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So You Wanna Buy a Computer, But You Can’t Talk the Talk
Honi Alexander

If you are anything like me, you want the best "stuff". I mean, let’s face it, we are professional women and we are able to quote stocks with the best of ‘em and go to a car dealership and walk out with the make and model we want… at the payments and terms we want. But buying a computer in this day and age is a challenge! Technology changes almost daily! How do you buy a computer that’s not more than you need but will allow you room to grow with the times?

Since I’m in the process of doing just that, I thought I’d share my search efforts with you. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Start by talking to yourself. Make a list:

  • Why do you want a computer?
  • How much do you want to spend?
  • How will you use it? Just to e-mail friends? A little word-processing? Household bills? Games or research for the kids? Or do you need it to run or enhance your home business?
  • What kind of bells and whistles do you want or need? Printer, scanner, fax, modem? Do you need a large monitor? Are you going to need sophisticated software for graphics and photos?

Next, you need to do research. Ugh, we do enough of that at work, right? But the time spent will be well worth it in the long run. There is nothing like buying something and taking it home feeling like you got the best deal, only to discover you spent far more than you needed to and got less than you could have.

  • Talk to a trusted friend or relative who knows more than you do about computers. I spoke with Otavia Rhone of CEW in Denver. She is a friend and a reseller of all types of computer equipment.
  • Read the ads in the weekend newspapers. Compare pricing, styles and extras. Some stores will sell "pre-packaged" computers, meaning everything from the monitor to the printer is included. They also offer "build-your-own" deals where you can pick the type of hard drive, monitor, printer, scanner, etc.

Pros & cons? Well, "pre-packaged" deals feature both pros and cons. Generally, what you see is what you get. Packages may allow upgrades like larger monitors or faster modems. On the positive side, these deals can be good, especially when accompanied by a rebate. If they have everything on your list, there is no reason not to consider packages. Make sure you read the details of the rebate carefully, because some want you to sign up for Internet service for periods of 1 to 3 years, and if you cancel the service you may have to pay them upwards of $250! On the other hand, with a "build-your-own" computer, you will need to know a little more about the different makes and models available so that as you can tell the salesperson exactly what you want.

I have put together a very basic terminology list to get you started, but you should also visit http://www.webopedia.com for an extensive database of computer and technology terms and definitions.

Ok, here we go. You’ll be surprised at how easy it is once you dig in. I got a grasp of these terms fairly quickly. I picked Otavia’s brain, asked very basic questions and she helped point me in the right direction.

CPU – Central Processing Unit - the brains of the computer and where most calculations take place. In terms of computing power, the CPU is the most important element of a computer system. Choose from ADM (K6 or K7), or Intel (Celeron or Pentium). The higher the number, the faster the CPU runs.

Gigabyte or gig (hard g sound) – a measure of information stored digitally, mostly used to describe the size of your hard drive. Generally speaking, more is better; however, according to Otavia, basic models come standard with 6-13 gigs which is more than enough space even if you are running lots of sophisticated software.

Megahertz (MHz) - the speed at which the CPU runs.

Megabyte or Meg – contains 1,048,576 bytes. It takes 1,000 Megs to equal 1 gig. A byte is a unit of digital information made up of 8 bits.

Memory or RAM (Random Access Memory) – the main memory of the computer. It###s used to run programs. You can install more RAM as your computer needs grow. Most computers come with 32 Megabytes (MB) of RAM, which is fine for most computing needs, but with RAM prices so low ($100 for 16MB) it is worth buying extra when you buy the computer. Just make sure you watch prices closely, they tend to go up and down relatively quickly.

Hard Drive - where your computer stores information, like a closet. No matter what you do on your computer, you will probably begin to acquire more and more software, like games and graphics files. You’ll need space to store it on your hard drive. Buying more hard drive space at a later date is affordable, but don’t buy a computer with less than 4GB (gigabytes).

Monitor – gotta have one! Consider your needs when choosing a size. Monitors are getting larger, and 17" is becoming the standard, especially for viewing web pages and doing lots of graphics. This size is rather large, so keep in mind your space requirements. Basically, look for one with low Dot Pitch of .28 or less (or the space between the same color pixels (dots) on the screen). Also choose a Refresh rate of 75 hertz or higher (how many times the screen blinks or is refreshed). If it is too low, you’ll see the screen flicker, which is hard on the eyes. Otavia recommends getting a screen cover to protect your eyes from the screen’s glow and radiation, especially if you will be using it a lot.

CD-ROM Drive- almost all computers come with a CD-ROM drive. Sometimes you can swap it for a DVD player, which is becoming more popular as prices drop. DVD’s advantage is it allows you to watch movies. The speed of a music or audio CD is 1X (X represents how many times it spins in one second) and a data CD’s typical speed is 24X.

Modem Modulator-Demodulator. A device or program that enables a computer to transmit data over telephone lines. Computer information is stored digitally, whereas information transmitted over telephone lines is transmitted in the form of analog waves. A modem converts between these two forms. All you need to know is your computer should have a port called RS-232, and most come with it. You can also get an onboard or internal modem. bps- (bits per second) is how fast the modem can transmit and receive data. The lower the number, the slower the transmission. Current standard speed is 56K, and that’s what you want.

Hardware – what makes up and houses the computer and interprets the software. Don’t forget to get a surge protector! For about $25.00 a surge protector will protect your computer from electrical surges, which are not covered by warranties! It is a smart investment.

Software – the programs you can install, such as word processors, games, graphic programs, accounting programs, etc. Most computers come with a bundle of different software. Make sure you don’t have to buy additional software to get your computer up and running.

Service – get the service contract! But make sure you don’t duplicate the standard warranty that comes with the computer. Most come with 1-3 year warranties. Read the fine print.

There, that wasn’t so hard, was it? Now you are ready to go get your money’s worth and exactly what you need.

Honi Alexander is the regional sales manager for WomenOf.com .