Knowledge is Power: How To Buy A ComputerBuying a personal computer can be as difficult as buying a car. No matter howmuch one investigates, how many dealers a person visits, and how much bargaininga person has done on the price, he still may not be really certain that he hasgotten a good deal. There are good reasons for this uncertainty. Computerschange at much faster rate than any other kind of product.
A two-year-old carwill always get a person where he wants to go, but a two-year-old computer maybe completely inadequate for his needs. Also, the average person is nottechnically savvy enough to make an informed decision on the best processor tobuy, the right size for a hard drive, or how much memory he or she really needs.Just because buying a computer can be confusing does not mean one should throwup his hands and put himself at the mercy of some salesman who may not know muchmore than he does.
If one would follow a few basic guidelines, he could beassured of making a wise purchase decision.A computer has only one purpose; to run programs. Some programs require morecomputing power than others. In order to figure out how powerful a computer theconsumer needs, therefore, a person must first determine which programs he wantsto run. For many buyers, this creates a problem. They cannot buy a computeruntil they know what they want to do with it, but they cannot really know allof the uses there are for a computer until they own one. This problem is not astough as it seems, however.
The consumer should go to his local computer store,and look at the software that’s available. Most programs explain their minimumhardware requirements right on the box. After looking at a few packages, itshould be pretty clear to the consumer that any mid-range system will run 99% ofthe available software. A person should only need a top-of-the-line system forprofessional applications such as graphic design, video production, orengineering. Software tends to lag behind hardware, because it’s written toreach the widest possible audience. A program that only works on the fastestPentium Pro system has very limited sales potential, so most programs written in1985 work just fine on a fast ‘486, or an entry-level Pentium system. Moreimportantly, very few programs are optimized to take advantage of a Pentium’spower.
That means that even if the consumer pays a large premium for the fastestpossible system, he may not see a corresponding increase in performance.Buying the latest computer system is like buying a fancy new car. One pays ahigh premium just to get the newest model. When the consumer drives the car outof the showroom, it becomes a used car, and its value goes down several thousanddollars. Similarly, when a new computer model comes out in a few weeks, his”latest and greatest” becomes a has-been, and its value plummets. Some peoplethink that if they only buy the most powerful computer available, they will nothave to upgrade for a long time. These people forget, however, that a generationof computer technology lasts less than a year.
By computer standards, a two-year-old model is really old, and a three-year-old model is practicallyworthless. Sinking a lot of money into today’s top-of-the-line computer makesone less willing (and less financially able) to upgrade a couple of years fromnow, when a person may really need it. Here’s something else to consider. Whilea faster processor will usually increase the speed of a system, merely doublingthe processor speed usually will not double the performance. A 133MHz Pentiumsystem may only be 50% faster than 75 MHz Pentium system, for example.
That’sbecause there are a lot of other limiting factors. Memory is a prime example.One may be better off buying a 75MHz Pentium system with 16MB of RAM than a 133MHz system with 8MB.
Even if buying the top machine did double a machine’sperformance, however, it still might not make as big a difference as a personmight think. If his software performs any given task in under a second, doublingits speed saves the consumer less than half a second.No products change as quickly as computers. Considering the pace of this change,it does not make sense to buy a computer today without planning for