NMC Universal Winstation 433. (National MicroComputers' multimedia personal computer) (Hardware Review) (Evaluation)
by Denny Atkin
The Universal Winstation 433 is a pleasant surprise. I've seen many PC systems from small companies over the years, and I'm usually wary of them. Too, often, they've designed to sell for the lowest possible price, and they tend to show it--such systems often have flimsy cases, expansion devices that don't work well together, and mushy keyboards. Not so with NMC's Universal Winstation 433. Although this computer comes from a small Utah company that you may never have heard of, it shows all the quality you'd expect from a Dell, Compaq, or IBM machine.
The Winstation I evaluated was configured as a multimedia system, and it meets the new PC Level 2 specification. No slow, after-thought CD-ROM drive and no-name sound card here--the system sports a Pro-AudioSpectrum 16 sound card and a blazingly fast Toshiba CD-ROM drive. The PAS 16 is an impressive board, with 16-bit stereo sound, full Sound Blaster emulation, and software control of all board settings--you can even change the volume from the keyboard while playing a game. The dual-speed Toshiba CD-ROM drive uses a SCSI-2 interface and has a data transfer rate of up to 330K per second and an average access time of 200 ms; it also has a 256K cache that speeds things even more.
The rest of the system exhibits similar quality. The 1MB STB PowerGraph SVGA card uses an S3 accelerator and a VESA local-bus connection to provide exemplary performance in both Windows and DOS. The board supports 24-bit true color in 640 x 480 mode, 16-bit color at 800 x 600, and 256 colors at 1024 x 768; a handy utility lets you change modes without using Windowa Setup. The 200MB Western Digital IDE hard drive is supported through an uncached 32-bit local-bus IDE controller. The system has eight slots (two have VLB extensions), five of which are available in the multimedia configuration. The case opens without a screwdriver, making expansion a snap.
With local-bus peripherals and a 256K secondary processor cache, the Winstation's performance is quite perky. (A ZIF socket supports updating to a DX2 or P24T Pentium processor if you ever feel the need for a speed boost.) And in addition to being fast, this system boasts good looks. The case has an attractive molded plastic front, and the space-saver keyboard is stylish as well. More important, it has a solid feel with audible, tactile feedback. The noninterlaced ADI MicroScan 3G monitor has a crisp .28-mm dot pitch and electronic adjustment controls. The multimedia system includes a number of CDROMs, including a disc of shareware, an encyclopedia, an atlas, games, and a CD-audio classical music sampler.
Documentation for Windows 3.1, DOS 6, the motherboard, and all the expansion cards is included, but NMC didn't stop there. There's a handy 40-page Starter Manual that will get even first-time PC owners up and running; it includes setup, troubleshooting, and technical-support information. This little booklet can make a lot of difference to the way first-time computer owner; too many companies just toss in the manuals for the components and leave system operation as an exercise for the purchaser.
Best of all, this high quality comes at the price of a low-end clone. NMC provides unlimited toll-free technical support, a one-year warrantly on parts, and a two-year warrantly on labor. If you're looking for a solid multimedia system at a discount price, I'd suggest you take a close look at NMC's impressive offering.