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Cool Office Tools

By Jeff Bloom & Rob Kay

In past columns we’ve written quite a bit about putting together a home office as well as the security issues involved with cable modems and DSL. We have discussed ways that users might protect themselves from hackers but we should not forget about another looming security issue—the proliferation of viruses. Having the tools to protect your data from potentially malevolent viruses is essential nowadays.

Virus Insurance Policy

No one concerned about their data should be without virus protection software. Unfortunately, working on a PC is not free of risk from the not so wonderful world of computer viruses. Where as some "species" of these man-made pathogens can be a nuisance, on other occasions they can threaten the existence of your data. The answer is to purchase an anti-virus program and we think Norton AntiVirus, a perennial favorite of the trade magazines, is the best.

Norton (version 5.0) is easy to install and holds your hand through virus detection and removal "modes". It literally scans every file in your computer for virus infection and tells you exactly what it’s doing on at each step of the detection process. One of the coolest aspects of the program is that in order to keep you continually protected from emerging viruses, Norton 5.0 allows you to download the latest revisions of the software from the Internet free of charge.

At $50, it is priced about the same as other packages on the market, and comes chock-full of scanning options. If you surf the Net and receive email, you really don’t want to be without this program.

Card Scanner

This is an optional purchase for your home office but it’s something that we’ve found to be absolutely essential. Yes, another cool office tool. We looked at the CardScan 300 (http://www.cardscan.com) from a Cambridge, Massachusetts company called Corex. It allows you to take all those business cards that are probably cluttering up your drawer or wallet and easily scan the data into a database on your desktop computer. Modeled after an actual Rolodex, the software is full-featured, well-designed and easy to use. CardScan 300 has a very effective scanner that sucks up all those fax numbers, e-mail addresses, Web sites and the like that we are all too busy to enter in manually. This little gem also works with a Palm Pilot so that you can transfer your card data base from your desktop PC straight into hand held device. Price is around $200.

To Upgrade or Not to Upgrade?

This column has dedicated a great deal of time to the area of computer upgrades. Sometimes it makes sense to upgrade your existing equipment whereas on other occasions you’re better off buying a new box. While rebuilding from the ground up—that is adding a new motherboard and a new CPU is pretty radical for the average user, there are people who need a customized computer for special applications.

In this case a complete rebuild can often save them money. We decided to test this theory by upgrading an older machine belonging to a friend, Tina, who has a thriving graphics arts business in Honolulu. We wanted to see how much it would cost to rebuild her old 200 MHz clone the ground up with quality parts. Tina wanted a faster computer that could handle graphics-intensive applications but didn’t have the funds money to purchase a new machine that might cost upwards of $1000.

We started the project by obtaining an S1590S Trinity motherboard from Tyan, a high quality Silicon Valley manufacturer. This board came highly recommended by the trade magazines, was reasonably priced under $100 and is designed to work with the newer K6-III series of microprocessors from AMD. The Tyan board also has an "AGP" slot, which she would need for a state of the art graphics card. We chose the K6-III 450 MHz chip from AMD (rather than Intel’s Pentium II series) because they are designed specifically for graphics-intensive applications.

In addition to a CPU that would handle graphics Tina also needed a very fast video card and for this we chose the Voodoo3 2000 from STB. At a price of under $120 this AGP standard card offers great technology bang for the buck and was perfect as an upgrade. It is also specifically designed to work with the AMD chip. We also added 64 megs of "DIMM" RAM (at around $62) which would speed up the computer even more.

The final result was a very, very fast and stable machine that was perfect for Tina’s business. The combination of the AMD K6-III, the Voodoo3 2000 card and the Tyan board was tough to beat. We benchmarked our system (courtesy of Earl Ford at Pacific Interactive) and the system blew the doors off the fastest Pentium P II machines. However, the upgrade path was not without it’s speed bumps. For example we had to purchase a new case for the Tyan board because it simply wouldn’t fit in standard equipment. (Add another $100 for that).

The total including Tyan board, AMD chip, STB video card, new case and RAM was $600 not counting labor which would have been another $100. We think Tina would have a tough time finding a machine on the market that would meet her needs for that price. However, the average user might not need as powerful a machine.

The lesson is choose your upgrade path carefully. All you may need is a new hard drive or perhaps some RAM. Unless you have a specific chore we suggest staying away from a complete rebuild. Also, keep in mind that your machine is only as fast as your slowest component.

Rob Kay is a Honolulu-based public relations practitioner who works with technology companies in Hawaii and Silicon Valley. He can be reached at rkay@pactechcom.com or 539-3627. Jeff Bloom is the founder of Computer Training Academy/Network Resource Center, a computer education/consulting firm based in Honolulu. His contact is jeffb@cta.net or 839-1200. You can read past columns at http://www.cta.net/news/. Suggestions for column topics are welcomed.

Pacific Business News - Friday November 5, 1999

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