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Computer Face Off - Comparing Hawaii and Mainland-Built Personal Compters, Part 1

By Rob Kay and Jeff Bloom

One element of Hawaii’s burgeoning technology sector is a small but growing computer manufacturing industry. These are miniscule firms compared to the Compaqs and Dells of this world but nonetheless, they produce high quality desktop machines that are purchased by individuals, small businesses and customers as large as the University of Hawaii. We estimate that these companies annually sell about $15 million worth of locally assembled computers. (To the dismay of these small companies, the county and state governments evidently purchase the majority of their boxes from the mainland.)

Are locally built computers equal in quality to similarly configured machines purchased from Dell, Compaq, IBM or any of the other large Mainland manufacturers? Is a small or large business better off buying a locally built computer or should they only consider buying a name brand machine from the Mainland?

These are questions that many local businesses have wondered about. We wanted answers to these questions.

As one might expect, local computer assemblers argue persuasively that their systems are of equal performance and durability compared to machines produced on the Mainland. Shakil Ahmed, President of PDC Systems, told us, "there’s no qualitative difference between well-built local computer and well-built mainland units. Just because a computer is built on the Mainland or Taiwan, it doesn’t automatically follow that it’s been constructed with high quality components. The consumer has to be discriminating both here and on the mainland when purchasing hardware."

Mainland Vs. Local
So what’s the answer?

Do you buy from a Hawaiian manufacturer or "play it safe" and purchase a brand name box from the Mainland? We thought the best way to answer this question was to rigorously test the performance of locally built computers, examine the quality of components and speak to local computer experts to see what they say.

As a first step, we decided to compare the performance of the locally built clones to one of the top mainland brands. In this case, the "gold standard" we chose was the Compaq Deskpro—which is a popular choice with Fortune 500 companies and government entities. The professional quality Compaqs (as opposed to the cheaper models sold in the big box stores such as Costco) are rated highly by the computer trade publications for performance and quality. The Compaq Deskpro EP we looked at was provided by GeminiTech, a respected Honolulu computer distributor and service company headquartered on Kalani Street.

To help us do the hands-on testing we enlisted the help of Earl Ford, President of Pacific Interactive, one of Hawaii’s best known computer and networking consultants. Ford used a series of tests called ZD Winbench ’99 developed by Ziff Davis, the New York-based publishers of PC Magazine, as a benchmark.

The Participants:
We invited some of Hawaii’s largest and most established computer builders—Byteware, Computershack, Memco Systems and PDC Systems the to provide us with sample machines that we could bench test and compare to the Compaq Deskpro. Of the four companies we asked, only Memco Systems and PDC Systems accepted our invitation and provided us with locally built units to examine.

Each machine was similarly configured to reflect the average entry-level business standard. This included the minimum of a 500Mhz Pentium III processor, 64 MB of RAM, a CD ROM, a large hard drive, a 17" monitor, a network card and, a video card containing at least 8 MB of RAM. The price ceiling was $1500—not including tax. The three models we looked at were $1449 for the PDC Systems unit, $1,475 for the Memco machine and $1378 for the Compaq. Ford said that the price differences between the Hawaii units and the Compaq was largely because the Compaq had a smaller capacity hard drive and 64 MB less RAM. (He noted that at the time the Compaq was delivered its price was $1500 but that the unit had since been marked down to $1378).

The Verdict:
The ZD Benchmark tests run by Pacific-Interactive covered a wide range of performance indices including processor speed, video and graphics processing capabilities and disk drive access speed. After a number of tests Earl Ford concluded that the two Hawaii-built machines compared very favorably to the Compaq machine and in some instances, outperformed it. Ford said that processing speed was "pretty even across the board".

Ford stated that all three systems displayed more than adequate performance for business applications either in a home office or a conventional office setting. All offered good bang for the buck. "I liked the fact," said Ford, "that both locally built systems were well engineered and offered flexibility in terms of expansion and upgrades. Both the Memco and PDC System boxes had extra expansion bays for peripherals such as hard drives, CD ROM drives, tape drives, etc."

In The Next Column:
We compare quality and durability of Mainland and locally built computers and offer tips on how to buy a system.

Jeff Bloom is the founder of Computer Training Academy/Network Resource Center, a computer education/consulting firm based in Honolulu. His contact is jeffb@cta.net or 839- 1200. Rob Kay is a Honolulu-based public relations practitioner who specializes in technology. He can be reached at rkay@pactechcom.com or 539-3627. Suggestions for column topics are welcomed.

Pacific Business News - Friday, February 4, 2000

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