NCR System 3200 Model 3220. (microcomputer) (Hardware Review) (Evaluation)
by Joyce Sides
With the NCR 3220, not only do you get a small footprint for an affordable and upgradable workstation, but you also get an attractively built computer.
The monitor--with its gray outer shell coloring--is pleasing to the eye. Looks aren't everything, but I noticed the dark gray surrounding the NCR's monitor screen was less distracting than the color of any other monitor I've used, and the small footprint unit--with its 15- x 15.4- x 3.3-inch frame--fits just about anywhere on a desk.
It took approximately five minutes to set up the 3220. The 80MB hard drive was already formatted, and Micro-soft Windows was installed. I simply checked the user's guide for anything unusual, plugged in the appropriate cables and power cord, and turned it on.
Installing the i486SX upgrade was another story, though. The upgrade to the unit I reviewed needed a ROM BIOS upgrade as well as a chip replacement and an added board. Any customer who wants the chip upgrade can install it without special help but will need a tool called a chip puller to remove the 386SX chip. If the unit requires a BIOS upgrade as well, NCR says that change can also be made by the user.
Designed to function in a local area network (LAN), in a wide area network (WAN), or as a stand-alone workstation, the 3220 is moderately priced with tons of features. It has a 15-inch Super VGA monitor with a removable tilt-swivel base, a 16-bit data bus, 4MB of SIMM memory (expandable to 16MB), an 80MB SCSI hard drive, a single 3-1/2-inch 2.88MB flexible disk drive, a math coprocessor socket, an external SCSI device connector, and three open expansion slots. For a modest price, the system can be upgraded from a 20-MHz 386SX to a 20-MHz i486SX unit.
The NCR unit supports MS-DOS, OS/2, OS/2 EE, and SCO UNIX operating systems. Special features include password protection with a keyboard password and a physical cabinet lock to provide security against unauthorized access, an essential ingredient to any business dealing with sensitive information.
The 3220 user's guide provides information on system and optional component installation, guides to using support software and reference disks, and technical data about the system, as well as helpful illustrations and troubleshooting information. Other documentation included is the MS-DOS 5.0 Operating System Guide, the Microsoft Windows User's Guide, and an operations manual for the monitor.
I ran a variety of applications both before and after the i486SX upgrade installation to compare the difference in operating speed. Processor-intensive applications ran much faster after the upgrade, and all the utilities, games, and Windows applications I installed ran more smoothly and quickly. The Windows applications I ran included Express Publisher for Windows, FormWorx for Windows, and Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint for Windows.
My husband is the expert game technician in the family. He played Star Trek: 25th Anniversary before and after the upgrade. The animated graphics were noticeably smoother afterward.
The three expansion slots are stacked top to bottom beside the hard drive. Access is fairly easy to all the components inside the unit. The 3-1/2-inch disk drive had to be removed to install the upgrade, but that caused no problems, since the drive is held in place by clamps instead of screws. What a refreshingly simple idea!
Vents along the upper sides of the unit should be adequate to keep the system's power supply from overheating. Since there's no conventional fan, the noise level is practically non-existent. The SIMM RAM chips are easily accessible. Two empty sockets are available to add more memory--up to 16MB RAM.
The monitor provides a flicker-free, antiglare picture tube that reduces eye fatigue. Conveniently located at the front of the monitor are the brightness, contrast, horizontal size and phase, vertical size and phase, and degauss (for adjusting color disturbance) controls, while the pincushion control (controls cushion or barrel shape of the picture) can be found on the back of the unit.
The 101-key keyboard supplied with the 3220 offers the same gray color as the CPU and monitor. The keys are light gray with a medium-to-dark gray background. The keys don't have the quick click of a typewriter, but many users prefer the quieter, softer feel.
Warranties usually consist of a one-year contract. NCR has boosted its warranty package to one year of onsite service and one year of free depot maintenance. The user can opt for an upgrade to on-site service for the second year at a nominal charge. Optional service agreements are also available after the warranty expires.
There are only a couple of small chinks in the 3220's armor. I was surprised that there is no Reset button, but the On/Off button is conveniently located on the front of the unit. This isn't a major consideration, but it's worth noting.
The only other drawback I noticed is the single disk drive; there is only one internal drive bay. There is an external SCSI device connector where another drive can be added if it's needed, however, and up to six more peripherals can be daisychained to it.
Instead of alkaline batteries to keep the CMOS intact, the NCR unit maintains CMOS with a plug-in integrated circuit chip that can be replaced easily. These RTC/battery modules last several years. A warning message appears on the screen at boot-up if the battery is failing. If the battery can't be replaced immediately, the user can boot with the reference disk at each power-up.
The 3220 is a solid, easy-to-use computer. Small businesses looking for a system with a low entry cost and the possibility of moving to a higher-performance system in the future shouldn't overlooked the value and service provided by NCR's newest product.