Just when you thought you'd equipped your office with the latest computer, along comes new processing technology that is faster, more powerful and better than ever. Intel, the biggest brand name in the CPU industry, has given birth to a second generation of CPUs, the Pentium II, whose dazzling velocity leaves rockets to Mars in the dust.
Intel's original Pentium technology became the chip of choice a few years ago. Later, its Matrox Millennium (MMX) technology, which facilitates multimedia applications, upped the ante. The newest release marries MMX and the original Pentium Pro.
Measured in megahertz (MHz), or 1 million cycles per second, Pentium II PCs are available with 233, 266 or 300 MHz processors that relegate 486 computers to the dump. Many Pentium IIs are also equipped with SD-RAM technology (see "Inside Scoop" on page 56), which allows you to expand RAM memory to as high as 384MB.
While our chart features the base (233 MHz) models, most
manufacturers offer a complete three-model lineup either in desktop
or upright (minitower) versions. Pentium IIs come standard with a
and a mouse. Be warned, however: Monitors and modems are not always included and can add more than $300 to your total bill.
Manufacturers that include monitors with Pentium IIs are shipping 17-inch monitors. CD-ROM drives also usually come standard, as do speakers, which are usually internal, and other multimedia features. Among NEC's Pentium II features is an optional built-in Iomega Zip Drive that backs up your data, with removable cartridges that can be taken on the road. All Pentium II PCs come standard with Windows 95 or NT 4.0 already installed.
These new computers offer greater efficiency, faster graphics, enhanced color, higher-quality multimedia functions and new features for small-business owners. One much-touted feature is an Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP) internal card, which uses the main system memory instead of the standard, crowded graphics controller PCI bus memory, thus speeding things up and freeing hard-drive space.
If you use multimedia applications, you'll find the new computers provide more realistic on-screen images and better-quality musical tones when using CDs. Some models have the capability to add voice mail, an answering machine, a speakerphone, distinctive ring, auto-answer and Caller ID.
How important is it to have a multimedia computer? Even if your business is mainly text-oriented and you think you have no need for multimedia applications, analysts predict that software will almost certainly be sold only on CDs in the future, requiring you to add a CD-ROM drive when you want to add new programs.
Jill Amadio is a writer in Newport Beach, California.
Time To Buy
Twice as fast as its predecessor, the Pentium II hit the market last year. Prices then were close to $3,000. Today, entry-level Pentium II PCs are much less expensive, with prices ranging from $1,739 to $2,500. Prices could go even lower now that competing processing chips, such as Advanced Micro Devices' K6 and Cyrix's 6x86MX, are on the market.
Buying a new computer isn't as simple as it was in the past--but the expanded options work in your favor. You can purchase one at your local computer store, a discount superstore, via mail order catalog, or even on the Web. A growing trend in computer sales is custom-designing, whereby purchasers specify exactly how they want their new computer to be configured, depending on their business's requirements. Gateway 2000 was one of the first direct-marketing companies for custom-made computers. Dell and Micron Electronics are also direct-from-the-manufacturer companies, as is NEC, whose NEC NOW program builds its Direction PCs to order.
"Small businesses are looking for a [computer] company to be their partner and provide not only products but advice and problem-solving," says Michael Wong of Mountain View, California-based NEC.
Before buying a Pentium II, try to get a hands-on demonstration of the graphics, sound and video components. These PCs are the wave of the future, especially for SOHOs that plan to build and expand their businesses. Time is a precious commodity, and office equipment that can work faster translates into greater productivity.
Accelerated Graphics Port: A port that enables the computer to bypass the graphics pathway inside the computer, where there's often a bottleneck, and access the main memory system along a dedicated route.
Energy Star: A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standard for energy efficiency.
Extended Data-Out (EDO) RAM: A chip that enhances memory speed by overlapping internal operations.
Input/output (I/O) port: The interface in a computer that sends data from one part of the PC to another.
Local area network (LAN): A network of computers that share data.
MMX: Technology that accelerates video, audio and graphics performance.
Multimedia: Sound, video, animation, text and pictures on a single computer. A sound card and speakers are required; multimedia computers incorporate these as standard equipment.
Parallel port: The outlet used for side-by-side data transmission; it connects two pieces of equipment, such as a computer and printer. Most printers are connected directly to a computer through the computer's parallel port.
Peripheral component interconnect (PCI) bus: A new standard for an electronic system that travels between the CPU and other parts of the computer. Intel's PCI bus is one of the fastest available.
Personal Computer Memory Card International Association (PCMCIA) card: Credit-card-sized accessories that enable computers to increase their capabilities. The cards fit into built-in bays or into PCMCIA cable connectors.
Serial port: A connection through which data is transmitted.
Synchronous Dynamic RAM (SD-RAM): Faster than the standard RAM, reducing memory access time because of a high bandwidth.
Synchronous Graphics RAM (SG-RAM): High-performance graphics memory.
Universal Serial Bus (USB) port: A standard, universal port that operates at two speeds. It eliminates the need for multiple connectors, reducing cable clutter, and allows devices to be attached or detached while the system is running.
Year 2000-compliant: A computer that's configured to automatically reset the date at the turn of the century.
See the Buyer's Guide Table for product features and prices.