Buying A Computer

Buying A Computer

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Buying a computer today is much more complicated then it was ten years ago. The choices we have are abundant, and the information we must gather to make those choices is much greater. The average consumer is a more educated buyer; they at least have some ideas of what they want in a computer. Yet, we must still ask ourselves these significant questions; such as: What will the primary function of my computer be? What computer components should I consider at the time of purchase? How much money do I have to spend? Where should I go to purchase my computer? For this report, I will consider the requirements of a typical family: using a mini-tower PC with the Windows 95 operating system, word processing, and entry-level publishing programs; as well as, an anti-virus package, games with high-level graphics and sound, and the internet. I will also consider the following components; those essential for the computer to work faster, and more efficient. They are as follows: Central Processing Unit (CPU) – System Memory (RAM) – Storage Device(s). The following is a detailed look at the CPU, RAM, and Storage devices; the important components that you should consider when purchasing a PC. Computer systems, particularly the higher-end models, come in several Configurations: desktop, mini tower, or tower. The configuration you chose should depend - to some extent - on the amount of expansion, (if any) you may want to plan for in the future. Most tower configurations have a greater amount of expandability than mini tower and desktop models. Also, the amount of space that you have in your home for the system should be taken into consideration. Tower configurations are usually placed on the floor; (however, not the mini tower models) whereas, desktop models are made to sit on the surface where the keyboard and monitor are located. The first consideration is the CPU. Today, the Intel Corporation is still the leading manufacturer of microprocessors. However; other chip manufacturers, such as Cyrix and AMD, are rapidly climbing the industry ladder to compete with Intel in the CPU marketplace. Although these other microprocessors are probably just as good as an Intel, there may be some subtle differences in them that may affect their performance. The speed of the processor is very important; this is the measure of its clock rate - which indicates the number of instructions that can be processed per second.

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Ten years ago, the “Intel 386” followed by the “Intel 486” processors, where considered “state-of-the-art technology”. In 1993, Intel introduced their “Pentium” model microprocessors. Today, we have processor speeds available up to1GHz. There are also alternatives as to the model or level of CPU we can purchase. Intel produces a CPU called the “Celeron”, which uses the same instruction set and software, but has a less sophisticated architecture than the “Pentium” models. “Celeron” processors are less expensive, and could mean hundreds of dollars in savings. In addition, AMD produces two microprocessors that compete with Intel’s “Pentium” and “Celeron”; they are the “K6” and the “Athlon” processors. The difference in the performance of computers that use either AMD or Intel processors, are virtually impossible to uncover; they run the same software, as well as, the same peripheral devices. Furthermore, computers with AMD processors retail for less than computers with Intel processors – a great deal for a family on a limited budget. The next component to consider is memory (RAM). Random Access Memory (RAM), is system memory, or “on board memory”. Ram temporarily stores data while running application programs (from which one works.) The amount of RAM a computer needs depends on the operating system and application software you plan to use. To run Windows, your computer needs at least 32 MB of RAM. Today, most computers include at least 128 MB of RAM. The more RAM you have, the faster your system can transport data to and from the processor. Most consumer advocates recommend purchasing as much RAM as you can afford at the time of your initial computer purchase. With memory selling for an average of $5 per megabyte, it makes sense to upgrade even older machines. In other words, if you have $300 to spend to make your system faster, you could buy a faster CPU, and get 1.5 times more speed using the existing memory, or you could purchase additional memory, and get 100 times more speed, using the existing CPU. It is quite easy to decide that the purchase of extra memory is the superior choice. RAM Cache is special high-speed circuitry that helps the computer operate faster by temporarily storing frequently accessed or recently accessed data. There are two levels of cache memory. Internal or first level (L1) cache is built into the CPU. The first level cache is fastest, because it is used by the internal pipeline instruction processing components of the CPU. An external or second level (L2) cache can be installed on the motherboard. When the CPU needs data, it first checks the internal cache, which is the faster source. If the data is not there, it checks the external cache. If the data still is not found, a search of the slower RAM must be made. Finally, the third consideration is storage devices. A storage device can be classified as an internal or external hard drive, a CD-ROM or DVD drive, and the many different types of tape drives on the market. Virtually every computer on the market today comes equipped with a 3.5 floppy drive, one internal hard drive, and a CD-ROM or DVD drive. The hard drive is the main storage unit of the computer, used for storage of programs and data files, so a high-capacity drive is desirable. Storage capacity, speed, and controller type are typically specified in today’s computer ads. Most computers are generally shipped with at least a 10 GB hard drive, as many of today’s application programs are quite large. CD-ROM (Compact Disc - Read Only Memory) drives are optical disks that are physically the same as an audio CD, but contain computer data. The speed of CD-ROM drives has increased since they were first introduced. The original single-speed (1X) drives could transfer 150 kilobytes of data per second to memory. Today, drives with 40X speeds are most common. Storage capacity of a single CD-ROM is about 680 megabytes, equivalent to more than 300,000 pages of text. CD-ROMs are also interchangeable between different types of computers. A DVD (Digital Video Disc) drive is an optical, high capacity version of the CD-ROM. There are currently three versions of the DVD, a standard single-layer, single-sided disc that can store 4.7 GB of data, a two-layer, single-sided disc that can store 8.5 GB, and a two-layer, double-sided disc that can store 17 GB of data. CD-ROM and DVD technology has forged ahead into the recordable and rewritable formats. We now have the CD-R & CD-RW, as well as, DVD-ROM, DVD+RW, and now DVD-RAM. The recordable format allows you a “one-time” write to the disk. The rewritable format allows you to write data on the disk, and then change that data. Both of these formats require special storage disks, and of course, special disk drives to perform these functions. Based on the type of functions for which you plan to use your computer, there will be a minimum set of system requirements in order to utilize the software, and perform tasks. Once you estimate the primary function of your computer, and decide on the components you need to install, it is time to start shopping. Let’s take a look at some of the many resources available, and start gathering information. To find out what types of systems are available, the first place to start is by picking up a copy of one of the many computer magazines on the market, such as PC World, PC Magazine, Byte, or one of the trade newspapers, such as InfoWorld or PC Week. These magazines and newspapers usually have articles comparing the various types and brands of computers and other components, such as monitors, modems, printers, and software. But beware, don't put too much into the rating systems that these magazines and newspapers use, since many of the computer manufacturers pay these companies for advertising. Use these ratings as a way to narrow down your list of options. One of the best sources for information are friends and family members. Ask if they have a system similar to the one you want to buy. Find out if they have had any problems with their system; such as, compatibility problems with any software applications, or hardware, and whether or not they sought technical support from the system's manufacturer. If there where compatibility problems, ask what steps they took to get the problems resolved and how long it took to get the system working again. Finally, ask if they would buy another computer system from that company in the future. Another good place to investigate information is the World Wide Web, (of course, you need the use of an internet connection prior to your purchase). Start your favorite Web browser, enter a URL in the locator; that is: www.Company.com, (replacing the word Company with the name of a company). For instance, www.compaq.com (Compaq), www.ibm.com (IBM), www.gw2k.com (Gateway 2000), or www.dell.com (Dell). Usually these hardware/software/component(s) manufacturers, will have a complete listing of their line of products, the system specifications, and contact information for questions not answered within their Website. I recommend the following components for a new personal computer used by a typical Family for household functions, school and everyday enjoyment: Intel Pentium III/450 or AMD K6-II/400 processor with 512K of external cache memory · a minimum of 64 MB of RAM · 10GB hard drive · 40X Max CD–ROM · 56K modem with voice and fax capability · 15in. SVGA Monitor · the keyboard and Mouse are really subject to personal preference – decide what you need and what you will want. You should purchase as much ”PC” as you can afford. Don't cut corners on the main system unit, (monitor, microprocessor, memory, disk space, etc.). Remember, this system is going to last at least two to five years (or more) and you don't want to start running out of disk space or memory the first month that you have it, simply because you trimmed down the amount of memory, or got a smaller hard drive. Be realistic, smart and shop around. Make sure you know exactly what you want and how to get it. Be careful not to let salespeople talk you into something you don’t need. Most importantly: Plug in & have fun!!!

Bibliography

Bsales, Jamie M. “The Home User.” PC Magazine July 1999: 146 - 166
Durham, Mark. “Ultimate Upgrade Bible.” Maximum PC July 2000: 34 – 48
Baguley, Richard. “Top 10 Budget PCs” PC World.com 2000 http://www.pcworld.com/reviews/article (22 Sept. 2000).
Steers, Kirk. Top 15 Home PCs PC World.com 2000
http://www.pcworld.com/reviews/articles (9 Oct. 2000).
Staff. “Tips on Buying a Home Computer” PC Web. 2000 http://www.pcweb.gxnetwork.com/features/tipsonbuyinganewpc.html (22 Oct. 2000)
Staff. “What you Need to Know to Purchase a PC” Integrity technology, Inc. 2000 http://www.leatherby.com/pcbasics.html (November 2000)
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