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The hard line on hardware.

Face it, cost is no longer a barrier to owning a computer. Despite the hoopla over upgrades and blow-out sales, your primary concerns should be performance and capability. So carefully assess your basic needs--and budgets--and you may never have to hit the stores again.

Let's start from ground zero. Do you need a high-end system? With top-of-the-line PC prices hovering around $2,500, you might consider one, even if you don't need the power right now. That's because software programs are getting more complex, requiring more hard drive space and speed. Just ask any Windows devotee how much power that program demands.

FINDING THE RIGHT SPEED

These days, you can get a top-of-the-line 486-based system, as opposed to the Speed is the real reason most folks are now opting for a 486-based system, as opposed to the older, slower 286 model. Roughly four million 486DX PCs were shipped this year, compared to 103,000 units in 1990, estimates International Data Corp., a Framingham, Mass.-based computer research firm. Even though a 486DX is faster than a 486SX, don't write off the SX if it suits your needs.

The speed of a computer's CPU (central processing unit) is measured in megahertz (MHz). Anything below 16MHz is useless if you need graphics-based programs, such as desktop publishing. Not to mention that almost all Windows applications will virtually crawl at this level. Our advice: Get a 33 MHz system or higher.

ZEROING IN ON THE BASICS

RAM (random access memory), the amount of memory available for processing programs and documents, is another key consideration. To run today's memory-hungry intensive software programs, anything less than 2MB of RAM can spell trouble. You'll need at least 4MB.

Perhaps a more crucial buying decision is the hard drive. Disk speed can influence performance in ways other than the amount of time it takes to open and close a file. The most common measurement of disk speed is its average access time: how long it takes the computer to locate and retrieve data. The standard range is from 4 to 17 milliseconds. We advise that you don't settle for a machine with under a 120MB hard drive. For most users, the 240MB is usually adequate.

SCREENING MONITORS

The type of work you do affects the kind of monitor you should buy. So, if your tasks include graphics applications, you'll want a monitor that has a higher resolution, generally with a dot pitch of .28mm or smaller. Dot pitch is the amount of space between the individual phosphor dots on the picture tube. The smaller a monitor's dot pitch, the greater its display quality. Resolution is rated in pixels--the more pixels the better. A good recommendation is a Super VGA monitor displaying at least 800 by 600 pixels.

And in case you didn't know, monochrome monitors, though cheaper, are passe. No longer toys for techies, color monitors, which have come down in price by as much as 10% over the last year or so, are handy for crafting business presentations with pie or bar charts. Another advantage: Color screens tend to be easier on your eyes. The latest color monitors start at about $400.

PICKS OF THE LITTER

Do you want a fast PC that will grow with your needs? Then consider the Tandy 3100, 33MHz 486SX PC equipped with 4MB of RAM, a 212MB hard drive and four expansion slots. It also comes bundled with Microsoft MS-DOS and Microsoft Windows 3.1 already installed.

Tandy was designed with Windows in mind. It runs the program faster than some competitors because of its advanced video cards. Tandy's video technology bypasses the expansion bus and ties the video controller directly to the CPU's main memory, allowing the video controller to operate at the same speed as the microprocessor. For the layperson, that means never having to wait more than a couple of seconds for applications that might otherwise slow down the PC.

The Tandy 3100 with VGM-390 monitor, DMP-206 printer plus cable and diskettes costs $1,799. This desktop computer gets the award for pleasing the impatient beginner.

The Wyse DECISION 486si line offers high performance in the midrange price--starting at $1,899. This PC offers the Hyper16 Video, which makes handling graphics-intensive programs a snap. Compared to its competition, it has the fastest VGA (video graphics array) performance available. This means that data appear on your screen three times faster than with conventional computers.

The Decision 486si is also easy for upgrades. This computer can accept a wide range of processors from a 16MHz SX to a 66MHz DX2. Wyse Technology's primary lure: There are no expensive upgrade cards to install.

Simply remove the existing CPU and replace it with a faster chip. It's hard to beat this deal: You can buy the low-end and just change the CUP when you're ready to advance to the next level. The system's memory is the standard 4MB but is expandable to 64MB. The hard drive is 120MB. But for another $130 you can get 200MB.

Gateway 2000 systems are gaining widespread popularity--and rightly so. Despite a few concerns about timely technical support, these PCs are top-notch. Great for the mid-level computer user is the Gateway 486DX2/50.

It's fast, easily expandable and dependable. It has 8MB of RAM (expandable to 64MB), a 340MB hard drive, 5.25[inches] and 3.5[inches] floppy drives, 15[inches] Crystalscan color monitor and eight open expandable slots. Add to these features a coveted 124-key programmable keyboard and Microsoft mouse.

DOS 6 and Windows 3.1 come pre-installed in the Gateway 486DX2/50 and users get to choose one of several application programs, including the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, Borland Paradox database manager and Microsoft Powerpoint presentation software.

The newest trend in personal computing is multimedia, which gives the users the ability to combine motion graphics and sound for presentations and interactive applications. To create a mean, lean multimedia machine, you'll need a powerful computer, a CD-ROM drive and a sound card.

Gateway's top-of-the-line multimedia computer system is the 4DX2-66V. Its notable features include the Sound Blaster 16 audio card, which offers high-quality stereo sound. In fact, you have your pick of an array of CD recordings from such jazz greats as Duke Ellington and Miles Davis. The 66MHz system, with 16MB of RAM, 424MB hard drive and 3.5[inches] floppy drive, lists for $2,995.

BIG MACS

Apple Computer is taking the lead in this growing multimedia market by offering its new "AV" line.

The Quadra 840AV comes with a 68040 microprocessor running at 40 MHz, 8MB of RAM, 1MB of VRAM (video RAM) and an internal 230MB hard disk drive. But you can order from the entire line of 840s ranging from 8MB of RAM to 16MB and hard disk drives to 500MB.

The Quardra 840, however, starts at a whopping $4,069. But, don't flinch yet. Remember, this product is recommended for the business owner who doesn't want to purchase a legion of peripherals--projectors, slides, larger full-color monitors or color copying machines, to name a few. A basic Centris 660AV comes with a 25MHz microprocessor, 8MB of RAM (expandable to 68MB) and hard drive ranging from 80MB to 500MB. Note: Don't take less than 230MB.

What's especially new is that this Mac offers enhanced audiovisual technology. A built-in GeoPort telecommunications architecture lets users connect to the telephone directly. So now Mac users can have a telephone, answering machine, fax machine and e-mail station all in one unit. This Mac also offers CD-quality stereo sound. Pricing for teh Centris 660AV starts at $2,139.

TECH TIPS

For entrepreneurs who find tax planning a dizzying chore, San Diego-based ChipSoft Inc. offers the TurboTax Business series, a new business software package that will make filing your annual return less painful.

You will feel at ease knowing that TurboTax Business electronically scans returns for any omissions or discrepancies. A special feature of the program, Fixed Asset manager, even allows you to calculate and transfer complex asset tax depreciation figures to 1065, 1120 or 1120S business tax forms. TurboTax Business, which retails for $100, is available in DOS, Windows and Macintosh versions.

For only $29.95 more, entrepreneurs can do their own personal taxes with the TurboTax Tax Planner. This updated software incorporates the new tax changes, and may be especially helpful to the self-employed.

More than just an aid for filing by April 15, the "Planner" does what its name implies, allowing your to evaluate your tax liability under various circumstances--from buying a home to investing in stocks and bonds.

What's more, ChipSoft claims that its tax products save you hours of valuable time. You can file your return electronically in as little as four hours, or half the time that ti might take manually, according to the company.

This explains why tax software--with unit sales increasing 35% annually--is one of the fastest growing segments of the home industry, reports the Software Publishers Association. In fact, the New York-based market research firm LINK Resources estimates that over 14 million small, home-based businesses are prime candidates for these products.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:choosing the right personal computer for business needs
Author:Graham, Sadia
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Dec 1, 1993
Words:1513
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