Compaq Presario 425. (486-based microcomputer) (Hardware Review) (Evaluation)
by Tim Victor
Since Compaq is the most experienced maker of IBM-compatible personal computers, Compaq's PCs are a frequent choice for conservative buyers. Compaq's reputation for solid service and overall quality helps it maintain its hold on a large chunk of the corporate PC market, where these sturdy virtues are most honored. While the Presario 425 might have a nontraditional layout, combining the monitor and the CPU in a single case, it's cut from the same worsted-wool cloth as Compaq's higher-priced models. There isn't much excitement, but there's plenty of necessary functionality.
The all-in-one package includes the basics: a 14-inch color monitor, a 200MB hard disk, and a single 3 1/2-inch floppy drive. The compact case is great for busy desktops, and with just three cables to connect--power, keyboard, and mouse--setup couldn't get much easier. The system board resides in a rear-opening drawer underneath the integral monitor, allowing easy access for maintenance and upgrades. However, the hardware mounted on that board pushes the lower limits of acceptability. The 4MB of RAM included meets the standard for entry-level Windows boxes, but the 25-MHz 486SX processor is a step behind faster competitors; a 33-MHz CPU would have added some much-needed muscle at a minimal extra cost. The Cirrus Logic video chip accelerates Windows graphics nicely, but with only 512K of display memory, there's no support for full-color display modes beyond 256 colors.
Preinstalled software also helps Compaq Presario buyers get up to speed quickly. In addition to DOS 6 and Windows 3.1, there's PFS:-WindowWorks, a basic productivity package that incorporates word-processing, database, spreadsheet, and telecommunications functions. Other selections include Quicken personal accounting software, sign-up kits and modem software for Prodigy and America On-line, and Max Fax software for the Presario's built-in fax/data modem.
The internal modem supports data, fax, and voice communications, but with only a 2400-bps data rate, it's a mixed blessing. At this point, most online systems worth calling support at least 9600-bps connections, and with so many services charging by the hour, a faster modem can pay back the small price difference in just a few months.
With the modem's voice support, the Presario can also act as a telephone answering machine. At first glance, one might question that feature's value--how many computer buyers don't already have an answering machine? But if you leave a modem online to receive faxes, it'll grab every incoming call on the line, so a separate answering machine is useless. Max Fax can distinguish between incoming voice and fax calls, routing each to the appropriate software module, and that's a very useful feature. It also recognizes caller ID codes and allows multiple voice mail boxes with private access numbers, features not found on most answering machines.
The Presario can play audio recordings through an internal speaker via the modem, and it can record voice memos using a telephone handset as a microphone, but there's no Windows sound driver for this interface. It's just about impossible to use these audio functions to annotate business documents or to add some punch to education and entertainment software. That's a surprising omission from a company as thorough as Compaq.
With no multimedia features and no room inside the case for an internal CD-ROM drive, a tape backup unit, or a second floppy drive, the Presario doesn't offer the versatility that home computer buyers should be looking for. A lot of new games and entertainment titles also demand more processing power than the 25-MHz CPU has to offer. But the Presario 425 is a staid and solid performer for basic productivity tasks, and it's commendably simple to get up and running, making for a fine low-cost, low-hassle office system.
(Editor's note: At press-time, Compaq announced the Presario 433. This system sports a 33-MHz CPU and is otherwise identical to the Presario 425.)
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