What is it: a high-specification business workstation.
Applications: networking, office suites, graphics modelling.
Novell Netware may still be the world?s most popular network operating system, but Windows NT is in hot pursuit and gaining by the hour.
IBM and others have been quick to recognise the trend, with the Intellistation the direct result of almost universal changes in the direction of company marketing strategies.
Whereas Netware and Windows 95 support 16-bit applications, Windows NT workstation is a full 32-bit operating system, and one which the Intellistation has been specifically built to support.
The S200 series may also be a response to the Network Computer (NC), another market in which IBM has a vested interest. Content to allow low-end network users discuss the relative merits of thin and fat clients, some manufacturers seem to be deliberately targeting high-end power users whose needs are met neither by the NC nor PC.
For those planning to combine the advantages of high-bandwidth networking with powerful local storage and processing capabilities, the argument for going the whole way and having a desktop PC to rival a low-specification network server for potency, may be rather difficult to resist.
This is a serious business machine, an intensity of purpose underlined by the high-fidelity charcoal grey of its casing, keyboard and mouse.
With the exception of machines artificially beefed up to be used as servers, this is the most powerful PC we?ve seen. Symmetric Multi Processing (SMP) capabilities are provided by two ZIF (Zero Insertion Force) sockets which can hold either one or two 200MHz Pentium Pro processors.
The review model had one processor installed but, together with 256Kb of integrated Level 2 cache memory, this is more than enough for most business users.
Although Windows NT claims it runs in 16Mb of RAM, you really need 32Mb. Consequently, the 64Mb of Dual In-line Memory Modules (Dimm) shipped with the S200 64 should give 32-bit applications all the support they need for some time to come, and a maximum of 1Gb can be installed if required.
Moderate expansion options are provided by one ISA and two spare PCI slots, but the USB (Universal Serial Bus) interface on the rear of the case represents the most significant avenue for attaching peripherals in the future.
Network connectivity is supplied by an Intel Ether Express Pro/100 adaptor which transmits data at speeds of 100Mbits/sec, although the 100BaseT bandwidth standard must be supported at the hub to get the best out of the card.
Another slot is occupied by an Adaptec 2940 Ultra Wide SCSI adaptor which acts as a controller for the rather small 1.2Gb hard disk made by IBM itself. The Intellistation can sustain a maximum of 15 SCSI devices, ranging from hard disk drives to printers and scanners.
Although the controller can house seven of these internally, only four suitable drive bays are vacant, and the other eight must be connected externally via the port on the rear of the case.
Surprisingly, the Hitachi 16X CD-ROM uses the slower IDE rather than the SCSI interface. But, at that speed, no one is likely to notice any significant delay.
The Intellistation reviewed came with an IBM P201 20in SVGA monitor (#1,234), but 14in (#218) and 17in (#653) alternatives are also available. The P201 is more like a TV set than desktop screen. It has plenty of room for multi-tasking applications, with the Trinitron CRT screen providing true colour settings at a maximum resolution of 1,600x1,024 pixels, and comfortable low glare views at 1,280x1,024.
IBM offers a choice of one of two graphics cards: the Matrox MGA Millennium with 4Mb of video-RAM or the Intergraph Intense 3D Pro with 16Mb of Synchronous Dynamic RAM (SDRAM) and 4Mb of texture RAM.
The latter option has full support for OpenGL graphical modelling and smooth 3D image rendering for CAD-type applications, with some impressive demonstrations of the Intergraph?s abilities provided on the hard disk.
The rear of the mini-tower case shows a few nine-pin serial ports for modem or PDA connection, as well as the usual ECP/EPP parallel printer port. Included, but still a rare sight in desktop PCs, is the infrared interface. This can be used to connect an infrared transceiver module that allows communication with other infrared devices, such as notebooks, printers and networks.
Because the Intellistation is particularly geared towards networking, a number of system management features are built in to its architecture. These include WOL (Wake On LAN), Remote Program Load (RPL) and Desktop Management Interface (DMI) Bios.
This combination allows administrators to remotely monitor, boot up and run diagnostic programs on the PC over the network. Because it is DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) enabled, the Intellistation can also download boot images from intranet servers. This provides individual users with personal desktop profiles according to their login parameters.
The casing is secured by a hefty lock on the back panel, and there is also a power-on password configured in the Bios setup utility. The software supplied is limited to the NT workstation operating system and IBM?s antivirus tool, plus a collection of video and diagnostic utilities.
Users can also choose to have either TME-10 Netfinity 4 or Intel?s LANDesk network management software pre-installed. There is also one year?s on-site and two years? carry-in warranty service included in the price, supplemented by unlimited 24-hour phone and Web-site assistance.
One of the drawbacks of the PC is its large, noisy fan, which even through the casing emits a din to equal a small car?s fan belt in overdrive. The internal speaker is a minor irritation. It renders audio and video playback which is worse on the ears than a Jesus and Mary Chain grunge re-mix.
But entertainment was not foremost in IBM?s mind when it designed the Intellistation, and the supplied amplifier is perfectly adequate for the simple WAV files supplied with Windows NT.
Another niggle is the absence of an installation disk. This left us with the small fonts display setting (heavy on the eye) and the US keyboard layout (annoying) configured as standard. You should make sure that IBM ships either the Windows NT CD-ROM with the PC, or puts the setup files on the hard disk itself before you buy.
Verdict: the IBM Intellistation appears to have been designed with longevity in mind ? its high specifications are clearly intended for both present and future computing needs. Features such as SMP, USB and infrared connectivity should serve the most demanding users to the end of this year and the next without significant upgrades. However, the quality and range of components supplied is reflected in the price. Even so, while networks continue to develop and expand at phenomenal rates, this could be about the closest to a genuine investment you?re likely to get.
Contact: IBM on 0990 426426
Price: from #3,690 excluding monitor (full pricing details yet to be released)
Universal Serial Bus (USB)
USB is a high-speed serial data transfer technology which supports the connection of up to 127 peripherals through a single port. It allows devices which need lots of bandwidth to send and receive data from a PC at speeds of up to 12Mbits/sec, compared to the 115Kbits/sec offered by the standard serial port.
USB can also be used to simultaneously connect small devices, such as mice and keyboards, at lower speeds of 1.5Mbits/sec, leaving more bandwidth available to attach larger devices, such as printers, modems, scanners and even data storage devices.
The main advantage of USB is the standardisation of a single connector for a wide variety of devices. This simplifies expansion options, eliminates connectivity conflicts and saves space on a PC?s system bus and casing. It also provides a 5V electrical charge, which is big enough to satisfy the AC requirements of some smaller devices.
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