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Shopping for a Windows XP Computer

By Shakil Ahmed & Rob Kay

A few months ago we wrote about the price wars between computer chip manufacturers Intel and AMD and how this benefits the consumer. From the buyer's standpoint, the PC price war fueled by hyper-competitive component manufacturers is still very much on. What's changed in the equation is the release of the new Windows XP operating system, which now brings long awaited (and hoped for!) stability to PCs.

Computers preloaded with Windows XP are now available from all manufacturers while at the same time, PC prices have remained very reasonable.

What we've done is given you a primer on what configurations to look for in a new XP box. Keep in mind that we are targeting the average business user. If you've got a son (or daughter) that's a hard core gamer, you'll need a more powerful machine. So here we go….

What it will cost: We reckon that a solid, mid range Windows XP box can be purchased for around $700 without monitor. If you throw in a decent flat panel screen figure on adding another $400.

Operating System or "OS": The new XP OS is the most controversial element in your new PC. Because of the added stability, we feel Windows XP is the way to go for the average end-user. Most people will be happy with the home user's version of XP rather than the more expensive "professional" edition. You'll like the new features XP provides but you may be irritated with Microsoft's tendency to constantly promote its own services. With XP Microsoft also prevents you from copying your new XP OS onto other machines.

Micro Processor: For the average user a 1 gigerhertz Celeron or AMD Duron is just fine.

Hard Drive: We suggest a 40 gigabyte drive but 20 gigs will work to keep the price down. MP3 or photography enthusiasts will want the extra room.

Memory: Microsoft suggests you have at least 128 megs of RAM, but with memory so inexpensive nowadays (around $34 for 256 megs) it doesn't make sense not have at least 256 megs.

Video System: Video cards, which control the graphics display, are a commodity these days but be sure to have at least 16 megs of memory.

Audio System: Unless you are a digital music enthusiast, inexpensive speakers will do. If audio quality does count, check out the Cambridge Soundworks 3 speaker set from CompUSA which is a deal for only $52.

Internet Connection: Make sure you've got a NIC card (network card) built in to your machine for Roadrunner or a DSL connection.

Monitor: With costs plunging on flat screen monitors save your eyes and get one. Prices start at around $600.

Plugging in Peripherals: You'll want a set up that provides at least two USB connectors. Better yet, get a FireWire, "1394", or I-link if you're editing video or recording a lot of MP3 files. They are much faster.

Extended Warrantees: We would suggest an extended warranty only if you're purchasing large numbers of PCs. Otherwise, the standard warranty, which consists of one year on the system plus three years warranty on the major parts (motherboard, memory, CPU, and hard dive) is more than sufficient. The average life of a computer is less than three years and most of the parts will be covered.

What Brand to Get: The truth is, computers are commodities nowadays. Stick with name brands, or a local computer shop with a good reputation. The issue that you should really be concerned with is maintenance. That is if your box breaks down, you'll be able to get fixed asap. Also, consider shopping at a store that can provide networking assistance too, if you're purchasing your machine as part of a network. Happy hunting!

Shakil Ahmed is the founder of PDC Systems, a Honolulu networking and computer company established in 1991. Questions or comments should be addressed to askshak@pdcsystems.com Rob Kay is a Honolulu-based public relations practitioner who specializes in technology. He can be reached at rkay@pactechcom.com or 539-3627. Suggestions for column topics are welcomed.

Published Nov 23, 2001

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