New PCs meld power and price (Part 1)

Intel Corp.'s release of the 450 MHz Pentium II processor has unleashed a torrent of new desktop PCs and workstations. And now Compaq Computer Corp. enters the fray with the Sept. 8 release of the EN-6450X.

Intel's 450 MHz Pentium II processor features 512K of on-board Level 2 (L2) cache, which runs at 225 MHz. This processor is inexpensive enough to deliver speedy performance at a system price point of about $2,500. That is why Intel expects this particular chip to be used in what it calls "mainstream performance PCs."

And that is just what Compaq has delivered. The EN-6450X is a fully manageable PC with superior case design. And, boy, is it fast! The EN-6450X is 23.7 percent faster than a best-of-breed 400 MHz system running Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT 4.0.

These numbers are based on Business Applications Performance Corp.'s SYSmark/32 benchmark.

The EN-6450X we reviewed came with a 9.4G hard drive, a 32X CD-ROM, a standard 3.5-inch floppy drive, a Compaq 10/100 Ethernet adapter, 64M of synchronous dynamic RAM and a Matrox Graphics Inc. Millennium AGP 2-D/3-D graphics card with 8M of video RAM.

The EN-6450X is based on the same system architecture as Compaq's Technical Excellence Award-winning Deskpro EN Series 6333 that was reviewed in "Smart Choices: The Best Pentium IIs You Can Buy" [Government Best Buys, June 1, 1998]. We found the same excellent case design and a system loaded with modular components.

The drives and power supply are on one side of the system, while the motherboard is sectioned off on the other. The drive bay housing flips forward on hinges for easy access to the internal hard drive for maintenance or upgrades. Plus, it seems as though Mr. Clean put the unit together: There are no loose wires, all drives are screwless, RAM upgrades are a snap, and the case cover glides off.

The EN-6450X is fairly straightforward in terms of setup and ease of use. The last time we reviewed the EN Series, the unit did not come network-ready. Compaq has added this feature to the EN-6450X.

The system lags a bit in expandability. While it does have two shared PCI/ISA slots open, the EN-6450X has a single 5.25-inch external drive bay open and ready for expansion.

Compaq's EN-6450X proves that performance does not have to be sacrificed for manageability. The system comes with a remotely managed mechanical case-lock system, Compaq's Insight Manager software and a Wake on LAN card for remote control, and it is Desktop Management Interface 2.0-compliant.

In addition to the SYSmark/32 test mentioned above, we ran the EN-6450X through BAPCO's SYSmark/98 and SYSmark/J benchmarks; it received final scores of 200 and 603, respectively.

The SYSmark/98 score is 33 percent faster than a recent test we did on a 350 MHz Pentium II-based system running Windows NT 4.0 with 64M of RAM. The SYSmark/J score is the fastest we have seen.

SYSmark/98 is a new applications-based benchmark that runs standard office applications on Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows NT 4.0 as well as multimedia and graphics applications. SYSmark/J measures Java performance. For information about all of BAPCO's benchmarks, call (408) 988-7654 or visit www.bapco.com.

Finally, the EN-6450X is priced competitively, at just more than $2,500. Overall, this system deserves its final rating of 8.5, on our scale of 1 to 10.

-- Testing by Joshua Dean, Ross Armstrong and Chip Pettirossi. Armstrong is a technical analyst for Government Best Buys.

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