SEND 'EM OFF TO COLLEGE WITH MORE PC POWER.
What's the best computer to buy for a college-bound student?
If you can afford the premium ($2,000 to $3,500) ticket price, a sophisticated laptop computer offers a best-of-both-worlds solution - all the essential features of a desktop PC plus the convenience of portability.
Even if you have to compromise on some features - typically the screen and the speed of the core microprocessor - a laptop will still prove the better buy in many situations.
While a conventional PC saddles students to the small desks in their dorm rooms, more than likely an ergonomically incorrect piece of furniture dating from the pre-computer age - a 7-pound portable can literally be worked on your lap, while seated in a comfy chair or on the bed. And the machine can be readily toted to the library, to a classroom or to a dedicated (and correctly designed) computer lab work station elsewhere on campus. There a student also can plug into the school's computer network and the Internet.
And of course, portables travel way better, when the student comes home (you hope) for vacations.
The downside: fancy portables - especially those with an active matrix 11.2- or 12.1-inch color screen - cost significantly more than a desktop computer equivalent with a brighter, 15-inch color monitor. And if that portable's delicate screen gets damaged, repairs will prove very costly. (Just replacing the monochrome LCD screen in my college-bound daughter's Apple Powerbook 150 turned out to be a $500 undertaking - youch.)
Another downside: Because there's nowhere to stash good speakers, even the most advanced multimedia portables with a built-in CD-ROM drive have dreadful sound, a joke compared to desktop models with their relatively beefy soundblasters.
Should you go for a Windows (Microsoft/Intel) based PC or a Macintosh? That depends on which system the school supports. Apple made a tremendous push onto college campuses in the early years of the Mac. Of late, more schools have been switching over to or adding PCs conforming to the Windows format, which dominates in 95 percent of the computer real world.
For those suffering technophobia, Macs are traditionally considered easier to set up and use than Windows-based PCs, though that advantage has largely been obscured by Windows 95.
Here are the minimum features to look for in a portable or desktop computer so it won't be totally obsolete when your Class of 2000 student graduates:
A 100 MHz or better Pentium microprocessor should be running the show with at least 16 MB of RAM memory to juggle information and at least 1 GB of hard drive space for program storage. A zippy 28.8 Kbs fax/modem will hold the phone bills down when the student is fetching on-line information or sending you e-mail (often, we pray.) For running multimedia programs, you'll want a 4X to 8X CD-ROM drive with stereo speakers.
Easier operation, advanced communications and powerful 3D graphics chips distinguish the new desktop personal computers just introduced from Compaq, Packard Bell and NEC.
In the ``Gee whiz, I'm glad they thought of this'' department is the long-overdue debut of front panel controls on new Compaq Presario desktop PCs that make possible ``one touch'' playback of CD music through the CD-ROM drive, easy speakerphone operation or instant access to messages from the PC's built-in answering machine.
Previously, you had to boot up a PC and then wade through layers of software to activate a CD or speakerphone or retrieve messages. While it looks like a piece of cake, making these operations fast and transparent required ``very serious software inside the box,'' noted a Compaq product developer.
As in IBM's Aptiva line, the new Presarios now feature a ``sleep mode,'' that automatically turns on the PC with an incoming call for fax or phone message storage.
And on a single phone line, you'll now be able to carry on a conversation while a fax is simultaneously being transmitted - presuming both parties involved have the same PC.
Offering a unique look and personality is the Presario 3020, the first desktop, all-in-one PC to be built around a flat, thin LCD screen. Up to now, LCDs have been strictly the province of portables.
The 3020's tiltable 12.1-inch double bright TFT LCD display (sourced from Sharp) and the vertically mounted CPU and disc drive package mounted behind the screen collectively consumes 40 percent less space than a conventional desktop PC. So this stylish unit looks more elegant and nestles into nooks and crannies - like the corner of a kitchen counter - where no other home PC could go.
Despite its slim build and the presence of a lift handle, a tug on a 3020 does reveal some resistance. The package still weighs a substantial 26 pounds, making this PC really more transportable than portable.
Other on-board features include a wireless mouse, a four disc CD changer, Pentium 166 MHz processor, 2 GB hard drive, 24 MB of EDO RAM, JBL speakers, Spatializer 3D surround, MPEG video playback and wavetable sound.
The ticket to ride? $3,499.
Video conferencing is a hot new option of PC models from both Compaq (with technology licensed from Intel), and from Packard Bell with its new line of Platinum PCs. The moving pictures are slow scan - herky jerky like old time movies - but are transmittable either through conventional phone lines or via the Internet. Packard Bell's video conferencing uses VDO Phone software and Internet Phone software from VocalTec. Users attach a camcorder or a digital still camera to input their images.
Also raising the bar, the Platinum series boasts 8X-speed CD-ROM drives, Pentium chips ranging from 133MHz to 200 MHz, hard drives as large as 3.4 GB, S3's ViRGE 3D graphics chip, SRS 3-D sound and BBE's High Definition Sound Enhancement.
Some Packard Bell models will offer Media Select, a stand-alone device for one-button access to a CD player, phone and speakers.
NEC aims to go places with its new 11-model Ready PC line. The entry-level ($1,599) system boasts a 120 MHz Pentium processor, 16 MB EDO RAM, 1 MB V-RAM, a 33.6 Kbs modem, 6X-speed CD-ROM and a 10-watt speaker system.
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|Title Annotation:||L.A. LIFE|
|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Aug 11, 1996|
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