by July 11, 2001 0 comments



Look no further, for we’ve covered almost every designer PC available in the country. There’s one for most needs–to save space on your desktop, to gel with the colors of your tastefully designed department store, or for your home

Besides desktops, mobile devices like notebooks, handhelds, and even back-end servers have caught on to the style wave. So it wouldn’t be surprising if you mistake a notebook computer for a leather portfolio, because that’s what it looks like, as we found when we reviewed the new ThinkPad TransNote from IBM. Or a trendy box, such as the Cobalt Qube (a server appliance running all network services like file sharing, Web, e-mail, ftp, and remote access) for a desktop. Coming to handhelds, they’re more than mere personal information managers. Today, a handheld can be used to do various network management tasks.

We checked out these devices for three things. One, we looked for the convenience offered in each design, and how it would benefit the end user. Two, we ripped them apart to see what has been compromised to get to the new designs. In the process, we noticed interesting facts about their designs. Then, of course, we checked their performance to see whether they were just stylish, or had substance. We hope our findings will help you decide the kind of computer that would suit your needs.

Here are some of the convenience elements offered by designer devices. 

Compact this compact that

Many computer designs are aimed at saving space. For this, various methods are adopted. For example, many designs have done away with the SMPS power supply, which is the bulkiest (and often the noisiest) element inside a computer. Instead, the computers are externally powered through elegant looking power adapters, similar to what notebooks use.

Another method is to allow a computer to be placed either vertically or flat on a table, enabling users to organize the space on their desktop. To achieve this, some have provided a separate pedestal for holding a computer upright, while others have small rubber stands.

To create such slim cabinets, most computers have sacrificed expandability to varying extents. The first casualty has been expansion bays. Barring a bay for a CD and floppy drive, all others have been eliminated. Some have even eliminated the floppy drive, providing it as a USB add-on. Most of the computers we looked at have integrated all essential components like video, audio, and networking, on the motherboard. This eliminates the need for extra PCI slots inside. Even if a PCI slot is available, some of them can’t take in normal-sized PCI cards as the cabinets are extra slim. Some of them offer special low-profile PCI cards, which are much shorter in height. Unfortunately, these are not easily
available.

Down with the Legacy

‘Legacy-free models’ seems to be the ‘in’ thing with most designer PCs today. This refers to models that do not have older components like a floppy drive, and have USB instead of older interfaces like the serial and parallel ports. With this the count of USB ports is growing from the older two to five or even seven per PC. So a keyboard, mouse, or even a floppy drive, are all connected via USB. Some vendors also provide legacy models that offer both the older kinds of ports as well as two USB ports. These might be a good option for those who have older devices that require these ports. 

Convenience

Sometimes small features can make a big difference in enhancing a system’s ease of use. For instance, with USB becoming popular, many vendors have begun to place some USB ports on the front panel of their PCs, making it very convenient to plug in and pull out devices. Some are even placing the mic and headphone jacks on the front panel.

Shortcut-filled keyboards are another part of the plan. For instance, the Vintron PC we checked out came with a keyboard with 133 keys (remember the old workhorse 101 key keyboard). These include audio controls to start, stop, fast forward, and control the volume. It also includes buttons for cut, copy, paste, and keys for power, sleep and wake.

Appliance servers

Appliance servers is a new and growing segment. This one is becoming popular because the basic network requirements of every company, small or large, have increased. Every company needs at least a file server for sharing files, a Web server for their website or Intranet site, mail server for e-mail, and a proxy server and firewall for Internet access. To set up each of these components requires time to be spent on planning, special skills, and cost. Each one may be on a different machine, and together they could end up costing quite a package, not counting the clutter.

Appliance servers are aimed at reducing this clutter and cost. They eliminate the hassles of setting up the software components separately. Everything is preinstalled and configurable through a Web browser. All you have to do is plug one into your network, fire up a Web browser on any client, and configure the server according to your network. 
Appliance servers are available for different target markets, from small and medium businesses that need a server to provide basic services like proxy and mail download to servers that can host multiple websites.

Performance

Design and convenience aside, you’d want the stylish computer you buy to also do some useful work. To check this, we tested all PCs for two types of loads: regular productivity applications and graphics applications. For this, we ran Business Winstone 2001 and Content Creation Winstone 2001. Both these benchmarks work in pretty much the same way, that is by running applications on the system and coming out with an overall score, which reflects how well these applications ran on the system. The difference is that while the former runs business applications such as MS Office and Netscape Navigator, the latter runs commonly used graphics application such as Dreamweaver, Director, and Photoshop.

The scores reflect the underlying configurations of various PCs. For instance, an interesting thing we noticed from the test results is that despite having PIII processors inside, some of the computers scored low due to the type of motherboard they used, or the amount of RAM.

To know more about the individual design and convenience elements of each computer, and how they performed, read the pages that follow. You may just find your dream machine right here. 

Anil Chopra

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