NetVista S42 review: NetVista S42

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MSRP: $999.00

The Good IT-friendly software and features; pivoting flat-panel monitor; excellent warranty and support; includes six USB ports.

The Bad Cheap two-button mouse lacks scroll wheel; no speakers.

The Bottom Line IBM sticks to the basics and serves up a well-rounded, well-supported, expensive corporate PC.

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7.2 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 6
  • Support 9

The IBM NetVista S42 offers exactly what you'd expect from a corporate PC: a compact, if unattractive, design; solid application performance; weak graphics hardware; and IT-friendly deployment and support tools. It also serves up a few welcome surprises, such as six USB 2.0 ports and a pivoting, flat-panel monitor. On the other hand, what's a DVD-ROM drive doing in a business machine? We'd gladly take a CD-ROM instead, provided IBM would trade for a mouse with a scroll wheel. Beyond a few such hardware missteps, the NetVista S42 is a dream for IT departments. Top it off with one of the best warranties in the business, bolstered by 24-hour, toll-free tech support, and the S42 is an ugly duckling that turns into a swan.

Back in black.
IBM usually opts for function over form, and the NetVista S42 reflects that attitude with its boxy, generally unexciting, matte-black desktop case. Fortunately, it nails the function part, with cubicle-friendly compactness (roughly 3.5 by 12 by 14 inches) and a bracket that allows it to stand vertically instead of sitting prone. What's more, the front of the case offers a headphone jack and four USB 2.0 ports, which are probably more than a corporate user would need but are welcome nonetheless. The headphone jack is a particularly nice touch since the S42 doesn't include speakers, though it does have an audio chip. You can listen to music CDs or any necessary business-related audio without disturbing your neighbors.

The S42's diminutive size belies its expansion capabilities, which include legacy ports (two serial, one parallel), two additional USB ports at the rear, and a pair of PCI slots. The latter are mounted horizontally on a riser, so you can install full-sized expansion cards; many compact cases limit you to half-height cards, which can be harder to come by. The S42 also has a pair of DIMM slots; both are easily accessible and only one is occupied.

Enough ports to appease the corporate user.

PCI slots mounted on a riser let you install full-size cards.

It's appreciably easy to get inside the S42's case--just remove a pair of thumbscrews. However, the S42 isn't quite as modular as, say, the Compaq Evo D500 or some HP corporate systems we've tested. To access the hard drive, for instance, you must first remove the enclosure containing the floppy and DVD-ROM drives, and that requires a screwdriver. Still, an efficient IT staffer could replace a hard drive in 10 minutes.

As you might expect from a corporate PC, the NetVista S42 has hardware that's more attuned to business software than to video and 3D applications. Thus, it includes a 2.4GHz Pentium 4 processor with a 533MHz front-side bus and 256MB of DDR SDRAM. P4 processor speeds on the S42 line range from 1.8GHz to 2.53GHz. The integrated Intel graphics chip shares the memory, however, so don't plan on running any software that relies heavily on graphics. This is a system designed with the likes of Microsoft Office in mind, not Adobe Photoshop.

The S42's star attraction is its IBM T560 flat-panel monitor, which not only delivers razor-sharp images and color to die for but also pivots 90 degrees to provide a portrait display. Its positioning arm gives you ample control over the tilt and even the height of the screen, which could prove useful for workers who stand at a counter rather than sit at a desk. The T560 can also be mounted on a wall.

The small case leaves no room for an AGP slot.

A monitor that turns on a dime.

The keyboard, though surprisingly light, maintains the excellent feel and feedback that we've come to expect from IBM keys. Alas, it lacks quick-launch and volume-control buttons, which should be standard equipment on any PC--corporate or otherwise. What's worse is the cheap-feeling two-button mouse that has no scroll wheel--an unforgivable oversight.

We're surprised to find a DVD-ROM drive in a corporate system, as a CD-RW drive seems more practical. Ironically, IBM does offer the S42 with a CD-ROM for slightly less money, but a CD-RW isn't an option.

To help large corporations simplify the deployment of multiple systems, IBM offers a contract service called ImageUltra, which loads a custom image on each machine prior to shipping. Another IT-friendly feature, Rapid Restore, enables push-button backup and restoration of the entire hard drive. The S42 is the first NetVista product to come with Rapid Restore preloaded, which saves you from having to download it to each machine. The NetVista also has a robust set of security features embedded in the BIOS.

Application performance
In order to keep the NetVista S42 design to such a small form factor, IBM had to make at least one significant compromise: the S42 series uses a graphics engine that is integrated into the Intel 845G/GL chipset. When system memory and graphics memory are shared, a noticeable performance penalty on the memory subsystem is evident. The 2.4GHz P4-based NetVista S42 that we tested performed more like a 2.26GHz P4-based system. We saw a similar issue with the 2.4GHz P4-based Sony VAIO Digital Studio PCV-RX860, which also integrates its graphics engine into the motherboard chipset. At least the S42 uses a speedier hard disk subsystem than the RX860, so the S42 offers slightly better application performance. The S42's performance doesn't quite match its specs, but it has enough oomph for most mainstream applications.

Application performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo SysMark2002 Rating  
SysMark2002 Internet Content Creation Rating  
SysMark2002 Office Productivity Rating  
Gateway Profile 4 (2.4GHz Intel P4, 266MHz DDR SDRAM)
Polywell Poly 884RF-2700 (AMD Athlon XP 2700+, 400MHz DDR SDRAM)
IBM NetVista S42 (2.4GHz Intel P4, 266MHz DDR SDRAM)
iBuyPower Value XP PC (2.26GHz Intel P4, 333MHz DDR SDRAM)
Sony VAIO PCV-RX860 (2.4GHz Intel P4, 266MHz DDR SDRAM)
To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark2002, an industry-standard benchmark. Using off-the-shelf applications, SysMark measures a desktop's performance using office-productivity applications (such as Microsoft Office and McAfee VirusScan) and Internet-content-creation applications (such as Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Dreamweaver).

3D graphics and gaming performance
Integrated graphics solutions don't usually provide the level of 3D graphics performance needed for applications with demanding 3D graphics requirements. The S42's Intel 845G/GL graphics engine is one such integrated solution that doesn't make the grade. If your computing needs include playing games with 3D graphics or utilizing recent educational titles for the kids, the IBM NetVista S42 is not the right choice for you.

3D graphics performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)'s 3DMark 2001 Pro (16-bit color)'s 3DMark 2001 Pro (32-bit color)  
Polywell Poly 884RF-2700 (ATI Radeon 9700 Pro)
iBuyPower Value XP PC (Nvidia GeForce4 MX 440)
Gateway Profile 4 (Nvidia GeForce2 MX 440)
IBM NetVista S42 (Intel 845G/GL)
Sony VAIO PCV-RX860 (SiS 651)
To measure 3D graphics performance, CNET Labs uses's 3DMark 2001 Pro Second Edition, Build 330. We use 3DMark to measure a desktop's performance with the DirectX 8 (DX8) interface at both 16- and 32-bit color settings at a resolution of 1,024x768. A system that does not have DX8 hardware support will typically generate a lower score than one that has DX8 hardware support.

3D gaming performance in FPS  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Quake III Arena  
Polywell Poly 884RF-2700 (ATI Radeon 9700 Pro)
iBuyPower Value XP PC (Nvidia GeForce4 MX 440)
Gateway Profile 4 (Nvidia GeForce2 MX 440)
IBM NetVista S42 (Intel 845G/GL)
Sony VAIO PCV-RX860 (SiS 651)
To measure 3D gaming performance, CNET Labs uses Quake III Arena. Although Quake III is an older game, it is still widely used as an industry-standard tool. Quake III does not require DX8 hardware support--as 3DMark2001 does--and is therefore an excellent means of comparing the performance of low- to high-end graphics subsystems. Quake III performance is reported in frames per second (fps).

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:

iBuyPower Value XP PC
Windows XP Home; 2.26GHz Intel P4; 256MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 MX 440 64MB; Maxtor 6L060J3 60GB 7,200rpm

Gateway Profile 4X
Windows XP Home; 2.4GHz Intel P4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Nvidia GeForce2 MX 400 32MB; Western Digital WD120BB-53CAA1 120GB 7,200rpm

IBM NetVista S42
Windows XP Home; 2.4GHz Intel P4; 256MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; integrated Intel 845G/GL 64MB (shared memory); IBM IC35L040AVVA07 40GB 7,200rpm

Polywell Poly 884RF-2700
Windows XP Professional; 2.17GHz AMD Athlon XP 2700+; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9700 Pro 128MB; two Western Digital WD800JB-00CRA1 80GB 7,200rpm; integrated Promise FastTrack133 Lite RAID

Windows XP Home; 2.4GHz Intel P4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; integrated SiS 651 32MB (shared memory); Seagate ST380020A 80GB 5,400rpm

IBM's excellent support plan blankets the machine with a three-year parts-and-labor warranty, which includes onsite service and 24/7, toll-free phone help. Various upgrades can extend onsite service to four years and add round-the-clock service dispatching, which is useful for call centers and other enterprises that operate 24 hours a day. Keep this in mind as you shop for other corporate systems, which may have lower prices but also shorter, less comprehensive support plans.