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Buying a Home Computer Parent's Guide

Home Computer Table of Contents

Buying a Home Computer
Home Ccomputers Operating System
Know Your Dealer
Home Computer Research What is the Averge Cost for a Home Computer? Much Should You Spend?
should We get a Laptop or a Desktop Computer? Buying at a Local Store or onthe Intenet or by Mail Order
Home Computer Checklist
Are Warranty and Extended Service Plans Worth the Ccost?

What Parents Should Know About Buying a Home Computer

Buying a home computer can be a lot like buying a car since it is a major purchase decision. Computers have many makes and models, and many people willing to give advice and opinons about what to buy and where to buy it. To make the most of your home computer shopping experience, and sense of the variety of choices facing you, you'll want to do some research first. And, whether buying new or used, know what you want the computer to do for you and how much you can afford to spend.

Operating Systems

Computers can be categorized into two basic operating systems or types-those designed primarily for graphics work (Apple)and those primarily intended for word processing. Although both are capable of either functionand have Internet connectivity. To help you decide between the two operating systems, determine whether you will use the computer more for graphics or mainly for writing project, the type of software you want to run and which type of computer it runs on (although most software has versions for both operating systems). If you're buying the computer for your child's use, see what kind of computer is used in his or her classroom. If you want to send files back and forth with your sister, check out her system. Both systems are great- one is not better than the other-but it helps to know what you want to do with your computer before you commit to either type.

Know Your Dealer

Buying your computer from a reputable electronics dealer means you're more likely to get a better warranty and better service. The computers they carry have succeeded because of the high-quality of their machines and their service. Find out if you have to return the computer to the manufacturer for repairs or if they can be locally done.

What to Consider Before Buying a Computer

How will you use the computer? Do you plan to write papers for a class using word processing software, keep track of your finances or business on a spreadsheet, send electronic mail (e-mail) to relatives across the country, surf the World Wide Web, or just play computer games? Knowing how you'll use your computer will help you determine what type of minimum requirements the computer needs to have.

Bigger Programs Require More Memory

Keep in mind that the size of the software you plan to run will dictate how much memory your computer should have. Consider how you will use your computer, then ask about the software you'll need. A sales associate should be able to tell you how many megabytes of memory you'll need based on your planned computer use. Typically, you'll need a minimum of 64 megabytes of memory to adequately run most programs. Most computer systems come with preloaded software. Be sure to check the inventory of what's on the computer, so you'll know what you're getting.

KEEP IN MIND THAT THE SIZE OF THE SOFTWARE YOU
PLAN TO RUN WILL DICTATE HOW MUCH MEMORY
YOUR COMPUTER SHOULD HAVE

How Much Should You 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 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 which should come with your new computer.

WITH COMPUTERS, IT'S A G00D RULE OF THUMB
TO BUY AS MUCH AS YOU CAN AFFORD . . .

Laptop vs. Desktop Computers Models

After you've made all the decisions about what you want in a computer, you also can choose what type of model you'd like: laptop or Desktop Computers. Laptop models are portable, and if you travel a lot and need to bring your computer along, this is the obvious choice. Desktop Computerss have larger screens (although you can use a larger screen with a laptop model) and are easily expandable. Laptops are generally regarded as companion computers to Desktop Computerss, but they are sophisticated enough to be your primary computer. There are some laptops, called notebooks, that weigh less than five pounds.

IF YOU DON'T KNOW A MOUSE FROM A RAM, THEN
YOU NEED TO BRUSH UP ON THE LANGUAGE OF COMPUTERS . .

Computer Terminology Glossary

If you don't know a mouse from a RAM, then you need to brush up on the language of computers. Here's a crash course.

Cache: Cache is another type of memory kindred to RAM. Cache is used by the computer to quickly move data between the RAM and the CPU.

CD-ROM Drive: Most new computers now come with a CD-ROM drive as standard equipment. A CD-ROM drive reads data from a disc. These CDs look like a music CD, but hold data instead of music. CD-ROMs also contain games, dictionaries, recipe files . . . the list is endless.

CPU: The CPU, or central processing unit, is the brains of the computer. Most new Windows based programs use a Pentium processor. New Macs use a different type of CPU called Power PC.

THE CPU, OR CENTRAL PROCESSING UNIT,
IS THE BRAINS OF THE COMPUTER . . .

Disk Drive: Virtually all computers come with a disk drive that can read and save information on portable diskettes, also called floppy disks. You can use floppy disks to save information or to load new software onto your computer.

Hard Drive: The hard drive also is called the hard disk. You'll probably never see it because it is nestled inside your computer. It's the computer's electronic filling cabinet, and it stores the computer's operating system, files, programs and documents.

Keyboard: Just like a typewriter keyboard, this device is the primary way of inputting data into many programs.

A KEYBOARD IS THE PRIMARY WAY OF INPUTTING
DATA INTO MANY PROGRAMS . . .

Megahertz (MHz): This is the clock speed of the microprocessor. The higher the number, the quicker the information is processed. MHz relates to how many millions of instructions can be processed per second.

Memory: This is the circuitry or device that holds information in an electrical or magnetic form. There is read-only memory (ROM), which is information primarily stored on a disk, and random-access memory (RAM), which is chip-based storage inside the computer. Memory is typically measured in megabytes (MBs).

Modem: This mechanism connects a computer to a phone line so information can be sent from one computer to another or the user can access an Online service or the Internet. In view of the popularity of the Internet, a modem is now considered basic equipment and comes on practically all new computers. Most modems come with fax capabilities.

Monitor: An output device that allows you to see what you are doing. Most computers come with 14 or 15 inch monitors. This size is good for most people's needs. Larger 17 or 21 inch monitors also are available, but may cost more.

Motherboard: The motherboard is the circuit board that everything in the computer plugs into. The CPU, RAM and cache all plug into the motherboard.

Mouse: The mouse is another input device that makes getting around in your computer easier. It is a handheld object that is good for doing tasks such as moving and pointing to objects on the screen, and can replace the function and control keys of the keyboard.

Printer: A printer is an essential part of the computer if you want a hard copy of your work. There are four types of printers on the market: dot matrix, inkjet, bubble jet and laser. The dot matrix is the most basic. Most inkjets and bubble jets can print color and graphics, and a laser printer offers the best resolution at the highest speed.

RAM: Computers save data in two ways: on the hard drive and in random access memory or internal memory. New computer buyers should look for models with at least 16 MBs of RAM (or more, depending on what types of programs you'll be running). Make sure that the computer can be upgraded.

Scanner: A scanner is a useful accessory to have if you are working with lots of artwork or photos. This device can copy written documents, pictures or photographs directly into your computer. There are three types of scanners: handheld, hopper-feed and flatbed.

Sound Card: This device allows your computer to reproduce music, sounds and voices. Make sure you have a sound card if you're planning to play multimedia games.

Video Card: The video card is the part of the computer that sends the images to the monitor.

YOU HAVE TWO OPTIONS WHEN BUYING A COMPUTER:
YOU CAN PURCHASE YOUR EQUIPMENT LOCAL OR
THROUGH MAIL ORDER .

Buying Local or Mail Order

You have two options when buying a computer: You can purchase your equipment locally or through mail order. They both have advantages. 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. Mail order computers are generally less expensive. If you have questions, you can call the company's customer service number and speak with a technician on the telephone. If you need to return the computer for repairs, you may have to ship it back to the manufacturer (save the original box and packing materials). Investigate both local and mail-order sources and buy from the one you feel most comfortable with.

Computer Buyer's Checklist

Before you walk into a computer store or call a mail order source, go over the list of the items (hardware and software) that you might consider purchasing. Ask the salesperson questions about the computer you are interested in and jot your notes in the space below.

QUESTIONS / NOTES

Processor type ________________________________________________

_____________________________________________________________

_____________________________________________________________

Processor Speed in MHz __________________________________________

______________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________

RAM (memory) _________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________

_______________________________________________________________

Cache _________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________

Hard Drive Capacity ______________________________________________

______________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________

Sound Card ____________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________

Monitor: Is it included in the price? ___________________________________

______________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________

Monitor size ____________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________

Video Card _____________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________

Printer: Is it included in the price?_____________________________________

______________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________

Type of Printer (dot matrix, inkjet, bubble jet, laser) _______________________

______________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________

Modem (internal, external, speed) ____________________________________

______________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________

Can you set up a fax or voice mail on the modem? _______________________

______________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________

Is there a toll-free technical support phone number? _______________________

______________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________

What cables are needed to set up the system? ___________________________

______________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________

Additional accessories that might be useful, e.g., storage cases, furniture, extra cabling, anti-glare screen for monitor?

______________________________________________________________

_______________________________________________________________

_______________________________________________________________

Warranty and Extended Service Plans

Look for a computer with a warranty that covers manufacturing defects and other problems. Make sure you understand exactly what is covered under the warranty. Most new computers are covered for a year, and some warranties include on-site maintenance.

Many retailers offer extended service agreements which, in essence, lengthen the warranty. Whether or not you purchase an extended service plan is up to you. Find out what is covered and weigh the price of the warranty against the price of potential repairs.

YOUR COMPUTER IS AN EXPENSIVE PIECE OF EQUIPMENT,
SO PROTECT IT FROM POWER SURGES WITH A SURGE
PROTECTOR . . .

Protect Your Computer

Your computer is an expensive piece of equipment, so protect it from power surges with a surge protector. A surge protector will blow a fuse if it gets hit by a rush of electricity, thus protecting your computer. If you're using a modem, be sure to get a surge protector with a telephone jack included. Don't expect your surge protector to safeguard your computer against a direct lightning strike. The only sure protection against lightning strikes is to unplug your computer and modem during a thunderstorm.

Protect Your Data

The best way to safeguard the data on your computer (including software) is to back it up onto a disk. If your hard disk fails, at least it won't take all your software and information with it-as long as you've backed them up. Make periodic copies of the information on the hard disk. It's also important to protect your data from viruses. Anytime you use a disk to install a new program, copy files or download a file from the Internet, you are susceptible to a computer virus. It's a good idea to install a virus protection software program on your computer that will review each new file and check for viruses.

THE BEST WAY TO SAFEGUARD THE DATA ON
YOUR COMPUTER IS TO BACK IT UP ONTO A DISK . .

Learning to Use What You Purchased

There's no substitute for sitting down at the keyboard and trying out your new purchase. But be sure to check out introductory computer classes offered through computer stores, colleges, libraries and continuing education programs. Many software programs also offer tutorials which will help explain their specific features and uses.

WITH A NEW COMPUTER YOU WILL FOREVER BE
EXPANDING YOUR MENTAL REACH . .

Where Will All This Lead?

You may surprise yourself at how quickly your computer knowledge can grow. Very soon you may be streamlining your financial records, writing long letters, communicating through e-mail and helping other new computer users. Perhaps a computer will lead to a second career-or maybe your first, a sideline business, a hobby, or a computer club membership. Not only can your computer open all of these possibilities to you, but you will forever be expanding your mental reach.

source:Federal Citzens Information Center

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