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Your Next Office Computer

By Rob Kay

Computers have become such a commodity these days that you can find them on sale not only at computer shops but in retail outlets such as Costco, Office Depot, the Home Shopping Channel and who knows, maybe even down the isle at Star Market!

Despite the availability of PCs in the marketplace, you should be discriminating about where you buy your computer and, choose the configuration of your machine carefully. Does it matter if you purchase it from a local shop or from a mainland mail order house? Not really. So long as they are reputable vendors, the quality is pretty much the same. You may save a few bucks if you go the mainland route but there is always the issue of service. Unless you have a very good support staff at your office, a smaller business might consider sticking with a local vendor. That way if you have problems, your neighborhood computer shop will be there to help out. However some of the large vendors, such as Dell, have sold computers via mail order for years and have a good reputation for quality and service. Dell also pioneered selling computers over the Internet. (And no, neither of us owns stock in Dell although we wish we did!).

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:

Monitor/Video Card:
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. I like the 17 -inch monitors for that reason. The video card provides the electronics that power the monitor and there are hundreds to choose from. You will want to look for one that has two megabytes of video memory or VRAM. Despite what the manufacturers say, video cards are a commodity and unless you have special objectives, a mid-priced model (under $150) will take care of all your needs.

This is the guts or brain of the PC and it is differentiated by speed. In this case, faster is better. For a Windows machine you'll want at minimum a 200 MHz MMX compatible chip. It doesn't have to have "Intel Inside" but it should be Intel compatible such as AMD, IBM or Cyrix. If you're budget allows for it, a faster chip (such as a Pentium II class microprocessor) is even better (but naturally more expensive). (Note that MMX chips will take advantage of graphics such as CAD or games. It's preferable, if you use graphics intensive software to get MMX , but not mandatory).

Hard Drive:
The hard drive or hard disk is your vault. It stores all your files which include letters, documents and even photos. The rule of thumb is purchase as large a hard drive as your budget allows for. There are many reasons for this. Programs get larger all the time and it seems there is never quite enough room to store your documents. Nowadays you'll want a hard drive of at least two gigabytes (or "gigs" as storage is popularly called).

Random Access Memory is another area you don't want to skimp on. Again, the more the merrier. I would suggest at bare minimum you get 16 megs whereas 32 would be optimal. Keep in mind that in general, memory speeds up the computer's processing ability.

A CD ROM drive is no longer a luxury or simply an add-on for game freaks. It's now the method by which programs are loaded on your machine and thus a necessity. It's also useful for reference materials, many of which are now stored in this medium. The average speed on a CD ROM drive is "12X" and that should do just fine.

Backup System:
If you are buying a stand alone machine (vs. a network system) you will want a back up tape drive. Although hard drives are very dependable these days, a backup tape which creates a mirror image of your hard drive, is insurance that if you lose your data, you will have a copy. Your data is everything! This is where being a cheapskate can hurt you. If your system crashes or is stolen and you have no copy of your letters, invoices, etc--you're in big trouble.

You'll want a 33.6 Kbps (kilobits per second) modem for both Internet and Email use. The newest standard has been raised to 56 Kbps but it's not universal by any means. When you purchase your 33.6 Kbps modem make sure it has the capability to be adapted to the 56 Kbps standard. We prefer external modems to the internal variety but they function exactly the same. Another option that Oahu users might consider is Oceanic Cable's new "Roadrunner" cable modem service which utilizes the same coaxial cable system that hooks up to your TV. Roadrunner, which costs $99 to set up and $39.95 monthly for unlimited service, is currently being rolled out on Oahu and from all reports is blazing fast. Roadrunner is scheduled to be available in stages and it's best to consult Oceanic's web site at http://www.oceanic.com to find out when you can get it in your neighborhood.

Your computer should be fitted with two "USB" ports which are a new standard for connectors. They essentially are an improved way to attach peripherals such as modems and the like to your machine. These are a relatively new phenomenon but will soon be common place.

Bottom Line:
The price of a 200 MHz machine with minimum 2 gigs drive, 32 MB of memory, CD ROM, tape back up and a decent 17" monitor will run you around $1800 plus or minus a few hundred dollars. What you buy doesn't have to be a national brand. Many local shops around town build their machines and they are as good as any on the market. Don't be surprised if the prices will probably drop the day after you buy your computer. That's the nature of the game nowadays. Happy computing and drop us a line if you have any suggestions for topics we can cover.

Pacific Business News - Monday, November 17, 1997

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