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Your Next Computer, Part I

By Rob Kay

With computer technology evolving so rapidly (while prices drop equally as fast) it's confusing to determine exactly what to look for in a new machine and how much one should spend. Periodically we like to do a column on how to get the best bang for buck and clue you in on what components to look for in a computer. This month's column is the first of a two part series that will provide you with a head start on purchasing the best possible machine for your business needs. Let's look at a few commonly asked questions.

Should I buy my computer from a local shop or from the Mainland?

Whether you purchase your computer from the mainland or locally the most important thing to do is make sure the vendor is reputable. Those who know exactly what they want might consider purchasing online from Dell (http://www.dell.com) which sells more computers than anyone else over the Internet. Dell has the direct sales technology down to a science so that they will even notify you via email when products are on sale. The quality is excellent from this company and although you may save a few bucks on general excise tax the prices are not necessarily the least expensive. Buying computers from mainland mail order houses is worthwhile if you really want a brand name machine but the main issue to consider is service. Find out if the company you're buying from has a local service agent and ask them for referrals to see if their service is reliable.

Another option is to "buy Hawaiian". There are several local companies that assemble high quality Pentium clones on Oahu. They are competitively priced and work just as well as the more expensive brand names. Whether you purchase on the mainland or locally, the advantage the consumer has nowadays is that you can order a machine to your exact specifications. As far as local computer builders go, we've had good experiences with PDC Systems, a Honolulu based outfit on Kapiolani, which has an excellent reputation for service and sells individual components at a good price.

What are the specifications to look for in an entry level machine?

Monitor: Since you are going to be sitting in front of a monitor all day, it's best to pick something that's going to be easy on your eyes. We like the 17 -inch monitors for that reason. Sony has some terrific models such as the CPD-200GS for around $600 or you can pick up a Viewsonic E771 for $440.

Video Card: The video card provides the electronics that power the monitor. A good video card will speed up your computer's performance and provide you with crisp graphics. If your business sometimes calls for fancy graphics presentations (or you would like to have the capability to do that) consider purchasing one of the newer cards such as the Viper V330 or the STB Velocity 128.

The newer units have advanced features that offer 3D displays and at least one (the ATI All-In-Wonder) even has a TV tuner integrated into the card which enable you to link your computer with a VCR, cable TV and antennae input. The newer cards are also upgradable to the new DVD technology and can "grab" images off of videotape and incorporate it into a multi-media presentation.

Earl Ford, of Pacific Interactive Corporation, bench-tested five popular video cards for this story including the Matrox Productiva G100, Diamond Viper V330 and Diamond Stealth II G460, the STB Velocity 128 and the ATI All-In-Wonder. At a street price of as little as $79, the Matrox Productiva is the least expensive of the five cards. It proved to be an excellent "basic" card for the average user that handled office applications very well but lacked the advanced features and high performance 3D capabilities of the others. The STB Velocity ($104) has gotten solid reviews from the major PC magazines and with good reason. It proved to be extremely fast and was very useful for graphics intensive applications such as Adobe PhotoShop and AutoCAD as well as 3D renderings. The Diamond products, which included the Viper V330 ($104) and the Stealth II G460 ($113) are among the most popular cards sold today and were stellar performers. The Viper V330 (and the STB model) both employ 128 bit architecture which one should definitely consider if you want to add more zip to your new machine. The Viper will also speed up the performance of an older office computer. Likewise, the GS460 made a considerable difference on our office machine by taking the load off the microprocessor. We also think it's a winner for 3D applications especially if you're using the new AGP (Pentium II standard) motherboards. Finally the ATI All-In-Wonder Card ($115) proved to be an excellent multi-media tool. Because of the many features (such as the built in TV tuner), DVD capability and "video out/in" it would be perfect for multi-media school applications or those needing video editing capabilities.

Bottom Line: For general office apps you won't go wrong with the least expensive of the bunch, the Matrox Productiva. If you are a graphic artist or use high end programs such as AutoCAD or PhotoShop we liked the STB Velocity or the Viper V330 which sold for another $25 or so extra.

Microprocessor: This is the guts or brain of the PC and it is differentiated by speed. In this case, faster is better. There are a host of chips on the market but we think a business should consider a 266 MHz Pentium II as an entry level system. Why? Shakil Ahmed, owner of PDC Systems says that with a 266 Pentium II as a starting point you can easily upgrade by popping in a faster chip in the future. If you buy an older Pentium 200 or even a 233 you won't have this option. That said, budget-minded individuals or students will find that an older Pentium will handle all of the tasks you ask of it. However, you won't have the upgradability factor with the older chips. By the way, your new machine doesn't have to have "Intel Inside" but it should be Intel compatible which means that chips made by AMD, IBM or Cyrix are acceptable.

Next month we'll look at some of the other components that should go into your next office computer.

Pacific Business News - Monday August 3, 1998

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