Sub-$1,000 PCs defy expectations

Testing by Andreas Uiterwijk

While systems costing less than $1,000 have been available for more than a year, most government buyers have shied away because those machines lacked the processing power and capacity that agencies demand. Thanks to the Army's PC-3 contract, open to all federal agencies, resellers GTSI and ITC have engaged in a sales war that has pushed prices for brand-name PCs to less than $1,000.

FCW Test Center tests demonstrate that agency buyers can purchase a quality system without spending a lot of money. GTSI and ITC offer fully loaded, high-quality PCs that have slight differences in configuration, giving buyers a chance to trade off features, depending on their specific requirements.

GTSI emphasizes new technology, offering a Hewlett-Packard Co. system that runs one of the latest Intel processors, a 450 MHz Pentium III, while ITC focuses on capacity, offering a system from Compaq Computer Corp. with about twice the memory and hard disk space as the HP system and offering a still-powerful 450 MHz Pentium II processor.

The HP Vectra VL system we tested, priced at $980 without a monitor, comes configured with Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 98, 64M of RAM, a 6G hard drive, a 32X CD-ROM drive and integrated sound. The configuration also includes an integrated Matrox MGA-G200 AGP video card with 8M of video memory, which is suitable for mainstream graphics and Internet requirements.

This system features the same case as the HP Vectra VLi8 MT (see Product Comparison, Page 44). Vectra VL is, in a word, awesome. Three DIMM slots enable users to upgrade to a maximum of 768M of RAM. The system also features a 100 MHz frontside bus for speedy data transfer between the processor and the memory.

The HP does not include a network card, so users will have to buy that separately. But GTSI does include HP TopTools and HP DiagTools for systems administration and diagnostics.

The HP system scored a SYSmark/98 rating of 171, with 166 for the office productivity portion of SYSmark/98 and 179 for content creation. This is solid performance for such a low price.

The Compaq Deskpro EP 450, priced at $973 without a monitor, came configured with Microsoft's Windows 98, 128M of RAM, a 10G hard drive, a Matrox Millennium G200 video card with 8M of video memory, a 32X CD-ROM drive and a 32-bit sound card. Like the Vectra, the Deskpro features three DIMM slots for a maximum of 768M of RAM, and it comes with a 100 MHz frontside bus.

The Deskpro EP 450 features Compaq's usual exemplary case design, with thumbscrews for case-cover removal, many tool-free internal components and a neat, clean interior. The system has one AGP slot, three PCI slots, one shared slot and one ISA slot.

Like the HP, the Deskpro EP 450 did not come with a network card, but it did include Compaq's Intelligent Manageability package pre-loaded, so users can activate Wake on LAN technology, which will enable systems administrators to operate the system remotely. With a SYSmark/98 benchmark score of 174, the Deskpro EP 450 also turned in a solid performance. It scored 169 for office productivity and 181 for content creation.

The fact that these two systems' SYSmark/98 scores were so close indicates virtually identical performance, despite the fact that one system is a Pentium II and the other is a Pentium III. While the Compaq runs only a Pentium II, its speed scores do not differ from the HP's, and it contains more memory and a larger hard drive. This is an excellent system for running standard business applications.

On the other hand, if you're looking for slightly better investment protection - especially if your agency expects to run multimedia applications that take advantage of the Pentium III's new instruction set - the HP might be a better choice, even though its hard drive is smaller and it ships with less memory. You also get Intel's new serial number feature with the Pentium III processor (see story, Page 44).

The performance of these systems is not up to the levels achieved by the 500 MHz Pentium III Windows NT systems reviewed in this issue. But they are not far off, with about 20 percent lower benchmark scores, and they cost half as much or better, so buyers will get a lot of performance for their money.

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