Epson Equity 386SX Plus. (computer) (evaluation)
by Robert Bixby
I've enjoyed the benefits of a 386SX at the office for quite a while now, so when asked to take a look at the Epson EQUITY 386SX PLUS, I eagerly agreed.
The EQUITY 386SX PLUS features an Intel CPU operating at 16 MHz turbo speed and 8 MHz nonturbo. It has serial and parallel ports built in and a PS/2-compatible mouse port as well. No mouse was provided with the machine, however, so I operated it with a Logitech MouseMan for a while and then switched to a Summagraphics digitizing tablet plugged into the serial port.
You can order this machine with either a 1.44MB 3 1/2-inch or a 1.2MB 5 1/4-inch floppy drive. I use the 3 1/2-inch format almost exclusively, and it does appear to be very much an industry standard. But if you still have an abundance of 5 1/4-inc disks in your collection, it's nice to have a choice. A 40MB IDE hard drive comes standard. There are three internal drive bays, allowing you to customize the machine with a hard drive and two floppies or two hard drives and a single floppy.
This Epson offers you quick and easy access to the system box, thanks to a well-designed plastic case with a sturdy flip-top cover. Turn a knob, press two buttons on the back of the case, lift the top, and you'll find four expansion slots--three 16-bit and one 8-bit. Installing cards and extra memory won't have you fumbling about in a too small space. Expansive and comfortable, the keyboard sports keys that click--an unusual detail for a machine designed and marketed for discount and department store sale. Its VGA monitor provides bright, sharp color.
The starter machine comes with 2MB of RAM and can expand to 14MB on the motherboard. If you go with a memory card option instead, the ultimate capacity of the Epson EQUITY 386SX PLUS peaks at 16MB.
The VGA included with the base machine is flexible. Using bundled utilities, you can use up to 800 x 600, 16-color, and 132-column text mode.
Despite its built-in mouse port and video card, the EQUITY isn't too difficult to upgrade. To move up to Super VGA, for example, you merely disable the existing video board by pulling a jumper on the motherboard and then slip your new graphics card into a lost on the expansion bus. While this kind of integration is reliable and perfectly suited for the beginner, it does squander resources. For this reason, consider carefully whether you really want to purchase a fully integrated PC rather than a standard architecture PC--especially if you think you'll be expanding the system over a period of time.
For security, there's power-on option allowing you to require that a password be entered before anyone can use the computer after a cold start or a reset.
Despite some frustrating waits for technical support, when I did get through, they were always courteous and helpful.
The computer was a comfortable fit in a crowded office space--quiet, comfortable for typing, and visually attractive. Epson enjoys a longstanding reputation for solid, dependable computers and peripherals, and this machine would be a perfect first computer for a student or the head of a home office. If you have modest needs for a personal computer, you'll enjoy owning and operating the EQUITY. The test unit gave me no problems worth mentioning, and its finer points make it an amiable workmate for most situations.