The 25 greatest PCs of all time

22. Hewlett-Packard 100LX (1993)

HP’s 100LX wasn’t the first would-be pocket PC, but it was the first one that nailed both the “pocket” and the “PC” aspects of the equation. (The Poqet PC wasn’t really pocketable, and HP’s own 95LX had a low-res screen that hobbled compatibility with desktop apps).

The 100LX managed to squeeze a lot of functionality into its tiny clamshell design. It had a QWERTY keyboard (with a separate numeric keypad!), an 80-by-25-character monochrome display and Lotus 1-2-3 in ROM. Best of all, it ran DOS 5.0, which meant that it was compatible with thousands of popular programs.

HP’s 200LX, a slightly improved version of the 100LX, was also popular. With the 300LX, however, the company dumped DOS in favour of the then-new Windows CE operating system. Compatibility with desktop software was lost–which might be one reason why the 300LX is forgotten, but people are still using its predecessors to this day.

21. Alienware Area-51 (1998)

For as long as there have been PCs, there have been PC gamers. In 1996, Sakai of Miami–named after a Japanese warrior–began rethinking how to market its home computers. “The premise was that we could sell gaming PCs, that we could target people like us who were gamers,” recalls company co-founder Nelson Gonzalez. In 1997, the company renamed itself Alienware (“I was really into The X-Files and aliens back then, and I was into computer hardware,” he says) and launched its first gaming machine, The Blade, with a 3D video graphics card.

In 1998 that model evolved into the Area-51 (an Intel machine; its AMD counterpart, the Aurora, came out a year later). It was amped up with gaming hardware, including three video cards (one 2D card, plus two 3D add-on cards with 3Dfx’s Voodoo chip) and two sound cards (a Sound Blaster 16 for older games and a newer Diamond Monster Sound card, which took advantage of DirectX-capable features like 3D positioning). Back then, a high-end system set you back over $4,000. In 2000, the company added an array of space-age colours to its still-ordinary Area-51 and Aurora case design; it wasn’t until 2003 that the vendor introduced its current hallmark design, the sci-fi “Predator” chassis.

Alienware’s innovative and startling design influenced PC cases in general, and gave gaming PCs new street cred (even Dell and HP have produced gaming systems in the years since). The company, which Dell bought last year, continues to refine its distinctive design and to produce top-flight gaming rigs: In May we named the Alienware Aurora 7500 one of the Top 100 Products of 2006, and in July the company introduced an improved alien-motif case design.

20. Gateway 2000 Destination (1996)

Back in 1996, when convergence was still more buzzword than reality, Gateway 2000 (the company later dropped the 2000 from its name) launched a system that was the precursor to today’s media-centric PC. At its debut, the Destination was pretty heftily priced. But, for that cost of admission, you got a system that was ahead of its time: the Destination married a 31-inch CRT monitor with a multimedia PC, a combination designed to replace the gear already filling your entertainment centre.

The PC itself was black and boxy, practically the size of two 1990s-vintage VCRs stacked on top of each other. It included a wireless keyboard and remote control, a TV tuner and surround-sound speakers. As with today’s DVRs, you could browse TV listings–but you couldn’t record TV to the hard disk.

Along with other proto-media centre PCs such as Compaq and RCA’s PC Theatre, the Destination attracted lots of attention, but failed to make its way into many living rooms. However, it did find a niche among businesses and schools as a presentation machine. And the basic idea it pioneered returned in 2002, when PCs based on Microsoft’s Windows XP Media Center operating system appeared.

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The greatest PC of all time

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