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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 IV - Wrapping It Up

You're clear on what you want to do with the new computer. You've settled on how much power you need and what features you want. Good. But before you go shopping, here are a few more things to consider.

You can choose between a desktop or laptop machine. A desktop computer comes in a case that can sit on a desk or on the floor. Cables connect it to the mouse, keyboard, and monitor. A laptop computer is a self contained unit with the computer, mouse, keyboard and monitor built into the case.

Both types are available with high speed processors, gigabytes of RAM and large capacity hard disks.

Desktop models are more versatile for adding or changing components. It is fairly easy to upgrade video cards, sound cards, DVD players, hard disks, or other components.

Laptops have the advantage of portability. They run on a rechargeable battery that can have up to 6 hours of life, or they can be plugged into a receptacle and act much like a desktop. When running on battery power, you can sit in an airport waiting area and work on a proposal, write a, surf the net with WiFi or even watch a DVD movie. I have used my laptop countless times on business trips and find it invaluable.

Consider a laptop's size and weight. Lugging a heavy computer over your shoulder is no joy. You can get 17 display and even wide screen, but this will add to the weight. Battery capacity is another thing to look at. Some models can run for up to 6 hours, but others won't last for 2.

Laptops are not as easy to upgrade as desktops because most of the components, like video and sound cards, are built into the motherboard and there are no expansion slots as there are on a desktop model. They do have a special slot for PCMCIA cards, but these consist largely of network and modem and WiFi cards. Changing a hard disk can often mean disassembling the case and should only be done by a technician. Keyboards can be smaller and less ergonomic than a desktop model and the mouse pointing devices are sometimes hard to use and not very accurate. You can attach a full size keyboard and mouse, but you will need a work space larger than your lap.

Your computer is little more than a doorstop unless you have the right kind of application software to run on it such as a word processor, spreadsheet, paint program or accounting package. Scanners, printers, cameras, DVD burners and external disk drives often come with software that will help you use the devices. Most digital cameras include software to copy photos to the computer and manipulate them by adding captions, adjusting colours, and removing red eye. DVD burners often have software to read and create disks.

These bundled programs can be very useful and quite adequate for your needs. However you may discover that you want to do more than the standard packages allow. There is software that can cut out pieces of pictures and reassemble them, or stitch several photos together into a panorama. Some packages can retouch a photo to fix perspective, paint complex images, bring back faded colour, remove scratches, and even take off twenty pounds and ten years from a subject in a portrait. You may be able to upgrade the software that came with your device to a more advanced version or you may want to purchase a new program that has the features and capabilities you want.

When shopping, always keep in mind what it is you are going to use the computer for and look with a detached eye. Emotions or brand loyalty can cause us to spend more money than we intended. Visit several dealers and ask about essentials and options. Try each model and see how it feels. Check the keyboard and mouse for comfort. Make certain the monitor is easy on your eyes. Compare several brands. Note prices. You might be able to find a bargain through a mail order house or over the internet. Remember, though, that your computer may need servicing or upgrading someday and that you may have questions when you get the machine back home. Buy from someone who can provide support before and after the sale.

Some retailers will try to sell you an extended warranty, sometimes called a service contract, on items such as computers, televisions, and DVD players. I strongly advise that you never buy an extended warranty or service contract! In my opinion, they are a waste of your money. All of the equipment you buy will come with a manufacturer's warranty against defects in material or workmanship. If an electronic item is going to fail, it will almost certainly do so at the beginning of its life when the manufacturer's warranty is in force, or at the far end of its life after the service contract has expired. The manufacturer's warranty is included in the sale price. An extended warranty can add an additional 10% to 30% to the purchase price ($100 to $300 on a $1,000 computer). Resist the sales pitch, even if you are pressured and told how you can just bring a broken unit back and exchange it or that it will give you peace of mind. People have returned broken merchandise under extended warranties and have received a refund or replacement item, but over 80% of the people who buy them never use them, and many of the people who did redeem their extended warranties did so for items that were still under the manufacture's warranty, so the extended warranty was an unneeded extra expense. CBC News Marketplace has a comprehensive article on extended warranties at http://www.cbc.ca/consumers/market/files/money/extended_warranties/. Check it out before you go shopping.

I am often asked what the best brand of computer, operating system or application program is. I have kept this article intentionally general and avoided mentioning band names except in a few incidents to illustrate a feature. My advice is for you to try several different brands and, given the information in this article, choose the one that you like best.

If you keep in mind the reason why you want that computer and do a little comparative shopping to look for a machine that meets those needs while sticking to your budget, you stand a very good chance of making a cost effective purchase that will give you years of satisfaction.


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