April 1, 1997
We’ve been using an evaluation system from Tri-Star Computer for several months as we’ve evaluated AutoCAD R14 (see review in this issue), Imagineer Technical 2.0, and Visio Technical 4.5. Most people using these applications do not require exotic and expensive computers, so we requested a complete, ready-to-run system in the $3,000 range from Tri-Star. The $3,206 Windows NT 4.0 system we received handily outperformed anything else in a comparable price range available from the national retail computer chains.
The Tri-Star StarStation included a 200-MHz Pentium Pro processor, 64 MB RAM, a 4MB graphics card, a 17-inch monitor, 2.1 GB hard drive, and a 12x CD-ROM. None of this is particularly uncommon although there are several significant variations in those devices that can dramatically affect performance. In addition, it’s also important to properly choose devices that when put together, make sense as a computer system. All of this is the responsibility of the computer manufacturer and most of them do a good job for basic business application users but not as well for CAD users.
Focus On Technical Users
Tri-Star focuses on technical users in the AEC, 3D animation, graphics design, and mechanical design areas. The company’s sales brochures are divided into those areas with several pre-configured systems that are intelligently set up and reasonably priced. However, Tri-Star’s best strength is how well their toll-free 800 number sales staff can alter systems to best fit the needs and demands of customers.
We called the 800 line several times in various guises to see how well the staff could guide us and the manner in which they did so. Like a few other PC companies that custom configure systems, Tri-Star did very well, especially so for their technical markets. We asked general questions about what kinds of hardware would suit us in our price range for a given set of applications, file sizes, network type plus cabling, and peripherals we wished to attach. Answers and reasons they could not provide immediately, they found in less than two minutes without ever sounding impatient, condescending, or pushy.
Our test unit had Windows NT 4.0 preloaded, and it started up fine as soon as we plugged it in. Performance appeared to be enhanced by having an Ultra Wide SCSI hard drive instead of the more common EIDE type used in most PCs of this price range. The system was set up by Tri-Star with the common FAT file system although we’d strongly encourage anyone to consider the one-way conversion to NTFS (it’s not obvious) for reliability, performance and security (if one cares).
The system had plenty of expansion capability, both in hardware ports and the needed software IRQs to make them actually work properly.
Our only glitch while evaluating CAD applications came from the 12x CD-ROM which could not read any of our CDs without loading each one at least five times for every initial access. We did not encounter this problem with another Tri-Star we were testing at the same time, and the warranty appeared sufficient to correct the problem if we had chosen to do so.
Tri-Star does not automatically include any of the multimedia extras or mountains of software that the broad-base PC manufacturers do; nevertheless, what they do provide are PCs that truly deliver very strong performance at low prices. For technical users, this is the way to go.
CPU: One 200MHz Pentium Pro with 256 KB cache
Memory: 64 MB EDO ECC RAM (using DIMMs)
Storage: 2.1 GB Ultra Wide SSI (40 MB/sec)
Graphics: ELSA Winner 2000 Pro/X with 4MB RAM
Monitor: 17-inch ViewSonic OptiQuest, .26 dot pitch, 77Hz max.
CD: 12x IDE Mitsumi FX1200
Contact: Tri-Star Computer, 800-755-5800, 602-731-4926, http://www.tristar.com