Packard Bell is a big name in the consumer PC market and anyone who has ever shopped in a PC store will surely have seen its beige boxes lined up on the shelves, but now with the Spirit it's attempting to stand out from the computer crowd.
The computer itself is housed in a slim-line, silver box, which stands on its side, rather than flat on its bottom like a normal desktop system. A 15in digital flatpanel serves as the display and this pretty picture is completed by two slinky silver and grey speakers, plus a dark-grey keyboard and scroll mouse. Packard Bell's leap into the 'concept' PC league is based on a design from NEC in Japan, which has been offering business customers compact systems that are similar to the Spirit for quite some time.
The Spirit comes with a 500MHz Pentium III processor, 128MB of RAM, 10.8GB hard disk drive, 8MB Savage4 graphics card, six-speed DVD-ROM drive and a 56K modem built in. This specification isn't bad, but with a price tag of nearly £2,000 this line-up is far from impressive. If you can forgo the Spirit's good looks you will be able to equip yourself with a far more powerful PC for much less.
Looking on the bright side we liked the 15in digital flat panel, which provides bright, clear images. But again, if you can spare the desk space you can get more screen inches for your money from a CRT monitor, which we think would be a better option if you plan to use the DVD-ROM drive to watch movies.
The speakers are probably the prettiest piece of kit - they are silver and tiny; smaller and slimmer than a paperback book, with their own little grey plastic stands. However, they are far from sturdy and feel as if a puff of wind would knock them over. Sound quality is equally weak - they are fine if all you want is a little restrained background noise, but forget blasting out your favourite tunes, these speakers can't take high volumes, they just descend into distortion.
The decision to stand the system case on its side brings with it an interesting problem. When you're ejecting both CDs or DVDs and floppy disks, the angle of the machine leaves them hanging precariously out of their drives. The eject button for the DVD-ROM drive takes some finding as the sleek design has hidden it too effectively.
The keyboard and mouse are both finished in dark grey-toned plastic.
The keyboard is a Packard Bell multimedia model, which has extra buttons to take you direct to common functions such as email and the Internet.
The mouse is a scrolling unit, which is always a bonus.
To keep the Spirit as tiny as possible, Packard Bell has opted for a 'sealed box' approach, which essentially means upgrade options are severely limited. There are just two PCI and one DIMM slot free for extra cards or RAM - so this is not the PC for you if you like to add new technology to your machine as it comes onto the market. External expansion is simpler as there are two USB ports free, one of which is conveniently situated on the front of the PC, to make plugging in devices simpler.
The Spirit's 500MHz PIII processor helped it to score 194 in our SYSmark performance test, which isn't too bad, but it falls behind the current top-of-the-range processors, which are hitting the 700MHz mark for the same price as the Spirit. Its graphics test result was 2,374 3DMarks, which is impressive when you consider the chipset is onboard.
The software bundle is generous, but you don't get a full office suite, only Microsoft's budget Works suite, plus Word 2000. There are also several handy packages, including Encarta 99, Money 99 and Auto Route Express, plus all the software you need to play DVD movies.
Contact - Packard Bell 01628 508200 www.packardbell-europe.com