NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, April 2005
Necessities for That New Computer
by Ira Wilsker, APCUG Board of Directors

Recently, I noticed a lot of people were buying new computers for the holidays, either for themselves, or for gifts. In overhearing some conversations at a variety of local stores, it appeared that some computers were intended to replace older models, and others were for “first-time” users, both youngsters and senior citizens. If the new user, as well as the experienced user, would follow some simple steps and obtain and use some necessary hardware and software, then he will likely have several years of happy computing. If the user fails to heed safe computing guidelines, he will likely result in dissatisfaction with the new machine.

First, do not plug that new computer directly into the wall socket. It is imperative that the new computer is plugged into either a surge suppressor (the minimum protection) or a good uninterruptible power supply with automatic voltage regulation (UPS-AVR), of appropriate capacity, which would be ideal. Users need to be aware that the warranties of most new computers do not cover damage from power related problems, and plenty of users have had their new computers “fried” by power surges or spikes. The resistance to power surges and spikes is measured in joules, and generally the more joules the better. A good UPS with AVR that has adequate capacity to power the computer for several minutes generally offers far superior protection to a surge suppressor. If a surge suppressor is selected, be sure that it has a UL1449 rating at a minimum. Some users think that a common inexpensive power strip is adequate, but other than maybe having a circuit breaker, a power strip offers no protection from power problems.

Once the computer is assembled, plugged into an appropriate protective device, and turned on, other threats and needs appear. First is antivirus protection: many new computers come with a short term trial version of an antivirus program, installed with the hope that the user will pay the annual registration fee prior to expiration. I have had users tell me that they do not need antivirus software because they never go online with that computer, and that can be a dangerous misconception. Computer viruses can also be transmitted by infected floppies, CDs, and DVDs, necessitating an updated antivirus product. Several antivirus products are available at retail and by download. Before purchasing antivirus software, consider the free antivirus software available from a variety of sources, including the free antivirus software that some of the internet service providers give their subscribers. One decent free program is the EHZ Trust Suite, consisting of antivirus software, a firewall to restrict hacker access, and a popup blocker, can be downloaded at http://www.my-etrust.com/microsoft.

Relatively few users do not go on line, and since almost all do, Internet access will be required. Almost all new computers come pre-installed with a variety of software from several national internet service providers (ISPs). Microsoft tries to push users into using its MSN paid Internet access, and AOL, EarthLink, and others are commonly installed and featured on the desktop. The smart user desiring dial-up Internet access can probably save money and get superior service by using a local ISP for Internet access (such as Eonet, or EXP), rather than the big national carriers. If the user subscribes to a local ISP, then the directories containing the software for the national carriers can be safely deleted from the hard drive. If the user will be using the Internet extensively, then high speed "broadband" Internet access would be desirable. Choices of broadband providers include cable, DSL, and satellite broadband. They are generally price competitive with each other, but some offer better service then the others, and this varies locally. One warning: be sure that you understand any contracts that may be required, as some broadband providers have a hefty cancellation fee for terminating an account prematurely.

A printer will be necessary to print documents, photos, and other items. Almost all modern printers will do a decent job for household use, but be aware of what new inkjet or laser cartridges can cost. The user can save a lot of money by recycling and recharging his used inkjet and laser toner cartridges (such as from Laser Recon), or by purchasing refilled or generic cartridges. Be aware that inexpensive but good quality generic cartridges are generally available for some brands (Epson, Canon), but difficult to find for others (Lexmark, HP). A good deal and a high rebate on one brand of printer may turn out to be a false economy when the cost of replacement cartridges is factored in to the overall cost.

The user replacing his old computer with a new one may want to move files and programs to the new computer. Data files can be copied to CD, or moved via a direct network connection, but program files can generally not be simply copied from one computer to another. It would be best to reinstall desired programs from the original discs, but if they are not available, a utility sometimes included with new computers, or a utility such as “Aloha Bob” can move program files properly.

Enjoy that new computer, but be sure to practice “safe hex”.

There is no restriction against any non-profit group using this article as long as it is kept in context with proper credit given the author. The Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an international organization of which this group is a member, brings this article to you.

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