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Tech Corner Last Updated: 2, Apr 2018 - 10:02

Buying a PC this Christmas
By Davitt "Kharn" Waldron
29, Nov 2001 - 14:37

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So, you're thinking about a new PC for Christmas? These are most likely the questions that you're asking yourself...
  • What should you buy?
  • How much will it cost?
  • Where should I buy it?

Well, let's step through these questions one at a time...

What should I buy?

At the risk of sounding smart, what do you need? Computers are great things - they can let you do all sorts of stuff - be it work or play. This author is a Web Developer so I use my PC for work. But, I'm also a semi-professional computer games player, so I definitely use it for play!

It's probably easiest to examine the parts individually and see which ones suit your needs.

  • Processor: typically, you'll either get a Pentium by Intel or an Athlon by AMD. Which is best? Athlon. Everyone's heard of Pentiums and how big they are, but the simple fact of the matter is, Athlon's are cheaper, perform better and are easier to upgrade.
  • RAM: Random Access Memory or simply Memory. More is better! 128 Mega Bytes (MB) is a good chunk to start with, 256MB is better. If you want to play games, 512MB is recommenced.
  • Hard Drive: The bigger it is, the more you can store! You'd want to get at least 20 Giga Bytes (GB) for today's applications which, when fully installed, can take up to a half a GB each! If you think that's a lot, some games will take 1.5GB if you let them.
  • DVD: It's really good being able to watch DVDs on your PC, but if you're serious about DVD Video, I'd recommend buying a DVD Player for under your telly. Still, DVD ROM drives are the standard on a PC now, so you should get one - more and more companies are releasing their software on DVD format and the CD-ROM's days could be numbered.
  • CD Rewriter: Quite simply, you can copy CDs or back up important files easily. Piracy is wrong - don't do it. You can only legally copy a CD you already own. You can get different kinds of discs - some you can only write on once and others are "re-writable" which will allow you to copy onto them many times. Blank discs are really cheap too - 50 discs for £25 is the average you'd expect to pay.
  • Floppy Drive: Get one - you may need it. They annoy me greatly and they're as unreliable as an unreliable thing, but when it's time to recover, they can shine.
  • Zip Drive: Don't bother - CDs can hold more and are quicker. You'll get a Rewriter for the same money!
  • Graphics: If you think you might be playing games, you will and for that you'll need SERIOUS video power. Video cards these days contain daft amounts of memory for these reasons. I'd recommend an nVidia GeForce 3 Ti500 if you can afford it - it's likely to set you back close to £300 though. A video card I've used and have a lot of respect for is the ATI Radeon All-In-Wonder. They're cheaper than nVidia cards, almost as good and their DVD and video playback is unbeaten. I could write an entire article on video cards alone (which I might), but that's for another day. Basically, if it says GeForce or Radeon in the name, it's gonna be good. Another one to look out for is the Hercules Prophet II with the Kyro chip-set - comparable performance to GeForce and Radeon and good prices too.
  • Sound: Often overlooked in these days of Video being king. There are some great sound cards out there at the moment - Sound Blaster Live! Platinum being the best. Turtle Beach make some great ones too. Watch out for the SB Live! Drive - it's an attachment that'll come with the SB Live! that slots into one of the 5 1/4" drives on the front of the computer and gives you input and output for optical, phono, cannon and jack connections - if you're a musician, it's a must have so you can record your own stuff. There's plenty of software available that'll let you record as well as any recording studio with a bit of time and practice.
  • Modem: Do you want to surf the web. After you've said yes, you'll need a modem. Most companies include a software modem which uses some of your processor to do the work. In a word, they're PANTS! Try and get a "hardware" modem as they're better speeds and more reliable under pressure. If you would like to spend lots of time online, modems aren't the answer. Phone lines are just not up to scratch when it boils down to it. ISDN might be a viable solution, but it's quite expensive. Satellite might be another - Cedar have launched a broadband satellite service so have a look at their website for more info.
  • Monitor: I'd not settle for anything less that 17". 19" is better if you can stretch to it price wise. Flat screens have become more affordable in recent days, but they're not great as their refresh rate can be lower than regular monitors. The refresh rate is the frequency in Hertz that the screen "redraws" itself at - higher is better, but people's eyes are different, so what's good for you might cause migraine for me!
  • Mouse: Whatever's comfortable for you. I've got a Microsoft Intellieye Explorer - it's a mad mouse! 5 buttons (left, right, wheel and 2 for my thumb), optical sensor (no ball and rollers that'll get dirty). It's very comfortable to use as it's got an ergonomic design. The problem is, it cost £50! Logitech and Microsoft make the best mice. The only thing to make sure of is that your mouse has a left and a right button and a wheel in the middle which also acts as a third button.
  • Keyboard: I'm not pushed too much about my keyboard, but if you think you'll be more comfortable using one over another, then knock yourself out!
  • Printer & Scanner: If you think you'll use it, don't bother getting one because you probably won't get the use out of them. If you KNOW you'll use them, then you're talking another £250 onto the bill. Hewlett Packard make good printers, as do Cannon and They both do good scanners too. Get at least an A4 Flatbed scanner as they work best.

And now the eternal question...

How much will it cost?

Unless you can afford it, the best of the best will cost too much! It's a matter of trade off and compromise. You can get a kick-ass PC for the £1500 mark with quite a lot of what's been mentioned above. If you only have £1000 to spend, I'd recommend a slower processor (even today's slow processors are fast!), dropping the CD-Re Writer and a lesser Graphics card - a GeForce 2 MX or an ATI Radeon (not the All-In-Wonder). The printer and scanner should always be the first to go. If you like, lower the amount of system RAM you're getting as you can get RAM quite cheaply these days so you can always get it when the funds a a little less depleted.

Where should I buy it?

This is the easiest question of all to answer...


So where?

Dell make the best (but most expensive) PCs. Their after-sales service is top notch and you can configure and buy it all online. I got my PC from PC-Ireland and I made a saving of £300 from the equivalent specifications from Dell. Don't think about buying any of the following brands:

  • Fujitsu-Siemens
  • Gateway
  • Compaq
  • Packard Bell

Why not? Any and all experiences I've had with these computers has been poor. I can't offer anything except my own opinion and experience, so you'll have to take my word for it!

So folks, that completes my basic round up on what's a good buy. Remember, a PC isn't just for Christmas, it's for fun!


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