our Word and Excel macros. When we backed off to a color depth of 8 bits, the video score in particular improved substantially: Executing our application macros, the Vectra came in at 111 seconds for Word and 296 seconds for Excel, and the video score soared to 27Mpixels per second. It registered 204 MIPS and 19MBps cached-disk throughput.
Buyers seeking all the latest gadgetry won't give the 320 5/133 a second glance, but economy-minded customers who prefer reliability to sophistication will find much to like.
In addition to the 320, the HP Vectra 500 Series includes two other models: the 520 and the 525. While the 320 model appeals to small businesses desiring rock-bottom prices, the 520 and 525 models offer Intel-based solutions.
Each of the models is available in three different configurations that offer varying degrees of functionality. Business configurations (which include the 320 5/133) are network-ready and focus on ease of operation. Advanced Business and Advanced Business Communications configurations offer additional access and storage capabilities, including CD-ROM and back-up tape drives.
The ultimate PC in the Vectra 500 Series is the 525 MCx 5/200M, which features an MMX-enabled Intel Pentium 200MHz processor, 32MB RAM, 256KB cache, a 3.8GB hard drive, a 16X CD-ROM drive, a Matrox Millennium graphics card with 2MB of video memory, and a 33.6Kb-per-second fax/voice modem. The price for this package is $1,943 (not including a monitor)
The Vectra 500 Series Model 320 5/133 is a high-quality, low-cost desktop system. If a CD-ROM drive were included in its price, however, it would be a more tempting choice.