Magnavox Headstart 386SX-20CD. (computer system) (Evaluation)
by Jill Champion
The decision about which computer to purchase often boils down to what's included in the package. And this package--the Magnavox Headstart 386SX-20CD with a 3-1/2-inch floppy drive, a CD-ROM player, and a Microsoft-compatible mouse--has some pretty neat stuff. It's bundled with the easy-to-use graphical interface GeoWorks Ensemble, Lotus 1-2-3 Version 2.2, and plenty of CD-ROM software for the whole family.
You can use the system almost straight out of the box. Since the setup guide is a mere seven diagramed pages, you can pretty much unwrap the computer, put it on your desk, and plug it in. The slimline case is well laid out and should fit easily even on small tables.
The Magnavox has an all-in-one motherboard, which means that all of your peripheral ports are built into the motherboard. The downside to this is that if one of the ports goes bad, you'll have to replace the whole motherboard. Also, since a CD-ROM drive is included with this system, you have only three expansion slots in the back. However, this kind of system tends to cost less than one with the traditional add-on type of motherboard--a plus if you're on a strict budget.
The Maxtor 80MB IDE hard drive should give most home users all the storage space they'll need for quite a while. Two megabytes of RAM are standard. One possible drawback, however, is how the Magnavox handles memory expansion. While the computer can take up to 16MB of RAM, you can install only an additional 8MB on board by adding SIMMs. You'll have to buy an expansion card for additional memory above that, which means using up another slot. If memory expansion is a priority on your list when you're computer shopping, you probably should consider a more expandable machine.
The monitor you get with this system is a Super VGA with 800 x 600 resolution and 16 colors. Again, because the video-adapter card is built in, you're limited in your ability to upgrade. If you disable the on-board video controller, you'll have to use yet another expansion slot in the back of the computer.
Despite its expansion limitations, this Magnavox becomes a very friendly machine when bundled with GeoWorks Ensemble. Ensemble--similar to Windows 3.0 in that it's an icon-oriented, point-and-click interface--provides you with an easy means of accessing your other applications, along with some convenient desktop tools and a couple of games. One nice aspect of Ensemble is that a simple Ctrl-Esc allows you to listen to your audio CDs on the CD-ROM player (with the included headphones) while working in another application. When not listening to music, you'll want to take advantage of the software included for the CD-ROM player.
Supporting a variety of the most popular word processors, Microsoft Bookshelf offers up a nice collection of writing resources: The American Heritage Dictionary, Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, The Chicago Manual of Style, and more. The program loads in as memory resident, so it's easily accessed from your favorite word processor. Unfortunately, GeoWrite, the word processor included with Ensemble, doesn't support this part of Bookshelf; in order to use the memory-resident feature, you'll have to use another word processor.
The New Grolier Electronic Encyclopedia contains all 21 volumes of the current Academic American Encyclopedia. This easy-to-use program makes looking up topics a snap, and the graphics are superb. An IBM-compatible version is also included on the CD-setup disk.
For learning world geography, PC Globe PAK is a gold mine. The extensive databases of PC Globe and PC USA are definitely this software's shining stars, with information on more than 190 countries ranging from population statistics to tourist attractions. You can even listen to 177 national anthems from around the world. GeoJigsaw, also included, is an onscreen geography puzzle.
For children, The Manhole is an easy-to-use audiovisual fantasy exploration program. Point the mouse and click, and you're headed in a new direction. Every cubbyhole you prod hides a surprise.
Microsoft Small Business Consultant and Stat Pak offer a world of information at your fingertips. They support most popular word processors, but, once again, GeoWrite isn't supported. You'll find an array of useful information--from books to government publications--for any type of business professional.
For most home computer buyers, the Magnavox Headstart 386SX-20CD with a CD-ROM drive is a turnkey system with enough software to keep you happy for a long time. New computer buyers should find this package worth a close look.