Acma 486SX/25. (microcomputer) (Hardware Review) (Evaluation)
by Anthony Moses
Impressive speed, storage, power, and graphic capabilities--that's what makes the Acma 486SX/25 a real muscle machine. While the configuration I tested is more expensive (by $1,000) than ACMA's standard 486SX, it also boasts a number of features that many people will find attractive.
If desk space is in short supply, you'll appreciate the small footprint of the system box--a modest 15 inches wide by 161/2 inches long. Still, Acma has managed to pack plenty of impressive goodies into this system.
The system comes standard with 4MB of RAM (expandable to 64MB), a reasonable amount for most of your computing needs, even in Windows. The hefty 240MB hard drive that came with this system offers twice the storage of the standard hard drive. With today's enormous apps, this drive gives me all the elbow room I need. Another upgrade for this muscle machine, the Promise SuperIDE caching hard drive controller (with 512K of cache RAM, expandable to 8.5MB), gives me lightning-fast performance.
To speed up graphics performance, Acma included another extra: a Diamond Stealth VRAM accelerated video adapter capable of resolutions of 1280 x 1024 with 16 colors, 1024 x 768 in 256 colors, 640 x 480 with 32,000 colors).
One of the current computing jokes making the rounds--"The magic of Windows: It turns a 486 into an XT"--doesn't apply here at all. Thanks to the Stealth video card, Windows operations are considerably accelerated, as are the majority of the complex graphics and animation displays currently available for the PC.
The 15-inch MAG MX15F noninterlaced SVGA monitor, yet another extra, provides significant sharpness and subtlety in graphics display, not only enhancing GIFs and gameplay, but also greatly reducing eyestrain in text-based operations. If you use Windows much, your eyes will appreciate this larger display.
For extra fast communications, Acma includes a Quickcom Spirit 9600-bps internal modem package. QModem 4.5 Lite communications software is also included.
The system box contains two high-density (1.2MB and 1.44MB) floppy disk drives. There's also the now standard enhanced keyboard, which I found quite satisfactory--quiet, firm, and fast.
The system comes already loaded with DOS 5.0 (set up to use high memory) and Microsoft Windows 3.1, the latter containing an on-line glossary of computer terms, courtesy of Acma.
While the unit I used didn't contain documentation for either DOS or Windows, Acma's support line assures me that documentation for both is routinely included with each system. The Acma 486SX/25 is certainly well-documented in every other area, from the Acma user's manual through individual manuals for the ISA-486 main board Stealth video card, KW-524H serial/parallel adapter, Spirit modem, and Promise caching controller. In addition to QModem, Acma includes software for the installation of the Stealth card, the disk controller, and Win-Rix-DCS, a graphics application for use with Windows.
Whether or not the Acma 486SX/25 has any significant weaknesses depends on what you intend to do with it. If a lot of your work involves number-crunching, you may decide that you really need a 486DX, which has a built-in math coprocessor. If you measure a machine chiefly by how far you can expand it, you'll find the Acma 486SX/25 to be moderately expandable. The motherboard comes with seven 16-bit expansion slots and one 32-bit slot designed to accommodate a memory board. However, since the unit I tried included the video card, the modem, the 1/O card, and the hard drive controller already in four of these slots, there were only three 16-bit slots available to be used for expansion.
The small footprint of the CPU, while taking up less desk space, also means that things are a bit crowded inside. Digging around in its guts may result in a rather high PUI (Profanity-Usage Index) for ham-handed technophobes like myself. The potential for internal drive addition is also a bit limited: The CPU contains three 5 1/4-inch drive bays and one 3 1/2-inch bay; three of these are occupied by the two floppy drives and the hard drive, so there's just one 5 1/4-inch bay available for a CD-ROM drive, a tape backup drive, or other add-on.
The configuration of the Acma 486SX/25 I tried differs from the standard configuration chiefly in that the latter has half as much hard drive space (120MB), a slightly smaller (14-inch) SVGA monitor with a lower resolution (1024 x 768), a standard SVGA card, a standard IDE controller instead of the caching controller, and no modem.
It also differs in the trifling matter of price--about $1,000 worth. The standard Acma 486SX/25 runs $1,495, while the unit sent for review checks in at $2,495 with the fun stuff added--but the fun stuff just might make the extra expense worthwhile.
With this much muscle available, you'd expect the Acma 486SX/25 to be a delight to play and work with--and it is.