ALR evolution V/60. (Pentium-based microcomputer) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Denny Atkin, Mike Hudnall
This Pentium-based machine sizzles with speed and power without costing a fortune.
The latest and greatest in blazing speed, remarkable design, and raw power, today's Pentium machines trigger the same feelings of excitement and anticipation that you might experience examining the latest Ferrari or Lamborghini. Who wouldn't want to take one of these muscle machines for a test drive--to rev it up, feel the power, and show off just a little?
ALR puts you in the driver's seat with its Evolution V/60 PC, a well-designed Pentium-based machine--and a sizzling performer--at quite a competitive price.
Although the Evolution V sports a 60-MHz chip, it significantly outperforms 66-MHz 80486DX2 machines, thanks in part to the marvels of the Pentium processor. While the 486 chip has 1.2 million transistors, the Pentium chip contains 3.1 million. Compared to the 486's 54 MIPS (Million Instructions Per Second), the 60-MHz Pentium is capable of around 100 MIPS. The 486 has one 8K built-in cache; the Pentium has two. And whereas the 486 uses a 32-bit data path, the Pentium uses a 64-bit path, so it grabs twice the information at a time.
With a processor this fast, the speed of other parts of your system necessarily becomes a critical factor. Even though the Pentium chip has two built-in 8K caches, one for data and one for program code, you'll still need a good external cache to fully optimize the overall performance of your system. ALR delivers with an integrated 256K (15ns) read/write-back cache, which is noticeably faster than the 486's write-through cache.
If you need this much computing power, you'll probably also need plenty of expansion and upgrade capabilities. The Evolution V has them. It comes standard with 8MB RAM, expandable to up to 128MB on the system board (our review unit arrived with 16MB). There are two half-height 5-1/4-inch bays, which you could use to install a CD-ROM drive and a tape backup or 5-1/4-inch floppy drive, and four 3-1/2-inch bays, one of them containing the standard 1.44MB floppy drive. You also get the ALR MULTUS IDE controller, which is integrated into the system board and supports up to four IDE hard drives.
The system also contains six 16-bit ISA slots, three of which have 32-bit VESA VL-Bus extensions. While it's true that Intel's new PCI local-bus architecture offers performance advantages over VESA local bus in Pentium systems, there are many more VESA VL-Bus cards available, so the Evolution's VESA local-bus configuration will make sense for a number of consumers. ALR also offers a PCI version of its Pentium system, called the Evolution V ST.
Using ALR's PrimeLine Direct 800-number telephone service, you can custom configure the Evolution V to meet your specific needs. If you opt for the lowest-priced configuration--without monitor, video card, hard drive, DOS, or Windows--you could pay as little as $2,495. Prices in the industry can be volatile, and companies like ALR might change a drive, video card, or other component option to offer greater performance or value. Check with ALR before deciding on a final configuration to make sure you understand all of the options and to get the most current prices.
Our review system came configured with DOS and Windows. A number of new Pentium systems come with Windows NT, but DOS and Windows will come closer to meeting the needs of the typical COMPUTE reader. Our system came with a 240MB drive and a Paradise Accelerator VL Plus (WD90C33) with 1MB of DRAM. The Paradise card supports 1280 x 1024 with 16 colors, 1024 x 768 with 256 colors, 800 x 600 with 64K colors, and 640 x 480 with 16.7 million colors. Adding a second megabyte gives you more colors in the higher resolutions. Our system also came with a FlexVIEW 3X NI 14-inch SVGA multiscan noninterlaced monitor, which supports resolutions up to 1024 x 768 noninterlaced. ALR also offers the FlexVIEW 4X NI, a 17-inch multiscan noninterlaced SVGA monitor.
The Evolution V's system box boasts visual appeal as well as commendable design. A smoked plastic cover shields the system's external drive bays as well as the reset button. If you remove two screws and lift off the U-shaped section of the box that covers the top and sides, you have fairly easy access to the system board, making it a cinch to add drives or memory. The hard drive resides toward the rear, so the two 5-1/4-inch exposed bays on the front are available for such expansion. We found only two disadvantages to this design: To install drives in the 5-1/4-inch bays, you must temporarily remove the vertically mounted 1.44MB floppy drive beside them, and once you've installed a drive in one of the 5-1/4-inch bays, access to the SIMM slots below is blocked. The Pentium has a large heat sink.
Our testing of various DOS and 16-bit Windows applications showed that the Evolution V was roughly 80 percent faster than an 80486DX2/66 at computation-intensive tasks. But we thought it would be even more meaningful to run some specific applications to see what kind of performance gains are possible. Imagine 2.9, a 3-D rendering package that makes heavy use of floating-point math, rendered a series of test images in just over half the time a 486DX2/66 took. Running a series of test suites on Excel and Word showed far less improvement--just under 30 percent as compared to the 486DX2/66. Both of these benchmarks made heavy use of screen and disk resources, though, which shows what sort of influence high-performance disk subsystems and video cards have on a PC's performance.
Although these test results might not be as impressive as you'd expect, the tests were conducted using standard 16-bit DOS and Windows software. To truly push the Pentilum envelope, you'll need 32-bit applications compiled to take advantage of the chip's dual-pipeline architecture; these pipelines essentially allow the the chip to do two things at once, speeding execution significantly. With Pentium-optimized software, you can look forward to a tripling of execution speed in normal programs and a five-fold speed-up in floating-point math.
Another ALR selling point is the company's support ALR warrants for five years the chassis, keyboard, CPU, system board, and power supply. Associated labor costs and some peripheral components carry a 15-month warranty. Optional on-site ProCare service is also available for a reasonable fee.
Should you run out right away and buy one of these Pentium systems? That depends, of course, on the applications you use. If you spend a lot of time doing computation-intensive work, such as 3-D rendering, image processing, CAD, or working with huge spreadsheets, the near-doubling in computation speed will likely make the Pentium upgrade worthwhile. But if you spend most of your time doing word processing, desktop publishing, or disk-intensive database work, you won't see as dramatic a speed-up if you already have a fast DX2 system.
If you're looking to make a jump from a slower system, though, a Pentium system like the ALR Evolution V/60 isn't dramatically more expensive than a comparably equipped 80486DX2/66--and it's likely to run state-of-the-art software with more than acceptable performance for a long time to come.