Issue #196, August 11, 1999  

Boys And Their Toys: Size Counts

By Stephen Lawton

When it comes to boys and their toys, those "faster, bigger, better" and "size counts" arguments are generally about cars. But from where I sit, those discussions are more appropriate for systems, storage, peripherals and all of those other components that make up the day-to-day life of a technology "pundit." Yes, cars fit the bill, but for today's toys, I'm looking a little closer to home.
     I'm not using a 500MHz Pentium III system to write this story. No, I have to be content with toys I can afford - or those sent to me to test. But I am very selective in what I test. I choose real-world products - not betas of some niche gizmo that will save 2 percent of users 10 milliseconds a month. As my base platform, I use Compaq Computer Corp.'s 400MHz Pentium II Deskpro 6000. In truth, I could have picked a Pentium III, but that's not what most small businesses are using today. And I normally avoid time tests where the results are measured in times quicker than a blink of the eye.
     Some of these tools are pretty cool. Since I mention the Deskpro, let's talk about it first.This sturdy box comes configured as either a desktop or a minitower. Before the advent of the CD-ROM, this option wouldn't have been a big deal - you could put your floppy in either vertically or horizontally. But it is an issue today.If you have your CD-ROM drive arranged vertically and don't use a caddie, removing and inserting the disk can be problematic. This unit has one of the easiest-opening chassis I've seen since the pop-top hoods on the PC-XT and PC-AT clones. I'm not sure why, but that chassis style failed to survive the late 1980s and early 1990s, save for a niche product here and there. (Some side-opening boxes hit the market, but not from mainstream vendors.)
     The Compaq system comes standard with a workable but not particularly impressive 19-inch monitor. The monitor is not in the same class as the Iiyama Vision Master Pro, my other monitor, but at roughly $1,500 for this preconfigured system, it's well worth the money. If you must move up to a high-performance monitor such as Iiyama or another high-performance gaming or CAD/CAM monitor, you'll need to upgrade the ATI 3D Rage Pro video adapter. These displays require video cards matched for a complete video subsystem.
     One device that has become a must-have for me, despite its still-too-expensive An Epson Photo PC 750Z camera captured Yankee ace Roger Clemens warming upstreet price, is the megapixel digital camera. I've been testing the Epson PhotoPC 750Z, and despite the recent reduction of suggested street price from $799 to $699, it's still costly. But if you need a digital camera to create high-resolution images for a brochure or other hard-copy need, it's a fine choice. I took the photo of Jim Carr that runs with his Standards Watch column in MicroTimes with this camera, as well as the picture of my car that ran in a newspaper ad. (Photo of Yankees' Roger Clements, above, also was taken with the Epson PhotoPC 750.)
      If you have a small network handling mostly text, not large or complex graphics, you might want to consider a wireless approach. These networks can reduce the cost of laying new cable. Current standards top out at 2Mbps, but 11Mbps is right around the corner - albeit the corner of a very long block. Several very usable wireless approaches are available today, but don't expect "standard" to mean products are interoperable. If you start to buy from one vendor, expect a single-vendor installation. Multivendor connectivity still is a pipe dream in the real world.
     A nifty tool for most offices is the color printer. As prices for color inkjets drop to far below those of decent digital cameras, more users who are composing PowerPoint slides and other presentation graphics are attaching color inkjet printers directly to their systems. If you're planning to buy a dye sublimation presentation-class color printer, check out the Alps MD-5000. This unit can produce amazing prints. It's not fast, but it's the best color I've seen for the office. You can print on T-shirts or cups, and even print with gold or silver foil.
      Ah, to be able to connect this latest generation of printers to a networked print server. Unfortunately, most print servers today don't play well with less expensive printers that write directly to the hardware - in most cases, the parallel port. Intel's InBusiness Print Server ships with an extensive list of incompatible printers, including many popular models from Hewlett-Packard, Lexmark (IBM's former printer line), and other major vendors. If you look closely, however, you might find a gem among the lesser-known vendors. One, Digi International, is well-known in its corner of the enterprise world but not with entrepreneurs and IT managers at small to midsize companies. But the company deserves some attention. Its MIL-3310FTX supports these printers, which makes it valuable as an attached network device.The downside: At roughly $500, the server is more expensive than its less flexible, less useful counterparts.
     Another toy I love is my sound system.Not too many years ago, "bigger is better" applied particularly well to speakers. You couldn't get great sound unless you could hear the booming bass that shook the house. Today, that booming bass is still Kwong Wuest LLC's Benwin BW20000 flat-panel speakersimportant , but the speakers are getting smaller and smaller. I've tested many speakers over the years, some tinny, some flat-sounding, others simply dull. Benwin BW2000 flat-panel speakers (left) from Kwong Quest LLC in the City of Industry, CA, certainly fit the flat description, but not for the reasons you might think. These sleek speakers are just 7mm thick - thin enough to hang nicely on the wall and out of the way, while the subwoofer pumps out the bass. At $130, these are not speakers that you'd attach to your home theater, but they are more than adequate for most PC sound applications - gaming or just listening to Bach while you surf the Net.
     For a little more power, Kinyo Co. Inc.'s SW-6515 offers more substantive bass and crisper treble, but the trade-off is size. Unlike the Benwin BW2000, these are traditional speakers and a significantly larger subwoofer in a wood cabinet at a comparable price. But the sound is excellent. Several years ago, when I was technical editor for the now-defunct Digital News & Review, I was testing hardware in a makeshift lab while a winter storm raged. Several times during those tests, I lost power while the Bay Area fell victim to a rare electrical storm.

     Despite the outages, the tests continued unhindered. Why? I had the best insurance policy a computer user could want - an uninterruptable power supply (UPS) capable of keeping the hardware running for 15 minutes on battery power alone. Granted, 15 minutes isn't much, but many of the power outages companies experience are short, and 15 to 30 minutes should be enough for staff members to save their work and power down their systems. I had a UPS connected to the server and a smaller unit connected to the client. Both were from American Power Conversion. I could have duplicated these tests easily. But had I not had the UPSs connected and been writing to directory or working on a critical document when the power was lost, I could have experienced damage ranging from losing a document to losing a significant amount of data , if I was writing to directory at the time I've learned over the years that testing the latest and greatest toys can be a lot of fun, but the most useful toys were those that made my job easier or safer. A sound system is nice, but I'll never again have a desktop system or server that's not first plugged into a UPS.


American Power Conversion
Compaq Computer Corp.
Digi International
Epson America
Kniyo Co. Inc.
Yamaha Corp.
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