Back-to-School Computer Shopping
Monday, August 7th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6
Children are expensive, but never more so than when entering college freshmen leave the nest in August. That's when parents must re-create a substantial portion of that nest, including a computer, in a dorm room.
Declaring the One True Computer will draw as much fire as announcing the One True Candidate, and kids are apt to ask for a system that could run World War III in a browser window.
Here are some guidelines that can help you match a student's wishes to a parent's wallet:
â€”Memory, as in RAM. Get as much as possible: It's cheap, about $1 per megabyte. At the minimum, get 128 megabytes. Memory is to computer performance as spinach is to Popeye's performance.
â€”Video memory. Again, more is better; 8 megabytes minimum.
â€”Monitors. When it's 3 a.m. and a paper is due at 9 a.m., a 15-inch (13.8-inch viewable area) monitor approaches the vanishing point. Choose, at minimum, a 17-inch monitor, but 19 inches is better and 21 inches best. When comparing monitors, consider a decimal called dot-pitch â€” 0.28, for example. Smaller is better.
If the dorm room is the standard shoebox size, an option to consider is a TV-tuner card that lets the monitor double as a TV set.
â€”System speed. Intel recently introduced a chip that runs faster than 1 gigahertz, that is, more than 1 billion cycles per second. For almost any ordinary application, the response is ``So?'' A system's overall performance involves much more than processor speed, so for most users, about 500 megahertz will do any job.
â€”Hard drives. Once considered spacious at 40 megabytes, they now come in gigabytes. Get at least 8 gigabytes â€” more is better. And while some (including Apple, with its iMac) deem floppy disk drives obsolete, they are still useful. It's hard to buy a PC without one, but if you must have an iMac, spring for the optional disk drive.
â€”Modem. With either PC or iMac, you'll get a 56-kbps modem, whether you want one or not.
â€”Sound. Good sound capability and semi-decent speakers are also hard to avoid.
â€”CD-ROM drive. This choice can be tricky if you don't pay more attention to the minimum speed than to the theoretical maximum. Also, you have to choose among a conventional CD-ROM drive, one that both reads and writes CD-ROMs, and a DVD drive that will also play videos. For most, a plain old CD-ROM drive will do.
â€”PC vs. Mac. With iMacs now in the same $800-$1,500 price range as comparable PCs, get whichever strikes your fancy. The iMacs come equipped for Ethernet networking, a plus in many dorms that are wired for the school's Internet and for an Internet gateway. And while the CompuBug columnist has been a PC fan from the start, his wife swears by (and occasionally swears at) an iMac going on 18 mostly trouble-free months of service.
A final tip, the result of 10 years of hauling computers to dorm rooms: Impress upon the student the importance of dusting more often than once a semester, at least around the computer (which also should not be used as a substitute laundry hamper). Heat buildup caused by the insulating effects of dust balls and dirty socks will cook a computer's components.