Pentium IIIs for the Power-Crazed – Micron Electronics Millenia, Dell Computer Dimension XPS T500, CompUSA PC American Pro 500 – Hardware Review – Evaluation

Philip Albinus

CompUSA PC American Pro 500 8.1

Configuration Win 98, 500MHz Pentium III, 64MB of RAM,

13.1GB hard disk, 100MB Zip drive,

42x CD-ROM drive, 17-inch monitor, 56Kbps

V.90 modem

List Price $1,999

Manufacturer CompUSA, 800-294-4727,

Dell Dimension XPS T500 8.8

Configuration Win 98, 500MHz Pentium III, 128MB of

SDRAM, 20GB hard disk, 100MB Zip drive,

4.8x DVD-ROM drive, 19-inch monitor,

3Com Ethernet card

List Price $2,649

Manufacturer Dell Computer Corp., 800-DELL-100,

Micron Millennia 500

Configuration Win 98, 500MHz Pentium III, 64MB of

SDRAM, 13.5GB hard disk, 40x CD-ROM

drive, 56Kbps V.90 modem, 8MB 3D

accelerator, 17-inch monitor

List Price $2,050

Manufacturer Micron, 888-MICRON-2,

Hear that roar? It’s the latest breed of PCs powered by Intel’s new flagship chip, the 500MHz Pentium III. Just when you thought your Pentium II was quick enough, Intel is pushing home office desktops to new speed records–at the risk of putting a brake on descending PC prices.

For our first peek at these new speed demons, we tested early engineering models with the brand-new CPU from Dell, Micron, and CompUSA. Because of the systems’ sneak-preview status, we couldn’t insist on comparable specifications such as the same amount of memory or same-size monitor. In fact, the only thing these three PCs have in common is the 500MHz Pentium III–and its sizzling performance.

How sizzling? Take our word: Very. We used Symantec’s Norton Utilities’ rating as our raw benchmark, and the trio posted closely grouped scores–236.1 for the CompUSA, 238.5 for the Micron, and 239.3 for the Dell (the winner, if not quite by the margin we’d expect considering its hefty 128MB of memory). For comparison’s sake, the Norton benchmark rates the average Pentium II/300–make no mistake, a very speedy PC–at 140.2.

When we loaded Word Perfect Suite 8 (all 203MB of it), the PIIIs handled the productivity package without strain, blasting through WordPerfect searches and spell-checks and Quattro Pro calculations in no time at all. And all this performance came mostly from the Pentium III’s boost to a 500MHz clock speed; 3D and multimedia applications that take advantage of the new instructions it adds to the Pentium II’s repertoire haven’t been written yet.

That said, a reality check: Next to the 400MHz and 450MHz Pentium II desktops we’ve tested, the Pentium III machines’ advantage is imperceptible to the human eye when running everyday applications. Granted, when we first launched, say, Microsoft Word 97, the systems still needed about three seconds to get the application up and running.

But the 500MHz systems shine when you relaunch an application. When we closed Word or WordPerfect and then clicked their icons again, they were up and running before our fingertip left the mouse button. This can be a lifesaver if, for instance, you close your contact manager, only to have a client call with a new order. Instead of struggling at small talk while you wait to reload her file, it’ll be there and ready for work.

What’s the Difference?

As we said, these three desktops couldn’t be more different. The CompUSA American Pro 500 offers a standard minitower case, a 17-inch monitor with one of the largest, bulkiest bezels we’ve seen since George Bush was in the White House, and a cut-rate keyboard with a soft, unresponsive feel. The system came with 64MB of RAM, a respectable 13.1GB hard disk, and an Iomega Zip drive.

As CompUSA’s virgin effort into direct-marketing its own line of PCs, the American Pro appears to be a solid second-tier machine, poised to compete with quality brands like Quantex and Axis Systems. And at $1,999, it’s the most affordable 500MHz desktop in this shootout.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Dell’s Dimension XPS T500, a warhorse of an entertainment workstation. Our test unit came loaded, and then some: It had a stunning 19-inch monitor, an outrageous 16MB 3D graphics accelerator, a rock-solid keyboard, a titanic 20GB hard disk, a DVD-ROM drive, and a speaker/ subwoofer setup to shame our stereo at home. And home networkers will love the bundled Ethernet network card too.

In the middle of our trio–right in the comfort zone–is the latest incarnation of Micron’s Millennia minitower. Although the configuration we tried can’t compete against the Dell’s awesome extras, the Micron makes a nearly perfect home office machine.

Our Millennia was equipped with 64MB of SDRAM, a 13.5GB hard disk, a 40x CD-ROM drive, and a 17-inch monitor that was arguably sharper than Dell’s 19-inch show-off. The Micron keyboard’s responsive touch and slim design (it makes Dell’s keyboard look like a surfboard) won us over. And because the minitower machine’s sound and 8MB graphics controllers are built into its motherboard, you get a more compact case.

With any new technology, the first impulse is to buy right away. Frankly, since the Pentium III’s extra speed isn’t extravagantly visible in routine office work, we suggest you wait for prices to fall and new, PIII-enhanced software to appear. But if your day is filled with intensive graphics and CAD work–or if you just want bragging rights–you’ll want to step up to 500MHz right away.

If you do, but are pinching your pennies, we’d consider the CompUSA, but our choice comes down to the other two systems. The Dell is the PC we’d love to win in a raffle, but the Micron is the one that’d make us open our wallets.

COPYRIGHT 1999 CURTCO Freedom Communications

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group

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