Price: From £1,499 plus VAT
The DW300 is the latest addition to Compaq’s Deskpro workstation range. It sits at the lower end of the range – just above the AP250 bottom-level station – and is aimed at users that want the power of the latest Pentium 4 processors, but at an affordable price. With the growth in power of conventional desktops in the last few years, there’s little difference in price or performance between low-end workstations like the DW300 and top-spec desktops – once you factor in that workstations do not usually ship with monitors. The review model delivered to Digit costs £2,399 – £900 more than the base model in the series, but from the spec it’s not hard to see why. It still has the 1.4GHz Pentium 4 processor, but boosts the fast RDRAM to 256MB and replaces the 7,200rpm Ultra ATA/100 drive with a nippy 10,000rpm 18.2GB Ultra 160 SCSI drive, plus SCSI controller and external port. This boosts the price to £1,949, with the rest made up by the replacement of ELSA Synergy II graphics card (itself a replacement of the NVidia TNT 2 Pro in the £1,499 machine) with an Nvidia Quadro 2 MXR card. Graphics power It’s this card that truly establishes this machine as a workstation. The Quadro2 MXR offers 400 million pixels per second rendering power, 25 million triangles geometry processing power, and 2.93GBps memory bandwidth through an AGP 4X socket. In other words, it’s a bit of a corker. Add to these stats the ability to automatically change colour to compensate for lighting conditions and built-in natural material properties, and you’ve got a card that’s going to be quite happy with whatever you throw at it. It can also power dual displays – although it’s got one DVI output and one VGA, so you have to use one LCD display and one CRT (which looks odd on the desktop and is almost impossible to colour match). Or you can use two CRTs or LCDs through an expensive converter box. Of course, you get this card only if you are willing to splash the cash. The choice of cards is wide – but not unusually so – so you can pick from between the usual Nvidia, ELSA or Matrox cards. Obviously, you’re not going to get as much choice as with a white-box machine – but other brand-name workstations are available in far more configurations. There’s also no facility to build your machine to order on the Compaq UK Web site, which makes tailoring the machine to your needs much harder than it need be. Beneath the bonnet The most surprising thing about the DW300 comes when you peek under the hood. Compaq has a long history of awful internal design. Adding a PCI card used to require a hair-tearing attempt to remove screws from inaccessible locations. Now the machines follow a clear standard layout with everything to hand – though they can’t match the likes of IBM or Apple for ease of access. The rest of the machine’s specs are pretty standard – 16x DVD drive, ethernet, two serial ports, parallel – and there are four USB ports instead of the usual two. Our test machine came in just over what we’d expect from a machine with a 1.4GHz processor with 256MB of RAM – testament to Intel’s 850 chipset and its 400MHz front bus. What really makes it special is the price. A 1.4GHz P4 system with 256MB of RAM for under £2,000 is a huge bargain – and £2,400 for a system that justifies the Quadro2 MXR card is definitely worth checking out.