SANDY BERGER: Some Good Bargains Can Be Found in Buying Computers
In 1995, the average home computer system cost between $2,500 and $3,000. You could not even buy a stripped-down computer for under $1,000.
While the prices for most commodities such as cars, appliances and food have escalated in the past 14 years, the price of computers has plummeted. In fact, price reductions in the past year alone have been truly amazing.
I recently saw a name-brand computer with an Intel dual-core processor, 2 GB of memory, a 160-GB hard drive, DVD burner and a 20-inch flat-panel monitor for $429. Just a few years ago, the flat panel monitor would have cost more than $429.
This makes buying a computer seem like a real bargain -- and it is. A computer with specs like the one above is good enough for most home users. It will handle Web browsing, e-mail, word processing, spreadsheets and multitasking, as well as editing music and photos.
If you increased the memory to 3GB and increased the size of the hard drive to 320 GB or more, you would even be able to do video editing and storage comfortably.
If you want to take advantage of the good prices on computers, here's what to look for:
n A dual-core processor is the minimum. In many cases, you can even get a quad-core processor in the under-$500 category.
n 2 or 3 GB of memory. You can even get more memory if you get a 64-bit processor.
n A flat-panel monitor -- the bigger the better. If you are replacing your current computer and already have a flat-panel monitor, you can use it on your new computer. Although you can also attach one of those chunky old CRT monitors to a new computer, I wouldn't advise it. The flat-panels are easier on the eyes and make a big difference, so get one if you can.
n A keyboard and mouse are almost always included. The quality of these two components varies greatly. I have seen bargain computers with great keyboards and optical mice, but I have also seen some with cheesy keyboards and antiquated ball mice.
n Some bargain computers come with speakers, but some do not. If they are included, the quality of the speakers probably won't be anything to write home about. Again, if you have some good speakers from an old system, you can use them with your new computer.
n Vista Home Premium will probably be the operating system. You can still get some computers with Windows XP, but most of what you see will be Vista.
n Most of these computers come with DVD drives that will also write and play CDs. Most also let you write DVDs, but some may not -- something to check on.
n The computer may have a built-in media card reader, which is a plus if you have a digital camera or other device with a removable storage disk.
Don't be tempted to buy the cheapest computer you can find. You will probably be getting a slow Celeron processor and Vista Home Basic. Both of these are very minimalistic and should be avoided if you want to have your computer last more than a year or two.
Don't think that you can buy a computer with Vista Home Basic and upgrade it to Vista Home Premium later. Home Basic has minimal video requirements and often a computer that comes with Home Basic cannot be upgraded because the video hardware is lacking.
One word of caution is necessary. Many of the computers on the market today, even in the bargain category, now have 64-bit processors and come with a 64-bit version of Windows Vista. This is very good in that it will add to the longevity of the computer and allow you to run 64-bit software as it becomes available.
However, some of your programs and/or peripherals may not run on 64-bit Vista. I recently tried to install an older Canon scanner on my 64-bit Vista machine and found that there were drivers for the regular 32-bit version of Vista, but not for the 64-bit version.
I have also run into several printers that had no 64-bit Vista drivers. This is less of a problem for software, I have only found one program that wouldn't run -- Dragon Naturally Speaking. Dragon has yet to introduce a 64-bit version, and when the company does, it will probably have an added cost.
The price of laptop computers has also plummeted. You can now buy a bargain laptop for less than $500. If you are looking for a laptop, most of the specs will be similar except that you will probably be looking at a mobile processor and a built-in keyboard and mouse. You may even find one that has a built-in Web cam.
Sandy Berger welcomes all of your questions and comments on today's column. Please post them on the Compu-Kiss Message Board at www.compukiss.com/happycomputing.
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