JDR 33-MHz 486 Cache System. (microcomputer) (Hardware Review) (Evaluation)
by Mike Hudnall
If you're in the market for a 486DX/33 computer with quality components and support at a mail-order price, consider this JDR system. With 4MB RAM, a 210MB IDE hard drive, a 64K external cache, a Super VGA monitor, a mouse, and Windows 3.1 and DOS 5.0 preinstalled, it packs power and value.
One of the great things about the 486 microprocessor is that it zips Windows apps right along, something you'll notice and appreciate if, like me, you've found yourself staring at the Windows hourglass too much on a 386 system. This JDR system ran Ami Pro, Excel, and the other Windows apps I tried without a hiccup and without undue waiting for screen redraws. Because this is a DX system, it offers the built-in coprocessing capabilities of the microprocessor for those programs that take advantage of one.
Inside the system box, you'll find an AMI BIOS with shadow RAM and password protection. Two of the eight bus slots on the motherboard are occupied, leaving three 8-bit slots and three 16-bit slots available for expansion. The motherboard accommodates up to 32MB of RAM using the increasingly familiar (and easy-to-install) SIMMS, and, with the memory board fully populated, you can have a total of 64MB of RAM. Of the three' horizontal bays, one is occupied by a high-density 5 1/4-inch floppy drive, one contains the Conner hard drive, and one is available for another peripheral, such as a CD-ROM drive or a tape drive. The 3 1/2-inch high-density floppy drive mounts to the right of the bther bays.
Seven screws must be removed to get inside the box, more than I'm accustomed to. But it's a sturdy box, roomy enough for good ventilation and relatively easy access. I added a Creative Labs Sound Blaster Upgrade Kit and had to remove the vertically mounted drive to access the screw holes for the middle bay where I mounted the CD-ROM drive. That turned out to be easier than expected, though. While the working space between the bays and the power supply required some care and patience, the installation proved relatively easy.
This system comes standard with two serial ports, which allowed me to install the supplied three-button JDR serial mouse and a portable fax/modem. I found the mouse comfortable and responsive, the buttons just a tad more difficult to press than those on a Microsoft mouse. You also get a parallel port, a game port, and, of course, a port for the keyboard. JDR supplies a BTC 101-key enhanced keyboard with status lights for Num Lock, Caps Lock, and Scroll Lock. I would've preferred a slightly firmer action in the keyboard, but otherwise it was just fine.
Video has come to play an increasingly important role in computing comfort and satisfaction, and the JDR system delivers on both counts. Equipped with a 14-inch .28-mm dot-pitch JDR noninterlaced Super VGA monitor and a 16-bit Super VGA card capable of displaying 1024 x 768 graphics in 256 colors, this system is ready to handle today's demanding applications. While the card manufacturer's name doesn't appear in the documentation, the STB PowerGraph name appears on the labels for the drivers disks. I like the front controls for STB's monitor, and it performed well for me. A pronounced screen bounce proved to be the only disconcerting problem for me; it occurred when I switched between text and graphics modes.
According to PC Probe's microprocessor benchmark test, this computer performs as if it were a 110.82-MHz IBM AT. The disk benchmark test turned in a fast 15-ms random seek time and 3-ms track-to-track time, with a disk-to-memory data-transfer rate of 1031.33K per second.
In addition to the speed, power, and storage, this system offers one of the better internal speakers I've heard. It's clearer and louder than most, though you really should invest in one of today's inexpensive sound cards to fully appreciate your software.
JDR's system comes with concise guides to MS-DOS 5.0 and Microsoft Windows 3.1, as well as floppy copies of DOS (but not Windows). You'll also find disks with a mouse driver and utilities, video drivers and utilities, special Windows drivers, and a driver for EMS.
I found the JDR manual good on most counts: diagrams, descriptions, a glossary, and troubleshooting. For questions not answered in the manual, I found courteous and responsive help through JDR's tech support line (a toll-free number). The system comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee and a limited one-year warranty. Need accessories or peripheral upgrades? JDR has a catalog full of them, along with a lot of tips.
JDR has been around since 1979, and its experience selling quality components is evident in this solid system. I recommend it.