Applications: office suites, fax, email and voicemail
Hewlett Packard?s Vectra is a veteran of the PC market. This latest model includes some advanced communications and telephony options which the manufacturer hopes will attract small business users.
The review model has an Intel 166MHz processor, 16Mb of RAM and a 1.6Gb hard disk. The combination of a Toshiba eight-speed CD-ROM drive and 256K cache memory ensures fast data transfer between the storage devices, and 2Mb of video-RAM adds power to multimedia graphics.
The computer is not supplied with a monitor as standard, but HP produces a range of different displays to suit all requirements. The 15in multimedia screen with two built-in speakers used for this review is a good choice, given that no external speakers are included in the standard price.
The Vectra?s communication facilities are provided by an internal Aztech AT3300 28.8Kbits/sec data-fax-voice-modem. This also serves as a Soundblaster-compatible audio card.
The modem handles fax, email and voicemail services. Users can dial in to the Internet, and there is a month?s free subscription to America Online (AOL) and Compuserve.
Microsoft Network and Microsoft Exchange, together with the standard communications features in the Windows 95 operating system, provide the software for emailing and faxing.
HP also provides its own messaging wizard. This allows simple messages to be created quickly with sounds and images embedded into the text, before porting to the relevant email or fax service.
Voicemail is provided by Megatrends Quip. With this utility, basic telephone messaging is easy to configure, although you need to set up a post office for Microsoft Mail, if there isn?t one already.
Users can choose to record their own message. However, as no microphone or telephone headset is supplied, it?s easier to use the one provided by the software itself.
Quip allows numbers to be dialled from the keyboard. It can display incoming caller information, so long as the details have been recorded in the address book database.
Another benefit for the business user is the Proshare Personal Conferencing software for telephone and video-conferencing. However, you need the necessary hardware for the software to achieve its true potential.
New users can learn how to use the Vectra with on-screen hint boxes and tutorials. The best chapter is a section entitled ?Working in Comfort? which gives advice on healthy posture and safe working environments, plus tips on avoiding RSI.
The Vectra is housed in a squat mini-tower case with a pull-down cover that protects the floppy disk and CD-ROM drive. There are also serial, parallel and microphone ports to the rear. You?ll need to find an extra wall socket to power the display because there is no AC outlet for the monitor.
The hardware is also bundled with McAfee?s Virus Scan95 and a basic diagnostic facility. HP provides a utility called the Support Centre which sets up the modem so that HP?s own support staff can dial in and perform remote diagnostics.
Included in the price is 90 days? free phone support, together with three years? warranty, one of which is on-site. HP supports all the Vectra?s hardware and software problems from one phone number.
Verdict: a solid performer with useful communications options, the Vectra has direct phone and dial-in support from HP?s own staff. However, it faces stiff competition from similarly-priced, higher-performance MMX PCs.
Contact: Hewlett Packard on 0990 474747
Price: #1,620 (excluding monitor)
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