I feel like I'm reminiscing about the good old days as if it were 50
years ago, instead of just two. Back then, the 486 chip was still the standard
workhorse, but the Pentium chip was quickly moving up from a premium upgrade
processor to the industry benchmark. The clock speed of these chips was
measured in megahertz, from 75Mhz to 200Mhz. A Pentium-133 was considered
standard. Headlines in a 1996 issue of PC World touted 109 systems reviewed
from dirt-cheap Pentium-75s to rip-roaring Pentium-166s.
Today we're well into the next generation processor, the Pentium II
and clock speeds are now exceeding 400MHz. Two years ago you could expect
to spend at least $2,500 to $3,000 for that rip-roaring Pentium-166, whereas
today you can purchase twice the processing power for less than $2,000.
A Dell Dimension Pentium II-200, for example, was retailing for $5,499
in 1996 and today the comparable Dell PC with a faster 350MHz chip sells
Gateway was selling its Pentium II-200 system for $6,999 in 1996 and
today the comparable system is selling for $1,698.
Hard drives also have increased in their capacity to store your files
and programs. One to two gigabyte sized drives were considered standard
and anything over 4GB was considered large enough to be a network server.
It's rare today to find a new system with anything less than a 3GB hard
drive and most systems offer at least 6GB as standard. The aforementioned
1996 Dell system included a 2.1GB hard drive, whereas today's model is
equipped with a 10GB hard drive. Similar statistics are true for the Gateway
system as well.
Your actual electronic working space, or memory, has grown right along
with the PC's processing power and storage capabilities. In the article
published two years ago, I recommended that 16MB should be the minimum
memory, or RAM, configuration and to expect memory standards to double
This has proven true with 32MB as last year's standard and 64MB being
the current norm. The more memory your system has, the more tasks it can
manage simultaneously without a loss of speed. The $5,499 Dell system included
only 32MB RAM, whereas today's $1,849 system comes with 64MB RAM.
Modems, back in the old days, transmitted data at a whopping 28.8Bps
and were usually an add-on or extra when buying a new computer system.
Today, the v.90 (56.6) modem is standard and bundled with all new computer
There are a multitude of reasons for the dramatic increase in size and
speeds of computer systems, but most simply factor down to the types of
applications running on these systems. Since the advent of the personal
computer, we have migrated from a text-based environment to a graphic user
interface and now multimedia and Internet components are heavily integrated
into all our graphics-based computing.
Graphics, sound and video all require gargantuan resources as compared
to the needs of plain old text. Programs and files are still measured in
bytes and text files are infinitely smaller than graphic and multimedia
Every text character represents 1 byte. The word "mouse," for example,
occupies only 5-byte parcel on your system. A singing and dancing mouse,
however, that greets you each time you perform a certain task might require
500,000 bytes or more of system resources. As interactive and entertaining
as our computer programs have become, it's no surprise that the system
itself has expanded to accommodate these demands.
It's the consumers' good fortune that these new computer systems continue
to drop in prices as advances and improvements move forward. The following
core components are recommended if you're in the market for a new desktop
computer today: Pentium II-350 processor, 64MB memory, 8GB Hard Drive and
a v.90 modem. A multitude of bells, whistles and extras will also be included,
but these are the basics. Hopefully, you won't be disappointed with your
purchase two years from now.
Cathi Schuler owns a computer literacy training/consulting company,
Cee Prompt! She is a co-author of computer textbooks and can be reached
by e-mail at email@example.com or
by mail c/o The Record, P.O. Box 900, Stockton, CA 95201. She is on the
Internet at: http://www.ceeprompt.com.
for past archived columns.