New Pentium II PCs crank on benchmarks

TESTING BY Andreas Uiterwijk Not even a year ago, government power users were eyeing Intel Corp.'s justreleased 266 MHz Pentium II processor. Now, they have Intel's newest processor and chipset the 400 MHz Pentium II processor and the 440BX chipset to consider. To find out how much faster the

TESTING BY Andreas Uiterwijk

Not even a year ago, government power users were eyeing Intel Corp.'s just-released 266 MHz Pentium II processor. Now, they have Intel's newest processor and chipset— the 400 MHz Pentium II processor and the 440BX chipset— to consider.

To find out how much faster the latest PCs are, the FCW Test Center evaluated seven 400 MHz Pentium II PCs featuring the new BX chipset. The systems were part of a larger comparison of 266 MHz, 333 MHz and 400 MHz Pentium II PCs described in this month's Government Best Buys supplement.

Agencies can find 400 MHz Pentium II systems on the General Services Administration schedule

and agency contracts for about $2,800. The systems we tested had 64M of RAM, Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 95 operating system and 17-inch monitors.

Overall, these systems sizzle. The average score on our SYSmark/32 benchmark, which measures how systems perform running word processing and other popular desktop applications, was 357— 45 percent faster than last year's hot 266 MHz Pentium II PCs.

The best performer of the bunch, Micron Electronics Inc.'s Millennia 400, was also the least expensive model, with a price of only $2,540. The Millennia 400 scored 393 on SYSmark/32 while running Windows 95. Under Windows NT, its benchmark performance jumped to 443— the fastest score we've seen and almost 13 percent faster than the Windows 95 test.

The 400 MHz Pentium II systems run so much faster because the chipsets feature an internal bus speed of 100 MHz, rather than 66 MHz used in older Pentium II processors. The bus speed determines how fast the processor can talk to the PC's video card, RAM and other components.

In addition to higher performance, Intel's new 440BX chipset draws less power. This means PCs based on the BX chipset are closer than any other Pentium II PCs to the government's Energy Star goals.

Do you need a 400 MHz Pentium II PC? The extra speed will certainly come in handy for users doing engineering, computer-aided design or any other high-end graphics application.

The Micron Millennia 400 is the price/performance leader, but all of the tested models are described briefly here. Pricing is from the GSA schedule.

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Compaq Computer Corp.'s Deskpro EP Series 400

Compaq's Deskpro EP Series 400 is one of the best-designed machines we've seen. And with a SYSmark/32 score of 375, it is also among the fastest Windows 95 machines we tested.

The Deskpro's construction is superior. Two large thumbscrews facilitate cover removal, and the inside of the case is clean and roomy. The internal components just slide and lock into place. Users can easily reconfigure the position of the external drives to make the case either a desktop or a tower.

This Deskpro came with an 8G hard drive. It uses a RIVA 128 Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP) video card, a local-area network adapter and a 56 kilobits/sec modem.

The system is also fully manageable using tools compliant with the industry standard Desktop Management Interface. It offers intrusion detection, which alerts a systems administrator to an unauthorized access, and Wake on LAN, which allows that administrator to boot up and control the PC remotely.

This system is a very good choice for any government agency. The Compaq Deskpro EP Series 400 is available for $2,841 from Compaq. Call (800) 652-6672.

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Dell Computer Corp.'s OptiPlex GXI

Dell's newest OptiPlex turned in a SYSmark/32 score of 322.

Like Compaq, Dell has redesigned its case and done a great job of it. The case has a lock that can seal down the cover and attach to a desk. The unit is modular; for example, the whole card bay extracts with the touch of a lever, and the power supply pops right out.

This OptiPlex came with a 4.2G hard drive, built-in networking and audio as well as an ATI Technologies Inc. 3D Rage Pro AGP video card. This system's biggest asset is that it is fully manageable, including intrusion detection and Wake on LAN features. It is designed for use by large organizations.

The OptiPlex GXI is available from Dell for $2,835. Call (800) 727-1100.

***

Gateway 2000 Inc.'s E-4200

Gateway's E-4200 is one of the more expensive units that we tested, with a price of $2,915. It earned a respectable SYSmark/32 score of 328.

The E-4200 has a modern-looking case. The housing comes off with two thumbscrews.

The insides are relatively clean, although wires do hang free. Highlights include an 8.4G hard drive, three external and two internal free drive bays and intrusion detection.

The unit we tested came with an 8.4G hard drive, a Wake on LAN adapter, a 32X CD-ROM drive and an ATI 3D Rage Pro video card with 8M of VRAM, both of which improve graphics performance.

Call (800) 779-2000.

***

Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Vectra VL8

The Vectra VL8 turned in an impressive SYSmark/32 score of 385. Standout features include a 9.6G hard drive, a Matrox Graphics Inc. MGA G100 AGP video card built onto the motherboard and a key lock for the case.

Getting into the system is as easy as flipping two toggles; then the front and sides remove all at once. The insides are a bit messy, with wires all over the place. The old-fashioned drive housings still have to be unscrewed.

This Vectra sells for $2,750. Call Government Technology Services Inc. at (800) 999-4874.

***

IBM Corp.'s Personal Computer 300 PL

IBM's Personal Computer 300 PL also turned in an impressive SYSmark/32 score of 385. The only drawback is its high price of $3,225.

The system came with an 8.6G hard drive and a Matrox Millenium II AGP video card with 8M of VRAM.

This system features a new case design, with two tabs for easy cover removal and the ability to be locked down. We tested a slimline unit with only one free external drive bay, but other form factors are available for those concerned about expandability. Inside, the system is clean, but the drive units are screwed in.

It you can afford it, the 300 PL is a very nice system. It is available from GE Capital IT Solutions Federal Systems at (301) 258-3817.

***

Micron Electronics Inc.'s Millennia 400

Micron's Millennia 400 is a scorcher, with a final SYSmark/32 score of 393. Configured with a massive 10G hard drive and a price of $2,540, this is the system to beat.

The Millennia 400 is not as modular as the Dell or as clean as the Compaq, yet it is solidly constructed. The system comes with a Digital Video Disc-ROM drive and a Diamond Multimedia Systems Inc. Viper 330 video card, among other features.

The Micron Millennia 400 is a good choice for power users. Call (888) 742-4242.

Micro X Technologies Inc.'s MPD-8050

The MPD-8050 turned in the slowest SYSmark/32 score of 311. However, it did include some nice features, including a Creative Labs DVD-ROM drive and a built-in Iomega Corp. Zip drive.

The case cover used screws like older-style machines. But once the cover is off, you can remove the motherboard and cards by sliding them out easily. The insides are relatively clean. But the front bevel is too difficult to remove; getting all eight of the plastic tabs off at the same time is frustrating.

The MPD-8050 is priced at $2,599. Call (888) 300-0472.

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