Epson EQUITY 386SX/20 PLUS. (microcomputer) (Evaluation)
by Mike Hudnall
When was the last time you were dazzled by a computer? In addition to power, speed, and a commitment to the needs of the average user, Epson's EQUITY 386SX/20 PLUS offers remarkable graphics based on Edsun's CEG anti-aliasing chip.
The power and speed come from the 20-MHz 386SX microprocessor, 2MB of fast zero-wait-state DRAM (Dynamic Random Access Memory), a 100MB hard drive (a 40MB drive is available), and a 32K SRAM (Static Random Access Memory) cache. For computation-intensive applications, the cache optimizes system performance by holding off-used instruction sequences, allowing the microprocessor to use them without any wait states. While the DRAM offers fast performance with its 80-ns rating, the SRAM wins the race with its blazing 25-ns rating.
If you need more speed, and especially if you plan to run Windows, I recommend adding more memory. This Epson allows you to expand RAM to 16MB maximum, 14MB on the system board alone with Single In-line Memory Modules (SIMMs).
You have room for three drives altogether, two mounted horizontally and one (unexposed, for a hard drive) mounted vertically. While Epson offers a choice of VGA monitors (monchrome, regular, and extended) and operating systems (MS-DOS 3.3, 4.01, and 5.0), I was surprised to find that you pay extra for them. Epson will, however, throw in Microsoft Windows software free with every purchase of the operating system for this computer, and Epson also gives you Bitstream's Facelift, a font-generation program for Windows that allows you to create scalable fonts for your printer and screen.
Epson's commitment to the needs of the computer user is apparent in its documentation and in the design of the computer. I give Epson an A for its excellent User's Guide, which offers attractive design, a multitude of illustrations, thoroughness, and readability. In addition to the usual information on set up and use of the computer, this manual covers safety, installation of options, system diagnostics, troubleshooting, and more. Throughout, Epson includes boxes with notes, cautions, and other information deserving special attention. There's also a glossary of computer terms at the end of the guide.
The first time you set the computer up, you'll need to run Epson's setup program, which defines your configuration. This is probably the only part of the guide you'll need to consult if you have some computer experience under your belt. If you need more guidance, Epson covers everything from finding an appropriate location for your computer to connecting system components and running through your options in the setup program. Your options include setting a password, enabling or disabling the cache, turning your speaker on or off, and setting the keyboard repeat rate.
Access to the EQUITY system box couldn't be easier. Forget about screwdrivers--just turn a wheel lock, push in two releases on the back of the box, and tilt the top up and off. At six inches high, this box offers plenty of room for installation and adequate ventilation. If you need access to the right portion of the system board, you can easily lift out the drive bay/power supply subassembly--once again, without using a screwdriver.
This EQUITY gives you four full-size card slots--three 16-bit and one 8-bit. Because the video output, mouse port, serial port, parallel port, and video adapter port are integrated into the system board, you really don't need many slots.
On the front of the box, you'll find a power button on the right, out of the way of the keyboard but recessed to help you avoid hitting it accidentally. To the left you'll find a hard disk access light. Below it is a light to let you know when the computer is in turbo (20-MHz) mode, and below that is a small, recessed reset button. Accidental reboots should be a thing of the past; you have to aim and deliberately try to hit this one.
The 101-key keyboard served my purposes well, and I didn't find anything remarkable to distinguish it from most other keyboards.
The built-in VGA adapter with 512K of video memory supports up to 800 x 600 pixels in 16 colors or up to 640 x 480 pixels in 256 colors. With a CEG chip, however, you have an apparent resolution of at least 1563 x 1280, and that's with a standard VGA monitor. Here's how it works: The CEG chip uses a technique called anti-aliasing to blend colors between adjacent pixels, getting rid of the jagged edges typical of most displays. You see rounder curves and, according to Epson, you have access to a color palette of more than 700,000 shades.
There are now CEG display drivers for Windows, PageMaker, Excel, Ami Pro, and several other programs. (For a current listing, contact Edsun Laboratories, Marketing Department, 564 Main Street, Waltham, Massachusetts 02154; 617-647-9300.)
I used the Windows CEG driver and was impressed with many of the features as well as the CEG screen blanker. A CEG demo with photographs and computer-generated images really dazzled me. I'd never seen graphics so brilliantly and sharply represented on a VGA monitor.
Why go for this relatively pricey Epson rather than a less expensive brand? The excellent design and documentation speak well for the computer, and Epson has a reputation for durability and dependability. Also, you can bet that Epson will be around for some time. If you depend heavily on your computer and need that kind of reliability and reputation, this is a computer to consider. And if you want the marvels of the CEG chip now, this Epson is the way to go.