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Fact Sheet 8: Where to buy

If you're on a limited budget the wonderful world of computing, Internet Surfing and CD-ROMs might seem to be well outside your budget. However, if you have the price of a decent TV and video to spare, or can raise that amount in a loan, you can buy a very good machine these days.

Firstly, always buy a few computer magazines to see whose offering the best deals this month. Several companies, including Morgan Computers (0207-456-5565) will sell you a decent machine with a CD-ROM, speakers, decent hard disc and memory for well under £500.

If you want to run Windows 95/98, the very basic specification is a Pentium II with 32 MB of Ram and a two gigabyte hard disc and a colour monitor. If you can afford a Pentium II, 32MB of RAM and a two gigabyte hard disc, your machine will run all the software anyone will produce for the next couple of years.

If all you want to do is a bit of word processing and possibly some web surfing, a lesser basic Pentium machine running Windows 95 in just 16MB of RAM will be up to the task, and Morgan sometimes have such machines for around £200 although they're getting rarer.

Think about Apple Macintosh computers too. You're less likely to find them being sold cheaply or second-hand, but the iMac range represents excellent value starting at just over £500.

And don't forget that if you want to try a little 'net surfing before you splash out your cash there are now any number of Internet café's all over the country. For between £5 and £10 an hour you can surf to your heart's content. Many Dillons bookshops also offer this facility.

If you're tempted to buy second hand, think again. Some items are less risky, like monitors, but others - particularly hard discs - are probably not worth it. You will have no way of knowing how much use it's been put to and, with the average disc designed to last between two and five years, that bargain may already be approaching the end of its useful life.

There's the added risk with older equipment that it may not work in a modern machine - older monitors, for example, can't cope with the output of the newest video cards, and some old hard discs can't be used on new Pentium machines, so you may end up just buying an expensive paperweight.

If you're not sure what you're doing, take someone along who does. And always check the provenance of what you're buying - memory chips sold lose in a car boot sale may well be stolen.