The 'Compute' Choice Awards. (best software and hardware products of 1992)(includes related article and product listing) (Cover Story)
by Clifton Karnes, David English, Scott A. May, Denny Atkin, Robert Bixby, Mike Hudnall, Richard C. Leinecker, Tom Benford, David Sears, Richard O. Mann, Peter Scisco, Alfred C. Giovetti
Each year, COMPUTE writers and editors confer to select the best PC hardware and software. Selecting the winners for these awards is tough, and just being nominated is an achievement. It means that a computer professional, after using and seeing demonstrations of literally hundreds of products, sees one particular standout. In a sense, a nomination is an award in itself. To find out more about the products mentioned here, circle their numbers on the reader service card and mail it in.
What will you find in this year's field? Languages and databases of extreme power, hardware with advanced design, word processors that could take over all of your desktop publishing tasks, games that put you into the cockpit of aircraft obsolete nearly half a century ago, whole libraries on a disk--in short, many of the dreams of science fiction through the ages.
Two technologies also receive special recognition--the local bus and the new PCM-CIA standard, both of which are discussed in this month's feature "Emerging Technologies."
Welcome to the future.
Best Operating System/Environment Microsoft Windows 3.1
Microsoft Windows 3.1 is clearly the operating system to use. If you're using 3.0, upgrading to 3.1 should be the easiest decision you've ever made. If you're not using Windows yet, 3.1 may be the advance that convinces you to come on board. Windows 3.1 is faster, crashes less often, has superb DOS support, boasts a first-rate File Manager, comes with its own font technology (TrueType), supports drag-and-drop editing, makes compound documents possible with OLE, features a zippier and smarter SMARTDrive, and much more.
Speed. If we had to choose the most important feature of 3.1, speed would be it. There are several reasons for this dramatic speed increase. First, 3.1, sports new video drivers, including an SVGA driver that's faster than the third-party 16-color drivers we've seen. Next, hidden inside the system is Fast Disk, an improved 32-bit hard disk driver that boosts disks driven by Western Digital and compatible controllers.
Besides being faster, 3.1 is also more robust than 3.0. You can say goodbye to almost all the system crashes that plague 3.0.
Windows 3.1 wins the COMPUTE Choice Award for Best Operating System/Environment because its power, features, versatility, innovation, quality, and DOS compatibility are unmatched achievements. CLIFTON KARNES
Reader Service Number 340 Other nominees: OS/2, IBM
Reader Service Number 341
Best Word Processor Microsoft Word for Windows 2.0
In Windows-land, Microsoft Word for Windows has always been the word processor to beat. With Ami Pro 3.0 and WordPerfect 5.1 for Windows, the competition's hot, but for our money, Word for Windows 2.0 is king of the hill.
Since the features accessed by WinWord's toolbar are at the heart of the program, let's take a quick toolbar tour. Going from left to right, you'll find buttons for opening and saving files; cutting, copying, and pasting; undoing; creating numbered and bulleted lists; building tables; creating frames; drawing (WinWord has an on-board drawing program); graphing; printing envelopes; checking your spelling; printing; and zooming between full-page and 100-percent views.
Almost better than these new buttons is the fact that you can add your own. You can map to a button any native WinWord command or any macro you've created.
Looking beyond WinWord's new buttons, you'll find that the ribbon and ruler, familiar from WinWord 1.0, are present in 2.0 but they're combined. The ribbon sports drop-down list boxes for styles, fonts, and font sizes, plus buttons for styles (bold, italic, and underline), justification (left, center, right, and proportional), and tab settings (left, right, center, and decimal), as well as a button to turn paragraph marks on or off.
Word for Windows 2.0 wins the COMPUTE Choice Award for Best Word Processor because it combines an amazing list of features into one of the easiest-to-use packages we've ever seen. CLIFTON KARNES
Microsoft--$495 Reader Service Number 342
Other nominees: Ami Pro 3.0, Lotus Development Reader Service Number 343 WordPerfect 5.1 for Windows, WordPerfect Reader Service Number 344 WordStar 7.0 for DOS, WordStar International Reader Service Number 345
Best Spreadsheet Microsoft Excel 4.0
Last year, we gave Microsoft Excel 3.0 the COMPUTE Choice Award for Best Small Business Program. It seemed then to be an almost perfect program. This year, the COMPUTE Choice Award for Best Spreadsheet goes to Microsoft Excel 4.0. One of the best programs ever written has gotten even better.
How do you improve one of the best programs ever written? Version 4.0 adds a drag-and-drop feature that lets you quickly move a cell or group of cells from one location on the worksheet to another. In addition, a new autofill feature can intelligently complete a series of labels for you. Type Jan, highlight the eleven adjoining cells, and the remaining names of the months will fill in automatically. This is just one example. You can also autofill days of the week and any other natural series of cells commonly used in spreadsheets.
You also get a customizable toolbar that lets you create your own tools and group them the way you want them, a scenario manager that lets you create a variety of what-if scenarios, a view manager that lets you look at a single worksheet in a variety of ways, a built-in spelling checker, complete compatibility with Lotus 1-2-3 macros, additional types of charts, and more.
With Borland and Lotus breathing down Microsoft's neck, this could become a very competitive category. But for the moment, Excel continues to live up to its name. It's still top dog. DAVID ENGLISH
Microsoft--$495 Reader Service Number 346
Other nominees: Lotus 1-2-3, Lotus Development Reader Service Number 347 Quattro Pro 4.0, Borland International Reader Service Number 348 Quattro Pro for Windows, Borland International Reader Service Number 349
Best Database Approach for Windows
Does a relational Windows database that fully supports dBASE, Paradox, and SQL files; lets you use all your Windows fonts; and is easy to use sound too good to be true? If it does, you haven't seen Approach. This modern database miracle takes the most popular database formats and allows you to create custom data entry forms and reports as well as search your data 20 different ways.
Using Approach is easy. The program has two modes: Design and Browse. In Browse mode, you enter or search data. In Design mode, you design either a form or a report. Forms are screen based, and the best example of one is the classic data entry form. Approach gives you an array of drawing tools to help you get your form just right. Also included are controls like list boxes and buttons, the latter of which can be mapped to macrus. You move between Browse and Design modes by simply clicking on a button on the program's toolbar.
Reports are usually designed for the printer as an output device, and they are as easy to design as forms. You can incorporate text, date, memo, time, Boolean, number, calculated, and picture data types in both forms and reports.
Approach wins the COMPUTE Choice Award for Best Database because it's a masterful example of a powerful and feature-packed program that is simple to use. With Approach, you'll be productive within a few hours, not days or weeks. CLIFTON KARNES
Approach Software--$279 Reader Service Number 350
Other nominees: dBASE IV 1.5, Borland International Reader Service Number 351 FoxPro 2.0, Microsoft Reader Service Number 352
Best Communications Program Procomm Plus for Windows
In 1985, Datastorm Technologies set the standard in PC communications software with the award-winning Procomm. Seven years later, the company does it again with Procomm Plus for Windows, a marvel of design.
Beyond its clean, user-defined graphical interface, the program offers a bevy of new and improved features: a 250-entry dialing directory, 34 video terminal emulations, a built-in Host mode bulletin board system, 11 transfer protocols, and the ability to view CompuServe GIF pictures as you download them. Also available are 40 programmable Meta keys, capable of sending text strings, running scripts, and launching Windows or DOS applications. The program takes full advantage of Microsoft's Dynamic Data Exchange (DDE), opening a new world of communications abilities to word processing, spreadsheets, and much more.
Datastorm's powerful ASPECT compiled programming language continues to evolve. More than 300 commands are available for writing scripts as simple as automated BBS log-in and file transfers or as complex as DDE-compatible user applications. Automated Record and Compile functions put even nonprogrammers at ease with executable scripts.
The crowning glory, for many users, is the completely revamped documentation. Previously a nightmare of information disarray, the new manuals are now thoughtfully designed and generously illustrated. SCOTT A. MAY
Datastorm Technologies--$149 Reader Service Number 353
Other nominees: Eclipse Fax, Eclipse Systems Reader Service Number 354 The Sierra Network, Sierra On-Line Reader Service Number 355
Best Money Management Program Quicken for Windows
If you thought Quicken for DOS was good, take a look at Quicken for Windows. This is not just a translation of this excellent program; it's a redesign from the ground up that fits Windows like a glove.
Quicken is a personal financial manager that's most famous as an easy-to-use checkbook program that both manages your checkbook and prints checks. It certainly does these things, and does them well, but there's much more to Quicken. It can track your investments and manage credit card accounts and trusts (to name just a few accounts), and it can print reports that include net worth, budgets, income and expenses, and cash flow. It also keeps track of tax-deductible contributions, and it can fill in as a simple accounting package for most small businesses. If you have a small business, though, you ought to take a look at Quicken's companion program, Quick Books, which was designed to meet the specific needs of small businesses.
The fully MDI-compatible interface is easy to navigate and use. With the motto of Safety First, Quicken saves your data with each entry, and it encourages you to back up your files. Add to this the ability to remind you of payments due and the best data entry forms in the business, and you have a terrific program.
Quicken wins the COMPUTE Choice Award for Best Money Management Program because it's one of the best-executed, feature-rich, and downright useful programs of its kind that we've seen. CLIFTON KARNES
Intuit--$69.95 Reader Service Number 356
Other nominees: DAC Easy Accounting, DAC Easy Reader Service Number 357 Microsoft Money 2.0, Microsoft Reader Service Number 358 QuickBooks, Intuit Reader Service Number 359 Turbo Tax for Windows 9.0, ChipSoft Reader Service Number 360
Best DOS Utility 4DOS 4.01
If you still find yourself doing much of your work from a DOS prompt rather than clicking your way through layer after layer of icons and windows, you'll love JP Software's 4DOS. This replacement command shell brings DOS into the 1990s, adding features found in advanced operating systems such as UNIX and AmigaDOS. On 286 and higher systems, 4DOS can be loaded high, using only 256 bytes of base memory--much less than command.com. And it's fully compatible with Windows, DESQview, and task-switching software.
4DOS includes complete context-sensitive online help for all DOS and 4DOS commands. Over two dozen new batch file commands are included, and batch files in 4DOS's custom format execute five to ten times faster than standard batch files by loading the whole batch file into memory before execution. Even if you just use DOS and don't customize it, you'll benefit from 4DOS's enhanced command line history and recall, automatic filename expansion, command aliases, color-coded directories, and point-and-shoot file selection.
You can find a try-before-you-buy version of 4DOS on online networks or your local BBS. When you order the commercial package, you'll get a thorough 350-page manual that caters to novice and expert alike and a handy command reference booklet. A version for OS/2 called 4OS2 is available as well. DENNY ATKIN
JP Software--$69 Reader Service Number 361
Other nominees: Commute 2.0, Central Point Software Reader Service Number 362 File Runner, MBS Technologies Reader Service Number 363 LapLink Pro 4, Traveling Software Reader Service Number 364 Norton Desktop for DOS, Symantec Reader Service Number 365
Best Windows Utility Norton Desktop for Windows
Tired of the shortcomings of the Windows Program Manager and File Manager? Looking for a slicker, quicker way to manage your hard disk from within Windows? Or perhaps you're looking for a suite of applications that perform such useful functions as examining your disk for viruses, letting you back up automatically, and helping you recover from disaster. If so, you're looking for Norton Desktop for Windows.
The file manager provides the garden-variety commands Copy, Move, and Delete that you can find in File Manager, but it also allows you to view files, providing filters for files created by all of the major applications, including graphics files.
Norton Desktop for Windows includes Norton Backup for Windows (which can back up while you do other work), Norton Disk Doctor for Windows (which can identify and fix problems before you're even aware of them), and SmartErase (which can virtually guarantee that files deleted can be recovered easily). ROBERT BIXBY
Symantec--$179 Reader Service Number 366
Other nominees: Adobe Type Manager 2.02, Adobe Systems Reader Service Number 367 After Dark 2.0A, Berkeley Systems Reader Service Number 368 The Amaze Daily Planner with Far Side Theme Pack 1.0, Amaze Reader Service Number 369 hDC Power Launcher 2.0, hDC Computer Reader Service Number 370 Metz Software Task Manager, Metz Software Reader Service Number 371 NewWave, Hewlett-Packard Reader Service Number 372 PackRat 4, Polaris Software Reader Service Number 373 Skylight 2.0, RenaSonce Group Reader Service Number 374 WinBatch, Wilson WindowWare Reader Service Number 375
Best Programming Language Borland C++ 3.1
It's unusual for a company to do almost everything right, but Borland has done just that with Borland C++ 3.1. This package contains everything you need to create DOS or Windows applications, and the tools are almost without exception the best available anywhere. For Windows programming, Borland is the only optimizing Windows C compiler that boasts a Windows-hosted IDE. And this IDE is a programmer's dream, supporting ANSI C and the latest version of C++, multiple undo and redo, a choice of three interfaces, and a quick-access toolbar. The compiler is the fastest we've seen, and advanced features, like precompiled headers, are well integrated and easy to use.
Add to this Borland's Resource Workshop, the resource editor that lapped the competition a year ago, and a special version of Turbo Debugger that debugs Windows apps (but unfortunately doesn't run in a window), and you have a Windows development environment that can do anything.
For DOS fans, there's the best DOS-based IDE and compiler around, plus Turbo Debugger, Turbo Profiler, and Turbo Assembler.
For a little more money, you can get Borland C++ with Application Frameworks, which includes the company's C++ class libraries for DOS and Windows.
But the bottom line for any compiler is the quality of the code it produces, and here Borland outshines its competition in almost every category by producing the smallest and fastest exe files around.
Borland C++ wins the COMPUTE Choice Award for Best Programming Language because its power, ease of use, and superb set of integrated tools clearly set the standard for C/C++ development environments. CLIFTON KARNES
Borland International--$495 Reader Service Number 376
Other nominees: Borland Turbo Pascal for Windows 1.5, Borland International Reader Service Number 377 Microsoft C/C+ 7.0 with Windows SDK, Microsoft Reader Service Number 378
Best Desktop Publishing/Graphics Program Professional Draw 1.0
Professional Draw, one of the two winners in this category, comes to us from Gold Disk, long the creators of the most important productivity programs for the Amiga. As a pure illustration and drawing program, Professional Draw is without equal. Its COMPUTE's Choice Award crowns many months of cheering from the media for this standout performer. This product is aimed at serious desktop publishers, as is obvious from its ability to perform controlled overprinting and produce color separations and custom crop marks. It supports Corel, PostScript, and TrueType typefaces and provides hypenation and a spelling checker for work in text. When working with graphics, you have access to style sheets for quickly applying attributes, as well as extrusion with shading and adjustable light source. ROBERT BIXBY
Gold Disk--$495 Reader Service Number 379
Fractal Design Painter
Each year, we see two or three truly innovative programs for the PC. Fractal Design Painter, the other winner in the category of Best Desktop Publishing/Graphics Program, is certainly one of them. It's a full-featured paint program that skillfully simulates the tools and textures of natural paint media. With Painter, your brush can act and feel like the real thing: airbrush, pencil, felt pen, crayon, or piece of chalk or charcoal. Combine your brush with the variety of grains and textures of Painter's paper palette, and you can even simulate the appearance of the raised areas that show in a real brush stroke or charcoal drawing.
If you have a pressure-sensitive graphics tablet, such as a Wacom tablet or a CalComp Drawing Board II, Painter can act and feel even more like the traditional painting tools it simulates. My wife, who has a background in art but rarely uses a computer, is fascinated by Painter and our Wacom tablet. I'm from the stick-figure school of art, and I'm equally drawn to Painter's simple elegance.
As you've probably guessed, this kind of graphics power comes at a price. You'll need at least 6MB of RAM, a Super VGA monitor (8-bit graphics required, 16- or 24-bit graphics recommended), and a fast 386 or 486. However, once you have had the opportunity to use Painter, you'll never want to go back to those ordinary one-size-fits-all paint programs. DAVID ENGLISH
Fractal Design--$399 Reader Service Number 380
Other nominees: Arts & Letters Apprentice, Computer Support Reader Service Number 381 CorelDRAW! 3.0, Corel Reader Service Number 382 FrameMaker 3.0, Frame Technology Reader Service Number 383 FreeHand 3.1, Aldus Reader Service Number 384 Freelance for Windows, Lotus Development Reader Service Number 385 Micrografx Windows Draw, Micrografx Reader Service Number 386 QuarkXPress, Quark Reader Service Number 387 Virtual Reality Studio, Accolade Reader Service Number 388
Best Illustration/Presentation Program CorelDRAW! 3.0
CorelDRAW! 3.0 has been improved so much that it's in a league by itself. It's still one of the best drawing programs available, with better text handling than before and a more standard drawing interface. Extrude has been much improved, with more shading and positioning options. CorelDRAW! now works with TrueType fonts, eliminating the need for a font conversion utility. But if you want, you can still use CorelDRAW! to create your own TrueType or PostScript fonts from scratch or based on existing fonts. CorelPHOTO-PAINT! is capable of performing darkroom magic on scanned photographs. It includes image-editing features like contrast, edge sharpening, and posterizing. You can fill shapes with gradients and patterns. CorelDRAW! now comes with CorelCHART! to generate bar, pie, and area charts; histograms; scattergrams; and many other kinds of charts, including several kinds of shaded 3-D graphs. CorelSHOW! provides a medium for displaying your drawings and charts in presentations. It's an extremely simple presentation program--the easiest presentation package yet. ROBERT BIXBY
Corel--$595 Reader Service Number 382
Other nominees: FreeHand 3.1, Aldus Reader Service Number 384 Freelance for Windows, Lotus Development Reader Service Number 385 Harvard Graphics for Windows, Software Publishing Reader Service Number 389 Intellidraw, Aldus Reader Service Number 390 Micrografx Windows Draw, Micrografx Reader Service Number 386 Microsoft PowerPoint, Microsoft Reader Service Number 391 Professional Draw 1.0, Gold Disk Reader Service Number 379
Best Desktop Computer Gateway 2000 486DX2/50
The Gateway 2000 486DX2/50 is a sturdy desktop with a large footprint. The reviewed unit features 8MB of RAM (expandable to 64MB); a standard 200MB hard disk prepacked with Windows, DOS, and a choice of application software; an optional 14,400/9600-bps fax/modem; and Super VGA (we recommend the 15-inch CrystalScan monitor as an option). This is a real plug-and-play computer. The excellent design, components, and craftsmanship of the 486DX2/50 earned it a COMPUTE Choice Award. ROBERT BIXBY
Gateway 2000--$2,595 (base unit) Reader Service Number 392
Other nominees: Cumulus GLC, Cumulus Reader Service Number 393
Best Laptop/Notebook Computer Zenith Z-Note 325L
Innovation and attractive features make the Z-Note a winner. The Intel 386SL microprocessor delivers all the power most people will need on the go while offering advanced power management features and a nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) battery pack. In our November lineup of 11 notebooks, the Z-Note came out on top in a test of battery life, regularly delivering about 3 hours under continuous heavy-duty use and 4-1/2-5 hours under average use with all of the power-saving features activated. Because of the modular design, you can upgrade the display to active matrix color, the hard drive to 120MB, the floppy drive to 2.88MB, and the memory to 12MB. If you need more processing power, just add an 80387SL math coprocessor. Need easier access to the company network? The Z-Note provides a connector for interfacing with a LAN adapter card, making networking with a portable easier than ever. And when it's time to hit the road again, you can unplug Zenith's innovative port replicator instead of every peripheral plugged into it. This is such an attractive computer that Zenith has taken the precaution of providing a hardened steel loop, which you can use to protect this prized possession. MIKE HUDNALL
Zenith Data Systems--$2,949 with 85MB drive; $3,249 with 120MB drive Reader Service Number 394
Other nominees: Nomad, Gateway 2000 Reader Service Number 395 HandBook, Gateway 2000 Reader Service Number 396 NCR 3170, NCR Reader Service Number 397 Toshiba 4400SXC, Toshiba Computer Systems Reader Service Number 398 ZEOS 386 Notebook Freestyle, ZEOS International Reader Service Number 399
Best Printer DeskJet 500C
Imagine a printer that not only prints laser-quality text and graphics but does so in full 300-dpi color on plain paper. You'd probably expect to pay thousands of dollars, right? How does a street price of about $700 sound?
Hewlett-Packard's DeskJet 500C offers black-and-white printing that's nearly indistinguishable from that of a LaserJet. But this new model adds a second cartridge that contains three colored inks, allowing you to print pictures and documents in full color. Although only three ink colors are provided, the sophisticated printer drivers included in Windows and AmigaDOS can mix and dither these to produce thousands of apparent colors. The resulting color output won't be quite as good as you'd get from a $3,000 thermal transfer printer, but it's quite impressive for a printer in this price range. And because the DeskJet uses ink-jet technology rather than ribbons, you don't get the banding between passes found on inexpensive dotmatrix printers. When you're printing monochrome documents, you can pop in the less expensive standard black DeskJet ink cartridge.
You don't need to use special ink-jet paper with the DeskJet. Any good paper will work, although 25-percent cotton bond works best with text. HP fixed the only major complaint with the DeskJet technology--water-soluble ink--over a year ago. Color television finally knocked black-and-white off the market this year, and the technology and value embodied in the DeskJet 500C promise to go a long way toward doing the same thing to monochrome printers. DENNY ATKIN
Hewlett-Packard--$1,095 Reader Service Number 400
Other nominees: Canon BJ20, Canon Computer Systems Reader Service Number 401 LaserJet IIP Plus, Hewlett-Packard Reader Service Number 402 Okidata OL830 LED Page Printer, Okidata Reader Service Number 403 WinPrinter 800, LaserMaster Reader Service Number 404 WinJet 800, LaserMaster Reader Service Number 405
Best Peripheral Pro AudioSpectrum 16
Just when you thought it was safe to buy a sound card, companies start touting their new 16-bit sampling cards. If an 8-bit sampling card (like a Pro AudioSpectrum Plus or Sound Blaster Pro) sounds like an inexpensive FM radio, a 16-bit sampling card can sound as good as a CD player.
The Pro AudioSpectrum 16 is currently the best deal available in a 16-bit card. It offers full 16-bit audio sampling for CD-quality recording and playback (though you'll need a fast 386 or a 486 in order to record in stereo at the full 44-kHz rate). As a full-featured multimedia card, it has connectors for a SCSI CD-ROM drive, a joystick, and a MIDI synthesizer, as well as the standard set of audio-in and audio-out jacks. The card is compatible with programs that support the Windows 3.1, MPC, Sound Blaster, Ad Lib, and Pro AudioSpectrum sound standards.
We've been using this card for months now, and we're very pleased with its performance and the quality of its sound. If you're looking for a one-card multimedia solution, check out the Pro AudioSpectrum 16. It doesn't cost that much more than an 8-bit card, and you'll be ready for applications that support 16-bit sampling. DAVID ENGLISH
Media Vision--$299 Reader Service Number 406
Other nominees: NEC CDR-74, NEC Technologies Reader Service Number 407 Roland SCC-1, Roland Reader Service Number 408 ScanMan Color for Windows, Logitech Reader Service Number 409
Best Communications Hardware U.S. Robotics 9600 Fax/ModemSportster
What's so special about this internal modem? It gives you 9600-bps, glitch-free communications. It's a well-engineered piece of hardware that will give you many years of fine-tuned service.
This U.S. Robotics modem (external version shown in photo) is a full-size card that's jam-packed with telecommunications goodies. It has great line-noise rejection, MNP error-control protocols, and MNP5 compression that help the modem communicate more accurately and more efficiently.
The modem comes set for the most common configuration found, COM1 and IRQ4. Most users won't have to touch the switches. But if you do have to make changes, the DIP switches are on the back of the card, which means you don't have to take your computer's case off to change them. RICHARD C. LEINECKER
U.S. Robotics--$409 ($439 external) Reader Service Number 410
Other nominees: The Complete Communicator, The Complete PC Reader Service Number 411 Supra Fax Modem V.32bis, Supra Reader Service Number 412
Best Video Hardware Weitek Power for Windows
With a list price under $300, this video accelerator card is a great value. But they don't call it Power for nothing: Equipped with 512K of video RAM, this half-slot card outperforms Super VGA cards with double the RAM, even when running DOS applications--thanks to its dedicated W5186 User Interface Controller chip. The W5186 off-loads the PC's CPU operations dealing with certain graphics operations. Under Windows, the card typically runs applications from two to four times faster. With Power for Windows, Weitek supplies drivers for Windows, ADI (Autodesk), and other popular applications such as WordPerfect 5.0 and 5.1, Microsoft Word 5.0 and 5.5, Lotus 1-2-3, and Ventura Publisher (GEM version). An excellent 58-page manual provides all of the information you'll need to get optimal performance for all Windows applications. The Weitek board is a joy to use, producting flicker-free displays in 640 x 480, 800 x 600, and 1024 x 768 video modes, with excellent color and image resolution even when used with a relatively inexpensive multifrequency analog monitor. The product lives up to Weitek's claims by producing a speed increase of more than 200 percent in applications used with it. TOM BENFORD
Weitek will no longer be offering this technology for retail sale, but similar boards are available from the following companies.
Alpha Systems Labs--Price unavailable at press time Reader Service Number 413
AvTech Development--Price unavailable at press time Reader Service Number 414 Trigem--Price unavailable at press time Reader Service Number 415 VidTech Microsystems--$299 Reader Service Number 416 Vistro Computers--$345 Reader Service Number 417
Other nominees: Radius Multivision 24, Radius USA Reader Service Number 418
Best Arcade Game Wolfenstein 3-D
Outrageous, controversial, and impeccably programmed, Wolfenstein 3-D blows the cobwebs out of the PC gaming world. Designed by Id Software (Commander Keen), the game features a killer combination of nonstop arcade action and cutting-edge technology. In what is surely the marketing coup of the year, Apogee Software released the first of the game's six episodes as shareware, triggering widespread commotion on local and national bulletin board systems.
Players assume the role of a Schwarzenegger-style WWII hero, blazing a bullet-riddled trail through six Nazi castles in the quest to put a stop to Hitler's bloodthirsty war machine. Each castle consists of nine levels of massive, serpentine mazes, liberally stocked with an assortment of guards, SS officers, killer dogs, mutants, and mad scientists.
Rendered in realistic first-person perspective, this ultraviolent shoot'em-up appeals to the basic instincts for survival. If you've ever played cops and robbers, capture the flag, or even hide-and-seek, you know the game's undeniable hook.
Earmarks of excellence include vibrant 256-color VGA graphics, smooth animation, and one of the fastest 3-D software engines in the industry. Perhaps more impressive than the graphics is the designer's use of sound. Players with computers equipped with Disney's Sound Source, Sound Blaster, or compatible cards will enjoy crisp digitized sound effects: footsteps, talking guards, barking dogs, slamming doors, and ear-shattering gunfire.
Although decidedly not for all tastes or age groups, Wolfenstein 3-D is a showcase of nearly flawless design and challenging gameplay. SCOTT A. MAY Apogee Software--$50 Reader Service Number 419 Other nominees: Gods, Konami Reader Service Number 420 Out of This World, Interplay Productions Reader Service Number 421 RoboSport, Maxis Software Reader Service Number 422 Super Tetris, Spectrum HoloByte Reader Service Number 423 Tetris Classic, Spectrum HoloByte Reader Service Number 424
Best Simulation Aces of the Pacific
For two hours on December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy, the skies rained terror upon Oahu. The Japanese Navy's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor left more than 2400 military and civilian casualities. Dive bombers and torpedo planes destroyed or badly damaged more than 300 aircraft and 18 ships of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. A stunned nation officially entered World War II.
Aces of the Pacific is an incredible air-combat simulation; it may be too realistic for the faint of heart. The vintage bombers are meticulously rendered, complete with sometimes unpredictable power and inherent design flaws. Your opponents show real-life cunning. And the graphics and sound effects are incredibly realistic.
Aces salutes the historic events, budding technology, and heroism of this unique theater of conflict. Designed by Dynamix cofounder Damon Slye, Aces soars above and beyond his best-selling World War I combat simulation, Red Baron. Indeed, this tribute to the Pacific campaigns captures the passion and spirit of a generation better than any previous effort in the genre.
The true stars of the show are the more than 30 types of vintage fighters and bombers, each with painstakingly reproduced flight characteristics. Some will amaze you with their innovative craftsmanship and intuitive control; others will ultimately scare the wits out of you with their untamed power.
Dynamix has awed us once again with a historically accurate flight simulator that combines the maximum in thrills, realism, and fun. SCOTT A. MAY
Reader Service Number 425
A-Train, Maxis Software
Reader Service Number 426
Falcon 3.0, Spectrum HoloByte
Reader Service Number 427
SimAnt, Maxis Software
Reader Service Number 428
Stunt Island, Walt Disney Computer
Reader Service Number 429
Best Fantasy Role-playing/Adventure Game Dune
Prophets never lead easy lives, and Paul Atreides finds his duties as galactic revolutionary fearsome. Part messiah, part capitalist, and all determination, Paul intends to free the precious desert planet--the only source of the mind-expanding spice--from vicious Harkonnen rule, and green the desolate sands in the process. With the help of Duncan Idaho, Gurney Halleck, Thurfir Hawat, and Lady Jessica, Paul's jihad stands a fighting chance.
Anyone who saw the movie version of Dune will recognize the characters on sight--Kyle McLaughlin's face figures prominently here. Working for Virgin, design team Cryo managed to capture the expansiveness of the original Frank Herbert novel while adding the urgency of the movie. Through a series of rapid window selections, you can visit any part of Dune in an ornithopter, prowl the royal palace, or order Fremen troops to attack, mine spice, or garden.
Even with only a standard Ad Lib card, Dune's soundtrack is nothing short of amazing. Haunting and always appropriate, the music provides the perfect counterpoint to the gorgeous beige-scale graphics and constant military, social, and economic threats you face. But you are the prophet, the rider of giant sandworms, and this is your private sandbox. Free Dune--it's a challenge, but one no game player should miss. DAVID SEARS
Virgin Games--$59.99 Reader Service Number 430
Other nominees: Crisis in the Kremlin, Spectrum HoloByte Reader Service Number 431 Global Effect, Electronic Arts Reader Service Number 432 Loom, LucasArts Games Reader Service Number 433 Monkey Island 2, LucasArts Games Reader Service Number 434 Planet's Edge, New World Computing Reader Service Number 435 Robin Hood, Sierra On-Line Reader Service Number 436 Star Trek: 25th Anniversary, Interplay Productions Reader Service Number 437 Gateway, Accolade Reader Service Number 438 Ultima Underworld, Electronic Arts Reader Service Number 439
Best Sports Game Links 386 Pro
With 256-color Super VGA graphics and features galore, this new version of Links offers breathtaking realism and remarkable control. The courses are reproduced with so much detail that wherever your ball comes down, it behaves exactly as it would on the real course. If the ball lands on a downhill slope, it'll run farther down the hill. Hit a paved pathway, and you'll get a gigantic bounce. The swing mechanics result in just the right degree of difficulty to make the game as challenging as real golf. Clicking too early or too late gives you a hook or slice and decreases the power of the stroke. You select which views you want in each of the screen's panels. I like the main golfer's-eye view in the left half of the screen, with quarter screens showing the aerial view of the course and the view from the green. The ball's flight and position show simultaneously on all three views. You can record an entire 18-hole round and send that file to a friend, who can load it into his game and play along-side you, or you can take your recording to the tournaments on GEnie and CompuServe. This game is a golfer's nirvana. RICHARD O. MANN
Access Software--$69.95 Reader Service Number 440
Other nominees: Earl Weaver Baseball II, Electronic Arts Reader Service Number 441 Hardball III, Accolade Reader Service Number 442 John Madden Football II, Electronic Arts Reader Service Number 443 Mike Ditka Ultimate Football, Accolade Reader Service Number 444
Best Children's Program Operation Neptune
Your mission: to recover the wreckage and solve the mystery of a secret space mission gone awry. Data canisters containing the logbook and observations of the crew on the space mission were spread throughout inhospitable undersea terrain when they were jettisoned back to earth from beyond the solar system. Once you've collected the canisters and broken their security codes, you not only will reveal the discoveries made by the scientists and astronauts but may also learn whether the toxins found at the crash site are linked to the lost canisters.
This ecologically correct scenario forms the backdrop for the educationally sound Operation Neptune, one of the most ambitious programs to emerge from The Learning Company.
Designed for kids 10 and up, Operation Neptune combines fast-paced action and great graphics presentation with well-grounded mathematical principles. The underwater environment is rendered in brilliant pastels in a sea of blue hues, and the animation is smooth and fun to watch. The result is a game that's as addictive as any videogame you're likely to buy. Try to keep its educational benefits a secret. You and your children will have so much fun playing it that you might not realize you're getting a refresher course in math. PETER SCISCO
The Learning Company--$59.95 Reader Service Number 445
Other nominees: Disney's Beauty and the Beast, Walt Disney Computer Software Reader Service Number 446 Ferngully Computerized Coloring Book, Intracorp Reader Service Number 447 Home Alone Computerized Coloring Book, Intracorp Reader Service Number 448 Just Grandma and Me, Broderbund Software Reader Service Number 449 Kid Works, Davidson and Associates Reader Service Number 450 Metrognomes Music, The Learning Company Reader Service Number 451
ROCK A DOODLE Computerized Coloring Book, Intracorp Reader Service Number 452 Time Riders in American History, The Learning Company Reader Service Number 453
Best Young Adult Program The Chessmaster 3000
For a superb chess program, you can't go wrong with the CD-ROM version of The Chessmaster 3000. It's ideal for anyone, from a novice who knows nothing about the game to a U.S. Chess Federation master. For the novice or young adult struggling to learn the game, there's a set of lessons on the rules of chess. The computer reads them to you while illustrating its points onscreen. Another tutorial teaches the finer points to novices who already know the rules. To help beginners during the play, it can shadow all legal moves when you pick up a piece or shade all pieces in jeopardy.
For the serious student of the game, there are 150 classic games from history. You can choose from 16 opponents, all with varying styles and skill levels. Or you can create a new player by adjusting seven characteristics to design a unique opponent.
While playing, you can ask the Chessmaster for advice at any time. He tells you vocally to wait a minute while he studies the situation. He then delivers his spoken (and written) advice, projecting four to six moves ahead on what will happen, explaining in plain English why he thinks it's a sound course of action.
If you love chess or would just like to learn it. The Chessmaster 3000 on CD-ROM is this year's top choice. RICHARD O. MANN
The Software Toolworks--$99.95 Reader Service Number 435
Other nominees: EcoQuest, Sierra On-Line Reader Service Number 454 Knowledge Adventure, Knowledge Adventure Reader Service Number 455 The Miracle Piano Teaching System, The Software Toolworks Reader Service Number 456 Orbits, Software Marketing Reader Service Number 457 Science Adventure, Knowledge Adventure Reader Service Number 458 The Secret Island of Dr. Quandary, MECC Reader Service Number 459 Sports Adventure, Knowledge Adventure Reader Service Number 460 Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? Deluxe CD-ROM, Broderbund Software Reader Service Number 461
Best Adult Program Mavis Beacon TeachesTyping! 2.0 Multimedia CD-ROM
Mavis Beacon has long been hailed as the best typing-teacher program. The Windows-based multimedia version on CD-ROM makes this winning program even better. It can be used to train you to type not only what you read but also what you hear. Software Toolworks has added digitized speech and digital audio music, recorded in stereo, with the quality and clarity of CD-ROM-based audio.
The CD-ROM version adds verbal dictation of ten prerecorded letters, with the ability to add your own dictation letters. You simply use a utility program, such as Windows' Sound Recorder, to create a WAVE format file to go with a matching text file of the same name. Stop, go, and rewind controls simulate a dictating machine or tape recorder. The help topic has 14 different voice-overs that let you read and listen to the help files. There's also a self-running spoken overview and demonstration of the program.
Multimedia Mavis adds Windows' task switching and built-in utilities, as well as the enhanced voice, sound, and music capacity of CD-ROM, to this critically acclaimed award-winning program. The latest incarnation of the best computer typing tutor is the best Mavis yet. ALFRED C. GIOVETTI
The Software Toolworks--$99.95 Reader Service Number 462
Other nominees: Chemistry Works, Software Marketing Reader Service Number 463 Doctor Schueler's Home Medical Advisor, Pixel Perfect Reader Service Number 464 Insight, Three-Sixty Reader Service Number 465 Mathematica 2.0 for Windows, Wolfram Research Reader Service Number 466 Science Adventure, Knowledge Adventure Reader Service Number 458 Time Treks, Earthquest Reader Service Number 467
Best Reference Program Compton's MultiMedia Encyclopedia, Windows Edition
What has 9 million words in 32,000 articles; 15,000 images, maps, and graphs; 60 minutes of sound, music, and speech; 45 animation sequences; 5000 charts and diagrams; and the complete Webster's Intermediate Dictionary?
It's Compton's MultiMedia Encyclopedia on CD-ROM. The DOS CD-ROM version won a COMPUTE Choice Award two years ago. But as good as the DOS version is, the Windows version is significantly better. While both offer a screen resolution of 640 x 480, the Windows version can have as many as 256 colors instead of just 16 (the DOS version has to switch to 320 x 200 in order to show its photos in 256 colors).
With the Windows version, you can have an article, a high-resolution picture, an animated sequence, and music--all going at the same time. The DOS version contains all of these elements, but it has to stop and switch from one to another.
Is a CD-ROM encyclopedia as good as a printed one? It certainly is a lot less expensive, especially when included in a CD-ROM drive bundle. And while you lose the higher-resolution pictures and immediacy of the printed page, you gain the ability to search on a grand scale--in addition to the music, speeches, sounds, and animation. It's not a bad trade-off--especially when you consider that this 26-volume encyclopedia is considerably smaller in physical size than a paperback novel. DAVID ENGLISH
Compton's NewMedia--$695 ($595 for the DOS version) Reader Service Number 468
Other nominees: Cinemania, Microsoft Reader Service Number 469 Library of the Future 4.0, World Library Reader Service Number 330 Microsoft Bookshelf, Microsoft Reader Service Number 331 Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition, Oxford University Press Reader Service Number 332 The Presidents: It All Started with George, National Geographic Society Reader Service Number 333 The Software Toolworks World Atlas, The Software Toolworks Reader Service Number 334
Special Technology Awards Local Bus PCMCIA Standard
Far from a year of stagnation, 1992 saw a number of new technologies appear and begin to be adopted. Two stand out, however, because they will quickly impact the portable and home computer user. Both are bus technologies, offering faster and more convenient access to periphals by the system. Since the creation of the first personal computer, bus architecture has been a subject of much controversy both among users and among manufacturers. Selection of a bus standard could determine whether the overall design succeeded in the marketplace.
The local bus is a technology that allows the CPU of a computer to interact with peripherals at its full clock speed rather than the relatively slow speed of the expansion bus. This technology brings new power and speed to video--at first. Any peripheral device could be placed on the local bus, but since video suffers most of all peripherals from the slow speed of the ISA expansion bus, it's the first application of the local bus. A standard has been set by VESA, and an additional local-bus standard may emerge from Intel by the time this sees print. Be cautious of hardware with nonstandard local-bus architecture, as it is more likely to be unsupported in the future.
PCMCIA is actually a bus standard established for tiny computers--lap-tops, hand-helds, and others--that bodes well for desktop computers. There is no reason you shouldn't have one or more PCMCIA slots in your next computer, regardless of its size. The first application of this standard will be memory enhancement, but soon after, it should find application in small peripherals (such as pocket modems, diagnostic tools, and mass storage) and software distribution.
To find out more about the local bus and PCMCIA, turn to this month's feature "Emerging Technologies."