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IBM ThinkCentre A51P
IBM's A-series ThinkCentre desktops are targeted at small to medium-size businesses. (Corporations that need a stable, long-term configuration will be more interested in the M-series.) The true highlight of this machine is IBM's attention to quality in design. In front--directly below the CD-RW, DVD-ROM, and floppy drives--are easily accessible microphone and headphone jacks, along with two USB ports. The back of the case has the standard gamut of ports that are clearly marked and color-coded. IBM also boosts reliability with utilities such as Rescue and Recovery, which lets you restore a previous drive image; the Embedded Security Subsystem, for securing files and folders; and the System Migration Assistant, for setting up a user on a new computer.
The tool-less entry into the case is literally a snap, and you won't need tools to remove components, such as expansion cards or drives. Nicely designed buttons and levers allow for easy access to all internal parts. To access the hard drive bay, for example, we simply pulled a lever and swung the entire bay outward on a hinge. We did encounter one small problem when doing that: We ripped the power cord from the socket of the drive as the bay swung open. Luckily, we didn't do any damage, but users clearly need to be careful opening this bay. A slightly longer power cord could prevent such accidents.
The A51p came in a traditional IBM-black midsize tower case--an example of Big Blue's business chic that bucks the current trend to colors and curves. It's a sturdy, functional design at a price--again typical of IBM--that's a little above the norm for its configuration: $1627.
IBM's 17-inch ThinkVision 8734 flat-panel LCD monitor produced very clear text and graphics. The small fonts were nice and crisp, and the colors on our test images were rich and pleasing to the eye. A pair of Cyber Acoustics speakers and a subwoofer produced clear and fairly rich sound.
Powered by a 3-GHz Pentium 4 530 processor, the ThinkCentre earned a score of 83 in our WorldBench 5 tests, which puts it even with two other recently tested machines of the same CPU type--the Dell Dimension 4700 and the Alienware Bot. With an ATI Radeon X300 Pro graphics board with 64MB of RAM, graphics speed on this ThinkCentre is mediocre, but more than adequate for most business applications. IBM's documentation is thorough and well-organized. We wish other vendors would pay attention to such quality.
You'll pay a premium for the IBM brand, but you won't complain about the ThinkCentre A51p's quality of construction or design.
IBM ThinkCentre A51P