Corporate PCs group test review

corporate desktop with management/security features
Photo of Corporate PCs group test
£899 + VAT

No corporate PC group test would be complete without a system from Big Blue and, since we strive for completeness, here it is. Built to the normal high quality we’ve come to expect from the IBM corporate factory, the NetVista A40p wouldn’t win any prizes in the looks department, but it has all the security and manageability features IT managers look for.

Highlight of the NetVista A40p is the inclusion of an embedded security sub-system. A daughtercard attached to the motherboard has a built-in 256-bit encrypted security chip, which is designed to work with a suite of other security elements, such as anti-virus software, security policy software, firewalls, and IPSEC (Internet Protocol Security). In addition to the security chip you get a case lock, provision for a U-Bolt and a chassis intrusion detector, and the motherboard also supports the Alert on LAN 2 specification.

But not everything is so well designed. A glaringly bad point appears when you try to upgrade the memory by using the second DIMM slot – you can’t. The slot is so close to the AGP slot that you have to remove the graphics card before the release catch on one side of the DIMM slot releases fully. Untidy, in an otherwise thoughtfully crafted system.

Only one of the two 5.25-inch bays is free, the other being occupied by the LG 48-speed CD-ROM drive, while both the 3.5-inch bays are occupied by the floppy drive and the 30GB Maxtor hard drive.

The IBM NetVista A40p, although not be the fastest system in this group, is well built with some excellent manageability and security features.

Despite the mouthful of a name, the Systemax P933RV is a well-built system with some good, sensible component choices. On opening the case, which unfortunately is not tool-free, the interior is tidily laid out with all components easily accessible.

At the heart of the unit is an Asus CULS2-C motherboard using an Intel 815EP chipset, a 933MHz Pentium III processor and 128MB of PC133MHz memory. Two remaining DIMM slots allow up to a maximum of 512MB of memory to be installed.

Simply hasn’t joined the headlong rush to use an Nvidia-based graphics controller in the Systemax P933RV, instead using a 16MB Matrox G450 Dual Head controller, with dual output for a second monitor, which could potentially be useful in an office for multi-screen presentations.

The 30GB Maxtor hard drive provides storage, is an ATA/100 unit and sits in one of the three 3.5-inch drive bays, another being occupied by the floppy drive while the third remains empty. Housed in one of the three 5.25-inch drive bays is the 16-speed DVD-ROM drive, leaving the other bays free for upgrades.

Two of the five PCI slots are occupied, by the 10/100 Ethernet adapter and by the Creative PCI 128 soundcard. There are four USB ports, two supplied directly from the motherboard and another two on a riser board, which is plenty for any system, and particularly for a corporate box like this.

Simply supplies the Systemax P933RV with Windows 2000 pre-installed and there’s also Lotus SmartSuite Millennium as part of the software bundle. A copy of McAfee Antivirus V5.13, along with a Recovery CD, is also supplied, but full manageability features are conspicuous by their absence.

The Simply Systemax P933RV Premier is a well-built and sensibly priced system with room for hardware upgrades should that be necessary, but not much in the way of manageability.

With six Corporate PCs, all using Intel’s 933MHz Pentium III and 128MB of RAM, which one (if any) stands out from the rest? It may seem a little unfair to judge three of the newcomers in this area of the market against three of the biggest and most established providers of corporate systems, but it shows that there are systems available for all sizes of business.

The Mesh PC has the best hardware specification of them all and represents excellent value for money, but – and in this market it’s a very big but – it doesn’t come with any form of manageability or security extras. But the Mesh isn’t alone in this; the Simply machine doesn’t include any of these features either. The Tiny unit at least includes a copy of LANDesk Client Manager. However, compared to the other three systems all offer very good value for money if such manageability is not an issue – which we feel it should be.

As you might expect, the systems from the three big players in this market – Dell, Hewlett Packard and IBM – have manageability and security as a major design point, but this comes at some cost.

The latest version of Dell’s Optiplex, the GX150SD, is the cheapest of the three since its price includes a monitor while the other two don’t have monitors included as standard (something that’s not unusual in the corporate sector, where boxes are changed more often than screens). It’s so well designed and amazingly quiet that it’s hard not to recommend it outright.

But if manageability and security are more of a factor than price and overall performance, then it is hard to separate the Hewlett Packard Vectra VL400 and the IBM NetVista A40p systems. The Vectra has the better manageability features – TopTools and the e-DiagTools – while the NetVista has the embedded security chip. Our choice? It’s too close to call. This one’s down to your personal security preference.

As an aside, one surprising thing in this round up was the trend towards faster graphics cards, a legacy of Nvidia’s domination in the graphics market. As the standard in other market sectors becomes based around 64MB cards, the lower rated cards such as the 32MB GeForce2 MX are getting cheaper and more abundant.

Gone are the days when the only option for a corporate system was to use the integrated, low-powered graphics chip. All six of the systems reviewed were equipped with the Intel 815 chipset with integrated graphics, but only one uses it, the rest relying on some form of plug-in graphics card. IT managers beware; the lunchtime gamers could be back in business.

One of the bigger players in the corporate marketplace, Hewlett Packard’s desktops tend to be well-built systems with specialised features that set them apart from the pack. The Vectra VL400 continues that trend and is the replacement model for the VEi7, VEi8, and VLi8 product lines.

The system reviewed was powered by a 933MHz Pentium III processor with 128MB of PC133 SDRAM. With the VL400 using all of the Intel 815E chipset’s integration potential, all five PCI slots and the AGP slot are free, and as well as the normal ports there are two USB ports. There are also two DIMM sockets, which support up to 512MB of SDRAM, and both the case and the expansion plates are tool-free.

Networking and graphics duties are carried out by the motherboard chipset, with support for 10/100 Ethernet and the 8MB graphic sub system – small yes, but perfectly formed for the corporate marketplace. In our review system, this graphics adapter was hooked up to a 17-inch (16.0-inch viewable) HP P700 monitor (costing extra), which delivers a nice clear image. Storage is provided by a 20GB Maxtor ATA/100 hard drive.

HP’s manageability features and support programs are first-rate; the Vectra VL400 comes with HP’s own Top Tools package and the new e-DiagTools feature. Also available on the VL400 line as an option is a Smart Card security package. The system reviewed came with Windows 2000 and Service Pack 1 pre-installed, a Recovery CD and a three-year, parts and labour on-site warranty.

The HP Vectra VL400 is a worthy successor to the Vectra model range it replaces, and has some excellent manageability software as standard.

It’s well over a year on from the Year 2000 issue and the bug that never was, and many corporate IT managers are now better placed to view the PC market in a much calmer environment, and open their budgets to new products.

The 133MHz-based platform is now firmly established – not, as was predicted, using the very expensive RAMBUS memory, but the much, much cheaper SDRAM memory. Big, fast hard drives are no longer the sole domain of servers. Thanks to ATA/100 they can be found in most corporate systems. Vendors, particularly the bigger players, have put more and more time and development into making the corporate PC more remotely manageable and, perhaps more importantly in this online world, far more secure than in the past.

Something that the bigger vendors can do, that the smaller ones struggle with, is to implement the standardisation of a product line, with some vendors guaranteeing that the system line won’t change for six months or more; all good news for the hassled IT manager with support costs and time to worry about.

So here’s a selection of the latest corporate machinery, some from big name companies, others from even bigger name companies. All are based on 933MHz Intel Pentium III processors, but there the similarities end.

Click the ‘NEXT’ link below to find out more.

The Optiplex line of corporate PCs has always had one of the best desktop cases around, and the GX150SD takes this one step forward with a new clamshell-style design. The new black case flips open with the release of latches on either side, and stays attached to the chassis. Another plus point is that all the major components – hard drive, floppy drive, CD-ROM, expansion plates and the power supply – are tool-free (you don’t need a screwdriver to remove them).

The review system came with a 933MHz Pentium III processor backed up by 128MB of SDRAM, which can be extended to 512MB through the two DIMM slots. The display is powered by a 16MB Nvidia TNT2 Pro 4x AGP adapter; not blisteringly fast nor state of the art, but above average for this sector of the market. Output from this drives a 17-inch Dell e770p monitor with a 16.0-inch viewable diagonal and a nice, stable image.

There are no free drive bays, but in reality in a corporate machine this isn’t much of an issue. The system we reviewed came with a 40GB Western Digital hard drive, a 16-speed slimline ‘notebook style’ DVD-ROM drive and a floppy disk drive. Some users may prefer a CD-RW drive in place of the DVD drive, but other than that, there’s little need for extra drives.

The motherboard, using Intel’s 815 chipset, provides two PCI slots (both free), two PS/2 ports, two serial ports, one parallel port, three audio ports and an RJ45 Ethernet port. In addition, there are four USB ports, two on the rear of the chassis, and two in the front fascia, along with a second headphone socket. The review system came with Windows 2000 preinstalled (Windows 98 or NT are options) and Dell’s OpenManage Client was the only installed software.

You can get a more powerful, or more expandable, PC than the Optiplex GX150SD, but its small footprint desktop size and tool-free components make it a tough system for IT managers to ignore.

Based around a Pentium 933MHz PIII, the Tiny Powerhouse Pro is housed in a stylish micro-tower case and is also available in desktop format. It’s a shame that you still need to attack the case with a screwdriver to remove the cover, especially as Tiny has taken time to make the expansion plates tool-free.

Removing the case cover reveals a Microstar 6334 motherboard with Intel’s integrated 815 chipset and two empty DIMM slots, the third being filled by a 128MB stick of PC133 SDRAM memory. Of the three PCI slots, two are empty while the third holds the Intel-based 10/100 Ethernet card.

For permanent storage, there’s a 30GB ATA/66 Fujitsu hard drive, which should be more than adequate for most corporate users, with the possible exception of the office MP3 pirate. The fitted optical drive is a Mitsumi 4x4x32-speed CD-RW, a much more useful item, in our humble opinions, than the normal CD or DVD-ROM unit.

Handling the graphics output is a 32MB 3D Power GeForce2 MX, 4x AGP card (rather overkill for a corporate system), connected to a 17-inch LG 795 Flatron monitor. Audio output is controlled by the Creative chip that’s integrated into the motherboard.

The Powerhouse Pro comes with Window 2000 pre-installed, along with a copy of Works Suite 2001 as the bundled application package. Tiny adds a copy of Intel’s LANDesk Client Manager manageability software too. The system comes with a one year on-site parts and labour warranty, with a guaranteed response time of 8 hours.

The Powerhouse Pro is well made and sensibly priced. Tiny doesn’t yet have much of a name in the corporate arena, but the inclusion of basic good quality components and software like LANDesk means that at least the company is heading in the right direction.

The Elite 933B from Mesh is a well-specified system, but it appears to be aimed more at the business market than the corporate market. There’s no manageability software, for example, and there are no security features beyond the normal ones; you get a case lock, the BIOS provides two levels of password protection, and both the floppy drive and the hard drive can be read/write protected.

What you do get is a 933MHz Pentium III backed by 128MB of memory, packed into a fairly large, tool-free mini-tower case with tool-free expansion plates and 5.25-inch drive bays. Opening the case reveals a tidy and clearly laid out interior, with all cabling neatly tied up and access to all the major components clear and unobstructed. There are only single 3.5-inch and 5.25-inch drive bays free, while two out of the five PCI slots remain free.

Mesh provides the Elite 933B with a 20GB Quantum Fireball ATA/100 hard disk for data storage, a 16-speed Pioneer DVD-ROM drive for optical storage, plus an Intel EtherExpress Pro/100 PCI network adapter and a 56kbps internal fax modem.

The rest of the hardware package is oriented more toward the business sector. There’s a TEAC 4-speed write, 4-speed rewrite and 32-speed read CD-RW drive and a 32MB Asus V7100 graphics card, the latter built around the Nvidia GeForce2 MX chip. This is fine for games, but a tad over the top for a corporate system. Despite the on-board sound chip, there is also a Creative 128 sound card fitted to the system.

Mesh supplies a three year warranty with the system, the first year of which is on-site, with years two and three being return to base.

Although seemingly over-specified for the corporate sector, the Elite 933B performs well and is also quite cheap in comparison with many other systems in this group test.

Company: Mesh

Contact: 020 8208 4720