Article, February 2006
Buying a PC for the Holidays
by Vinnie Labash, Sarasota PCUG, Florida
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Donít buy a low end PC this year if you have any plans of moving to Microsoftís new Vista operating system next year. If youíre sticking with XP, almost anything will do, even video thatís integrated with the motherboard.
Vista is not due for almost a year, but a little forethought before buying will prevent much regret in 2006. I say this because if Microsoft keeps only half its promises about new features and improved security in Vista, most of its customers will want to make the move to the new operating system. If your computerís specifications are too weak or only marginally acceptable to Vista, you will either not be able to upgrade or wish you hadnít tried.
Letís start with the processor. You donít need a top-of-the-line CPU, but donít buy any thing thatís less than mid-range. Either Intel or AMD will do, and you should probably go for a duel-core processor for added speed and processing muscle. By the time Vista is on the scene, a lot more 64 bit software may be on hand. A 64 bit processor makes good sense since it can also handle todayís 32 bit programs.
Microsoft appears likely to make 512MB of RAM its minimum requirement. Never settle for minimum requirements with memory. Iím sure you could fly cross-country in a two seat one engine monoplane, but your flight would be much more comfortable if you were sipping your favorite beverage while lounging in a high powered commercial passenger jet. Memory is cheap. Buy at least one gigabyte of memory, two if you decide on a 64 bit processor.
Only masochists should buy a machine with video thatís integrated with chips on the motherboard. Integrated video shares your processor memory with your applications and often results in poor performance. Buy the cheapest video card that has at least 256MB of on-board RAM. You will be happy.
You will need a fast DVD drive that is capable of recording multiple formats. This is an ideal storage medium for backups. Get two. Theyíre not prohibitively expensive any more.
More and more people have digital cameras, picture-phones, music players, video-cams, and other peripherals which attach to computers in one fashion or another. Look for a machine with at least six USB 2.0 connectors. It doesnít hurt to have one IEEE 1394, or Firewire connector.
You owe it to yourself to have a 17Ē or larger flat panel monitor. Donít tell me you canít afford it. Dell makes a 23Ē outstanding flat panel device for less than $1,000. Even good 19Ē monitors can be had for $450 or less.
Hard disk space has never been cheaper. Dual 250GB hard drives need not be an extravagance this holiday season if you want the space for music and video files. Optionally, install RAID 1 for disk mirroring and instant automatic backup. If one hard drive is enough, an external USB 2.0 connected hard drive is an excellent backup device.
Audiophiles can consult Creative Labs and drool over X-Fi Elite Pro. Then spring for good speakers with a subwoofer. The rest of us can be content with audio chips integrated with the motherboard.
Media center PCs come with remote control devices and a TV tuner. They are meant to be operated from a distance to play music, present slide shows, view photos, and watch TV. Donít buy the cheapest machines because they leave out a lot of important features.
Most salespeople are paid on a combination of salary, commissions, and bonuses for selling specific makes and models. Know what you are looking for before visiting a showroom, and donít let a sales person talk you into more or less machine than you want. Itís a very good idea to come to your next PC User Group meeting and get the best advice from all the friendly people you will meet there. Many of them will help you configure your new machine.
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