I have one hard-and-fast rule about hardware: If I need to think about it, it's not doing its job. Dell's Precision WorkStation 410 has me rethinking that rule. Just about every time I sit down at the keyboard, this dual Pentium II 450MHz system amazes me.

The system's features make it a joy to use. It comes with 256MB of RAM, a pair of Seagate Cheetah 10,000rpm 9GB SCSI hard disks, and a mediocre video card (the entry-level Diamond Fire Pro GL 1000 with 8MB of RAM). This system is snappy and responsive regardless of my demands, and it represents a new breed of desktop computers—they have power to spare for any task and will go where only dedicated UNIX workstations have gone before.

What impresses me the most is that the 410 isn't a cutting-edge system (Dell reserves that distinction for its big brother, the 610). The 410 doesn't use Xeon processors, and the system I have uses run-of-the-mill video (although Dell offers high-end graphics cards). And although Dell equips the machine with the reigning king-of-the-hill hard disks, I don't use the built-in RAID hardware to stripe the drives for maximum performance. Instead, I use the drives to run Windows NT 4.0 and Windows 2000 (Win2K) beta 3 independently on their own drives. Even the bloated applications that pass themselves off as office automation products run as if they had tightly written code highly optimized for performance. For a change, hardware has jumped ahead of software in performance.

And this system isn't a special proprietary version—you can buy almost all the components off the shelf. Dell has simply (perhaps not so simply or everyone would be doing it) put together solid, best-of-the-breed baseline components that provide an excellent platform for building a killer desktop workstation.

Dell goes the extra mile on its Web site to build a system to your specifications. Start with a 400MHz processor and a simple hard disk and video, or go whole hog with dual 450s and top-of-the-line video, a bunch of Cheetah drives, and 1GB of memory. The choice is yours, but I don't think you can make a bad choice with the Dell Precision WorkStation 410.

Precision WorkStation 410
Contact: Dell * 800-999-3355
Web: http://www.dell.com