by January 7, 1999 0 comments

There are four components that affect a PC’s
performance that you can change: RAM, hard disk, display card, and
processor. Changing any of these can alter the performance of your
machine, and each change comes at a different price. Some of the changes
may come at a prohibitively high cost and may not give you a significant
improvement in performance. Some changes, on the other hand, can bring
substantial improvements at a very low cost. And if you are not careful
enough, you may even end up paying more for less performance increase.

In these pages we will guide you through
the changes that you can make to get the best performance, in the
different brands we have tested. Based on the results, we have also drawn
up some important guidelines for you while purchasing any PC, not just the
brands tested here.

Is
32 MB RAM enough?

You will not be able to squeeze every ounce of performance from
your machine if you stick to 32 MB RAM. Gone are the days when
your machine seemed quick with
32
MB RAM. With better processors and heavier apps today, you need 64
MB.

We received some PCs with 32 MB RAM. When we upgraded them to
64 MB, there was a significant boost in performance. And the cost
of additional 32 MB RAM is only around Rs 2,700.

Increasing RAM to 128 MB did not give any improvement in
performance for normal business apps.

Business Winstone results for RAM tests

Note: Higher value is better.

Bottom line: You need 64 MB RAM. 32 MB doesn’t give full
performance. 128 MB doesn’t add to performance.

Performance improvement

For each machine tested, we
identified the slowest part. Here we recommend what changes can be made to
that part to get a performance boost, how much is the performance boost,
and how much does it cost.

For each PC, we located the bottlenecks by
analyzing the scores they got in the component-level benchmark, WinBench.
After identifying the slower components, we replaced them with faster
ones. As stated earlier, we looked at the processor, hard disk, RAM, and
video card only. We didn’t consider the impact of a change of the
motherboard, as that’s something very difficult to accomplish when
buying a branded machine.

Win NT or 95?

Most PCs ship with Win 95 or 98. But it is Win
NT that gives you better performance. The improvement can be as
high as 31 percent.

Win NT also has a higher degree of CPU
utilization than Win 9x. The percentage of CPU utilization more
than doubled in some cases, as compared to Win 95. The overall
performance improvement is worth the change.

Business Winstone results for performance test

Note: Higher value is better.

Bottom line: Win NT gives better
performance with business apps than Win 9x.

 
Which
hard disk?

The latest technology in IDE hard drives is the UltraATA/66
interface. This allows burst transfer rates of up to 66 MB/sec
compared to 33 MB/sec of the earlier UltraATA/33 interface. We
recommend that you buy a hard disk with this interface. Also,
ensure that your PC’s BIOS supports UltraATA/66. In our tests,
the 10 GB Western Digital Caviar 310000 (UltraATA/66) gave the
best transfer rates among all hard drives used in the competing
models.

And of course, a faster rpm drive also gives better
performance. Most hard drives today are 5,400 rpm.

 
AcerPower
4100 PIII 500 MHz

Bottleneck:
4.3 GB Seagate hard disk
Replacement: 10 GB Western
Digital Caviar 310000
Performance boost: 6%
Difference in cost: Rs 5,100

When we replaced the hard disk of the AcerPower, its
performance almost matched the top performer’s, the Compaq
Deskpro EP. And you don’t have to pay as much as the Deskpro to
have it. Not only that, you also get 6 GB additional hard disk
space, which makes it a good bargain.

 
Cerebra
Pentium II 350 MHz

For the Cerebra, we were able to identify two bottlenecks: the
CPU and the display card.

Bottleneck 1:
Pentium II 350 MHz processor
Replacement:
Pentium II 400 MHz
Performance
boost
:
6.5%
Difference
in cost
:
Rs 700

Thus, by paying just Rs 700 more, you get a significant
performance boost.

Bottleneck 2:
Intel i740 display card with 8 MB VRAM
Replacement:
Matrox MGA G200A with 8 MB VRAM
Boost in
performance
:
1.6%
Difference
in cost
:
Rs 3,600

A very high price to pay for negligible performance boost. Not
recommended for regular office work. But if you are an avid gamer,
well, wouldn’t you want to squeeze out the last ounce of gaming
performance!

 

Compaq
Deskpro EP P III 500 MHz

We tried to boost the Deskpro’s performance by trying out
various components. However, we could not achieve any significant
change. One such test included increasing the RAM to 128 MB. The
results of this too matched those for 64 MB. A faster processor
would probably make a difference…

In short, we loved the machine and, but for the steep price,
would have bought a few ourselves. Incidentally, when we first got
the machine, we were given a price of Rs 130,000. Subsequently,
Compaq gave us a price of just above Rs 100,000. Guess we should
wait for some more time!

 
HP
Brio BAx PII 400 MHz

Bottleneck:
Pentium II 400 MHz processor
Replacement:
Pentium III 500 MHz
Boost in
performance
:
12%
Difference
in cost
:
Rs 17,500

This is a very significant improvement indeed. However, the
price involved is too high. Current market dynamics dictate that
it may not be exactly the wisest decision to go in for the latest
processor always. Processor prices drop every quarter. So we
suggest that you wait for the price of the PIII to drop…

The BAx uses a Seagate hard disk that seems to be a special OEM
model for HP.

We replaced it with a Western Digital Caviar 310000. However,
there was no visible difference in performance.

 
VAT
2000 Celeron 366 MHz

The VAT also gives two avenues for improvement: the RAM and the
hard disk

Bottleneck 1:
32 MB RAM
Replacement:
64 MB
Performance
boost
:
10%
Difference
in cost
:
Rs 2,700

By now we have said enough about the need to have 64 MB RAM–a
ten percent improvement in performance for just Rs 2,700!

Bottleneck 2:
4.3 GB Seagate Medalist 4310 hard disk
Replacement:
10 GB Western
Digital 310000
Performance
boost
:
7.8%
Difference
in cost
:
Rs 5,100

The cost is worth the performance boost. And you get an
additional 6 GB of hard disk real estate in the bargain.

 

Vintron
Elixir 3000 PIII 450

One area of performance improvement would be the CPU. But as
seen with other similar models, the costs are prohibitive at this
point. However, we noticed that with this model, the CPU
utilization for disk I/O was very high, compared to the others.

 

 
Wipro
Super Genius 9000 PIII 450 MHz

The Genius 9000 performed almost as well as the Compaq EP. So
we were not very hopeful of significant improvements. However, we
identified two possible changes: the hard disk and the video card.

Bottleneck 1:
Pentium III 450 MHz processor
Replacement:
Pentium III 500 MHz
Performance
boost
:
4%
Difference
in cost
:
Rs 12,500

The 450 MHz processor, which is just a step behind 500 MHz, was
not too far behind in performance. An extra Rs 12,500 for a four
percent improvement is not advisable. Perhaps, Wipro has chosen
wisely to be a step behind Intel, and reap the price benefit.

Bottleneck 2:
Cirrus Logic 5465 display card with 4 MB VRAM
Replacement:
Matrox MGA
G200A with 8 MB VRAM
Performance
Boost
:
1.3%
Difference
in cost
:
Rs 4,700

Unless you plan to purchase a machine for graphics work, a
high-end graphics card is not worth putting money into.

 
Zenith
PC PIII 450 MHz

The Zenith presented us with two potential areas for
improvement: the RAM and the processor.

Bottleneck 1:
32 MB RAM
Replacement:
64 MB
Performance
boost
: 15%
Difference
in cost
:
Rs 2,700

This was the most significant improvement we could obtain in a
machine with a single replacement. And Rs 2,700 is a small price
to pay for this huge performance difference. With today’s memory
greedy apps, 32 MB is just not sufficient. 64 MB is definitely a
must.

Bottleneck 2:
Pentium III 450 MHz processor
Replacement:
Pentium III 500 MHz
Performance
boost
:
4.8%
Difference
in cost
:
Rs 12,500

This is similar to that obtained in the Wipro PC. It’s not
recommended that you go for this change now, at this price.

 
Did
you know…

  • That the latest processor is also the most expensive one?
    And it may not give you significant performance improvements
    over its predecessor (with 50 MHz less clock speed), for
    normal productivity apps. So go for the older one. For
    example, if PIII 500 is the latest, the PIII 450 offers you
    much better price-performance.
  • That Windows NT gives you much better performance than Windows
    95, even for common business applications?
  • That 64 MB RAM is best for today’s needs? Don’t go for
    anything more or anything less.
  • That you don’t need a high-end display card for running
    common business apps? A high-end card is very expensive unless
    you want to use it for high-end graphics apps. Again, at the
    higher end, gaming cards are different from the application
    cards.
  • For regular office use, a Celeron gives you the best
    price-performance ratio, while for high-end graphics work like
    CAD, a Pentium II/III is a good buy?
  • That the UltraATA/66 hard disks offer a significant
    performance boost over the older UltraATA/33 ones? But your BIOS
    should have support for UltraATA/66.
  • That this type of story has never been attempted before,
    anywhere?

 
Market
prices

Hard disks

disks Rs
Seagate Medalist 4310 4,900
Seagate Medalist 8455 7,500
Western Digital Caviar 310000 10,000
Display
cards
Intel i740 Power 3D AGP (8 MB
VRAM
2,400
Matrox MGA G200A AGP (8 MB
VRAM)
6,000
SiS 6326 AGP (4 MB VRAM) 1,300
Cirrus Logic GD5465 AGP (4 MB
VRAM)
1,300
Processors
Intel Pentium II 350 MHz 9,800
Intel Pentium II 400 MHz 10,500
Intel Pentium III 450 MHz 15,500
Intel Pentium III 500 MHz 28,000
Intel Celeron 366 MHz (Socket
370)
4,000
RAM
32 MB 100 MHz SDRAM 2,700
64 MB 100 MHz SDRAM 4,500
128 MB 100 MHz SDRAM 10,500

The prices for the components used in the analysis have been
provided by:

Classic Network and Computers O-41 West Patel Nagar,
New Delhi 110008. Tel: 11- 574760

Fortune Marketing 500 204 Eros Appartments, 56 Nehru Place,
New Delhi 110019.
Tel: 11-6427627, 6472492

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