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PC Buyer's Guide 2001 -- Part I

By Shakil Ahmed

If you read the newspapers at all you couldn't help but notice the market meltdown in tech stocks. Even if the bloodbath on NASDAQ hasn't been great for your portfolio, it has a silver lining if you're interested in purchasing a new computer. One of the reasons for the meltdown in PC stocks is the oversupply of components which has created a full blown price war when it comes to hard drives, RAM memory and the like. This is a great time to think about upgrading your old computer or purchasing a new one outright. However before you pull out your wallet or purchase a machine online let's look at what you need to consider.

One thing to ponder is whether or not you'll want to switch over to Microsoft's entirely new operating system which is slated for introduction this Fall. Called Windows XP, this revamped version of Windows will theoretically provide greater stability and numerous bells and whistles such as voice recognition. However, it will need more RAM and disk space than Windows 98 and Windows Me.

Prior to getting started, I'm going to make some basic assumptions that you're what we call in the business an average end-user. That is, you plan to use your system for word processing, desktop publishing, surfing the web, retrieving e-mail, playing MP3 files and other basic activities. If you fall into this category read on! The specs that I've outlined will apply to you.

Processor Speed: Get a processor with a minimum speed of 800 megahertz. At the time of publication, Intel will have dropped its prices again. An Intel Celeron will do most people justice. Unless you're a speed demon, you're not going to need a Pentium P4. The average user is not going see much improvement with the more expensive gear. However those of you who do need the extra umph should not hesitate to purchase a faster chip. With microprocessor costs dropping so incredibly low (because of an Intel-AMD price war) it does make sense to go for a 1.3 or 1.4 Gigahertz chip especially if you're planning at some point to edit video clips or play around with Photoshop.

Memory: RAM is also dirt-cheap nowadays and I'd say stock up. Even with a fast microprocessor, if you don't have enough memory, your added muscle will be wasted. I would say get 256MB-especially if you're planning to run Windows XP. FWIW (for what it's worth) you can add 256 of PC 133 RAM for as little as $100 and $300 for the PC800 RDRAM used in the new P4 systems. With prices so low, it's really silly not to buy a good chunk of memory that could come in very handy in the future.

Storage: You'll want at least 20 or even 30 gigabytes of hard drive. You can save some money if you stay with the older 5400 rpm hard drives. Again, prices are so cheap, it's ridiculous not to get something decent. For example a good 7200 rpm 20GB goes for $125 and a 30 gig model is just another $20 bucks more. If you're purchasing your machine to store digital photos or you download music or store digital photos you'll need the real estate. The bigger the drive the better and faster the drive better the response.

Where to Buy: One question I get asked a lot is where you should buy your machine. I'd say either stick with a well known brand such as IBM, Dell, H-P or Gateway or, purchase a locally-built clone from a reputable Hawaii manufacturer. Don't knock a computer just because it was built here! Figure on spending anywhere between $800 to $1400 for your new box.

In our next column we'll continue our buyer's guide series and look at items such as what type of operating system, video card, connectivity and other features to consider. Stay tuned.

Shakil Ahmed is the founder of PDC Systems, a Honolulu computer and networking company established in 1991. Questions or comments should be addressed to askshak@pdcsystems.com

Published May 11, 2001

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