Dell 320SX. (microcomputer) (includes related article) (evaluation)
by Peer Plaut
Outstanding quality, support, and reputation make the Dell 320SX a computer you should consider.
The first thing I noticed about the Dell 320SX is how neatly the computer and monitor are packed. Everything has its own place. The monitor comes packed in four pieces of styrofoam rather than two. When you remove the monitor, you don't have to wedge your arms in and around the packing and pull everything out at the same time, so you're less likely to drop the monitor or injure your back.
Setup is a breeze, thanks to Dell's excellent Getting Started manual. Step by step it covers everything you need to know and provides great sketches.
The case is sturdy and compact, taking up no more space than is absolutely necessary. To open it, simply remove four screws, and the cover pops right off, ready for your next upgrade. Once inside, I was amazed at the roominess of this compact case; it should provide adequate ventilation, and almost everything is easily accessible. Configured with two megabytes of SIMM memory, the motherboard can very easily take up to eight megabytes of memory.
You switch between the Dell's 8-MHz and 20-MHz speeds with software commands; there's no reset button, but the power switch is conveniently located below the floopy drive. For security, Dell provides a lock.
This review system came with a 40MB IDE drive, one 5 1/4-inch floppy drive, a VGA monitor, DOS 4.01, a package of Dell utilities, and the keyboard. There's one more drive bay available, which you might use for a tape backup system, a CD-ROM drive, or another floppy drive. The three 16-bit expansion slots may not seem like a lot, but all serial, parallel, video, and mouse ports are built into the motherboard. You should be aware of one drawback to this type of motherboard; if the built-in controller or video adapter fails, the entire motherboard will probably have to be replaced, and replacing the motherboard will cost you more than replacing a controller card or a video adapter card.
The monitor has an antiglare screen and a .31-millimeter dot pitch to ease eyestrain. However, stepping up to a .28-millimeter pitch might be easier on your eyes and worth the extra cost. There was a noticeable flicker when I changed screens in Windows 3.0 and other graphic-intensive packages. The monitor's tilt swivel base seems to easily point in any direction you need.
The motherboard video configuration that came with this machine supports standard VGA modes. You can install an additional 256K of video RAM to get additional high-resolution modes, another option worth the money.
Like the rest of the machine, the keyboard has a nice tight feel to it--not at all cheap or wobbly. I personally like smaller keyboards, but I quickly fell into sync with it. The keys feel solid, aren't crowded, and have a quiet but audible click. The standard 101 keyboard does not have the oversize Enter key.
The 320SX uses a Phoenix Bl-OS and should run any software on the market today. I tried Prodigy, Windows 3.0, PC Tools 7.0, WordPerfect 5.1, and several games, all of which ran without a hitch. Windows, however, was relatively slow (I have run Windows faster on other machines), and after running the PC Tools 7.0 Disk Benchmark Test, I found out why. The disk came in at a seek time somewhere between 24.70 and 29.98 milliseconds.
Technical support is toll-free. The address is conveniently located on the back of most of the manuals.
I gave the 800 technical support line a try and was impressed. The technicians know what they're talking about. If you have a question, first give the technician the UPC code from the back of your machine; he or she has the exact configuration of your machine. From there you can get answers to any of your questions.
Another impressive point: I didn't stay on hold for 15-20 minutes waiting for a technician to answer the phone. Once finished with technical support, I was quickly transferred to the sales departmetn for other information. All the staff members I spoke with, from the sales department to technical support to the spare parts people, were knowledgeable, courteous, and ready to help.
The Dell 320SX comes with a one-year on-ste warranty through the Xerox corporation as long as you are in the Xerox service range. Before your purchase, technical support can quickly tell you if you are located in a service area. However, if you are out of the service area, you can always ship your computer back to Dell. You pay shipping to Dell; Dell pays shipping to you.
The warranty covers all manufacturing defects for one year. Dell's "Total Satisfaction" return policy is a nice feature and is becoming more widespread with other organizations these days. Dell offers a 30-day money-back guarantee. You must, understandably, return the equipment in its original packaging.
The sytem I reviewed sells for $2,218. Dell custom-configures its computers, so you get the system that meets your needs. There are less expensive machines on the market than the Dell. There are other machines that operate a little faster or that come with a higher-resolution monitor or something standard that is extra on the Dell. However, you get what you pay for. Here, you pay for rugged equipment, superior technical support, and a company that will be here tomorrow to back up the product it sold you today. All Dell's computers are assembled, and some parts are manufactured, here in the U.S.--another reason to buy a Dell.
My only two recommendations before purchasing this machine would be to upgrade to a faster, larger hard drive (100MB if your budget permits) and to purchase a monitor with a .28 pitch.