'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
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
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.