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David A. Wimsett
Providing Technological Solutions

David's interest in technology extends back to his teen years with science fairs and amateur radio. He is fascinated with hardware, but his real interest is how people use technology. David's goal in providing technological solutions has always been to listen to the end users.

Buying That New Computer: Part I - Why am I doing this?

Oh, the flash, the sparkle, the features, the sales pitches of buying that new computer. It can be exhilarating and overwhelming at the same instant. How much RAM? How big a hard drive? What size monitor? The choices are voluminous and often confusing as people get lost in the feature and brand wars, leaving them with an endless stream of questions.

Yet, many people never ask the most important question of all, What is the computer going to be used for? If you're a rancher, you know what you're going to use a new truck for and, because of that, it's easy to compare models and features to select the vehicle that meets your needs.

When computers took up an entire room and cost millions of dollars, businesses went to great lengths to understand why they needed one and how it would be used. Microcomputers have crept into our everyday lives in the guise of appliances. Yet, the modern microcomputer is still a major business tool that is actually more powerful than those huge mainframes.

It is easy to get carried away by slick advertisements and our own emotions when buying any new technological item. We need to take one step back before purchasing to see if what we're looking at will do the job and whether or not a less expensive model with fewer features will perform just as well. Understanding what we want to do with the computer will dictate the features we need.

If you are going to write letters, surf the web, send and receive email, and calculate your taxes, a lower cost computer will likely provide excellent service and save you money. If, on the other hand, you are going to play the latest action games, download high resolution photos from your digital camera to alter them, or edit video, you may need more power.

You don't have to understand every aspect of how a computer is built on order to buy one, anymore than you need to be an automotive engineer to purchase a car. Still, a consumer who understands road handling and fuel efficiency can make a better informed choice when shopping for an automobile than someone who does not. Likewise, computer buyers who have some knowledge of certain key elements can make a better decision.

Computers come with a stationary or portable case and a power cord. Inside, there will be several components. They all connect in some way to a main circuit called the motherboard. Some components attach directly to it, some attach through an expansion slot and others plug into jacks called ports that act like electrical gateways.

Devices may connect to a port with a cord or through a radio or infrared signal that allows the device to be positioned away from the computer. This is referred to as a cordless connection. They allow mice, keyboards, game controllers, printers and other devices greater freedom of movement and fewer tangled of cords.

A computer can consist of many components in many configurations. Here is an overview of some major items to consider.

•  The CPU. The Central Processing Unit, or processor, is sometimes called the brain of the computer, but it might better be thought of as the master controller that coordinates the many activities of the machine. It is directly attached to the motherboard.

•  RAM. The letters stand for Random Access Memory. It acts as a high speed scratch pad for the CPU, temporarily holding program instructions and data. RAM is also attached directly to the motherboard

•  Hard Disk. This can be thought of as a filing cabinet that contains all your letters, photos, email, tax data, etc. in the form of electronic files that can be read from and written to very quickly. Hard disks connect to the motherboard with a cable.

•  Internet Connection . The Internet is used by millions of people each day for research, shopping, entertainment, email, and more. There are two ways to get linked to the world wide web, a telephone line (dial-up) or a high speed connection. You will need a modem for dial-up and a Local Area Network (LAN) card for high speed.

•  Video Card. The video card is a small computer within the computer. It has a processor and memory and uses them to create the text and images on the screen. A video card can be build into the motherboard or it can be added via an expansion slot.

•  Monitor. The monitor displays the text and images created by the video card. It, along with a keyboard and mouse, allows you to interact directly with the computer. Monitors connect to the video card with a cable.

•  Sound Card. Many computers come with a small speaker, but it can't do much more than beep. To hear music, voices and sound effects requires a sound card. They can be built into the motherboard or they may be inserted into an expansion slot.

•  Speakers. Speakers and headphones play the music, voices and effects from the sound card. They come in cord and cordless models.

•  Keyboard. In its simplest form, it acts like a typewriter with extra keys to scroll the screen, move the cursor, and control program functions. Multi-media keyboards add the ability to play music and movies and perform complex tasks with the press of a button. They come in cord and cordless models.

•  Mouse. By moving the mouse on a surface, the cursor moves on the screen. Clicking a mouse button allows you to select text and graphics or initiate commands. They come in cord and cordless models.

Getting what you need without breaking the bank is a matter of evaluating your needs and comparing them to a computer's essential capabilities.


Next: Part II The Essentials


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