So, you're thinking about
a new PC for Christmas? These are most likely the questions that you're asking
- 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!
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.
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
- 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.
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!
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.
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...
EXCEPT A SHOP - FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT'S HOLY, DON'T GET IT IN A SHOP!!!
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:
- 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!