Your PC Buying Guide – Continued

As promised from yesterday’s tip of the day, your personal PC buying guide is continued! Today we will answer some questions about different types of software, operating systems, where you may want to buy your new computer from, different spending rates and some desktop vs. laptop inquiries. Here we go!


Most computers will come with some sort of office suite, whether it’s Microsoft’s, Corel’s or Lotus.’ It’s good to have a word processor around (and maybe a spreadsheet like Excel), but other stuff (like presentation graphics) may be meaningless for home use. Many companies will offer a software bundle that includes several interesting packages for a good price. You may want to check those out first. They’re usually a good deal, because if you were to buy the software packages separately, you could end up paying a lot more.

The other thing you want to make sure you’ve got with your computer is antivirus software. It is pretty standard for manufacturers ship you some, so you usually don’t have to worry about it. Nowadays, you’re more apt to get a virus by copying a Word document from a friend or from the office than by downloading something off of the Internet, but the software is good for a peace of mind.

Operating Systems and Software Applications:

Once you determine which operating system you are going to run on your new computer (assuming that you have a choice), you can then select which software applications to get.

Windows 2000:

This is a 32-bit operating system. It combines the best features of Windows 98 with the security, manageability and reliability of Windows NT. Some of the new features include safeguards that prevent important files and device drivers from being overwritten during a software installation, it eliminates the need to reboot the computer after installing software applications, it can run more applications and perform more tasks at the same time than Windows 95 or Windows 98, it provides support for multiple processors and several hundred languages, has faster data transfers with Universal Serial Bus (USB) and IEEE 1394 (discussed below) and it is rumored to be 25 percent faster than previous versions of Windows.

There is also a tool that allows you to view a small thumbnail image of a multimedia or graphic file before you open it. It also has the hibernate feature, which will automatically turn your computer and monitor off at a set time. It has offline viewing for files and folders and Internet Connection Sharing that allows you to connect your Windows 2000 computer to the Internet (via dial-up or other methods), then give network access to other computers in your home. Windows 2000 was replaced by Windows XP.

Windows XP:

This is an operating system that is available in both 32-bit and 64-bit formats. There are two 32-bit versions of Windows XP: Windows XP Home Edition and Windows XP Professional. Both versions have the new Windows XP interface, advanced support for laptops, wireless connections, faster boot up and application startup times, advanced power management, a built in Internet firewall and support Internet Explorer 6.0 Privacy.

In addition to this, the Windows XP Professional version has support for remote desktops, offline files and folders, multiprocessor support, file encryption, enhanced administrative functions (like Windows 2000) and a multi-lingual user interface.

There is also a 64-bit version of Windows XP called (oddly enough) Windows XP 64-Bit Edition. The 64-bit edition is targeted at technical users working with high end multimedia, engineering and scientific applications. It contains all of the enhancements for the 32-bit versions of Windows XP, plus it is optimized to run on the Intel Itanium processor and will initially support 16 GB of RAM memory and up to 16 TB (terabytes) of virtual memory.


Linux is a free, 32-bit, multitasking, Unix-based operating system. Unlike the other operating systems listed here, Linux will run on a wide variety of platforms from the old Intel 386 to a Sun Sparc. Although there are many sites that will allow you to download a Linux for free, I strongly suggest that you purchase an installation CD from a company like Redhat. It will make the installation a lot easier. Check out this article for information about Linux.

Productivity Software:

Besides the operating system, you need to choose which software applications you are going to need on your new computer. Most computer systems now come bundled with a suite of software applications, such as Microsoft Works, Microsoft Office, Corel Perfect Office, Lotus SmartSuite or Sun Microsystem’s StarOffice. These suites of applications typically contain all the programs that you would need to run a small business.

Microsoft Office comes with Word (word processor), Excel (spreadsheet), OutLook (calendar and e-mail), PowerPoint (presentation graphics) and Access (database) in the professional version.

Corel Perfect Office comes with WordPerfect (word processor), Quattro Pro (spreadsheet), CorelCENTRAL (calendar), Presentations (presentation graphics), Envoy (Internet publisher) and Paradox (database) in the profession version.

Lotus SmartSuite comes with Lotus 1-2-3 (spreadsheet), Word Pro (word processing), Freelance Graphic (presentation graphics), Approach (database), Screencam (multimedia) and Organizer (time management software).

Sun StarOffice comes with Writer (word processor), Calc (calculation and analysis), Impress (presentation graphics), Draw (graphics), Base (database), Schedule (time management software), Mail (E-mail program) and Discussion (news reader).

In addition to the operating system and the business software applications, there are many other categories of software that you may or may not want to use on your computer. Software to access the Internet such as Microsoft Internet Explorer or Netscape Communicator, graphics applications such as Adobe Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro, multimedia editing software such as Adobe Premier or RealProducer Pro and games should also be taken into consideration when choosing the brand and model of computer that you are going to purchase.

Laptop or Desktop?

A portable computer is required if you plan to carry your computer with you when you travel or if you plan to use the same computer at work and at home. Students who want to use their computers in the classroom, in their dorm rooms and at the library would also want to purchase a notebook computer. Portability comes with a price, however. Notebook computers are typically more expensive than desktop computers with similar features.

If you don’t think that you will move your computer very often, you can purchase a desktop model, which will typically provide you with more features than a notebook computer in a similar price range.

Where should you buy your computer from?

Three of the more popular computer purchasing options are buying in a local retail establishment, through a mail order catalog or over the Internet.

Each has its own advantage. If you buy from a consumer electronics dealer in your area, you can often get free demonstrations and you can return to ask questions and buy additional equipment. Keep in mind however, that you may be paying for these conveniences and retail pricing may also include a commission for the sales clerk.

If you know exactly what you want and can do without the customer service, then going with the mail order option may save you money. Most mail order computer companies have customer service hotlines that allow you to speak with knowledgeable technicians who can answer your questions. If you do order by mail, remember to save the original box and packing materials in case you need to ship the computer to the manufacturer for repairs.

Do you already have access to the Internet? Many Web sites provide comprehensive computer shopping information, allowing you to configure your own PC right online. You select the features you need at the prices you can afford. Online computer vendors and some auction Web sites also offer refurbished models.

After you choose a computer that meets your needs and your budget requirements, investigate all of your purchasing sources: local, mail order and online, including their warranty, service and return policies and be sure you buy from the one you feel most comfortable with.

How much money would you like to spend?

With computers, it’s a good rule of thumb to buy as much as you can afford. Depending on your needs, be prepared to spend between $1,000 for an entry level computer to $3,000 and up for a higher end computer. You don’t have to buy the biggest, fastest or most powerful computer on the market, but you should buy the best system you can. That includes a monitor, microprocessor, memory, hard drive, keyboard, printer, etc. You might want to hold off buying any software until you’ve had a chance to take a look at the software that comes with your new computer.

Note: If you have any further questions about some of the terms or software programs mentioned in this article, you can do quick searches for them online to help you understand them better and more thoroughly.

~ Shantala Ramamoorthy