Compaq Prolinea 4/50. (Compaq Computer microcomputer) (Hardware Review) (Evaluation)
by Bruce M. Bowden
Compaq's Prolinea 4/50 is a fast and capable 486DX2. Whether you have an extensive database to search, a demanding modern game to run, or Windows applications that you want to come up quickly and smoothly, this could be your machine.
The microprocessor zips along at 50 MHz in turbo mode, and the bus is of the PC/AT ISA variety. The standard configuration for this model - as well as for the other Prolinea 486 models - consists of 4MB of RAM (expandable to 32MB); one 3 1/2-inch high-density floppy drive; a 1024 x 768, 256-color graphics controller; two additional drive bays for a hard drive and 5 1/4-inch floppy drive; one parallel port; two serial ports; a pointing-device interface; three 16-bit ISA expansion slots; and DOS 5 preinstalled. The Prolinea Windows+ models also have Windows 3.1 and PFS: WindowWorks preinstalled, as well as a Compaq mouse and a 5 1/4-inch floppy drive.
In addition to these standard features, the unit l tried came equipped with a 240MB hard drive, 5120K of extended memory, a 101-key keyboard, and a Compaq SVGA color monitor. Among the nice security features included on all of these models is power-on password protection and keyboard password protection. The unit's easy to access and expand, especially when inserting additional RAM (except that the hard drive must first be removed). There are four memory expansion sockets, which accept snap-in modules for ease of insertion. Case dimensions are about 16 inches wide, 15 inches deep, and 4 inches high, so good design is evident in the way limited space is handled here.
Upon first running the 4/50, I found that there was a little adjustment necessary for the SVGA display. The first thing I noticed was that text mode was in monochrome; I had to experiment with some paint programs to find out which video-board specification worked best for high-resolution graphics displays. One that did was a Sigma VESA driver, and a brief online search located one for nearly all my graphics utilities. Windows and Mathematica were still showing graphics in monochrome, as was text mode. More on-line searching revealed the source of the problem. Conversation in the message bases indicated that some Compaq Prolinea systems using Compaq SVGA color monitors come up in monochrome mode rather than color mode. More searching turned up a device driver that prevents other drivers from detecting a monochrome display. At that point, I was down to serious testing of the system with full color and full resolution on all counts.
Although Windows and DOS 5 came preinstalled, I found that there was a problem after reformatting the hard drive for a UNIX partition. Fully expecting to replace Windows and DOS upon completion, I was shocked to discover that neither was packaged with the computer. That's bad - under other circumstances, the drive head could get moved during shipment and damage the installed software. I can't emphasize enough the importance of having the floppy disks around for backup and system modification.
To test speed and smoothness of operation, I ran several power-intensive programs on the 4/50, a Data Stor 486SX/25, and a 386DX/33 These included Windows applications such as MacDraft and Hollywood - which are heavily graphics and processing oriented - and DOS applications like Dance of the Planets, Color Works, Derive, Lemmings 2, X-Wing, and DeluxePaint lle - also heavily processing oriented. This test wasn't entirely scientific because Dance of the Planets runs best with a math coprocessor and Mathematica and Macsyma require one. With all appropriate tested software, the 4/50 visibly outpaced the others.
In order to obtain data not biased by my own interpretation, I also ran the Norton Utilities Sl program and looked at the benchmark tests. The benchmarks confirmed significant speed differences between the three computers in both file access and processing. With an IBM PC XT 8088 running at 4.77 MHz as a base value of 1 in all indexes, the 4/50 has a computing index (CPU speed) value of 95, a disk speed index approximated at 8.2, and an overall performance index value of 66. Compare this with the Data Stor 486SX/25 values of, respectively, 54, 7.5, and 38.5, and the 386DX/33 values of 34.8, 7, and 25.5. (One note about the disk speed, however: The benchmark test reported finding an advanced disk controller, further advising that the disk controller had blocked the drive-seek timing test. Many advanced controllers will ignore attempts to move the drive heads unless data's actually being transferred.)
Standard customer support is a one-year on-site limited warranty with free technical support to callers within North America.
This seems a solid and capable computer - one I wouldn't mind having for my own use.