REVIEWS

Bottom-line ratings for NEXTSTEP PCs

the first NeXTWORLD Box Scores

by Dan Lavin and M Carling

NeXTWORLD's rating system for Intel-based hardware incorporates the quantitative performance benchmarks we introduced last issue with qualitative evaluations of system design, NEXTSTEP orientation, support, and value. Each month, we will provide capsule Box Score reviews of significant Intel-based computers that are configured to run NEXTSTEP.

The cube rating is derived from a formula that multiplies a score in each category by the weighting for that category. This score is parallel to our normal rating system: three cubes for a good, solid machine that does the job, up to five for spectacular, best-of-breed hardware, and down to one for a poor product or zero for unacceptable defects.

A NeXTstation Turbo Color (NsTC), which had a slower processor and higher price than equivalent Intel systems but excelled in overall integration, would rate about 3.5 cubes. Note that the ratings are not static: As Intel-based hardware standards evolve and pricing changes, we will update the system to reflect market conditions.

Performance is rated on a sliding scale depending on the class of ma-chine. Developer systems, which are heavily loaded with memory and disk, must run faster than user systems to receive an equivalent score. There will be a third scale to account for configurations specific to notebook computers. Therefore, our ratings should not be used to compare machines across classes.

Here are the factors we consider in each rating category:

Performance. Our MIPS and disk benchmarks measure the raw performance of the machine.

Speed in real-world applications is measured by the Webster and Compile benchmarks, as appropriate for the machine we are reviewing.

Video. The speed and quality of the graphics subsystem are extremely important in a NEXTSTEP system. To measure speed, we include our DRAM-to-VRAM (DV) and VRAM-to-VRAM (VV) benchmarks here. The potential quality of the graphics are rated by resolution and maximum VRAM. The actual quality of the screen image is judged on color, crispness, and overall stability.

System design. Intel machines are often viewed as commodities, but myriad component choices and engineering decisions seriously impact performance and productivity. We look at the quality of the keyboard and mouse, the overall quality of engineering and construction, and the choice of bus and hard drive. Other categories include processor upgradability, ease of service, footprint, and noise level.

NEXTSTEP orientation. Though legions of Intel-based machines will work with NEXTSTEP, we believe that users are better off with a NeXT-savvy vendor that can answer their questions and guarantee full compatibility. This category also measures ease of NEXTSTEP installation.

Support. Factors include warranty, documentation, guarantee, and availability of phone support.

Value. This subjective factor involves a judgment of the performance, quality, and components of a system, related to its price.


Box Score Developer

Data General Dasher 486 DX2/66 LE2

4 Cubes

$7500

Configuration
DX2/66; 36MB RAM; 500MB SCSI drive; 1024-by-768 16-bit ATI graphics; 4 EISA, 2 ISA, 1 LB slots

NeXTWORLD benchmarks
			   Data General		NsTC
MIPS			40		23
V-V			0.44		1.00
D-V			0.70		1.00
Disk			1800		1600
Webster			46		46
Compile			44		65	

Performance
High performance due to secondary cache, EISA, and local bus.

Video
Crisp and clear, but the present ATI chip set has a bug that brings down its score. High-quality monitor is only 15 inches.

System design
Big, but lots of slots. Built-in CD-ROM. Disassembly requires no tools.

NEXTSTEP orientation
Data General targets NeXT market. OS preinstalled with full docs; tech support person hadn't heard of NEXT-STEP.

Support
90-day warranty; many service and support options; average system documentation; no money-back guarantee.

Value
Powerful machine at reasonable price. Good value, especially if used together with DG servers.

Data General, 3400 Computer Dr., Westboro, MA 01580.

800/343-8842 (U.S.); 33/1/40.94.62.82 (Europe); 65/258/99.77 (Asia/Pacific).


Box Score User

Epson NX User System

3 Cubes

$4949

Configuration DX2/66; 20MB RAM; 200MB IDE drive; 1120-by-832 16-bit Wingine graphics; 4 ISA slots

NeXTWORLD benchmarks
			Epson		NsTC
MIPS		26		23
V-V		1.5		1.00
D-V		0.94		1.00
Disk		1070		1600
Webster		74		46
Performance
Disappointing performance due to lack of CPU cache and limited RAM and disk.

Video
Wingine delivers outstanding video speed with excellent color at native NEXTSTEP resolution. Noticeable screen banding.

System design
Lack of SCSI is significant fault but small footprint and solid engineering are pluses.
NEXTSTEP orientation
Epson targets NeXT market; OS preinstalled with full docs, but upgrade re-quires add-on SCSI.

Support
90-day warranty; toll-free line; average documentation; no money-back guarantee.

Value
Superior video is offset by low horsepower. Price is about as expected for name brand in this configuration.

Epson America, 20770 Madrona Ave., Torrance, CA 90503.

310/782-0770, 800/922-8911.