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The Test Center has been in the lucky position this year of seeing a number of great, new desktops with innovative features, nice performance and good business cases for VARs.
OEMs have stepped up to the plate with a broad variety of form factors, architectures, functions and performance capabilities—in many cases putting a full-court press on very specific segments of the overall PC market, such as SMB. Driven by advances in processing, pricing in memory and storage, and improvements in thermals and energy efficiency, PC makers have provided the channel with a lot of innovation so far in 2008.
This month, the Test Center took a look at systems on the market from several manufacturers—measuring them against an in-house system made with industry-standard components—with a specific focus on the sweet spot of the desktop space for business: midlevel, basic desktops that could as easily be deployed in large environments as in small businesses.
We invited several Tier 1 OEMs to participate in this comparative review, asking them to provide systems with Intel Core 2 Duo CPUs at no greater than 2.53-GHz clock speed, up to 4 GB of RAM, and on-board graphics with Windows Vista Business. Lenovo, Dell and Acer America Inc. provided desktops that met those criteria; we also decided to include a low-end Mac mini desktop for a variety of reasons we'll explain.
Hewlett-Packard Co., the industry's No. 1 PC maker in terms of market share, initially told us it would participate in a comparative review. However, on deadline, an HP spokesman informed us that the company was dropping out, explaining that HP is in the midst of a product transition and wasn't able to provide a new system for our review.
HP would have had tough competition. We found a lot to like about the Lenovo ThinkCentre M57, the Dell Vostro V220 (to our surprise) and the Mac Mini (even though it had a much slower processor and less memory than the others).
Acer America did provide two desktops for review—desktops that we liked and recommend—but they fell outside the specifications we asked for so were not included in this piece. (The Acer units have been reviewed in separate pieces on ChannelWeb.com.)
Our methodology is straightforward: We examined each desktop for performance using Primate Labs' Geekbench benchmarking software; power consumption; heat generation; noise; form factor and pricing. We considered functions, management capabilities and price, as well as each vendor's channel program. We also considered value-add compared to the base, in-house, no-frills system we built in the Test Center lab.
After lining them up, the Test Center has given top honors to the Lenovo ThinkCentre M57—which provided a combination of features, performance and design that is keeping itself slightly ahead of the pack in a highly competitive space. After that, we found the Vostro V220 a solid second place, then Apple's Mac mini. We can recommend each of them to solution providers who are delivering desktops to businesses.
For a baseline comparison, we first decided to build our own white-box desktop using standard components in the lab with similar specifications to the other contenders. On an Asus P5Q3 Deluxe motherboard, we used an Intel Core 2 Duo E7200 at 2.53 GHz, Kingston HyperX DDR3 memory, and a 350-watt Antec Basiq power supply. Since the motherboard does not have integrated video, we also installed an ATI HD 3470 graphics card. With Windows Vista Business installed and patched with the latest updates, we tested the system to see how it would stack up.
The P5Q3 is the latest generation of Asus' motherboards that uses multiple energy-saving features, including a software utility called AI Gear. Essentially a user-friendly GUI to adjust the clock speeds of various components, AI Gear lets the user balance performance needs with power usage. Since the feature was available to us, reviewers duplicated the tests multiple times to see how much of a difference the various settings made.
We decided to stay on Turbo Mode for power management. On this setting, power usage was 75 watts when idle and 87 watts under load, with a GeekBench2 score of 3029.