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Buying your first computer?
by Kushal Shah

Question:  There is so much of publicity about computers and Internet in the media, that I feel I need to have a computer. I want to buy new computer. I m very much confused about it. In today's newspapers I see some advertisements showing some Pentium III machines for under 50,000 rupees. I visited some computer superstores they suggested that I buy a some branded machine like Compaq or HP or IBM which are more expensive than a assembled machine. Now what should I do? Who should I rely on? I don't know much about computers, as this is first time I have ventured to buy a computer. I want some advice so I want pay for something, which I don't need. How should I proceed?

This question you have asked has many considerations and therefore we will have to proceed step by step. This topic will be discussed in two part article. The first part deals with general considrations. In Part II we deal with specific components that make a good computer system for you.

First of all you don't need to get confused about this at all. You will discover that with some familiarity you will be able to know about this field. Over years use of computers have been made easier to buy, configure (even assemble machine on his own machine) and use computers. This can be done without many hassles. You need to proceed a bit carefully so that you can make a right decision otherwise you are likely to run in many problems.

First of all please know that this discussion is in context to buying either assembled PC or assembling a PC your self.

If wish to by buy branded this discussion does not apply to you. With a brand name system the configuration and the parts used decided by the company. Only RAM & Hard Disk Drive (HDD) can be upgraded. Even here the sales people try to convince you that you have to get these systems upgraded through them only. The cost of the RAM and HDD they charge are twice what you would pay for a good brand RAM or HDD from market. Even if you go for the branded system, after the warranty, is over get it done by a reliable hardware person and save some expense.

Now we will discuss the issues for buying computer an assembled system.

Here I will discuss this issue in brief: as to what to choose if you are on shopping for different part or assembled system with your configuration & your own choice of components.

This probably one of the most fun (and most arduous) aspects of buying/building your own computer is buying the right components. Needs differ from one person to person. Most of the times price an important role in the equipment you choose. Please be warned that you will have some difficulty with assemblers and people selling the parts as they try to push their configuration and the parts they have in stock. Their usual argument is the configuration they are proposing has very good in performance & stability etc. But never fall prey to such sales pitches.

You must insist on your own configuration and your brands of components. Today most of advertisements in newspapers & magazines configurations mentioned there are to make most profit for the assemblers.

Please stick with their own choice of configuration and components.

Today there are good chances that an assembler promises you what you ask for but won't deliver that configuration.

Most important point to remember when buying an assembled machine: always buy computer from someone whom u know or from someone who has been referred by people who bought computers from him. , There is still chance to be cheated, to circumvent this hurdle, take a help from a friend who knows about computers or independent consultant who can guarantee you what you want that you are getting form dealer.

Of course best thing is to buy different parts from different dealers & assemble it yourself or with the help from friend or qualified professional. This way you will have better appreciation of your computer.

Above, we discussed all non-technical information related to acquiring components & choosing your supplier etc. now we will discuss each & every component, which makes your system complete. It'll help u to choose right components for your system.

The most important part in computer is processor, which is heart & brain of computer. It can be very tricky to choose a processor as in terms of different brands like Intel or AMD, speed in megahertz & different cache versions. Some people are keen on using only Intel branded processors in their machines but one should really choose AMD brand of processor where price performance ratio is better then their INTEL counterparts, in some areas it is very superior in performance. For years we have been forced to think, by microprocessor vendors, that faster processor with faster megahertz speed is always better for everything that too for some unexplained reasons. Generally when a person goes to buy a computer he just considers the processor used & then the price factor comes. Due to the price war and naivety of most of the people, PC vendor have started selling systems with just fast processor with minimum configuration, which is not sufficient for machine to provide optimum performance. It is like using a 2000 Horsepower engine in some 2 wheeler Scooter which cant even take advantage of it, but u can tell people that I have 2000 Horsepower engine at my place whether it performs or not. Same thing happens when a person buys computer. You might claim that I have fastest processor available but when person tries to run something on it he feels that his computer is not fast enough where in real other components are responsible for this. It is recommended to take AMD K6-2 500, Intel Pentium III 550 or AMD Athlon 650 MHZ as per the requirements.

Second important part is Mother board which actually plays key role in Performance, stability & upgradeablity of system Normally you get motherboard with integrated soundcard & AGP Video card in 50 k budget system i.e. mostly Intel 810. But these boards are not expandable & not good in performance. It is advisable not to buy Intel 810 Chipset Motherboard since it has many compatibility Problems in various software.

It is recommended to use motherboard manufactured by some good company like INTEL, ASUS, FIC with separate AGP graphics card & sound card, ATX Form factor, Bios upgradeablity from motherboard manufacture web site, Upgradeablity in terms of the number of PCI cards u can put, how much RAM & fastest processor supported. Examples are Intel SE440Bx-2, Asus P3B-f or Asus CUBX.

Third Important Part is RAM; one of the main requirements in computer is memory. To run windows 98 or NT properly the need is at least 64 MB RAM where in our country 32 MB is default unless more is specified. Less memory results in slow application performance & other problems. For other applications like Games, 3D animation & some other creative stuff 128-256 MB RAM is good enough. If you put this much RAM in your system your system will reflect a dramatic increase in performance & stability. It is recommended to use some generic RAM from any known company like Hyundai, Samsung, Siemens or good brand names like Kingston, Viking, and Transcend. It is recommended not to buy RAM from grey market unless companies mentioned above manufacture it.

Fourth is AGP card, which is something, which makes very huge difference in video quality, 3D games & color quality (which can be checked by looking at the performance of 3D applications & by playing video also). When you buy the specified budget systems what u get is shared AGP (mostly INTEL 810) which uses main memory for its buffers. This kind of cards suffers from the problems in speed of direct draw, direct 3D & open GL applications. This card is not upgradeable, if you plan to upgrade later, then the only option is to change your whole motherboard!!!

One should acquire AGP card with at least 4 MB physical memory which is good for day to day applications But for the 3D games (which are jerky & some don't work with normal AGP cards), for playing video CD or DVD, for video editing, or using some3d software like 3d Studio, u will need different range of display card with more memory ranging from 8 MB to 64 MB. It is recommended to use AGP cards with 8 MB RAM e.g. Intel i740, Matrox G200. For better performance in games Voodoo 3 with 16 MB RAM, nvidia TNT2 Ultra with 32 MB RAM and for better performance in 3d applications, permedia3, Diamond FireGL 1 is recommended.

Fifth is hard drive from which processor access data for processing. If the hard drive were slow, even the fastest processor wouldn't help. Nowadays most of the systems come with 5400 rpm drives which is sufficient for day to day applications but if u are planning something in terms of speed & performance & money is no issue then it is recommended to get 7200 RPM ULTRA DMA 66 IDE hard drives which are available with only 20 % increase in price & 50% increase in performance.

Sixth is Monitor, which also plays key role in terms of visibility & presentation. Most of dealers recommend 14-inch monitor from brands like, microteck, samtel, BPL, and many other semi Indian brands, which are cheaper but not good in terms of performance, visibility & radiation from CRT compared to brands like LG, Samsung, View sonic & Sony. It is recommended to use 15 or 17-inch monitor with Flat tube.

Seventh is sound card, which has key role in what u hear. Nowadays most of the systems shipped come with integrated sound card with no Wavetable or full duplex functionality & DSP, example is problems with dial pad on 810 boards which is also integrated on board which u cant upgrade unless u change whole motherboard. It is recommended to use sound card from company like creative, diamond multimedia, or any good brand or manufactured using chipsets from Yamaha, ESS or vortex.

Then comes CD Rom Drive where there is not much choice. One can go for DVD Rom, which can also work as CD ROM as well as playing DVD. One should never go for integrated multimedia kits, which consists of CD Rom sound card & speakers. There you don't have choice of different components. E.g. Creative Multimedia Kit, which is widely being sold all over country & a computer buyer badly, insists on taking original CREATIVE KIT. The real problem in this Kit is that CD Rom drive is very bad in terms of performance, kind of media supported & main problem is reading cd - recordable discs. It is recommended to get Brand like Asus, which is best of all other brands like Samsung or LG.

Last comes Cabinet, which plays role in system stability, cooling and features like auto wake up & shut down. Currently most of systems sold in our country are equipped with AT Cabinet, which is small for computing requirements, non availability of cooling & other features, in addition hardly any room for peripherals like additional hard drives & backup devices. It is recommended to use ATX Cabinet with at least 235 watts power supply, Cooling Fan and of course attractive looks.

by Kushal Shah

Copyright 1999 Dr. Raj Mehta. All rights reserved.