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One Byte at a Time
Buying a new computer

A lot of you may be considering the purchase of a new computer for your holiday present this year. Here's a little information on what to look for, where to look for it and what to avoid.

If you're looking for a combination home/business computer you'll want to get a Pentium II or comparable processor (Celeron and K-6 are comparable, Cyrex is not quite as high in performance). The speed of the processors determines how fast your computer will be able to process the information you're putting in. A 350-megahertz processor speed is good, but higher is better.

You'll also want as good-sized hard drive- a 4.3-gigabyte drive should be the minimum you consider. The size of the hard drive determines how many different applications you can have on the machine.

Random access memory (RAM) is also important. The amount of RAM determines how fast your programs will run. The more you have the better. Get a minimum of 32 megabytes.

The final thing you'll want to have is a 56k modem or fax/modem, so you'll be able to access the Internet and send/receive faxes with your computer.

Generally speaking, you will find the best deals on computers via the Internet. 

If you know what you're looking for, online auctions can offer you the best deals. The computers are usually factory refurbished, but carry the same warranty as a new unit and can save you several hundred dollars.

If you don't have access to the Internet, the large electronics stores such as Best Buy, CompUSA, etc. are the next best place to find bargains. If this is your first computer take the specifications above with you and compare features on your various choices. Just remember, salesmen often get commissions, so they may be more motivated by the price of your purchase than the ability of the product to fill your needs. I often hear stories from people who've been talked in to buying twice what they actually needed.

The last option, (though not necessarily the least desirable) is the small local computer shop. These come in all flavors. The "bend over backwards" store is the most helpful. You can't find a better place to purchase a computer. The cost may be a little higher than the bargain stores, but they're likely to earn the difference with helpful advice. You'll have to trust your instincts here. Stop by and talk with the proprietor. Tell him what you're looking for, what you want to be able to do on the computer and what your budget is. Usually these small shops have an eye to the future and want not just to make a sale, but to gain a customer. They'll help you get started with a good computer and help you learn how to use it.

As this is the last column of the year, I'd like to take a moment to thank all of you who have e-mailed me this past year with suggestions for the column, web sites and comments. Your suggestions, impressions and criticism are always welcome. As always, if you have any computer related questions we will be glad to answer them for you. E-mail your comments or questions to

Till next time, have a great holiday and a safe and prosperous new year.