centrePieCe!

Published Date
01 - Sep - 2007
| Last Updated
01 - Sep - 2007
 
centrePieCe!



Peace of mind. The phrase probably has you thinking warm summer beaches, and coconut trees, gently swaying in the breeze-all taken in with cool lemonade in hand. But what about when you're not holidaying-hard at work at your Desktop, when suddenly, something goes wrong? Many PC vendors are elusive when it comes to offering after-sales support, and the wide, genuine smile fades the moment you hand over the cheque…

When it comes to purchasing a Desktop PC, a large chunk of users prefer to forego the small financial savings associated with assembling a PC, and buy a branded PC. In fact, the branded and assembled markets have an equal fan following. We aren't here to propagate either vendors or brands-and the choice of assembled or branded largely depends on the kind of person you are,  your exact needs, and how much you're willing to learn.

If you're new to the world of computers, you have a couple of options before making a purchase decision. This assumes you're interested enough in making an informed decision. If you aren't interested in getting into computer components and want a ready-made solution, then a branded Desktop is for you. Or you could learn a bit about individual components like motherboards, processors, memory, hard drives, and others, and use that knowledge to assemble a PC where you get to play creator and hand-pick components.

The most important factor associated with branded PCs isn't their "hassle free" acquisition, but the fact that brands mean warranties-and warranties mean no hassles after purchasing. All major brands now offer at least a year's warranty on their Desktop PCs; some of them offer support for three years. On-site support is another catch-phrase, and basically means you will have a support engineer dropping over the next time that box gives you trouble!

We did a comprehensive survey of the market and came up with the 17 contestants you'll see pitched side by side. Dig in and get comfortable-this promises to be quite the contest!

Basic Boxes
Desktops Between Rs 20,000 And Rs 30,000

If it sounds too good to be true, it could be true…! PC prices have well and truly crashed to new depths. While we aren't seeing very cheap (read Rs 10,000 and below) computers, we're getting better technology for our buck-for the last couple of years. Today a Core 2 Duo costs less than what an Athlon 64 cost a couple of years ago, which was in turn cheaper than the Pentium 4s of the early 21st century. And so, for the first time, this humble value category sees fast dual-core processors.

Features
What…at that price?
Good PCs don't come cheap. We've been long-term believers of functionality over funkiness; however, the phrase "bang for the buck" comes to mind. The Intex PCs sport identical cabinets-only their mental acumen differ. The decent-looking (if plain) cabinet bespeaks functionality, and we liked the simple build. With easily accessible USB ports and well-built HIDs (human interface devices), these PCs are for those looking at something really simple yet attractive. It's a pity the chassis itself has a few sharp edges, as our fingers ruefully discovered.

Acer's Aspire IE3214 doesn't look radically different either. The cabinet appears to be as well built as the Intex cabinets-a knuckle rap on the side panel will give you some (not so good) vibes. Both Intex and Acer ship their products with 19-inch monitors, but the ultra-slim bezel on the Acer 19-inch widescreen really sets it apart visually. The Intex 19-inch LCD, in comparison, looks too bulky and rounded, with too large a bezel.

The Presario SG3053IL is another plain looker-nothing special here, and the cabinet is tinny (rap it with your knuckles and you'll figure!). HCL touts the EzeeBee Max XP Z999 as a value offering, and that shows. The cabinet build is a little better than that of the Presario, but that's not saying a great deal.

Incidentally, all the three Intex PCs have excellent expandability, with loads of space for installing additional hard drives and CD drives. The motherboards are pretty expandable too-four SATA ports and an x16 PCI Express slot. The Aspire IE3214 has a total of three PCI slots.

Hey! Where'd it go?
We were surprised to see an extremely rich software bundle with the Acer IE3214. A carton inside the main box contained a set of 11 CDs and DVDs. The contents ranged from games to movies, recipes, utilitarian software and even an encyclopaedia. Intex was not to be left behind and bundled Red Hat Enterprise Desktop Version 4 with each PC. A couple of useful software were also found in the DVD writing software disc. Intex provided both Windows XP and Vista drivers-a definite plus point.

The usual cables and other paraphernalia were also provided by all vendors-something that is typically overlooked in this category. None of the vendors provide wireless keyboards or mice. Shockingly, no speakers are provided either! You'll need to invest at least in a pair of headphones for any kind of aural experience on any of these desktop PCs.

Intex was thoughtful enough to provide dust covers for the entire PC with all three models-something Acer missed out on.
The EzeeBee Max XP Z999 comes with a pair of supraaural headphones (meaning they partially cover your ears).

Performance
Clash of the Tortoises!
All these PCs are Intel-processor-powered. The newer budget Core 2 Duo processors (the E4x00 family) are fast, but not as fast in terms of clock speeds as the older Pentium D 925, which runs at a whopping 3 GHz on the Intex BF-73411-the fastest CPU (in terms of clock speeds) here. Heat could have become an issue, but the cabinet has sufficient vents to allow dissipation.

The Core 2 Duos in these PCs belong to the 4x00 and 2xx0 family. These are basically stripped-down Core 2 Duos and their performance is around the same as that of the older Pentium D-with a lot less heat, of course. Incidentally, one of the areas where the Pentium D runs out of steam is while watching HD movies-our test 1080p clip experienced some stuttering on the Intex BF-73411. No such issues on the other three. The BF-73411 has another issue: its hard drive is very slow-in fact, almost too slow for a SATA drive. We're thinking this was a problem with the hard drive that came with the test PC, and not something that might occur with another hard drive on the same make and model. 

Intex BM-45431
A value-for-money performer

With integrated graphics, these PCs aren't for gamers-unless you opt for a discrete graphics card. All four PCs have PCI Express x16 slots, so you can opt to upgrade to a discrete graphics solution.

The AL1916W monitor bundled with the Acer Aspire IE3214 is much better than the monitor provided by Intex (all three Intex Desktops have the same monitor). HCL also provides a good 19-inch widescreen. All the vendors are pretty stingy with storage space, with the exception of the Intex BM-45431, which has a 250 GB hard drive.

Conclusion
Have I made the right choice?

Intex's BM-45431 is our Best Buy Gold winner-good specifications, a large hard drive and great expansion possibilities. Intex's warranty will also keep you happy-one-year on-site support is available, after which you'll get another two years of carry-in support. This PC makes a good choice for someone looking for an affordable yet fully-functional Desktop. It's quite powerful too, and also a decent multimedia performer; how we wish Intex had bundled a widescreen monitor! 

Acer Aspire IE3214
Whatta bundle!

We're awarding a joint Silver to Acer's superb Aspire IE3214 and HCL's EzeeBee Max XP Z999: their scores just too close to make a decision one way or the other. Acer gets a nod ahead due to the superior bundle, though-11 discs consisting of games, movies, software, utilities, recipes, and an encyclopaedia. At Rs 25,000, if you're looking to start your DVD collection with a bang, get the IE3214. The widescreen monitor is attractive if you're a movie buff. If you're looking for a little more processing power, go with the Intex BM-45431.

A Cut Above Desktops Between Rs 30,001 And Rs 40,000
This category is where the fun starts-all vendors now have a good budget to work with. You can expect a better processor, perhaps more memory and a bigger hard drive. Discrete graphics is not a necessity unless you want to game a bit, but it's something to look for.

HCL EzeeBee Max XP 2999
Feature-rich,fancy-free

(Integrated video solutions eat up valuable main memory to use as video memory.)You should also look for at least a 19-inch LCD monitor-flat panels have become dirt cheap, and are easily available within this budget. If you're into multitasking a bit, then 2 GB of memory is the way to go.

Features
I want it!
The LG XDZ caught our attention first. It deviates from the usual black colour scheme most vendors follow for a smoky grey hue. Opinions will differ drastically-some will love it, some will love to hate it: no lukewarm emotions here. A card reader has been cleverly integrated into what at at first glance looks like a second CD bay flap. We also like the quality of the cabinet-it feels very sturdy, and the sheet used is quite thick.

Compaq's Presario SG3063IL looks just like its cheaper SG3053IL, except for the hardware under the hood. Zenith's 401G is passably usable as a mirror with its glossy front bezel. The rest of the cabinet is much the same: one sore point is the optical drives' eject mechanism-the front bezel that tilts outwards has the eject button built into it. When you eject the drive tray, the entire bezel (including the button) bends downwards-meaning you have to push the tray back into the drive.

Sahara's 20CK16 has the biggest cabinet of the lot-plenty of ventilation.

HP's Pavilion a6110in has an attractive transparent and backlit power button mounted atop the cabinet. In fact, all the HP and Compaq PCs had one common feature-when powering off, the button glows orange, and it'll glow green while powered. The card reader integrated into a floppy drive bay is functional.

Goodies Galore!
HP provides a fully-functional complete system recovery suite, but apart from that, the bundle is light. LG provides a system recovery suite from Stellar, and for some weird reason, FreeDOS! 

Sahara 20CK16
Great components under the hood

Once again, no-one provided speakers. We were also disappointed to see wired keyboards and mice with all these PCs. We were equally shocked to see only 80 and 160 GB drives being shipped with all these.

In terms of expansion, the Sahara 20CK16 provides all that you'll need-the huge cabinet will handle four hard drives and two optical drives. The motherboard provides four  SATA ports, and one PCI Express x16 slot with a 7600GS graphics card. Strangely enough, this card features 512 MB of video memory-this is overkill for the GPU core. Sahara has been miserly with the monitor-a 15-inch LCD just doesn't justify this kind of video hardware.

Performance
Duelling Desktops!
Up front, the Sahara 20CK16 has superb specifications. With a brand new Core 2 Duo E6320 and 1 GB of system memory, along with a graphics card of the GeForce 7 family, this PC can lay claim to being something of a gaming machine. Although hardcore gamers will look at faster graphics cards, this one is definitely capable of running most current-generation games at medium settings and moderate resolutions.

The HP Pavilion a6110in features an AMD processor that is slightly slower than the fire-breathing Core 2 Duos, but tries to compensate by providing a very capable video solution-the integrated GeForce 6150 should be good for those looking for a multimedia PC-good HD video acceleration, among other things.

Compaq has another solid offering in the Presario SG3063IL, though we couldn't stomach the tiny 80 GB hard drive. The Zenith 401G is deceptively fast-the E6320 sees to all your processing needs quite well. The monitor makes for a crisp widescreen experience-definitely worth it for movie buffs.

Conclusion
Which is mine?
If you want something powerful enough to crunch through most applications and multitasking, look at the Sahara 20CK16 and the Zenith 401G. The 20CK16 is recommended for those looking to work with image editing or even casual 3D rendering work. It steals our Digit Best Buy Gold award on the basis of its sheer performance.

Another very capable multimedia PC, thanks in part to a very good integrated graphics solution, the HP Pavilion a6110in is our Best Buy Silver. We'd have liked to see a faster processor here, though. HP bundles an excellent 17-inch monitor (the HP VP-17).

If you want something a little different-looking, the curvy and very grey LG XDZ should be worth considering. It's a very capable performer with a Core 2 Duo processor (E4300). It also comes with a very good LCD. 

HP Pavilion a6110in
Great monitor & build quality

It's rather plain-looking, but the Compaq Presario SG3063IL does have a decent set of components and a noteworthy bundle-just buy a bigger hard drive.

Parameters WHAT WE LOOKED FOR 
Features 
System Specifications The hardware under the hood, correlated with price justifications. We gave points for larger monitors-widescreens got preference, as did bigger hard drives 
Upgradeability We looked at how much expansion is possible. After all, everyone needs to upgrade once in a while 
Specifications And General
Features 
Number of USB ports provided, video connectivty, audio connectivity. We also checked for the software and add-on bundles and rated the PCs accordingly. Price points were considered 
Ergonomics How easy is it to access those USB ports? How good is the keyboard?  
Performance 
PC Mark 2005 This synthetic benchmark tests the CPU, GPU, hard drive, and memory, and brings up scores. It is very sensitive to any change in components
SiSoft Sandra 2007 A little more detailed than PC Mark2005, this utility individually tests each performance-affecting hardware device, and lets us know how good each component is 
3D Mark 2005 Tests the pixel and vertex shader capabilities of 3D acceleration hardware. Good for testing consumer graphics solutions. Its newer brother, 3D Mark 2006, is used to check enthusiast hardware 
DisplayMate Tests the capabilities of a monitor-since we were looking at multimedia capabilites like colour rendition and pixel response, we ran only the relevant tests 
HD Movie Viewing We played back a 1080p clip. Observations included stuttering, dropped frames, colour and crispness, and the suitability of the monitor for HD content 
Video Encoding Perhaps the most suitable real-world benchmark for testing a CPU's capabilities 
File Transfer Test Stresses out the hard drive, and is a good benchmark for storage. We used a 4 GB test file for sequential tests, and a mixture of different file types of varying sizes for random tests 
Game Test: Doom 3 The OpenGL benchmark of choice-still one of the best geometry and shader engines in the business-scales very well with changes in CPU, memory, and GPU frequency or parts  
Game Test: FarCry The DX equivalent of Doom 3. This game features intensive shader operations and some great outdoor scenes with gorgeous detailing. Great for stressing out video solutions  
Price Cheap doesn't necessarily mean better-bang for your buck is what we're looking at 
Operating System Windows XP Professional with SP 2 

 

Media Centre Desktops
Home Entertainment With A Personal Touch

These PCs are also called Home Theatre PCs (HTPCs). Aimed at making your DVD player obsolete, such PCs have the added benefits of a full-fledged DVD / VCD / audio player, and all PC functionality is present as well. Most HTPCs include wireless remote controls, much like a home theatre system. They may also have wireless keyboards and mice to improve ergonomics. Finally, a good HTPC should have a large widescreen-a must for HD content. A decent graphics card also ensures skip-free playback, particularly of HD content. 

HCL Dominator Q965
Four cores on a rampage

Features
Why Didn't They Bundle A Sofa Too?
Although a media centre is usually associated with a remote control and a large screen, all our contestants break the mould in some way or the other… The unconventional contender in more ways than one was Acer's Aspire L310. By far the sexiest Desktop we've tested here, this stunner has an unbelievably tiny footprint, and stands just over a foot tall. A great-looking silver-grey finish complements the exceptional build quality. Your desktop will draw covetous glances with this sitting atop it… The fact that Acer provided the largest monitor in the whole shootout to partner this baby (a 22-inch widescreen LCD) speaks of its HTPC intent. Moreover, the monitor has a reed-thin bezel-very desirable.

HCL's Dominator will do just that-dominate your desktop. This was the largest HTPC cabinet we've seen. Bulky isn't good as far as anything media centre goes-to its credit, the cabinet is well-built and quite spacious. The third competitor in this category was another HCL-the Beanstalk Classic Z944. Slightly larger than the Acer L310, it comes decked in piano black. However, we didn't like the looks too much: glossy black looks good on curvy products. This one was a touch too angular. HCL bundles the same 19-inch widescreen monitor with both models.

Hey! Where's The Popcorn?
Acer shockingly lets the Aspire L310 go without a remote control-criminal, really, considering Windows XP Media Center Edition is bundled. This severely cripples the couch potato-you actually (gasp!) have to burn precious calories each time you want to pause a movie. No wireless keyboard and mouse is also a shame-and this is our only gripe (though major) with this Desktop. 

Acer Aspire L310
Designer Desktop!

The software bundle is a little on the skimpy side, too. A couple of driver CDs is all you get. What we liked was DVI connectivity for video. There's a wireless access point in-built so WLAN is just an antenna away... Acer provides all the cables necessary to get you started.Unfortunately, the shrink in size comes at a price: there's a bulky power adapter to contend with, not very smart for your designer Desktop. Thankfully, the cable is a little longer than most.

HCL's Dominator and Beanstalk Classic Z944 come with a cartonful of goodies-loads of software, utilities, speakers, headphones, and Media Center remote controls. Additionally, the Z944 is bundled with a wireless mouse and keyboard kit from Microsoft-both have great ergonomics. The little Acer is outshone in this department-though it does come with a much better (and larger) monitor!

Performance
Ready… Get Set… Go!
Due to the small form factor typical to HTPCs, they don't run particularly cool. The Acer L310 does get hot owing to its small size-thankfully, it runs a relatively cool Core 2 Duo E6300. The real monster in this category is the Dominator, which features a mighty Core 2 Quad (Q6600) at 2.4 GHz. Thanks to the impressive hardware, this PC hammered the competition in most CPU-intensive tests and benchmarks.

Acer misses out on a graphics card, while both HCL PCs feature cards based on NVIDIA's GeForce 7500LE chipset. Having a graphics card doesn't necessarily make these PCs good gaming machines, but the HD video playback experience is enhanced.

What really impressed about the Z944 was the colossal hard drive-a 500 GB hard disk is a really positive step by HCL, and something we hope becomes a trend. Even the Dominator only manages 250 GB.

Despite the fact that Acer's 22-inch monitor is a real show-stopper, it is, in fact, a TN panel, and has minor colour rendition issues. That said, this LCD is miles ahead of the competition-movies and games are a delight with all the pixel real estate available. Pity it runs an onboard video solution.

Conclusion
So…do I get the job?
If you want something classy-looking and really compact with the added benefits of a large monitor and reasonably powerful components, look no further than the Acer Aspire L310. Even though it's intended as an HTPC, we'd heartily recommend it to bigwig corporates for whom a Desktop is all about making the right impression. With integrated Wi-Fi as a bonus, this little marvel is a definite "must see before buying others." A definite gold winner if beauty came before brains…

For sheer performance, it's hard to ignore HCL's Dominator. A quad-core processor, 2 GB of memory, and a GeForce 7-series graphics card make this one heck of a performer. It's not a hardcore gaming machine-the 7500LE will play most current-generation games at low to medium settings-but is a solid PC for multitasking and HD playback. The additional media player functionality and the feature-rich remote make it very attractive indeed-this is your Digit Best Buy Gold.

HCL's Beanstalk Classic Z944 is another powerful option in slim guise. It's as richly featured as the Dominator, but with a much smaller footprint, attractive looks and better speakers. The added advantage of a 500 GB hard drive is irresistible for data hogs: if you want loads of space, here's your PC…

The HP Pavilion s3180in 

The first thing that'll strike you about the Pavilion s3180in is the extremely good use of piano black on the front bezel. Thanks to superbly-designed rubber feet, this cabinet won't budge on your desk, and is surprisingly heavy for a small-form-factor PC. The monitor supplied is the excellent VP 17, also finished in glossy black-unfortunately, it's not widescreen. HP bundles a wireless keyboard and mouse with this desktop, and the quality shows. The USB module is tiny, inconspicuous, and looks like a thumb drive. A memory card reader is integrated into the front bezel. The rear panel has Digital Audio Out as well as FireWire connectivity. Windows Vista Home Premium is bundled. A recovery suite from HP has been provided, as is Symantec's protection and maintenance suite. 

Powered by a Core 2 Duo E4300 and with 1 GB of memory, the s3180in cuts through most regular applications like a hot knife through butter. What we really liked was the large hard disk-250 GB is good (500 GB would have been fantastic). This PC is up to HD movie playback, but we'd have loved to see a larger widescreen monitor. Rest assured, though-everyone except image editing professionals and gamers are well-covered.
The real appeal of this Desktop lies in its diminutive size-only the Acer Aspire L310 is smaller-and its classy looks. There's that distinctive upmarket feel to the entire system that bespeaks status, and visitors will definitely take another look at this atop your desk!
If you're looking at something that gives solid bang for the buck, we suggest you look elsewhere-the same specifications will be available for a cheaper price point. At Rs 45,990, the s3180in is pricey-not value for money, but rather value for the moneyed! If you're looking for a classy Desktop PC that'll save you loads of room, look at this-but not before looking at the Aspire L310! 

Minnows
Breaking the sub-20000 barrier
Although we only found two worthies in this category, it thrills to see some very decent machines at such throwaway prices! No matter what advertisements may say, a proper sub-20,000 PC is still partly fantasy and party wishful thinking. This is because of the extremely low margins on such a desktop, and the nightmare of providing support for comparatively cheaper (hence somewhat inferior) components. Acer and eSys have taken up the gauntlet and thrown in extremely pocket-friendly Desktops.

 

Features
Surprisingly enough!
Acer's AP E361 sports a surprisingly sturdy cabinet, and is powered by a basic AMD Sempron processor running at 2 GHz. Acer's bundle is very spartan, and with a tiny 15-inch CRT, you won't be doing a lot of movie watching. We suggest upgrading to a 17-inch LCD-this will ensure a richer Internet and movie experience.

eSys' EUC3223CI provided an even sturdier cabinet, with a little more visual appeal-a partially meshed front bezel is never a bad thing.
Both bundles are on the skimpy side but you'd have to be a little barmy to expect something extra at this price point. 

Acer AP E361
Value has a new name!

Performance
Huh?
The eSys EUC3223CI outperforms the tiny AP361 both on paper and in practice, due to the huge difference in processing power-an AMD Sempron is no match for a dual-core Pentium processor. The AP361 has a capable ATI Xpress 200 graphics chipset, though-this will allow a variety of multimedia applications, though there's only 256 MB of system memory.

The EUC3223CI has double the system memory and double the storage space. This seems right, considering there's a 5,000-rupee price difference.

So...
The entry point to the world of computers is here!

If you're extremely fund-shy and need a very basic PC to run office applications, dabble in a little multimedia, surf the Net, or even as a second PC for downloading (an increasing trend), take a serious look at the exceptionally well-priced Acer AP361-Rs 13,799 with a whole one-year onsite warranty.

If you want a little more processing punch and a bigger hard drive, we'd suggest the eSys EUC3223CI. You'll also get a 15-inch LCD monitor instead of the 15-inch CRT bundled with the Acer.

To Sum It Up
The specifications on some of our test candidates were drool-worthy, but we expected more-especially from PCs priced at over a half-lakh rupees. For one, DX10 graphics cards, which cost below Rs 5,000. Another trend we'd like to see done and buried is the inclusion of tiny hard drives. There's absolutely no way a Desktop PC will cope with a family's storage needs with 80 or 160 gigabytes. 

eSys EUC3223CI
Good specs,great price!

There's much to be appreciated though, like the inclusion of LCD monitors all round. Also, the inclusion of fast processors on cheaper PCs. Another heartening point was the de facto 512 MB of RAM.

In any case, if you want a Desktop PC without the headache of choosing components yourself, and running circles around dealers for support, take the branded way!

Decision Maker

You Want  Your Budget We Recommend The Price 
The cheapest possible Home PC Upto 15,000 Acer E361 13799 
A basic PC with a little more punch Up to 25000 Acer Aspire IE3214, Intex BM-45431 25999, 25900 
Decent multimedia functionality Up to 35000 Intex BM-45431, HP a6110in 25900, 31490 
A decent gaming PC Up to 45000 Sahara 20CK16 40000 
Compact yet powerful Desktop Upto 50000 Acer Aspire L310, HP s3180in 39999, 45990 
Media Centre PC with remote Up to 60000 HCL Dominator Q965 & HCL Beanstalk Classic Z944 54990, 59990 
Powerful CPU-based PC for multitasking Up to 60000 HCL Dominator Q965 59990 
Large monitor for HD movies Up to 45000 Acer Aspire L310 39999 

Michael BrowneMichael Browne