By Rick Broida

Call centers, customer-service departments, and other staff-intensive (read: crowded) businesses need computers that are easy to deploy, even in cramped cubicles. Compaq’s Evo D500 Ultra-Slim, shown in Figure A, does a good job of fulfilling this specialized need by combining the best aspects of a notebook—a modular drive system, a wireless LAN module, and an overall efficient design—with the power and comfort of a desktop. And it looks good, too. Click here to check the latest prices.

Slim ‘n’ speedy
About the size of a black, silver-accented pizza box, the D500 can sit horizontally as a desktop or vertically as a tower (Compaq provides a stand for the latter position). Inside lies Intel’s latest 1.3-GHz Celeron, along with 128 MB of SDRAM and an Intel 815e graphics chipset. A roomy 5,400rpm, 20-GB hard drive completes the basic setup. Like most business systems, our evaluation unit came with just the operating system (Windows XP Pro) installed. It’s also available with Windows 2000.

Figure A
Compaq’s Evo D500 Ultra-Slim offers impressive application and CPU performance, an attractive, space-saving design, a modular drive system, a built-in wireless LAN adapter and exemplary service and support.

Although integrated graphics systems tend to hobble performance, the D500’s speed in mainstream applications surprisingly exceeded that of comparable systems, such as the Hewlett-Packard e-PC 40 and the Dell SmartStep 100D. It even looked pretty good compared to the iBuyPower Value XP PC, an i845/SDRAM-based 1.6-GHz Pentium 4 system we tested recently; the Evo D500 was just 14 percent slower in SysMark 2001 benchmarks overall. We attribute this phenomenon to the different fabrication technologies used by the chips; the current Celerons are manufactured using .13-micron technology, while the Pentium 4 chips used in the above systems were made with a .18-micron process. A smaller process generally improves performance.

The one area where the Evo D500 failed to impress was in 3D graphics—not surprising, given the Compaq’s integrated i815 graphics engine, which uses 4 MB of system memory. Its flabby 9.9 frames per second (fps) in Quake III Arena automatically restrict it to the mainstream business users who will make up the bulk of the Evo D500’s customer base, for whom gaming is a low priority (at least in the office). Graphics pros and low-end CAD users would clearly need a different system that had a full-fledged, powerful graphics card.

Modular design easy for users and IS folk
But the thing to remember about slim-line PCs such as the Evo D500 is that they’re built to balance performance with space efficiency and ease of use. Take the D500’s modular design; like its predecessor, the iPaq, it includes the same lockable MultiBay drive bay that’s compatible with many of Compaq’s Evo notebooks. The stock 24X CD-ROM drive can pop out to make room for a $189 DVD-ROM drive, a $249 CD-RW drive, a $99 floppy drive, or even a second $160 10-GB hard drive. Sliding levers make swapping modules easy. We also appreciate the built-in speaker, which sounds good enough for business audio and eliminates the need for bulky external speakers.

The D500 also sports a MultiPort socket that, in our configuration, held an 802.11b wireless LAN module (a Bluetooth option is also available). During our informal tests, the module worked like a charm. Within seconds of booting the system, Windows XP Professional detected our wireless router, and in short order, we were surfing the Web. The system also has an integrated 10/100 Ethernet adapter for wired networks.

Connectivity compensates for expandability
What the Evo D500 doesn’t have is lots of room for expansion—which is why connectivity is even more important. The legacy-free D500 serves up five USB ports: four at the rear and one in front (alongside headphone and microphone jacks). If you need to connect older peripherals, Compaq’s $49 Legacy module plugs in to provide one parallel, one serial, and two PS/2 ports.

We liked the peripherals that came with the Evo D500 as much as we liked the computer. Our test unit came with Compaq’s $479 TFT5015 LCD, one of numerous CRT and LCD options available at various price points. The crisp, bright, 15-inch display is a big improvement over most 17-inch CRT monitors we’ve seen, and it saves on space and energy as well. We also liked the springy black keyboard, with its eight programmable quick-launch buttons for applications, Web sites (Compaq presets them to some business-oriented URLs), or file access.

Compaq’s exemplary warranty covers parts, labor, and onsite service for three years as well as toll-free, 24/7 technical help. The company also offers a variety of service and support upgrade CarePaqs. Unfortunately, the documentation for the Evo D500 was not ready when we reviewed the system. All we can say is that we needed it, if only to figure out how to remove the plastic panels from the rear and side of the case. Loosening the pair of thumbscrews should have afforded easy access, but for some reason, it didn’t work. Why would we need to get inside the system? To connect the aforementioned Legacy module and perhaps to install a larger hard drive, for example.

The Compaq Evo D500 Ultra-Slim capably juggles the charms of slim-line PCs—the slender profile and ease of use—with the inherent compromises in expandability and performance. It’s faster than other slim-line models we’ve tested, and its modular bays and ports make it more flexible as well. If you’re going to go slim, this is one of the best solutions we’ve seen.

CNET Labs performance
Performance test

Table A
Longer bars indicate better performance. A score of 100 equals the performance of a test machine with a PIII-800, 128 MB of PC133 CL2 SDRAM, Creative Labs GeForce Annihilator 2 32 MB, and Windows 2000 (Service Pack 1).

Quake III Arena test

Table B
Frames per second; longer bars indicate better performance.

Editor’s note

CNET recently upgraded its system benchmarks to BAPCo’s SysMark 2001. All the systems mentioned in this review were tested using the new benchmark and cannot be compared to systems tested using previous benchmarks.

Compaq Evo D500 Ultra-Slim:
Windows XP Professional; Celeron-1.3GHz; 128 MB SDRAM 133MHz; integrated Intel 815e 4 MB; Maxtor 32049H2 20 GB 5,400rpm

Dell SmartStep 100D:
Windows XP Home; Celeron-1GHz; 128 MB SDRAM 100MHz; Integrated i810 with 4 MB; Seagate ST320410A 20 GB 5,400rpm

HP Vectra e-PC 40:
Windows 2000; Celeron-1.1GHz; 128 MB SDRAM 100MHz; Integrated i815E/M 4 MB; Seagate 40GB 5,400rpm

iBuyPower Value XP PC:
Windows XP Home; Pentium 4-1.6GHz; 256 MB SDRAM 133MHz; Nvidia GeForce2 MX/400 64 MB; Maxtor 4D040H2 40 GB 5,400rpm

Complete specs
Click here to check the latest prices on the Compaq TFT7020 LCD monitor.
Table C

Processor manufacturer Intel
Processor type Celeron
Clock speed 1.3 GHz
RAM installed 128 MB
Max RAM 512 MB
RAM technology SDRAM
Cache size 128 KB
Max supported cache 128 KB
Hard drive size 20 GB
Hard drive type IDE / EIDE
2nd hard drive None.
CD / DVD drive CD-ROM
CD / DVD read speed 48x
CD / DVD write speed N/A
CD / DVD rewrite speed N/A
Floppy drive 3.5″ HD
Removable storage type None
2nd removable storage type None
Monitor type None
Video / Audio
Video RAM installed 4 MB
Video output Intel 815E
Video output max resolution 1600 x 1200
Physical Characteristics
Form factor Desktop slimline
Enclosure color Silver, carbon
Features Administrator password, power-on password, parallel port I/O control, serial port I/O control, USB port control, remote boot control, ownership tag, memory change alert
Depth 14.6 In
Height 3.8 In
Width 12.5 In
Weight 20.1 Lbs
Power provided 120 Watt
Voltage required AC 110/220 V ± 20% ( 50/60 Hz )
OS provided Microsoft Windows 2000 / XP Professional
Software included Drivers & Utilities, Compaq Diagnostics, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Altiris eXpress, Compaq Insight Personal Edition, Compaq Intelligent Manageability Agent
Service / Support 3 years warranty

Processor speed:

The unit “MHz” measures microprocessor internal clock speed, not application performance. Many factors affect application performance.

Hard disk:

The unit “GB” represents 1,000 million bytes of hard disk capacity.

Modem max. data rate:

56k modems are capable of receiving data at speeds up to 56 kbps. However, due to FCC rules that restrict power output, maximum download speeds are limited to about 53 kbps. Data transmitting speeds are limited to 33.6 kbps. Actual speeds depend on many factors and are often less than the maximum possible.

Speed of CD-ROM drive:

Data transfer rates and transfer speeds will vary, depending on a variety of factors.

This review was originally published by CNET on January 9, 2002.