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When Deciding Where to Buy a Computer,
Think Service

(Part 2 of 2)

By Shakil Ahmed

Last week we discussed where to purchase a computer in Hawaii and what factors to consider when choosing a vendor. We concluded that it's best to look at either an established local store or a national company with a reputable third party service department located in Hawaii. Though computers are available at some of the larger big box stores we believe the computers sold there are not suitable for business applications. They are simply not sturdy enough for the wear and tear of 24/7 duty.

So what are the specifications to look for in an entry level machine? Let's examine what the configuration of your next office computer should be: Microprocessor: Does the brand of your microprocessor really matter? The truth is, you don't necessarily need "Intel Inside" but it should be Intel compatible. For number crunching applications or intensive graphics applications you'll want at minimum a 500 MHz PIII or AMD K6-3 compatible processor. If you're strictly web surfing or word processing, a less powerful Celeron or K6-2 series chip will be fine. Computer hardware expert, Earl Ford, of Pacific Interactive systems said, "If you set up a pair of otherwise identical PCs and put a 400-MHz processor from AMD in one and a 500-MHz processor from Intel in the other, most people couldn't tell the difference when web-surfing or word-processing." I agree. Monitor: Rule number one when picking a monitor is to remember that it's best to pick something that's going to be easy on your eye balls. Steve De Mesa an imaging specialist at Servco Integrated Office Technology recommended getting a monitor with at least a .28 dot pitch. Said Steve, "You'll want to choose a monitor in accordance with the type of application you need it for. Thus, people that use monitors for imaging or graphics would want at minimum a 17" to 21" unit. If you're confused as to what brand to get, go to a local shop and see what looks good to you. You can also comparison shop online or look at reviews at www.cnet.com." Expect to spend at least $300 for a decent one unless you go for the new flat screens, which are crystal clear but are quite a bit more expensive. Video Card: The video card provides the electronics that power the monitor and there are hundreds to choose from. Unless you are a gamer or have special needs (such as editing video) the one that the manufacturer has bundled with your box will be sufficient. You will want it to have at least eight megabytes of video memory or VRAM. Hard Drive: The hard drive or hard disk is your storage vault. This is an area where prices have really dropped over the last six months and I'd say purchase as large a hard drive as your budget allows for. Nowadays you'll want a drive of at least ten gigabytes (or "gigs" as we call it in the biz). Memory: Generally you'll want a nice chunk of Random Access Memory to keep you system humming along. According to Randy Williams, a respected engineer over at Computer Training Academy/Network Resource Center, you should get at least 64 megabytes of DRAM, whereas 96 or 128 megabytes, is better. Randy notes, "more RAM does make a difference performance-wise, particularly if you run several programs at the same time". CD ROM: A CD ROM drive is no longer a luxury or simply an add-on for gamers. Some of the machines offer a DVD drive that can play both CD-ROMs and DVD-ROMs, which have a much higher storage capacity. However, I'm not convinced a DVD drive is worth the extra cost at this point. Backup System: This is another area you don't want to skimp on. According to our colleague Bill Vaneron, a storage expert at Hewlett Packard, this is a small business' single most neglected peripheral. We believe it! There are too many businesses out there that won't spend a few extra bucks for a backup unit and this is crazy. A backup tape creates a mirror image of your hard drive and is the cheapest insurance that you can get if you lose your data. Figure on spending an extra $200 on a backup tape drive. Internet Access: You'll want a 56kps (kilobits per second) modem for both Internet and Email use. Or, better yet, buy a network (NIC) card that will allow you to hook up a cable modem or DSL. Oceanic Cable's "Roadrunner" cable modem service costs $50 to set up (if you already have a NIC card) and $39.95 monthly plus set up fee of $100 for unlimited service. Likewise high-speed DSL access is available from Lavanet and a number of other ISPs starting as low as $45/month from Lava.net. Adaptability: Your computer should be fitted with two "USB" ports that are the new standard for connectors. They are an improved way to attach peripherals such as modems and the like to your machine. If you are interested at all in transferring video to and from the PC, look for an even faster new port called either "1394", Firewire or I-link. Cost: The price of a 500 MHz machine with minimum 10 gig drive, 128 MB of memory, CD ROM, tape back up and a decent 17" monitor will run you around $1300 plus or minus a few hundred dollars. Remember, good hardware costs more but breaks down less.

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

Pacific Business News - March 24, 2000

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