How We Tested 200 MHz Pentium Desktops

We evaluated these 200 MHz Pentium desktop computers using tests designed to show their performance and feature differences. Each of the eight scoring categories contributed some fraction of the total 1,000 possible points in the overall score.

For most scoring categories, we assigned scores ranging from excellent to unacceptable. Systems that earned excellent scores received all the points for that category; a very good score earned 75 percent of the points; good earned 62.5 percent; satisfactory scores were worth 50 percent; poor received only 25 percent; and unacceptable did not earn any points.

For price and performance, however, we calculated the number of points earned based on the benchmark score or the price. PerformanceWe used the SYSmark/32 benchmark to evaluate performance. SYSmark/32 is a product of Business Applications Performance Corp., a consortium of hardware and software manufacturers, as well as test centers run by Federal Computer Week and InfoWorld. BAPCO designed SYSmark/32 to emulate how users work in real-world business environments.

The benchmark measures how much time a computer requires to complete a series of scripts in each of eight popular business applications running under Windows 95. It combines these elapsed times to produce an overall SYSmark/32 score. Because this score is a rate (work divided by time), higher numbers indicate better performance.

We scored speed mathematically; the system with the median SYSmark/32 score received 75 percent of the 200 points possible.System Design/ ExpandabilityWe considered a wide range of features in this score. To start, we looked at how many drive bays were free after the system was configured from the factory. We looked at how easy it was for a user to open the case, access internal components and configure them. Modular systems earned extra points.

We also awarded points for security features, such as case locks or keyboard locks. We also considered the number of ports and peripherals provided, including IDE ports, SCSI ports, serial ports, and universal serial bus and infrared ports as well as the type and size of hard drive.

We evaluated graphics support by considering the included graphics memory as well as support for 3-D and real-time video.Systems that include basic multimedia and network features earned higher scores. We awarded additional points for systems with extra audio ports or with high-speed CD-ROM readers. Network-capable systems with several cable interfaces or support for faster network speeds also earned extra points.

Finally, we looked at total system capacity, including the total amount and type of RAM a system could hold as well as the total amount of video memory, and the total and type of secondary cache installed. This, along with the total number and type of expansion slots, contributed to the overall System Design/Expandability score, which had a maximum of 225 points.

Setup/Ease of Use Issues that determined this score (with a maximum of 100 points) included whether a product had bundled or pre-installed applications and whether the system included disks, a ROM-based setup, flash BIOS, an on-line system tutorial and on-line system documentation. We also looked for helpful setup utilities, such as DMI software, and we looked at whether a system came network-ready.

Another feature that added to the score was the software pre-loaded on the system.Compatibility We scored compatibility on two fronts. First, we ran our benchmark suite, and if we had minor problems with drivers for the computers, we lowered the score. We then added the number of operating systems supported by each company on each computer to reach a final word score in compatibility.

To earn points for operating system compatibility, a vendor needed to sell this operating system and be willing to support its initial installation. The maximum number of points was 50.Documentation At a minimum, documentation had to tell us how to set up and use the system and had to include accurate diagrams to illustrate the text. Comprehensive, well-organized and well-written manuals received higher scores.

We lowered the score if the manual was poorly organized, lacked a table of contents and index, did not include information on installing options or contained factual errors in the text. Certain criteria automatically triggered lower scores; for example, a missing system manual was unacceptable.

After assigning a score, we award up to 75 points assigned to this category. Support Policies A one-year warranty covering parts, labor and unlimited technical support from the vendor earned a satisfactory score. We awarded bonuses for unconditional money-back guarantees, on-site service included in the purchase price, extended support hours, on-line support—such as CompuServe—and a toll-free number. We subtracted points for no technical support, a limited support period and dealer-only support.

Systems earned up to 75 points.Technical Support We based technical support scores on the quality of service we received during multiple anonymous support calls. This score contributed up to 50 points.Price Price was scored mathematically. The median price earned 75 percent of the 225 possible points.

About the Author

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