Bits & P.C.s: Let’s help the economy

This week, let’s take a look at buying a new computer.

In case you haven’t noticed, the prices on computers have dropped dramatically over the past year or so. For less than $500 you can purchase a computer that would have cost you twice to three times that amount in the past.

For your money you can usually find a 2.6GHz or faster Pentium 4 machine with 256 MB of memory and a 40-60 Gigabyte hard drive. Many times you will get a CD writer or a DVD drive instead of a CD-ROM drive, sometimes both type of drives are included. The DVD drive will also read CDs with the added benefit of allowing you to watch your movies on the computer even while you’re on the Internet.

For a few dollars more you can upgrade the system to have a DVD writer instead of the CD drive. The DVD writer will still allow you to view DVD movies, use CDs, as well as function as a CD writer. Since it will also write DVDs you can place up to 4.7 GB of data, such as photos, on a blank disk, which costs about $1. There is also software available that will allow you to copy your own videos onto a DVD.

The new computers have Windows XP installed and usually some type of “office suite” software. Gone are the days of including a ton of software, today you get only enough to make the computer useable when you take it out of the box. I usually recommend that you increase the memory to 512MB in order to allow the computer to function more efficiently. This will add $50 or so to the price.

As long as you’re buying a new computer you may as well buy a new monitor. The price on the old CRT monitors has fell so much that I have seen ads for 17" displays going for $75. Many manufacturers are discontinuing the CRT monitor and this is the reason for the low price.

Of course, the replacement is the flat panel LCD monitor. The LCD uses a fraction of the power of a CRT so the operating cost is lower. In addition, since you don’t have a screen that has a big butt you do not use up as much room on your desktop.

The screen size on a LCD is measured the same as on a CRT, that is, the viewable image size and not the size of the picture tube. A 17" CRT has a 15-15.5 viewable image. The image size for a 15" LCD display is 15" while a 17" LCD displays a 17" image. This means that if you purchase a 15" LCD you will essentially have the same picture size as a 17" CRT but in a more compact package. The prices on a 15" LCD start at about $300 while a 17" will be over $400. I have seen 18" LCD displays at a local “mart” store for $450.

Richard Heller is an independent computer specialist who specializes in repairs, installation, upgrades, technical support, Internet sharing, data recovery and diagnostics. If you have any computer or service-related questions, please send them to The Rock River Times, e-mail, or call 243-1162.

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