Some Notes on Purchase
One of the more common things I see with, shall I say, the “uninformed” is that going into a computer store to buy that first PC is like learning a foreign language. The saleman starts talking terms like RAM, CPU, hard drive, and you can sit there and act like you know what they’re talking about…..but, you may not. Not a problem.
Let’s go into a few guidelines. First of all, in my opinion, name-brand is better. Going to an established dealer and buying a PC from an established company such as Dell or Gateway will lead to less hassle. Now, I’m not saying that other brands aren’t worth your time, but the larger companies usually offer good support for their products.
So, you go into the store and there, before you, are a bunch of PC’s playing some demo video for your viewing pleasure. Great. Then, you look at the tag and immediately blank out. Is that another language? Hardly. Let’s run through the common ones:
CPU: Also called the Processor. This is the main “thinker” of the computer, the “brain” so to speak. The speed of the CPU is measured in megahertz, or MHz. Obviously, the higher that number, the faster it is. There are different types of processors. AMD makes a processor called the Athlon. This is a perfectly good processor. Intel is making the Pentium 3. This is, likewise, a good processor. Both are fine for your PC. Some say Intel is better, but this is really a result of better marketing. AMD is great, and if you find a good deal on one, do not neglect it. Now, there is much more to know on processors, and for that, check out our main CPU section.
Hard Drive: This is that unit that actually stores your programs. This is not “memory”. A common mistake made by non-geeks is that they equate the PC’s memory to the amount of storage space. This is not the case. Common hard drive sizes range from 8 to as high as 20 gigabytes. A gigabyte is 1 billion bytes. To avoid getting into a complete dissertation on memory structure, let’s just say the more the better. I would not recommend skimping on storage space for the sake of saving money. You’ll be suprised how fast you run out of room, especially if you’ll be downloading a lot from the internet. In looking at this, you may see terms like ATA/33 or ATA/66. This is simply a measure of how fast data can move from the hard drive itself to the rest of the system. Obviously, ATA/66 is faster than ATA/33, but not necessarily twice as fast.
Memory: As i said before, this is not storage space for programs. A PC’s memory, or RAM, is used as temporary storage from anything the PC needs to save temporarily while it is on. Where people used to bow their heads in worship of 4 megabyes of memory, now days I wouldn’t recommend anything less than 64 MB. 128 MB is even better. Memory has different speeds. PC-100 is now very common, with PC-133 becoming more so. This is simply a measure of how fast the memory can operate and communicate, and higher is better.
Video: Most non-geeks buy computers to play games, do video or surf the net. Those first two require good video power. The only way to be sure the video you are considering is good is to check out reviews of that video card on the internet. As a guideline, AGP is common and better than PCI. I would question, now days, any company trying to pass off PCI video as top of the line. Always get AGP for a new PC.
Other: Check out the other hardware that comes with the PC you are considering. For internet, you will need a modem. Modems come in varying speeds. Always get a 56K rated modem. If you plan on using a high-speed internet service such as DSL or cable, you will need a networking card. Check out the monitor that comes with the computer.
Obviously, it is impossible for me to cover all of the variations of PC’s on the market. Always do your research and know what you’re getting.
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