Compaq Goes to Businessville

The new line of Deskpro desktop systems

Taking on the desktop business computing environment, Compaq has revamped its entire line of desktop PCs, consolidating various models under the family name Deskpro. Until now, Compaq has concurrently offered more than 300 commercial desktop systems. Now, the company has only 45. By scaling down the number of products and combining product lines, Compaq can reduce prices by as much as 20%.

One of Compaq's first steps in this revamp was to introduce Pentium Pro-based models, the ProLiant 5000 and the Deskpro XL, in the server and high-end desktop markets. Now, the Deskpro line includes the former ProLinea, ProLinea E, Deskpro, and Deskpro XL. The ProLineas, which were Compaq's entry-level business systems, become the Deskpro 2000, with CPUs ranging from a 100-MHz Pentium to a 200-MHz Pentium Pro, and a starting price of $1100. The Deskpro line, the business network-ready systems, become the Deskpro 4000, with CPUs ranging from 120-MHz Pentiums to the 200-MHz Pentium Pro. Last, Compaq renamed its high-end power-user system, the Deskpro XL. It is now the Deskpro 6000, available with a 166-MHz Pentium to a 200-MHz Pentium Pro. The 2000 and the 6000 series have 200-MHz Pentium models, and the 4000 goes from a 166-MHz Pentium to a 180-MHz Pentium Pro.

All Deskpro systems have either a minitower or a desktop case. The 2000 has a slot/drive-bay design, and the 4000 and 6000 have a seven-slot/five-drive-bay design to improve upgradeability. (Low-profile 5.25" bays allow more disks.) All systems have both PCI and ISA slots (Compaq no longer supports EISA): two PCI, two ISA, and one combination slot in the 2000; and three PCI, three ISA, and one combination slot in the 4000 and 6000.

To improve manageability and reduce cost of ownership, Compaq changed the architecture for the Deskpro systems. Unlike their predecessors, all three Deskpro series are fully Desktop Management Interface (DMI)-compliant and have additional hardware enablers for monitoring such system values as temperature and voltage. The new Smart-drive system provides pre-fault notification, so if the system senses a disk failure about to happen, it can alert the user and trigger an automatic backup. Users can take advantage of this feature by contacting Compaq before a failure occurs, and get the drive replaced without losing data or experiencing extra downtime. Also, the Deskpro 6000's new drive architecture includes faster EIDE hard disks (10- to 12-millisecond access times) and Ultra-SCSI. With the standard configuration, you can choose from anywhere between a 1.2GB EIDE drive to a 4.2GB Ultra-SCSI drive, depending on the model.

New to Compaq's business desktop line are an 8X CD-ROM drive; the combination read/write PD-CD, which can read ordinary CDs and write to 650MB, rewriteable optical cartridges ($40 each) at quad-speed transfer rates; and the LS120 floptical, which can store 120MB on one floptical disk ($15 each) and still read and write ordinary 1.44MB floppies. These options are available on any new model. All systems default to the 8X CD-ROM, and either the PD-CD or the LS120 is standard on the Deskpro 6000.

What hasn't changed from the previous versions of these systems are audio and network options. Just as on the Deskpro and Deskpro XL, the 4000 and 6000 have integrated Ethernet controllers (10Mbit, upgradeable to 100Mbit via a daughter card) to ease enterprise deployment. The Ethernet controller is not built into the 2000. Similarly, business audio is standard on the 6000, and an option on the 2000 and 4000.

With the system architecture, Compaq aimed the Deskpros at the business market. They have a uniprocessor design with Enhanced Data Output (EDO) (but Error-Correcting Code--ECC--capable): 16MB to 32MB is standard on most models, and you can upgrade the Pentium Pro Deskpro 2000 to 192MB, and the 4000 and 6000 to 256MB. The system is easy to upgrade in the field. The peripheral cards go into a self-contained card cage that slides out, and you don't have to disconnect external cables. You can remove the whole system board, also without disconnecting any internal cables. Compaq has eliminated the need for proprietary Compaq drive rails to install additional disks--longtime Compaq users will appreciate this change.

The Deskpro 4000 and 6000 also have hardware security features such as a case lock with a sensor and alarm to prevent unauthorized access. After you lock the case, the alarm beeps if someone removes the cover, and the security system stores such intrusion events in nonvolatile memory even if the system is powered down. The security system stores any system configuration change, such as a sudden reduction in memory. If you have appropriate software, the security system can notify the network administrator of configuration changes. This security system can prevent unauthorized user upgrades, too.

From a price standpoint, Compaq is going after the clone-PC market with the new desktops, while offering support and system-management capabilities that clone vendors simply can't (or don't yet) offer. These Pentium Pro systems start at $2500, breaking the $3000 price barrier, but retaining dealer support and service contracts.

Compaq is also getting back into the monitor business. The company introduced a 17" display (the V70) at $720. It has up to 1024*768 resolution at 85 Hz and a dot pitch of 0.28mm.

The prototype Deskpro 2000 I tested was a 200-MHz Pentium Pro with 64MB of RAM, a 1.6GB EIDE drive, Matrox Millennium graphics adapter, and 8X CD-ROM. This system offers tremendous performance for a preproduction unit and scores high on the BAPCo SYSmark Windows NT benchmark test (for details, see "Buy the Numbers" on page 46).

The 2000's price/performance point is well above that of any system I've tested. First, the Deskpros use Intel's new FX chipset, which has fewer chips than the first-generation Orion chipset, meaning lower overall system cost and improved performance. Second, Compaq has optimized drivers for its Smart-drive subsystem, and they use Matrox's optimized NT drivers for the graphics adapter. A single set of Compaq's optimized NT drivers is available for older Cirrus Logic and Matrox video cards. These drivers perform better than stock EIDE and display drivers.

This system is impressive. It marks a new age in desktop computing. A fundamental shift in price/performance point seems to come every couple of years: A shift occurred when we moved from the 486 to the Pentium, and a shift is happening with the switch to the Pentium Pro. No doubt another shift will take place, but until it's time for the next gear, we can all ride along smoothly.

Compaq Deskpro 2000
System Configuration: 200-MHz Pentium Pro Minitower; 256KB of Level 2 cache; 64MB of EDO DRAM; 1.6GB EIDE hard disk; Matrox Millennium graphics adapter (2MB of WRAM); 8X CD-ROM
Compaq * 800-386-2172
Price: $3599 (as configured)
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