Top 10 home PCs
December 10, 1998
by Kirk Steers
(IDG) -- If you're one of those people who are still waiting for the next great technology before taking the leap and buying a new machine, you're probably still using an abacus. Over the past 18 months, Universal Serial Bus, DVD-ROM, and now FireWire (also known as IEEE 1394) have joined the elite company of much-hyped technologies that have found their way into actual PCs.
FireWire is touted as a faster, easier-to-use interface for hard drives and multimedia devices. Though you won't find many FireWire hard drives for sale anytime soon, a few digital cameras and video recorders on the market do use FireWire's 200-mbps transfer rates to download images straight into a computer.
Two power systems on this month's chart boast the speedy new interface: Sony's new entertainment dream machine, the VAIO PCV-E308DS, and a home networking solution, Compaq's Presario 5600. But neither could knock the Dell Dimension XPS R450 from the top spot. For more information on the XPS R450 and Dell's Dimension V333c (our top home budget system), see "Home PCs for the Holidays," link below.
Sony: Making pictures
Debuting at number five on our power chart, Sony's $2899 VAIO PCV-E308DS is a system designed for the true imaging fanatic: You can load digital video or still photos into the PC via the handy FireWire port -- which Sony has named the ILink port -- on the right front side of the machine. Finally, someone thought to put a port on the front of a computer. And it works. We transferred high-resolution images from Sony's $799 DCR-PC10 Digital Video Camera (which is not included with the system) to the PCV-E308DS's hard disk in just a few minutes.
Once you've captured your images, you can use a software editing tool such as Adobe's PhotoDeluxe, or DVgate (Sony's own digital image capture program) to create the next winner at Cannes. The ILink port can also handle Sony's $399 MiniDisc player for transferring audio to your PC.
Image editing calls for a lot of processing muscle. The VAIO PCV-E308DS's PC WorldBench 98 score of 201 is slightly below par for a Pentium II-450 system with 128MB of RAM. Still, it posted respectable marks on our new graphics test. (Again see "Home PCs for the Holidays" below.)
Compaq creates connections
If you're looking for a powerful home office system that won't make you spend the bulk of your online time waiting for downloads, Compaq's Presario 5600, which captures fourth place in our home power system rankings, may be a solution. Besides having a FireWire port on the front of its case, the $2699 system comes with built-in ethernet capability.
An ethernet connection is not only a first step in creating a home network, it's essential in high-speed Internet access technologies like ADSL and cable, as a place to attach your external modem. If you're considering ADSL, you can kill two birds with one modem by ordering your Presario 5600 with a dual ADSL/analog internal modem (this feature wasn't available on the unit we tested).
Order, you say? A system from Compaq? That's right. Traditionally, the company has sold its machines exclusively through retail channels, but the Presario 5600 is a configure-to-order system you can purchase by telephone, online from Compaq's Web site, or in person at participating retail outlets such as Circuit City.
The 5600 is fairly expensive but extremely fast and well equipped. Its 450-MHz Pentium II CPU, large 12.9GB hard drive, 19-inch monitor, and Diamond Monster 3D-II accelerator card make it a great choice for the gamer, online content developer, or serious home office user.
Budget super deals
If you're a budget buyer seeking a capable low-cost system, take a look at Gateway's latest PC-printer bundle, the fourth-place G6-333C. Its Celeron CPU offers the equivalent of PII-333 performance for handling just about any home-office or family oriented task. Throw in Canon's BJC-4300 color bubble jet printer (rated third on August's Top 10 Printers chart), and you've got a pretty good deal at $1611.
And vise-fingered penny-pinchers or anyone looking for a cheap second PC will like the $948 price tag on Compaq's fifth-place Presario 2266. You can knock an additional $100 off the total by signing up for Compaq's "no-commitment" ISP trial program with GTE. The catch? That tempting price gets you a 15-inch monitor, one free expansion slot, and PII-233level performance using IBM's 6x86MX-PR300 CPU. But for activities like word processing, e-mail, and Web surfing, the Presario will do the trick.
Top 5 power PCs for the home
Top 5 budget PCs for the home
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