Looking for PCs that will help you win back some desktop real estate? Here are some of the latest machines designed to do just that.
Corporate customers looking for space-saving PCs these days are blessed with a wide variety of options to choose from. Slimline cases and “all-in-one” formats are growing in number, and space-saving TFT displays are dropping in price as their numbers grow.
Enterprises are focusing on space issues for a number of reasons. More efficient use of office space is a topic that is on the minds of many in these tough economic times. Then there are organisations that have in-house training facilities as well as secondary schools or universities for whom cramming a lot of workstations into a limited space is a top priority.
The one drawback to going slim with your desktops is price—in choosing these designs, you will be paying a slight premium. For the same price you´d pay for a slimline design with TFT display, you could buy a more feature-packed PC, and it would offer greater flexibility and expandability. Slimline PCs and all-in-ones just can´t fit as many expansion slots as standard PC designs, and usually integrate things like sound, video, modem, and LAN on the motherboard. (Though this saves space and may reduce the overall cost slightly, it means the customer is stuck with those components.)
And space-saving PC cases tend to be slightly more expensive because they aren´t manufactured in huge volumes like standard midi tower cases, for example.
TFT displays are also a major draw for organisations looking to save space. Not only do they cut back on the amount of desk real estate required, they´re also very light, they consume less power than a standard CRT, and emit less electromagnetic radiation, making them even more appealing.
Compared to a standard PC, we estimate that you will be paying an extra AU$500 to AU$700 for a space-saving PC (the TFT accounts for the majority of this).
The use of riser boards and low-profile cards that has enabled the design of low-profile, cost-effective systems is all part of the ATX form factor. Here´s a closer look at the available space-saving form factors and at some of the other components specific to these designs.
ATX is an industry-wide specification for desktop motherboards. The standard includes space for more full-length add-in cards and typically six to eight expansion slots. Double-height apertures are also provided at the rear of the chassis to allow further I/O arrangements.
The MicroATX case has a smaller footprint and fewer expansion slots—typically three or four. MicroATX cases require special MicroATX motherboards. These motherboards, however, are designed to also fit inside a regular ATX case.
NLX is specifically intended for use with low-profile PCs. NLX systems use a riser board that sits vertically in the case and is connected directly to the power supply. Each of its expansion cards connect directly to this riser board, as well as the HDD and FDD connectors.
FlexATX is known as a very small form factor (SFF) and most of these cases require specially designed motherboards. As a result, most of them come with motherboards pre-installed. The Emagen system we received is a prime example of this type of form factor.
Low-profile cards make it possible to design smaller desktops by defining shorter-height adaptor cards that offer the same attributes as full-height PCI and AGP cards. Low-profile cards also share the same electrical characteristics and software drivers as standard expansion cards.
Most of the machines we tested featured Intel´s P4 processor. Speeds ranged from 2.0GHz to 2.53GHz. We also had a look at an AMD Athlon XP 2000+ machine and the new Apple iMac, which features a 700MHz G4 Power PC processor.
Generally speaking, all were fast and would be able to run everyday office applications without any problems. In fact, in some cases, the top-end processors seemed to be a bit of overkill. Depending on your specific needs, you could possibly get away with an Intel Celeron-based machine.
All the machines bar the Apple iMac shipped with DDR-RAM. The Apple featured SD-RAM, which is theoretically the slower of the two. All the machines came with 256MB of RAM, which is what we would consider to be the minimum for new PCs.
Your graphics subsystem can dramatically increase the overall performance of your PC. Most of the machines we tested featured on-board graphics. This arrangement generally works extremely well in 2D but performance is often lacking in 3D. However, we don´t feel a 3D card would be a requirement in most corporate situations.
We are seeing more and more PCs sport additional USB ports and fewer legacy ports. FireWire ports also seemed to be popular with the mix of PCs that we looked at, but it´s hardly necessary in a corporate PC.
Central management software
There are many software suites that vendors provide that can help you manage your PCs and software images from a central location.
You could initiate all sorts of servicing like the upgrade of hardware components and software applications.
Management software can also keep an eye on what versions of software everyone is using. Software upgrades can also be implemented from a central location. Users would only have to re-start their PCs for the changes to take place.
There are many levels of management that a customer can take advantage of—it all depends on budget and requirements. But it should be noted that these management systems are becoming ever more powerful and extremely more vital when it comes to managing hundreds of PCs.
Apple iMac G4 700
Apple´s new iMac is probably the most impressive machine that we have seen since the original iMac. It offers a space-saving design, an excellent mix of features, and happens also to be a beautiful looking machine.
The Apple iMac features an exceptional 15in LCD display. It was brighter and sharper than all the other displays and it was mounted on an adjustable neck. The neck is impressive in itself. It allowed us to effortlessly adjust the display´s height, depth, and angle.
The neck is connected to the base of the iMac, which is round and makes the iMac resemble, in many reviewers´ descriptions, a desk lamp. Inside we found Apple´s new G4 processor running at 700MHz with 256MB RAM, and a GeForce2 MX graphics accelerator with 32MB of video memory. The iMac also features a DVD-ROM/CD-RW burner that we felt might not really be necessary in a corporate environment.
At the back of the iMac are three USB ports (plus two on the keyboard) as well as two FireWire ports, 10/100 baseT Ethernet, 56K modem, and a Mini VGA port.
Beneath the base is an access cover that will provide you access to the single memory slot and AirPort (wireless) Card slot.
Apple has also re-modelled its standard USB keyboard and mouse to match the look of the new iMac. Apple was the only vendor to supply external speakers. They complement the rest of the machine quite well and are rated at 20 watts (10 watts per channel).
Unfortunately, we didn´t run any benchmarks on the iMac. With a Windows emulator running on the iMac we could have run all the same benchmarks that we ran on the Wintel machines. However the iMac would have been severely disadvantaged since it would have been running its native OS in the background as well as a second operating system in the foreground.
Upgrade potential is slightly limited but the design is way ahead of its time.
Excellent value for money.
Leading edge design.
Dell OptiPlex GX260
Editor's note: This product is no longer available. Please contact Dell at 1800 099 380 for more information.
The Dell was one of the four split systems that we tested. It uses a MicroATX motherboard and features an Intel Pentium 4 2.0GHz processor with 256MB of RAM, 20GB hard disk drive, and 32MB ATI Radeon 7500 AGP card. Like the Ipex Slim Office PC and Hallmark PC you can rest this PC either horizontally or vertically.
The Dell has a very impressive case which folds open like a bonnet and makes it easy for one to install and replace components. The Dell motherboard features a single PCI slot and AGP slot and can only accept half-size cards.
This PC has no shortage of USB ports—there are four at the back and a further two on the front. It also has all the standard old legacy connectors as well as 1000 Ethernet and an S-video out connector.
Like the Ipex, the Dell display didn´t have a swivel base. However being a light display meant it doesn´t take much effort to shift the display to the left or right.
On the performance side of things the Dell was only faster than the AMD-based Emagen system. It was mainly let down by its processor, as it was fitted with a fast hard disk and graphics card.
The Emagen Shuttle uses a FlexATX motherboard and isn´t too far away from looking like a perfect cube in shape. Inside the compact case is an AMD XP 2000+ processor with 256MB of DDR-RAM, 40GB hard disk drive, and on-board graphics.
The Emagen system doesn´t offer much in the way of expandability; it only features two PCI slots and there wasn´t an AGP slot. The Emagen system is packed with connectors however. It featured four USB and three FireWire ports, 10/ 100 Ethernet as well as PS/2, S-video, serial and audio connectors including SPDIF.
You could certainly get away with fewer connectors and do without the 40x12x48x CD-RW drive that was fitted to this PC.
The cooling mechanism is very impressive to say the least. The actual heat dissipation is handled by liquid filled heat pipes, which run from the aluminium heatsink up to a rear-mounted radiator. There iss also a large fan placed next to the radiator to keep it nice and cool.
The Samsung display was very good and the pick of all the external TFTs. On the performance side of things the Emagen system didn´t perform too badly. It was the slowest of all the machines but its score was still relatively high.
USB, FireWire, and legacy ports should you need them.
No AGP slot.
Well priced considering it comes with a CD-RW.
3-year onsite warranty (4 business hours).
Great design. Smallest of all the split systems.
IPEX Slim Office
The Ipex Slim Office PC features a slimline case that can sit either horizontally or vertically. As we mentioned previously, the Ipex and Xenon machines make use of the same Intel D845GRG motherboard. Its slimline case and MicroATX motherboard means it can only accept half-size PCI and AGP cards.
At the heart of the machine is an Intel Pentium 4 2.4GHz processor with 256MB of DDR-RAM and a 40GB hard disk drive. It also features a CD-ROM and floppy disk drive.
The Ipex display looks quite large because of its large bezel. The display has two speakers built in, which was nifty. It was also the only display besides the iMac display that you can swivel left or right. Picture quality on the other hand was pretty good.
The Ipex performed quite strongly in all our tests and ended up being second fastest overall behind the Xenon, which was equipped with a faster processor.
The Viewmaster Svelte system occupied the most room out of all the machines, however it was one of the least expensive machines. This PC uses a FlexATX motherboard. Gigabyte, who is the manufacturer of this board say it´s a FlexATX board, since it has Flex mounting holes. However, in our opinion, it doesn´t actually conform to the Flex specification; the actual board was bigger than it should be. This may cause problems where you may not be able to fit this motherboard in some cases, which are specifically designed to fit FlexATX motherboards.
The Svelte system features a fast Intel Pentium 4 2.4GHz processor with 256MB of DDR-RAM and a 40GB drive. Graphics is left up to the on-board Intel 82845G chip, which was a little on the slow side compared to the other offerings. We weren´t too concerned about this, however, since it managed to score what we felt was well above average. The Svelte was third fastest overall and slightly slower than the Ipex Slim Office PC, which was equipped with the same P4 2.4GHz processor.
The 15in TFT is made by Viewmaster, who makes good entry-level TFTs.
A pleasant surprise was the inclusion of a 22Mbps wireless LAN access point and card. A wireless set up is another good way of saving space.
The Svelte was the closest machine to what we asked for from all the vendors in terms of features. It didn´t come with a CD burner or any extra I/O ports or a 3D graphics card. This machine was a perfect example of a space saving corporate PC. The only thing we didn´t like was the actual case itself. It would have been nice if it was somewhat shorter in length.
Fast and inexpensive, wireless LAN access point included.
½ Good overall, large slimline case lets it down.
Xenon Metro 500
The Xenon Metro 500 was the only Wintel machine that offered an all-in-one solution. The Intel D845GRG MicroATX board sits on the back of the TFT and is the same motherboard that is also in the Ipex Slim Office PC.
The Intel motherboard features on-board graphics and at the heart of the machine was an Intel Pentium 4 2.53GHz processor. There are three PCI slots and an AGP slot available (which we feel is plenty); however, you have to remember this machine takes half-size cards.
The base of the unit houses the power-supply, speakers, CD-ROM drive, floppy disk and hard disk drive. Most of the connectors are located underneath the display, which is a little difficult to get to. You can´t turn the display right or left without moving the whole machine, which we thought was a little annoying. The picture quality on the other hand was very good.
The Metro 500 removes many of the cables that you would find with other PCs and will give your office a much tidier look. Xenon also shipped a wireless keyboard and mouse with this system.
The Metro 500 was also the fastest PC. It was no surprise to us since it featured the fastest processor and a fast hard drive and a reasonably fast graphics accelerator.
Cost 30%: Obviously, when buying PCs in volume, cost is a big part of the picture. Performance 20%: Processor speed as well as the amount of RAM and the graphics subsystem plays an important role in the overall performance of your PC. Support and Service 20%: Unless your organisation has a large tech department, you´ll want to be very sure of the basic support coverage, as well as the various service contracts on offer. Monitor 12%: Look at the overall display quality including evenness of illumination, clarity, and colours, and resolutions supported.
Workmanship and design 10%: Look at ergonomics, robustness, and durability as well as expandability.
Multimedia 6%: Look at the audio chip that´s been used as well as the sound quality and volume levels of any speakers. Look at how many options and the types of I/Os there are. Mouse and Keyboard 2%: Look for good feedback, support, and colour differentiation in your keyboard. With the mouse look at the general ergonomics as well as the button size, travel, and feedback. Sample Scenario Company: Watts Electric
This financial services company wants to get 40 new PCs to upgrade a variety of older models.
Approximate budget: Approx. $3000 per PC.
Requires: 40 new corporate PCs in as small a form factor as possible.
• At least 256MB of memory.
• At least 40GB hard drive.
Concerns: Multimedia features such as high-end graphics cards, speakers and DVD drives are considered a waste of money.
Best Solution:Apple iMac G4 700
The Apple iMac was quite easily the most space-saving and ergonomic computer that we tested and because we focused on space saving for this feature, the Apple gets the nod. It´s a pity we couldn´t directly compare its performance to a Wintel machine.
Of the Wintel machines we were most impressed with the Xenon Metro 500, for its performance and its all-in-one design. The price, however, takes it out of the running.
How we tested
We tested and evaluated each of the desktop systems based on the following criteria.
• Standard performance and compatibility benchmarks (see Benchmarks).
• Monitor display quality including evenness of illumination, clarity and colours, resolutions supported, and EMF.
• Audio including the audio chip used and sound quality, volume level, speaker/s location, I/O, and ease of use.
• Keyboard including key size, spacing, layout, travel, feedback, support, and color differentiation.
• Pointing device including the general ergonomics such as location, button size, travel and feedback, additional features, and functionality.
• Workmanship and design including ergonomics, robustness, and durability.
• System expandability including the number of PCI, AMR, CNR, and AGP slots that were available, I/O ports, upgradability of CPU, memory, and hard drive.
We also rated each of the machines in the areas of interoperability, futureproofing, return on investment, and service:
Interoperability: We looked at the number of USB connectors that were available also FireWire, legacy connectors, DVI, and S-Video connectors that may have also been available. Return on Investment: We looked at the overall cost and performance of the machine. Futureproofing: With futureproofing we were basically concerned about the expansion potential of each of the machines. We looked at the number of PCI slots that were available and the amount memory slots there were also available. Service: For the service rating we looked at the length of the warranty and how many years parts were covered for.
Benchmarks Business Winstone 2001 V1.0.2
Business Winstone is a system-level, application-based benchmark that measures a PC´s overall performance when running today´s top-selling Windows-based 32-bit applications on Windows 98 SE, Windows NT 4.0 (SP6 or later), Windows 2000, or Windows Me. Business Winstone doesn´t mimic what these packages do; it runs real applications through a series of scripted activities and uses the time a PC takes to complete those activities to produce its performance scores.
In addition to the office suites and browser tests that have been a Business Winstone staple for years, we´ve added tests for project management, e-mail, file compression, and anti-virus protection. The new application line-up reflects the fact that the work most users perform today encompasses much more than word processing and spreadsheets.
Content Creation Winstone 2002 V1.0
Content Creation Winstone is a system-level, application-based benchmark that measures a PC´s overall performance when running top, Windows-based, 32-bit, content creation applications on Windows 98, Windows NT 4.0 (SP6 or later), Windows 2000, or Windows Me.
WinBench 99 V2.0
WinBench 99 is a subsystem-level benchmark that measures the performance of a PC's graphics, disk and video subsystems in a Windows environment. WinBench 99's tests can run on Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows NT, Windows 2000 and Windows Me systems.
In this feature, the emphasis was on space-saving designs, and with that in mind, the Editors´ Choice simply must go to the iMac. Though we couldn´t directly compare the iMac´s performance to that of the Wintel machines, we felt that those organisations looking at this type of form factor would probably put performance a bit lower on their list of priorities.