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PC World

Top 10 home PCs

What did we learn from the latest holiday rush? That there's a home PC to match every need.

January 19, 1999
Web posted at: 1:04 p.m. EST (1804 GMT)

by Kirk Steers

(IDG) -- Whew! The holiday madness is finally over. We're left with pounds of poultry, dollars of debt, and (for those of us still shopping) more home PC choices than ever. In the past three months we tested 33 home systems ranging from fast, expensive muscle machines to no-frills budget systems. What did we learn from the latest holiday rush? That there's a home PC to match every need.

The PCs we tested this month illustrate our point. Of six new systems, two made the Top 10. Gateway's speedy Pentium II-450 is designed to satisfy the power hungry, while consumers on a budget will welcome an affordable Celeron-333­based system from Quantex that perfectly balances performance and price.

Power-packed PCs

Gateway's new G6-450, number four on the power list, is a slightly reconfigured version of the G6-450 that we first tested in December. Costing $254 less than last month, this $2489 PC lacks the Philips CDD3610 CD-R/RW drive found on the earlier model -- though that drive remains available as a $225 option -- and comes with less expensive (but still crisp-sounding) Boston Acoustic BA635 speakers. On the other hand, Gateway beefed up other components. The company increased the size of the hard drive from 10GB to 14GB and upgraded the graphics card from an STB Velocity 128 ZX to an STB Velocity 4400, which packs 16MB of RAM. That advance, together with an updated Toshiba DVD-ROM drive, helped the G6-450 post the highest graphics scores we've seen yet.

The new Gateway machine has plenty of room for expansion, with three free PCI slots (plus one shared) and three open external drive bays. It comes with a bonanza of software as well as Gateway's own HelpSpot, an easy-to-use program for diagnosing PC problems.

The system's top-notch performance and features were slightly offset by Gateway's middling reliability scores, which prevent the PC from earning Best Buy honors on the power chart.

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Two powerful, well-built home PCs won those honors this month -- Dell's Dimension XPS R450 and Micron's Millennia 450. Their close overall scores are due, in part, to some new tests that help determine a PC's graphics capability. For instance, tests of DVD-ROM drives to gauge a PC's audio and video playback quality now factor into the overall Graphics score.

Though the Dell and the Micron raced to a photo finish, there are differences between the two. The Dimension XPS R450 is slightly less expensive, but it has fewer features. The Millennia 450Max, on the other hand, is a gamer's dream machine that comes equipped with loads of goodies like a joystick, a game pad, and lots of cool games. For more details about both the Dell and the Micron, see our December 1998 roundup "Home PCs for the holidays," link below.

Low-cost winner

Debuting at number one on the budget chart, Quantex's brand-new QP6/333 M-1c pushes last month's Best Buy, Dell's Dimension V333c, down a notch to second place.

At $1099, the QP6/333 M-1c is not quite a sub-$1000 system, but it is the first Celeron-333­based system on our chart to come close. It's a great choice for anyone who needs real speed and expandability at a good price, plus the backing of a company with good reliability and service ratings.

The 15-inch CTX VL500 monitor included at this price, however, is a little disappointing: Its text display is crisp, but colors in graphics look washed out. In addition, the keys on the keyboard feel somewhat loose and insubstantial (read: cheap). The limited software bundle does include Corel's WordPerfect Suite 8, Internet the City, and Amazon Trail II.

Off the chart

This month we also tested one of IBM's latest offerings, the Aptiva E4N. Its high price, slightly disappointing performance, and mediocre service rating kept it from making the budget chart. The E4N, powered by AMD's K6-2-350 processor, posted a PC WorldBench 98 score of 165 -- closer to Pentium II-333 performance. For $1498, the E4N carries only a 15-inch monitor, one free expansion slot, and one free drive bay. You don't get much software, either -- just Lotus SmartSuite 97 and a CD with IBM's proprietary system apps. But while demanding buyers may want to pass, buyers seeking a hassle-free system will like the clear documentation and well-marked cables, which help ease setup.

Another newcomer that didn't make the budget chart is Packard Bell's Platinum 7800. At $1278, it's priced very aggressively for a Pentium II-350 system with a 17-inch monitor. Setup is a snap, thanks to clearly written documentation and the monitor's built-in speakers; and an abundance of easily accessible expansion slots and drive bays should make the task of adding new components every bit as easy. Like all Packard Bell systems, this one comes with loads of troubleshooting and maintenance utilities, such as CyberWarner, CyberCoach, and CyberTrio.

So why didn't the 7800 make the chart? Poor service ratings and performance that's well below average for a Pentium II-350 system hold it back.

Top 5 power PCs for the home

  1. Dell Dimension XPS R450
  2. Micron Millennia 450 Max
  3. Compaq Presario 5600-450
  4. Gateway G6-450
  5. Sony VAIO PCV-E308DS

Top 5 budget PCs for the home

  1. Quantex QP6/333 M-1c
  2. Dell Dimension V333c
  3. Gateway G6-333c
  4. Compaq Presario 2266
  5. Micron Millennia 350>

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