Dr Keyboard - Computing Answers You Can Understand
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Fact Sheets


Fact Sheet 2: Brands to buy

Buying a computer is a bit like buying a car: you don't buy a Jeep if all you need is a Micra to pop to Sainsbury's now and then (unless you've got more money than sense and image is all).

Equally with computers, the model you buy depends on what you want to do with it. You should first decide what you want to do with it, then buy the tools to do the job. If all you want to do is a bit of word processing, some light web surfing and to play a few games you'll need a different machine than if you want to produce web pages, manipulate high-end graphics and do desktop videoconferencing.

The first brand decision to consider is whether to go for the Apple or the Wintel (Windows/Intel) platform. If you're feeling adventurous (or are the sort of person who likes taking things to bits and putting them back together) you could even consider a Linux machine now. The Corel distribution will give you an OS (Operating System), office productivity suite (WordPerfect) and Internet connectivity with e-mail and a web browser (from Netscape) in a pretty painless install process on more or less any hardware from a basic Pentium II on up.

Apples have traditionally been expensive and used mostly by creative people in the graphics and publishing industries. While this is still the case, Apple are producing cheaper and cheaper machines suitable for home users. Anyone interested in producing pictures or manipulating their home videos on their computer should have a look at these machines - you'll get one for well under 1,000 nowadays - nearer 500 for the entry-level iMacs. They can also be recommended for the 'customer-facing' parts of offices like reception desks since they look so cool and trendy.

In the Wintel camp, the biggest names include Olivetti, Dan, Gateway 2000, Dell, IBM,  Compaq and Viglen. Any of these will be able to sell you a good, reliable machine which will perform any task you ask of it.

The basic specification you should demand from any of the above, including the Apple camp, is: a processor running at at least 350 and preferably  650 megahertz; a four gigabyte hard disc;  64 and preferably 128 megabytes of memory; a five-speed DVD-ROM. Other components you should think about are the screen - most computers come with a 14 or 15 inch model, but it's well worth the extra to have a 17 or even 19 inch one - a 17 inch screen can offer 30% more screen 'real estate' than the 15 inch model; a colour printer - go for one which has separate colour and black print heads; a modem if you want to connect to the Internet (but talk to your telecoms provider about faster access methods).

Always look for a service contract which specifies on-site service, so you don't have to take your machine back to the shop or, worse, have to post it back to the manufacturer. Extended guarantees which cover second and third years are well worth the few tens of pounds they'll cost, but it's probably not worth opting for longer periods than this because the reality is that any computer you buy today will be obsolete in three years time - but always ask about the potential for upgrading your machine in the years to come.