Computers: A picture of competence: Andrew Brown test drives one of the main PC-compatible systems on offer in the high street

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GO DOWN to Dixons to buy a box that will run Microsoft Windows and the chances are you will find a Packard Bell for about pounds 1,300 in real money. Packard Bell is a large American company and their computers are about as simple and straightforward as a PC-compatible machine can be.

For the last six weeks I have been using one to run the administration for this page and it has worked without fuss or complaint from 10 minutes after being unpacked.

This is the way computers should work, of course, but the Packard Bell machine has come pretty close to the ideal of being as boring as a washing machine, though I found it is easier to program than the average Electrolux.

I did not properly test the gimmick that Packard Bell uses to distinguish its machines from others in the same class: a program called Navigator, which puts an even simpler graphical interface over the fairly simple Windows graphical 'point and click' operating system.

It has to be said the Packard Bell pictures are prettier - and larger - than those supplied by Microsoft.

The machine also comes with Microsoft's Money and Works for Windows, which between them will run almost any household. Money is an excellent home accounting package which does everything except print your cheques for you. Works for Windows offers competent word processing, a spreadsheet for charts of figures and a database for lists of addresses and so on.

I found two irritating drawbacks. The first is the absence of a 'reset' button to start the computer up again from scratch if it gets mugged in some dark alley of the software.

You are meant instead to give the machine the 'three-fingered salute' and press the Control, Alt, and Delete buttons all at the same time. But a really well-mugged machine will not recognise even those key- presses and in that case there is nothing to do but turn the Packard Bell right off, wait a minute and switch it on again.

The second niggle concerns the mouse supplied. It is too small for my rather large hands and if I were buying the machine I would consider spending an extra pounds 50 on the newest Microsoft mouse which is larger and, I think, smoother.

But mice, like keyboards, are a personal choice.

The screen is acceptable without being outstanding. It runs perfectly well at a resolution of 800 screen dots by 600, which is a high enough resolution to do useful Windows word processing.

The main case is easy to open, using a small Philips screwdriver - or the news desk's paper knife - and it was easy to insert an internal fax modem into one of the three cages at the back. The machine is not really powerful enough to scan incoming faxes quickly and convert them into machine-readable text, but then nothing in this price bracket is.

Broadly speaking, this is a Ford Escort among computers. It seems reliable; it comes from a large company; it will do a great deal of unglamourous work efficiently and a lot of thought has gone into smoothing out rough edges.

In a real revolution for the cause of consumer computing, it even comes with three-pin plugs on the power leads.


Packard Bell Legend 445-Elite

Computer system


Vital statistics

System: PC-compatible

Hardware: 486SX-25 processor,

130 megabyte hard disc,

4mb ram,

SVGA graphics

Software: Navigator Microsoft

Windows, Money, Works

Supplier: Packard Bell

Availability: Retailers

Price: From about pounds 900 (inc VAT)

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