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Buying a Computer


Buying a New Computer

This is a brief overview of the things to consider before buying/stealing/accepting a PC.

The GOLDEN RULE is 'Decide what you want a computer for and make sure that it will do it".

Rule two is "Be aware that it will be out of date in six months, unless you pay twice as much as necessary."  Commercial organisation expect to replace PCs every 2-3 years.  I paid 1033 for a computer in 1987.  They typically still (mid-2003) cost that, but are very roughly 500 times more powerful.

Rule three is "Read the first two rules again"

Most PCs are effectively the same, but there are also Apple Macintosh Computers, a much-loved minority option.  This idea is a bit like comparing petrol cars with diesel.  They aren't really interchangeable.

I will explain a few technical terms, and tell you how my current best (June 2003, 2 year old laptop) computer compares.

Mine: Processor speed 650MHz (.65Ghz  GigaHertz)  This is the processor (brain) speed.  New computers are as high as 3.0GHz
Mine: RAM (Random Access Memory) 64Mb (Megabytes). memory The amount of 'thinking space'.  The higher this value. the more things you can do at once.  New computers are 128Mb to 512Mb.

Mine: 10GB Storage(Gigabytes)  New computers are 20-120Gb

Mine: 12" Screen (sometimes called monitors) This is measured diagonally.  Can be up to 21" or even more, 26" even, but that would be VERY COSTLY. Traditional screens physically go back a long way, like TVs. Modern ones are very much thinner and can be as little as one inch thick. Style is expensive, but getting cheaper.

My computer is totally adequate for me, even when two years old. 650MHz processor, 64MB RAM, 10Gb storage is more than adequate for most users.  However, changing a 650MHz processor for one that is 2.6GHz means that something that would take a month to run will take a week.

The difference between memory and storage is like comparing how many telephone numbers you can recall from memory as compared with the contents of your little black book.

Other things to think about are whether you want:

a 3.5" diskette drive, (3.5" diskettes hold 1.2Mb storage) useful for transferring data between a home machine and someone else's.
a CD ROM drive, holds up to 650Mb storage. Not all CD-ROM drives write as well as reading.

A modem, essential for Internet access.  Most PCs come with one installed. 56Kb is the standard speed, about as fast as telephone lines can handle. You will also expect to pay about 10-15 to an ISP or internet service provider, a company which will give you access to the internet if you already have a telephone line.

Many new PCs come with a budget-priced (75) printer, and is totally adequate for most people. They are black and white and handle A4 paper.  Colour costs more.  Speed costs more. Better quality costs more.

Many new PCs come with budget-priced (75) A4 scanners, and are totally adequate for most people.  Higher resolution costs more.

Desktop PCs almost always come with a mouse. Laptop PCs, which are usually lower specification, smaller and more costly, come with touch-sensitive pads, or other compact mouse variants.  Tracker balls and such like, are available as optional extras.  Cordless mice and keyboards are also available as extras.

Also think about the support and maintenance you want. Generally, if a computer is working properly after a month, you are OK.  Options include 1-3 year on site repair.  Printers are less reliable.

Then there is software.  The software that comes with most new computers is totally adequate for most people. There is lots of very good free software available on the internet.  Finding exactly what you need can be time-consuming, but can be fun. There is lots of very good cheap software available on the internet.  You often get 15-30 days to try it for free, then it stops working.

Almost all PCs come with Windows, the operating system (OS). The OS is to a PC like the stage crew and front of house staff and management of a theatre, they keep the whole thing running and make the main presentation (the software or application) possible. The current version is Windows XP.  Earlier versions are 3.1 (positively antique), 95, 98, ME and 2000. Older software USUALLY works on later OSs, but not always.  New software won't necessarily work on older PCs.

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