Hands-On - Gateway Astro
Gateway's Astro is an affordable and compact desktop computer, which combines a monitor, CPU, and speakers in a single unit, making it well suited for tight workstations. It comes with a 400 MHz Intel Celeron Processor with 128K cache and integrated Intel graphics, so, while it's not quite the fastest computer available, its speed should be more than adequate for most student and educator needs. Its CD-ROM drive runs at a maximum of 40X, easily handling just about any software program.
We were pleased with the Astro's capabilities and the included software. It has a 4.3 GB hard drive, 64MB SDRAM, a 3.5" floppy disk drive, and also comes with a 56K modem, Microsoft Works Suite 99 (a software package including Microsoft Word and the Encarta encyclopedia), and Norton Anti-Virus software. The Astro comes installed with Microsoft Windows 98 Second Edition.
The unit was easy to set up straight out of the box; we simply had to plug in three cords. The Astro's screen is 13.9 inches viewable, and, while there's no dedicated video out port, the PC has four USB ports, one of which connects to the keyboard and mouse. Right on the front of the computer are the power button, the CD drive, the 3.5" floppy drive, a headphone jack, a built-in microphone, and integrated speakers. The speakers yield a decent sound quality, but for fuller sound, a speaker upgrade is available for an extra $60. Alternatively, external speakers can plug into the headphone jack. The microphone, however, is a bit awkward to use, and there's no jack for an external one. Thus, the only way to record voice without buzzy undertones is to put one's face within an inch of the machine. Nevertheless, if one is willing to nuzzle his or her computer, voice recording is certainly possible.
The system includes Gateway's Go Back, a program allowing the user to revert the PC to an earlier state, whether to repair damage, retrieve lost documents, or undo changes to the system. This feature certainly could come in handy in a school, where multiple users might inadvertently make undesired changes to a workstation. Fortunately, we never experienced any problems that prompted us to use Go Back, but we did test it out, and found it easy to comprehend.
The system also includes a pre-installed program and CD-ROM for Gateway.net, Gateway's online service provider. Internet service through Gateway costs $19.95 a month for the first 150 hours. We didn't use this service, but found it easy enough to hook up the Astro to our own LAN and Internet connections.
In fact, we've been using the Astro almost constantly since we received it. It expertly handles everyday functions such as Internet use, word processing, software operation and local networking. The accompanying software titles, including Microsoft Graphics Studio, Microsoft Money 99, Microsoft Works 4.5a, Microsoft Streets 98, and the popular Encarta encyclopedia, enrich the Astro's offerings.
For its low cost (starting at $799), the Astro is a very thorough assemblage. It even comes with a mouse pad, and the mouse itself includes a scroll wheel for easy cycling through documents. However, the model we received d'es suffer from a few glitches. For example, as happens with many PCs, when too many programs are running at once, the screen sometimes freezes, and even pressing control-alt-delete won't unfreeze it. We've learned our lesson, and try not to overload the system any more.
Another glitch occurred repeatedly whenever our screen saver switched to standby mode: the screen locked in standby, and no amount of mouse movement or key clicking could revive it. To solve this problem, we changed the monitor settings to eliminate standby mode, and the problem disappeared.
One other minor problem with our unit is its frequent stalling in shutdown mode, requiring us to hold down the power button to turn off the machine completely. That alone certainly isn't a big deal, but it necessitates running the "scan disk" feature at the next startup.
These minor problems aside, the Astro is a competent machine for most common computer tasks. With its compact size, customizable ordering options, and full features (including a lock slot for security cables), it would make a worthwhile installment in most schools.
N. Sioux City, SD
This article originally appeared in the 06/01/2000 issue of THE Journal.