Carrera – Cygnus 500 review

one of the first Pentium III desktop machines
Photo of Carrera – Cygnus 500
£1,399 + VAT

You’ll have heard the hype, read the previews, seen the television adverts and probably got totally fed up with the entire business. Pentium III, I mean, Intel’s latest evolution of its chunky processor range. You’ve heard what it’s supposed to do, with its many new SIMD instructions, now here’s what it actually does, courtesy of this well-built PC from Carrera.

Carrera has used a purposeful-looking midi-tower case to house Intel’s new processor, using a SuperMicro motherboard and a healthy 128MB of PC-100 memory (occupying one of three DIMM slots). The case is a solid one, and inside considerable care has been taken to ensure that all cables are tidied neatly out of the way. In use, the machine can be quite loud, mainly because of the necessary CPU fan on the 500MHz Pentium III processor.

Instead of a conventional CDROM drive, Carrera has installed an LG electronics DVD-ROM drive in the Cygnus 500, along with an LS-120 drive that can read and write standard floppy disks as well as 120MB high-capacity diskettes. With all the processing power available, the company has decided that there’s no need for a hardware MPEG decoder to complement the DVD-ROM drive. So instead, a copy of Xing is installed to handle movie playback, and it works perfectly well, helped along by the powerful Hercules Dynamite TNT graphics card, which sits in the motherboard’s AGP slot and uses nVidia’s Riva TNT 2D/3D graphics chip, along with 16MB of SDRAM.

This is an all-purpose machine; it would be just as suited to a home gaming environment as to a office work as a number-crunching workstation. It has fast 2D and 3D graphics, 3D sound thanks to a VideoLogic SonicStorm Pro 3D sound card, DVD movie playback and remote access via the PCI 56Kbps modem. The Maxtor hard drive’s 13GB of storage is unlikely to be used up in a hurry, and should you need to add extra drives, there are two free 5.25-inch drive bays, one free external 3.5-inch bay and one free internal 3.5-inch bay. Other expansion cards can be added, too, with one free PCI, one free shared ISA/PCI and one free ISA slot free.

So much for the technical details, but is this machine any good? Yes: it’s well-built, has most of the components that an office or home user would require, and has plenty of upgrade potential. Carrera also supplies a decent 17-inch monitor, a well-written manual, a pre-installed version of Windows 98 and a copy of Lotus SmartSuite Millennium Edition. Even without the new processor, this would be a good package.

Company: Carrera

Contact: 020 8307 2800

This is a quick PC, but it's not hugely quicker than a 500MHz Pentium II-based machine would be, simply because there aren't yet the applications available to make use of the new processor's extra instructions. Arguably, then, if you don't yet need a Pentium III, don't buy one - hold onto your cash until there are Pentium III-optimised applications available. However, this is a very well-built system at a fair price. Tempting...