PCs are picking up speed, and not just from higher megahertz rates in their processors.

Intel Corp. recently released its 820 motherboard chip set, which had been delayed for some time by a memory glitch. The 820 is mostly worth the wait.

In testing at the Government Computer News lab, a 733-megahertz Compaq Deskpro EN SFF Pentium III system, which will be available commercially in mid-December, showed a 13 percent jump in processor performance compared with a recently tested 650-MHz Deskpro EN.

But the script benchmarks for overall system performance, not just the processor, revealed double the performance jump.

The benchmarks were not totally comparable because Compaq put twice as much video memory into the latest small-form-factor chassis: 16 megabytes integrated on the motherboard with a new Matrox Graphics Inc. G400 graphics chip set.

Moreover, some of the video performance gain came from a faster AGP (accelerated graphics port) bus.

The 820 chip set speeds up the bus to 133 MHz; the 18-month-old BX chip set ran at 100 MHz. Moreover, RAM communicates with the cache and processor at a much higher rate, around 700 MHz. The 820 chip set also pumps up AGP speed from 133 MHz to 266 MHz.

These factors combined account for the 28 percent boost in overall system performance. For all the benchmark and megahertz numbers, the 820 chip set does speed things up, even more so when high-end applications tax the PC.

Speed comes at a price, however. The 733-MHz Deskpro EN with an 820 chip set will cost about $700 more than the 650-MHz model with a BX chip set.

The Deskpro's updated chassis has an new look, and the front jacks for a microphone and headset make access easier even though they are perilously close to the power button.

Now that the Pentium III and 820 have had their kinks ironed out, the Deskpro EN is a fine, compact client system.

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CAPTION: DESKPRO EN SFF

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