Buy a computer...
Pop quiz: You have the very important task of buying a computer, whether it be for yourself, your family or your friend. Do you:
Buying a computer doesn't have to be an overwhelming task with the right preparation.
a) jump for joy - gigabytes secretly turn you on
b) feel a bit overwhelmed - but with a little research and shopping around you're sure you'll make a well-informed, economic decision
c) hide under your bed until someone else takes over your duties
If you answered C, you're a lot like me - and I don't mean the neurotic hiding-under-your-bed part.
Buying a computer can be a difficult purchase, what with technology continually expanding and many models becoming obsolete within a few years. It doesn't help when you don't really know too much about computers to begin with. But with a little bit of knowledge and research, purchasing a computer can be easy and fun, not anxiety-producing.
Here are some quick tips for buying the best computer for your needs.
backup: Copy of file. It is important to backup important files and duplicate hard drive every few months. Can be saved on another hard disk or removable medium such as a floppy disk, ZIP file, writeable CD-ROM or tape drive.
battery: Can range in weight, whether it needs to be discharged to be recharged, and number of recharges it can optimally take - their prices are dependent on this. NiCD (nickel-cadmium) batteries have to be charged every three to five hours and can only be recharged optimally 1,000 times. NiMH batteries have 50% more power than NiCD batteries, do not use toxic heavy metals, and do not have to be discharged before they can be recharged. Li-Ion (lithium-ion) batteries are the smallest and lightest, do not require discharge before recharging, and are the most expensive of the three.
CD-ROM: Stands for compact disk-read only memory. Reads compact disks used for distribution of large databases, multimedia applications, audio, and software. Capacity can be anywhere from 640 MB to 1 GB, which is about 700 soft disks' worth of information.
disk drive: Reads and writes hard disks or floppy disks. A soft disk usually holds around 1.44 MB of data whereas a hard disk can hold many gigabytes.
driver: Program that controls communication between PC and external devices, i.e. printers, monitors, etc. Usually have to install drivers unless the system is plug and play.
expansion bay: Compartment that allows easy attachment of a new hard drive or CD-ROM/DVD-ROM drive. Internal for hard drives and external for CD-ROMs, floppy drives, ZIP drives, etc.
expansion slot/card: Small slots at the back of PC. Each slot accepts an expansion card (adapter) that can hook up to a modem, sound card, etc. A good system should have at least three slots. ISAs (industry standard adapter) are the first type used in PCs. Now, PCIs (peripheral component interconnect), developed by Intel, are more common. PCIs allow a faster data transfer to and from the PC.
graphics accelerator: Video card with its own processor designed to handle high-end graphics.
hardware: Includes monitor, processor, RAM, hard disk drive, mouse, printer, scanner, modem and operating system (basic devices).
MB: Stands for megabytes or megabits. 8 bits is the equivalent of 1 byte, 1024 bytes is the equivalent of 1 kilobyte (Kb), 1024 Kb is the equivalent of 1 megabyte (Mb), and 1024 megabytes is the equivalent of 1 gigabyte (Gb). It measures the data transfer rate of a storage device.
memory: Internal storage area within computer. Enables computer to retrieve information. In addition to RAM, there are other types. ROM (read only memory) is memory stored in physical computer chips that cannot be written to. Used for start-up and basic functions. PROM (programmable ROM) is a chip that can contain a fully executable software program, and can only be used once. EEPROM (electronically-erasable programmable ROM) can be erased and rewritten.
modem: Stands for modular demodulator. Hardware device or software application that lets the computer transmit and receive data over a phone/cable line. It requires a protocol or format in common with the computer so they can communicate properly. Can be internal, sit on a PCMCIA card or be external with its own power supply. Most modems can also fax and process voice-mail. Standard modems are dial-up because they use the telephone line. High speed utilizes a cable television coaxial network. Modems measure speed of data transmission in bits per second; most dial ups are between 36.6 Kb to 56 Kb per second.
motherboard: Main circuit board within a computer that houses all other circuit boards that control the computer's function. Includes CPU, memory (DIMM, DRAM), expansion slots, interfaces, and controllers (disk drive, keyboard, mouse, etc.)
monitor: Some monitors are monochrome, gray-scale, or colour. Obviously, nowadays the first two are obsolete. Video memory will allow more colour-capability for the screen. Quality is measured by screen resolution. The more pixels per inch (ppi), the sharper the image. Common monitor resolutions are 640 x 480 and 1024 x 768 (width x height).
mouse: Device used to manipulate an on-screen pointer; moves/selects/changes items on the screen. The most common mouse is the rollerball mouse, but there's also a tail-less mouse (which transmits infrared pulses), a foot-controlled mouse (sits on the floor), and an optical mouse (which uses a light-emitting diode and photocells to track position instead of a rollerball). Most laptops/notebooks have a track ball or touchpad on the keyboard.
network: Occurs when two or more computers are connected together and are able to share information and resources. LANs (local area networks) are contained within a room or building. WANs (wide area networks) are a collection of LANs. The server shares resources with other computers, known as nodes or clients, who need a common protocol to communicate with servers. An example of a WAN is the Internet.
operating system: Commonly known as OS or DOS. Main program that governs how a computer will work Sets rules and standards for how they will communicate with various aspects of the computer system, i.e. the monitor, keyboard, mouse, printer, etc. Also in charge of basic functions such as data file organization. Some are text only, i.e. MS-DOS, Unix and Linux, while others are GUI (graphical user interface), i.e. Windows, MacOS and BeOS.
parallel port: Connects external devices to a computer, like a printer. Able to transfer more than one bit of information at a time. Common ports are SCSI, IDE, EPP, ECP and Ceontronics.
plug and play: Term coined for Windows and NT. Allows expansion boards and devices to be added to a computer without manually configuring jumpers and dip switches. Apple has NuBus, while IBM uses PnP. Power needs to be turned off before a new device is introduced into the computer. The computer refigures itself automatically. A real time-saver.
processor: Short for microprocessor; a chip that contains the CPU (central processing unit), essentially the "brain" of the computer. It contains the instruction set that tells the components of the computer what to do on a basic level. There are two types, RISC (reduced instruction set computer) or CISC (complex instruction set computer). The processor is measured in MHz (megahertz) for speed and bandwidth for quantity of bits that can be processed at once. The higher the number for each, the more powerful the CPU.
RAM: Stands for random access memory. Main memory of the computer that is also volatile because when the power is turned off all data contained within it is lost. All data and programs are stored on the hard disk, and when queued, are put into the RAM for reading and writing. DRAM (Dynamic RAM) is cheaper and slower than SRAM (Static RAM). DIMM (dual inline memory module) is a small card that holds memory chips and plugs directly into the system board. It can hold twice as much as a SIMM.
scanner: Device that converts hard copy of graphics or text into a format the computer can recognize (known as digitizing). A bitmap scanner creates a matrix where each box represents a portion of the image. An OCR (optical character recognition) scanner converts the image or text into letters of the alphabet, and nowadays can obtain up to 90% accuracy. The higher the resolution (pixels per inch), the higher the detail.
serial port: Connects external devices to a computer. Able to transfer only one bit of data at a time. RS-232 and RS-422 are common.
software: Also known as application. Software that performs specific functions, such as word processors, spreadsheets, web browsers, e-mail and graphic editors. Different from system software in that system software functions to support applications.
sound card: Circuit board for output (to a speaker) or input (to record) of sound. Present in CD-ROMS and can be slotted into computers. Some already have sound cards built in.
USB port: Plug in devices for speakers, scanners, printers, joysticks, video cameras, etc. Multipurpose ports make adding and removing devices easy.
[ 12 things to consider before buying...Part II of the article. ]