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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 III - Not So Optional Options

Once you settle on the essentials of a new computer, you should consider some options.

Hard disks are electro-mechanical devices. They can fail. As well, you may accidentally erase some of your files, such as photos and records. The best way to protect yourself is to make backup copies of your data. A backup can be a duplicate of important files or a replication of your entire hard drive.

One method is to copy your data to a DVD using a DVD burner. DVDs hold more than movies. They store 4 GB of data. That's about 800 high resolution pictures or about 1.2 million pages of text. You can also use your DVD burner to backup files to a compact disk, but a CD will hold only 800 MB of data.

Specify a DVD burner as opposed to just a DVD reader. Readers can only play CDs and DVDs. Burners come with software packages that guide you though the process of copying photos, movies or data files. They are a great way to archive information and to share it with family and friends. Some burner software can even make a DVD slide show that you can play on TV with a standard DVD player. You can also create your own movie DVDs and music CDs. Other software can make an exact image of your hard disk that can be used to restore your entire system if you encounter a major crash. It pays to buy top name brand disks. I have lost important data on cheap bargain disks that were no bargain in the end.

Backing up a large hard drive to DVDs can be very time consuming. It would take 48 disks to backup a 150 GB drive There are programs that compress files and reduce their storage requirements nearly in half, but it would still take 24 DVDs.

An alternative is to use an external hard drive. They are hard disks in self contained cases that can be connected to your computer through a cable. You can copy all of your data, just a portion of it, or create an exact image of the hard disk that can be used for system recovery. You can create historical data sets that allow you can go back to a point in time and recover a specific version of a file. The units come with software to help you create backups.

I cannot over emphasize the importance of making regular backups of your data. I came from the mainframe world where we did backups four times a day because the data was so important and valuable. I have been called in many times by clients after a hard disk crash only to discover that no one had ever backed up the data. In these cases, there was nothing I could do. The data was lost and could never be recovered. This could be an inconvenience for individuals when photos, letters, or addresses are lost. For a small business, it can be ruinous when key files are destroyed.

If you are going to work with digital paintings, retouch photos, or generally manipulate images, a graphic tablet is wonderful tool. These are rectangular, flat devices that come with an electronic stylus. Once installed, they can be used in place of a mouse to draw lines and circles, paint colours, resize objects, and select menu items. As you move the stylus over the tablet, the cursor moves on the monitor. Pressing the stylus down begins painting or selecting. They give you far more control over graphic images than you can get with a mouse. Fine, detailed work is possible and hand strain is reduced. Artists will find them a natural fit and non-artists will quickly adapt to the easy feel. Programs such as Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro and Corel Draw are specifically designed to work with graphic tablets. You can still use your mouse with the tablet.

You can share your photos and documents through email or by placing them on a web sharing site, or you can print them out.

The inkjet printer has evolved to become a real workhorse for both text and graphics. There are many models on the market for under $100 that deliver clear, sharp, colourful prints. Most produce both 8 x 10 documents and photos and 4 x 6 photo prints. More expensive models can make prints as large as 11 x 17. You can use regular or inkjet paper for documents, but you should use special photo paper for pictures to produce sharper images with better colour reproduction.

Printing speed is measured in pages per minute and can range from under 10 to nearly 40. Look for the ability to print to the edge of photo paper. Many printers leave a quarter inch band of white around the borders. Edge-to-edge printers produce borderless prints that look as if they came from a photo processor. More and more printers are including a small LCD screen that allows you to preview a photo before it is printed. This is especially useful if you plug a digital camera directly into the printer. Some printers can scan and digitize documents and images from photographs and negatives. These can be stored on the hard disk and manipulated.

A game controller can allow you to virtually fly the latest jet, drive an Indy 500 race car or hunt down wanted criminals. The joystick has graduated from a four position pointer and fire button to a sophisticated tool that can control a range of dives, climbs, turns and speed, as well as the ability to fire multiple salvos. Racing games can add a steering wheel and pedals that have sensory feedback to let you feel tension and vibrations like the real thing. Game pads come with multiple buttons and triggers to control every aspect of complex play. All come in cord and cordless models.

When you've settled on the options you want, there are still a few last things to wrap it up.

Next: Part IV - Wrapping It Up


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