Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 139 / APRIL 1992 / PAGE 18

Test lab. (desktop computers)(includes related articles) (Evaluation)
by Tom Benford, Peer Plaut, Mike Hudnall

It seems like only yesterday that computer mavens were oohing and aahing over the wonders of the IMB PC and computerizing their bookkeeping as easy as 1-2-3. Now we have more power, speed, and applications on the desktop than we could've imagined, and the original IBM PC crawls compared to today's speed demons. (Remember waiting for the old 4.77-MHz IBM PCs to boot?)

Now the question isn't really whether you can afford a power desktop computer; it's how much power you need and how you want it configured.

This month's Test Lab looks at 11 desktop computers--some of them 386SX systems running at 20 MHz, the rest 486DX machines humming along at 33 MHz. Why these two groups? Because 20-MHz 386SXs and 33-MHz 486DXs are, respectively, the new entry-level and state-of-the-art systems.

While everyone would prefer to buy the bigger, faster, more powerful systems, your pocketbook and needs will dictate the choice of a desktop. This month's Test Lab gives you reviews, benchmarks, and other relevant information to help you understand the technology and make an informed decision.



It's fact of life. Advances in new computer technology go hand in hand with obsolescence of the old. How do you combat computer obsolescence? ALR has taken a unique approach by creating a modular PC, and the ALR PowerFlex 20SX is a good example of this modular approach.

With a footprint of only 14 3/4 inches wide by 16 1/2 inches deep by 6 1/4 inches high, the PowerFlex 20SX offers lots of expansion room in this baby-AT case. A single 3 1/2-inch high-density floppy drive is mounted vertically at the right side of the machine next to two vacant halfheight bays which can be used for additional drives. An 82MB thin-line IDE hard drive is also mounted vertically, next to the power supply at the rear of the chassis; it's hidden from view when the system cover is in place.

The system includes five 16-bit expansion slots and one 8-bit slot, but since the VGA video card occupies one of the 16-bit slots, only four are available. Three megabytes of RAM was the configuration the review unit came supplied with, and this is expandable to a maximum of 5MB. The memory arrangement on the ALR PowerFlex is unique: The base memory of the motherboard is IMB, which is composed of eight 256K x 4 DRAM chips. The additional 2MB of RAM comes in the form of 1MB SIMMs installed in two of the four SIMM sockets. By adding two more 1MB SIMMs in the vacant sockets, you can reach the maximum configuration of 5MB.

The intermixing of DRAMs and SIMMs is certainly an unconventional method of configuring RAM, but there is an explanation for it. The PowerFlex motherboard is, in reality, a 286 motherboard, which accounts for the DRAMmemory configuration. When the CPU is upgraded to a 386 in the computer's modular architecture, the SIMM sockets provide a convenient, economical, and space-saving means of adding additional RAM to the base 1MB.

Upgrading this 286-based system involves using a slot called the 386/i486 Feature Connector. The various configurations possible through CPU module upgrades are the SX PowerFlex (386SX/16MHz), the PowerFlex 20SX (the model reviewed here), the PowerFlex 20CSX (the 20SX with an additional 32K static cache RAM), and the PowerFlex 486ASX (a 486ASX/20MHz-module with 8K static cache RAM).

The documentation is good, although it attempts to cover all of the various configurations available for the PowerFlex in one main document. An Auxiliary System Configuration Guide covers your particular configuration.

MS-DOS 5.0 comes preloaded on the hard drive, and the system disks and manuals are also packed with the system, as well as a utilities disk providing video drivers and other used system files. A Super VGA FlexView 2X monitor, which came as part of the ensemble, provided comfortable viewing with good color saturation and image resolution.

While this modular approach may make good sense from an economic and manufacturing point of view, the PowerFlex 20SX's performance was considerably less than spectacular.


The COMPAQ 386s/20N is a tiny desktop computer that packs a lot of power.

Like many computers on the market today, the COMPAQ has an all-in-one motherboard; the disk controller and other cards that would otherwise take up slots and add to the demands on the power supply are built into the motherboard of this COMPAQ. Consequently, COMPAQ can pack more computer components into a small area, and you can save on desk space. This model has one serial port, one parallel port, and one VGA video port. If you find that your CAD programs or large spreadsheets begin running a little slow, this computer supports an 80387 math coprocessor, which should help speed things up a little bit.

The 386s/20N comes with 2MB of RAM and can take up to 8MB using SIMMs (Single In-line Memory Modules); just about any novice should be able to expand the memory.

The case is very small--probably the smallest case I've ever seen for a desktop model. With only two expansion slots and one of them used by the modern shipped with this computer, you're left with only one open slot. These 16-bit slots should be able to handle just about any card, but the system is clearly intended for someone with limited expansion needs. The 386s/20N comes with two drive bays, one housing a high-density 3 1/2-inch drive and the other housing a 60MB IDE drive. There are no extra drive bays. Although small, the power supply appears to offer all that this machine needs.

The video control adapter is capable of providing 256 colors in 640 x 480 mode, which is pretty much standard these days. COMPAQ includes a TSR program, ADAPT, that allows you to change a variety of video attributes from contrast to cursor size, all with the touch of a couple of keys.

The COMPAQ Video Graphics Color (VGC) monitor that came with this review system offers graphics resolution of up to 640 x 480 pixels and is capable of displaying up to 256 colors. It also offers a VGA-compatible text resolution of 720 x 400 pixels. On the front you'll find conveniently located controls, one for contrast and the other for brightness. While this review system came with a VGA monitor, I recommend a Super VGA monitor to take full advantage of the video controller's capabilities.

The basic 2400-baud modern that comes with this computer seems to be compatible with most communications software. I checked the computer with Procomm and Aladdin, for example, and the modern worked fine.

The keyboard feels heavy-duty; the keypress is somewhere between a soft touch and a click. With a complement of 101 keys, this standard keyboard should meet the needs of most users.

If your computer needs are modest and you feel more comfortable buying with a wellknown manufacturer with a reputation for quality, this COMPAQ could be an excellent choice. And if you're interested in a workstation for your company network, the 386s/20N is, again, an excellent candidate.



I'm partial to products manufactured right here in the good old U.S.A.--provided they measure up to their foreign-manufactured counterparts in quality and price. I'm delighted to report that the Cumulus GLC 486DX/33 not only measured up to but even surpassed my somewhat jaded expectations!

Upon unpacking the box containing the CPU, I found a small American flag and a certificate which bore the signatures of the Cumulus personnel responsible for assembling, testing, performing quality assurance checks, and packing the system. The signed certificate proclaimed that the GLC was "proudly designed, built, and tested in the U.S.A." So we were off to a good start, and the deeper I dug into the box, the better it got.

The GLC's low-profile cabinet (less than 4 1/2 inches tall) looks small but offers a surprising amount of expansion space thanks to excellent integration of the system board and essential I/O components. Four 16-bit expansion slots (two full-length and two 3/4-length) accommodate your peripheral boards. How does Cumulus do it? A vertical backplane connector accepts expansion boards on both the left and the right sides of the backplane--two rows of slots--a most efficient and well-engineered arrangement that maximizes all available space within the cabinet.

MS-DOS 5.0 and Windows 3.0 are both supplied with the system, along with a Logitech two-button serial mouse. To handle input and output chores, the GLC comes equipped with a single parallel port and dual serial posts in addition to a 512K VGA video card. An excellent 101-key keyboard with a light but firm touch comes as standard equipment with the Cumulus GLC 486DX/33. The keyboard features audible key click; 12 function keys; and illuminated Num, Caps, and Scroll lock indicators.

Both 5 1/4-inch 1.2MB and 3 1/2-inch 1.44MB floppy drives are built into the unit, with an 84MB IDE hard drive handlign the mass-storage requirements. No additional bays are available to accept additional drives, although a secondary 3 1/2-inch hard drive could conceivably be mounted within the cabinet.

The performance of the GLC is truly excellent, as evidenced by a Norton computing index rating of 72. The intel 80486DX CPU is responsible for this blazing speed, and the chip's integrated math coprocessor handles even the most demanding number-crunching or CAD applications without a whimper. With 4MB of RAM, the GLC is armed and ready to do battle with the best of them.

An optional VGA monitor with .28-mm dot pitch was supplied with the system, and it was a pleasure to use. Colors were rich and vibrant, the screen's resolution was tight, and there was no color bleed--eye fatigue is not a problem with the Cumulus monitor.

I found everything about the Cumulus GLC to be excellent; the quality and care show through in every detail. The manuals supplied with the computer exemplify this in their organization and thoroughness. If you're thinking of moving up to a 486 machine, the Cumulus GLC is definitely worth your serious consideration.



Dell has a sterling reputation for producing high-performance, high-quality, dependable personal computers, and the Dell 486D/33 is a prime example of why Dell has this reputation.

The 486D/33 uses a baby-AT case, measuring 6 inches tall by 16 inches deep by 16 inches wide. The excellent design and layout of the machine still provide plenty of room for expansion in this small-footprint case, however. Dell uses the 3 1/2-inch drive as A and the 5 1/4-inch drive as B, which is not the usual drive arrangement. A quick (14-ms average seektime) 82MB IDE hard drive is mounted internally in the Dell adjacent to the power supply.

The review unit came equipped with DOS 5.0 already installed on the hard drive; the Microsoft manual and a rich assortment of excellent documentation also came packed with the system unit. Rather than packing the floppy disks containing DOS 5.0 with the system, however, Dell included a utility called Dell Diskette Librarian on the hard drive. It facilitates making the three 3 1/2-inch 720K backup disks for the DOS system and utility files.

The standard configuration is 4MB of RAM, expandable to 64MB via for SIMM sockets on the motherboard. Dell offers real innovation in memory expansion, since only for SIMM sockets are provided but 1MB, 4MB, or 16MB SIMMs can be used in any combination to provide configurations of 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 12, 16, 17, 18, 20, 24, 32, 33, 34, 36, 40, 48, or 64 megabytes.

The heart of the Dell 486D/33 is the Intel 1486DX CPU, which zips along at 33 megahertz and tallies a Norton computing index rating of 71.2. The i486 has its own internal math coprocessor, which really speeds up number-crunching and other math-intensive applications like CAD. Dell doesn't provide a socket for a Weitek 4167 math processor, but since this chip is usually used only to speed up intensive floating-point calculations, it won't be missed by the vast majority of users.

A Dell 14-inch UltraScan Super VGA monitor came with the PC, and its crisp, well-defined images and colors make it one of the nicest VGA monitors supplied for review here.

Dell offers probably the best and most complete documentation I've encountered with any PC system. Exceptionally well-written and thorough, it also provides an index that gets you to the exact section you need in a minimum amount of time. In addition to the main User's Guide, the other supplied documents include a Diagnostics and Troubleshooting Guide, a Getting Started booklet, a booklet on the hard disk, and booklets entitled Documentation Update, Dell-installed Software User's Guide, and Software Support Utilities. While these documents provide invaluable technical information, they are accessible and unintimidating--written in language that even a novice user will find understandable.

Quality, clarity, a support make the Dell 486D/33 a real contender. I give it my highest rating.



With a 200MB hard drive, 8MB of RAM, and a Super VGA monitor, the Gateway 33MHz 486 is a powerhouse. Better still, it offers you plenty of room to grow.

The review unit from Gateway came with a Micronics mother-board and a Phonix BIOS. I've never run into any compatibility problems with Micronics mother-boards, and the five available 16-bit expansion slots (out of seven) should be more than adequate for the expansion needs of most users. Although floating-point math calculation capabilities are built right into the 486 processor, there's a slot available for a Weitek math coprocessor if your number-crunching needs are truly enormous and you decide to get one later. Most users will never need that option.

Looking for lots of memory? You can expand the computer's standard 8MB of RAM up to 32MB on the system board--even more with a 32-bit memory expansion slot.

The huge case on the Gateway 486 reminds me of the old full-size cases of yesteryear. Three of its bays are exposed, allowing for two floppy drives and one other drive requiring front access. This Gateway sports a 200MB Piranha 4200 hard drive manufactured by Western Digital. Though a little noisy, this drive is plenty fast.

The keyboards has function keys both across the top and down the left-hand side of the keyboard, and it offers other programmable functions.

Gateway's Crystal Scan 1024NI noninterlaced Super VGA monitor provides quick screen refreshes with very little or no flicker, and this monitor compares favorably with other Super VGA monitors I've looked at.

The video card that comes with the Gateway 486 is a SpeedStar with a Tseng Labs video controller. The one meg of RAM on the video card allows you to throw 256 colors at one time up on the screen with no problems in Super VGA mode.

One thing many people seem to overlook when they buy computers is serviceability. With this computer, if any one component goes, you can easily replace the part yourself, or your local service center can replace the part for you.

The Gateway 486 comes with Microsoft Windows 3.0 and MS-DOS 5.0--enough to get you up and running. While that's not as much software as other packages offer, by the time you purchase a 486-based machine, chances are you're experienced with computers and either have just the applications you need or know precisely what you'd like to buy.

This computer would make an excellent choice as a network file server. Another good use would be as a stand-alone in a CAD environment. With the power of the 486 Micronics board and the storage capacity of the 200MB hard drive, drawings should come up in no time. With all it has to offer, this computer should please any power-hungry user looking for a high-performance system.


If you like powerful PCs with plenty of room for adding drives and peripheral cards, then you're bound to love the KRIS SYSTEM 48E-3 provided for this review.

This KRIS system give you ElSA (Extended Industry Standard Architecture) rater than ISA (Industry Standard Architecture). The full 32-bit EISA us can accommodate standard 8-bit and 16-bit peripheral cards as well as dedicated 32-bit EISA cards. EISA is the hardware platform of tommorrow that is fast becoming a favorite today, since it offers much faster bus-processing speeds and expansion significantly beyond what is possible with ISA motherboards.

The motherboard occupies about two-thirds of the large tower case, largely because of the dozens of discrete components (mostly chips) used for various computing functions. In this respect, the KRIS board differs significantly from many VLSI (Very Large Scale Integration) motherboards offered in other 486s (and 386s, for that matter) today.

KRIS builds its computer to customer specifications, which explains why standard documentation manuals are not supplied with the unit. Instead, a systemboard manual is supplied, along with another dedicated manual for the VGA video board and separate data sheeds for other component assemblies (disk drives, I/O cards, and so forth).

MS-DOS 5.0 came already installed on the 150MB full-height drive in the KRIS tower case. I was quite suprised see a full-height drive on a machine like this, since I fully expected to see a half-height (or even a thin-line) IDE drive. Unfortunately, this drive slowed down the overall performance of the system considerably; while its average seek time was 15.42 milleseconds, its data transfer rate was only 490.4 kilobytes per second. The Norton computing index for the KRIS pegged it at a very respectable 70.5, but the slow speed of the drive resulted in a somewhat lackluster Norton overall performance index of only 48.6.

With a machine this fast, you sometimes need to slow down to run certain applications. An illuminated LED panel on the front of the KRIS system shows whether you're running at the normal 33 MHz or the slower 25 MHz.

A 1MB VGA video card in the review machine was connected to a 14-inch Super VGA monitor. I found the display bright and easy to view for extended periods; the colors were rich and vibrant, and the screen's resolution was quite good.

A single parallel port and dual serial ports are provided for the I/O functions, and again the KRIS Tower suprised me. I expected to find 9-pin serial ports (the usual configuration used on 286 and higher machines), but instead I found the older 25-pin D connectors for the serial ports. This necssitated using a 25-pin to 9-pin adapter to connect my trusty Microsoft mouse for use during the review.

The KRIS SYSTEM 48E-3 has a lot going for it, expecially its Extended Industry Standard Architecture. It would certainly provide a good starting point for anyone looking for a machine that won't be obsolete for many years to come and that offers plenty of room for future expansion.

LUCKY 486/33

The Lucky 486-33 has a rather large AT-style case (21 inches wide x 16 3/4 inches deep x 6 1/2 inches high) with plenty of room for drives and other peripherals.

The review unit was outfitted with both 3 1/2-inch and 5 1/4-inch high-density floppy drives as well as a 122MB IDE hard drive. An additional half-height drive bay is accessible from the front of the machine, and another half-height drive bay is available inside the system for mounting an additional hard drive. The five-bay configuration is the accepted standard format for full-size AT-style cases like this one.

There are eight 16-bit expansion slots built into the motherboard, but only six of these slots are vacant, since the I/O board and video board occupy two of them. Four of the six available can handle full-length cards, while the other two can accommodate only half-length cards.

A 1MB Super VGA card provides plenty of video power for the ViewSonic 6 Super VGA color monitor supplied with the system, and color rendition is excellent. Video resolution on the 28-mm dot pitch display is crisp with no ghosting or image lag.

You can expand RAM to a maximum of 16MB using 1MB SIMMs or up to 64MB using 4MB SIMMs in the motherboard's 16 SIMM sockets. A socket is also provided for a Weitek floating-point math coprocessor on the motherboard, but the i486 CPU's on-board math coprocessor should prove to be more than adequate in the vast majority of applications.

MS-DOS 5.0 came already loaded on this review system's 124MB Maxtor IDE hard drive, which posted an average seek time of 15.21 milliseconds but a disappointing data transfer rate of only 321.6 kilobytes per second. While the system itself is a very fast performer (clocing in with a Norton computing index value of 71.2), the drive brought the Norton overall performance index down to 48.9; a faster drive would undoubtedly improve the overall performance, especially with disk-intensive applications.

The only real weak spot in this Lucky package is documentation. Individual manuals were supplied for the Micronics 486 motherboard, the IDE-BUS Multi I/O card, the Micro Labs Ultimate VGA card, and the monitor itself. Lucky's generic user manual, Getting Started with Your LSI Computer, provides very general information which could apply to virtually any PC rather than specifically to the Lucky 486-33. While the dedicated manuals are excellent in providing very technical information about the specific components they apply to, they probably won't be too helpful to novice users.

On the plus side, the Lucky seems to be a well-built unit which should give you many years of trouble-free service while providing plenty of room for expansion as your needs grow.



Micro Generation's parent company, Continental Technology, is a leading supplier of computer components. With experience and a wealth of component brands to choose from, it's in a good position to put together high-quality systems. The Micro Generation 386SX/20 is a good case in point.

A minitower case measuring 7 3/4 inches wide by 16 inches tall by 16 inches deep houses the review system. It's about the same size as a baby-AT case turned on its side.

The review unit came configuared with 5 1/4-inch, and 3 1/2-inch high-density drives, an 84MB IDE hard drive, and a Super VGA card with 256K on board (expandable to 1MB). A DigiView HR-1428 high-resolution Super VGA monitor with .28-mm dot pitch was also provided, along with a Z-Nix two-button serial mouse, MS-DOS 5.0, and Windows 3.0.

The minitower case provides lots of room for expansion with two half-height 5 1/4-inch drive bays and a 3 1/2-inch drive bay available. Of the six bus slots, four 16-bit expansion slots were vacant, and the multi-I/O and video cards occupied the other two. Dual serial ports, a parallel port, and a game port round out the I/O connectors.

The Micro Generation system turned in consistently good times for all the test applications. The CPU earned a 14 on the Norton computing index while the 84MB Western Digital IDE hard disk really flew along. This drive was a real surprise with an average seek time of 12.55 milliseconds and a data transfer rate of 642 kilobytes per second. The combination of fast CPU, 4MB of RAM, and this superquick drive makes it perform more like a 25-MHz DX machine than a SX/20. If you need--or want--more computing power, you can expand the RAM up to a maximum of 16MB directly on the motherboard using 256K, 1MB, or 4MB SIMMs.

Because each system is built to customer specs from various components, no standardized user's manual comes with the Micro Generation systems; instead, the dedicated manuals (or booklets) for the various components are provided. While this isn't the best way to supply documentation (especially for novice users), the information contained in these documents is generally complete.

The minitower case features an illuminated display on its front panel with a dual-digit LED display of the CPU speed (20MHz/10MHz), which you can select either via the keyboard or by depressing the Turbo button located just below the display. Also included on this display panel are lights signifying power-on and turbo-on status. A smoked plastic pull-down dust cover protects the drive compartments when they aren't in use.

If you're looking for a 20-MHz 386 desktop computer that has everything you need for today and gives you room to grow fot tomorrow, investigate this system from Micro Generation.



There are plenty of 20-MHz 386SX desktops on the market, but this one gives you quality components and a graphics coprocessor for speedier graphics.

The NEC PowerMate SX/20i comes with a Phoenix BIOS, Tseng Labs video controller, and Western Digital chip set. To meet your expansion needs, it also comes with four 16-bit expansion slots and an 80387 math coprocessor socket. The standard 4MB RAM (expandable to 26MB) and 65MB hard disk should be adequate for most users. If the system's one 3 1/2-inch floppy drive isn't enough, there are two more drive bays where you could add another floppy drive, a tape backup system, or a CD-ROM drive.

The PowerMate's plastic case makes for a very light computer. That's a nice change from those huge steel cases that used to surround the old 8088s. There's plenty of room for the computer to breathe, and the fan located on the back of the computer is larger than usual, which should keep it cool. Opening the case is as simple as turning one knob and popping the top. Being able to get into the computer this easily should allow you to upgrade quickly and without many tools.

NEC sent me this review system with the new MultiSync 4FG. I've never seen a monitor as sharp or as bright as this one. It's a real treat.

With one meg of RAM, the Tseng video controller can show 256 colors in 1024 x 768. Tseng Labs is fast becoming one of the leaders in state-of-the-art video controllers, and this controller proves it. There's no fading or distortion of colors when you push this controller to its limits.

Today's graphics-intensive applications look great but can slow your system considerably. To speed things along, NEC has developed Image Video Technology. A bus built into the video controller allows the video processor to operate at the same speed as the CPU, 20 MHz, rather than the standard 8 MHz of most cards. As a result, you can operate in Super VGA mode and display 256 colors without sacrificing performance. At the same time, since this new technology takes some of the heat off the main processor, you whole system should operate faster.

With this system, you also get software--DOS 5.0, Windows 3.0, and PFS: Windows Works, which includes a word processor, spreadsheet, database, and more. Realize, however, that although you get the Window Works software, you do not get Spinnaker's printed documentation; for that, you must send in $35.00. However, NEC does include its own brief documentation, and there is documentation built into the software itself. Whether you need to spend the extra money on Spinnaker's manual depends on how much experience you have with this kind of software.

This system is designed to be upgradable, allowing the CPU, cache, memory bus, and video all to be upgraded by simply swapping boards.

For the person who uses graphics heavily, this could be the perfect system. The NEC PowerMate comes ready to go right out of the package. As is, this machine will make a wonderful stand-alone or an excellent station on a LAN.



The Wyse Decision 486/33 is based on the Intel i486 CPU, which has an integrated math coprocessor. This muscular CPU, when coupled to other quality components, leaves little to be desired in computing performance.

The Decision has a standard desktop case approximately 17 inches wide by 16 1/2 inches deep by 6 inches tall, so it doesn't take up an inordinate amount of space on your desktop. This case provides plenty of room for internal expansion options, and that's important for users who intend to add peripherals and accessories as needed in the future. With the video and I/O cards in place, there are still six full-length expansion slots available--four 16-bit and two 8-bit.

A socket for an optional Weitek 4167 floating-point math coprocessor is also provided on the motherboard, although the built-in comprocessing power of the 486 should be plenty for most users.

The standard configuration for the system consists of 2MB RAM. It can be expanded to a maximum of 16MB directly on the motherboard using either 1MB or 4MB SIMMs. A 128K static RAM cache augments the internal 8K cache built into the i486 CPU, which operates at either 33-MHz or 8-MHz clock speeds.

The review unit came with a 210MB hard disk that performed admirably, yielding an average seek time of 16.5 milleseconds and a data transfer rate of over 700 kilobytes per second. This very fast hard drive perfectly complements the i486 chip, which is no slouch in the performance department--the Norton computing index for the Decision 486 is a blistering 72.1.

One 3 1/2-inch 1.44MB floppy drive came with the Decision 486 I reviewed. There are two front-access half-height drive bays, so you can install an additional drive--floppy, hard, or CD-ROM.

MS-DOS 5.0 is the operating system supplied with the Wyse Decision 486, and the software was preinstalled on the hard disk as received. The completed DOS manuals and disks are also packed with the unit as well as a setup/test/utilities disk for changing system parameters and options.

The documentation provided with the Decision 486 is excellent in its scope and organization. A thorough index makes locating specific sections in the manual easy, and the text is written in an easy-to-understand style.

The 14-inch color monitor supplied with my review unit, the Wyse Model WY-670, offers crips resolution and bright colors with no image lag or ghosting. Since the video card had only 512K RAM on it (it can be expanded to 1MB), it wasn't possible to run the video in Super VGA (1024 x 768) mode.

While there are some areas that could be improved or enhanced (like adding more video RAM and a second floppy drive), overall the Wyse Decision 486 is a well-constructed machine that provides excellent performance.

ZEOS 486-33

This ZEOS 486-33 really zooms. It packs enough power and expansion capability to meet the demands of just about any computer user, and you have the comfort of knowing it's a ZEOS.

With this 486 review system, I got 4MB of RAM, an 88MB hard drive, Lotus 1-2-3 for Windows, Windows 3.0, DOS 5.0, and Ami Pro. ZEOS offers a variety of options with its systems, so be sure to check with the manufacturer to see how you might configure you system.

Opening the case on this computer reveals a spacious interior with drive bays galore. This is the way I like to see a computer. There really isn't any way you could outgrow the case. This computer is expandable up to 32MB of RAM and offers seven expansion slots, one of which is a standard 8-bit slot.

The serial ports are built into the motherboard; I really prefer a separate I/O card for easier repairs in case of problems. In this particular system, however, the integration of the ports into the system board is not a problem--if one of the on-board ports fails, all you have to do is install a $45 I/O card, and you still have six slots left. Although I haven't had a lot of experience with Award BIOS, I would have to assume that if ZEOS is going to use it on a high-end system, it will work. There's no math comprocessor socket, but the 486 chip has its own coprocessor built right in. On the hottest of days, the centrally located power supply should keep this machine running cool, and its 300 watts should handle any and all devices you could install.

Having Super VGA and a SpeedSTAR VGA card really speeds up graphics-intensive software packages like Windows and the rest of the software packaged with the ZEOS 486-33 computer. This SpeedSTAR VGA board has a VGA controller manufactured by Tseng Labs, one of the leading VGA controller manufacturers, and you should find that it provides trouble-free operation with few, if any, software compatibility problems. With its 1MB of RAM, the adapter is capable of supporting 256 colors in 1024 x 768 mode.

The monitor that came with this ZEOS 486-33 review system is a 14-inch noninterlaced Super VGA with a .28 dot pitch, which is fast becoming the standard in monitors today. If you spend much of your day staring at your computer screen and need to give your eyes a break, I recommend this dot pitch; it's easy on the eyes. As I pushed the monitor to the limit, there was nary a flicker. The controls of this CTX monitor are conveniently located on the front.

The ZEOS 486-33 appears to be a well-manufactured machine offering the best of everything to the purchaser who spends the few extra dollars to buy a quality machine. If you need a high-powered system backed by a quality company, take a close look at this computer. With its ease of serviceability and expansion capabilities, the power-hungry should not outgrow this machine for some time to come.