CeePrompt! Computer Connection

Upgrading or Buying a New Christmas PC

Originally published: 12/4/95

See later article published 12/6/96

by Cathi Schuler

'Tis the season and once again I find myself on a familiar topic that may seem like an old soapbox, but it is timely and on the minds of many readers: Buying a new computer. It's a fact that this is the busiest season for retail purchases of computers and it is projected that more than 4 million consumers will purchase PCs during the upcoming holiday season. Additionally, Dataquest, a San Jose global technology market research firm, recently published its Homeward Bound Consumer study revealing that 15% of U.S. households plan to buy a personal computer within the one year. More than half of those intending to buy a PC for the first time have income levels less than $40,000 per year. It's no wonder my e-mailbox is brimming with questions such as "Is 8MB RAM enough?", "How big is big enough for a hard disk?", "Should I get a Pentium or a good 486 system?" and "Is 14.4 a good modem speed?" Buying a personal computer is a big step for most people and everyone wants to get the most for their money. It is critical to understand the hardware you are purchasing and also anticipate your future needs as well as industry trends to maximize the return on your investment. The first consideration in purchasing a new computer system is usually budget. This cold, hard reality is usually the single factor which determines how much PC you are able to buy. Once you arrive at an acceptable amount you are willing to spend, make sure you understand the system specifications of the machine you are purchasing. Memory, hard disk capacity and co-processor are the key ingredients. "Is 8MB RAM enough?" Most ads I've seen for this Christmas season offer PC's with 8MB of memory, your active working space. This is a perfectly acceptable RAM size and, in fact, is the standard, minimum configuration...for now. This time next year, however, 16MB RAM will be the minimum acceptable memory configuration, if not 32MB. Graphics intensive applications are devouring RAM as fast as it can be upgraded and there is no end in sight. Bottom line: Buy as much RAM as you can afford. "How big is big enough for a hard disk?" Whereas RAM is your active working area, your hard disk is your passive storage medium. How big that storage space needs to be, depends on how much stuff you need to store! A 540MB hard disk is considered the standard, minimum configuration for hard disks and is quite adequate for many PC users. If you start loading graphic intensive and multi-media applications on that 540MB hard disk, however, your precious storage space is going to be gobbled up quickly. Remember a full installation of Windows 95 and one of the office "suites", for example, is going to take about 150MB before you save any files or add any other programs. Bottom line: Buy as much hard disk space as you can afford. "Should I get a Pentium or a good 486 system?" There are still some terrific buys in the 486 flavor systems for tight budgets. In this category, look for a 486DX4 co-processor. Many techno-types feel this processor is almost as zippy as a Pentium 90. But realize, that the Pentium chip is now the industry standard and the next-generation processor Pentium Pro, formerly called the P6, is on the horizon. Bottom line: Buy as much co- processor as you can afford. "Is 14.4 a good modem speed?" Modems were never more important than they are today since the Internet and Web browsing have assumed such prominence in the PC world. The faster your modem speed, the quicker you'll receive files and graphic images from cyberspace. 14.4 bps (bits per second) is the minimum speed and 28.8 bps is quickly becoming the standard. ISDN (Integrated Digital Services Network) is already starting to infiltrate into many businesses and households. Bottom line: Buy as much modem as you can afford. If your personal budget dictates you can't buy quite as much computer as you'd like right now, plan for the future and make sure you ask questions about upgrading your system. How expandable is the memory? How do you install it? Can you add a second hard drive? Can you add a zip drive? If your new system can be easily upgraded, you can add additional power as you can afford it. Knowing your hardware, as well as your budget, will yield a wise investment.

Feedback? E-Mail cschuler@ceeprompt.com
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