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The Ultimate Computer

Need a computer, but haven't got a clue where to start? Are you confused by the sales representative blathering on about ISAs, PCIs, RAM, HDD, CPUs and a whole parade of other meaningless acronyms which aren't yet a part of your everyday lingo? Well, here is some information for you that I hope will prove useful when you embark on your quest for the ultimate computer. But really, there's no such thing unless you have a time machine and can project yourself forward. Remember that before you can say Point and click, Mr. Gates and the rest of the industry will come up with some great improvement in leading edge technology. Instead of feeling obsolete a couple of months after you buy your system, comfort yourself with the knowledge that trailing edge technology is known to work better, and ONE DAY THEY WILL HAVE TO CONTEND WITH THE LAWS OF PHYSICS! Until then, included with these definitions are suggestions for current technology. These definitions aren't meant to be technical. Instead, they are meant to help you converse coherently with those who may use all the terminology, but probably haven't a clue as to what they are saying either! These are standard terms you find on the specifications listed on your quotation. They have little use in the real world, and I've often thought they were a marketing plot devised to confuse customers. However, they've ingrained themselves into our language, at least where computers are concerned. If you are going to own one, or even think about owning one, it would be a good idea to at least be familiar with them. Here goes

CPU: Central Processing Unit This is the main brain of the computer. You want a Pentium III chip running at a speed of 600 and up Mhz (megahertz). Try for the mid range (650 or 700) these are more affordable. You can always upgrade once the price drops down on the higher speed chips. If you cant afford faster chips, that's fine. Light speed processor chips aren't necessary for most common computing tasks, such as word processing. An increase of a few megahertz in the speed of a processor is hardly discernible in most cases. Its far better to buy more memory, as explained later on.

Interface Cards: These are the toys, or devices you want your computer to come with. Sound card, internal modem, etc.: so that you can do all that cool stuff everyone's talking about such as surfing the web and listening to your CDs, radio stations and other Internet programming.

Peripheral: Anything you can attach to your computer. Printers, monitors, speakers, scanners, keyboards and cameras are also peripherals.

Motherboard or Mainboard: This is the main electronic board in your computer. Everything that works is attached to it. Hence, it gives life to your system when the power is on. It is important to have a high quality motherboard, because if it shorts out, so does everything else in they system, and you are beat. Look for brands such as ASUS.

Case: This is the housing of the system.

Power Supply: This too is obvious. The standard power supply is 250 watts.

ISA: Industry Standards Association. These are the slots on the motherboard that cards go into. For a long time they have been standard issue. Systems had three or more. However there are new trends afoot, and the standard Pentium II system usually comes with 2 ISA slots. These now normally house the modem, and the sound card.

PCI: Peripheral Component Interface. These are slots similar to the ISA slots. They too have been around for a while, and traditionally hold the video adapter that the monitor is plugged into. However it has not been until recently that their potential has been recognised. PCI technology is now replacing the ISA slots, and currently some sound cards and modems use this technology.

Cache: As the name states, this is a stockpile of files used most frequently by the computer. They are kept in memory for faster access the next time they are required. The standard cache is 512 K, which is half a megabyte.

DMA: Direct Memory Access and Ultra DMA. This is similar to cache, except it is on your hard drive. Enhanced disk caching and DMA channel utilisation doesn't get routed through the processor, but comes straight off the hard drive.

Serial Port: Serial devices such as a mouse, or a synthesiser connect to the serial port on the back of the computer. Serial means that a series of data flow passes through one bit at a time.

Parallel Port: Similar to the serial port, this is what a printer or scanner would connect to. The difference is that eight bits of data flow pass through side by side, or parallel to each other, at a time.

SCSI: Small computer systems interface.

SCSI II: Ensures compatibility with all SCSI II devices.

Wide SCSI: Enhanced transfer technology.

Ultrawide SCSI: Has more pins then standard.

BUS: This should really be called a subway. It is the path established in motherboard by all devices to transfer data.

I/O: Input, output. This as it states concerns information being put into the computer with the use of the keyboard, speech input, scanner, or mouse, and information coming to the user from the computer via monitor, printer, synthesiser, etc.

IRQ: Interrupt Request Marker or flag to identify each major device in the computer.

Memory RAM: Random Access Memory. The single most important factor in your PC purchase is buying enough random access memory (RAM). This applies to Macintosh computers as well as

DOS and Windows-based systems. A comfortable amount of memory will speed up your computer, assure that you can run complex programs smoothly, and permit you to run several programs simultaneously.

So what is a comfortable amount? Last year, 16-32 was enough to get adequate performance from Windows 95. But memory prices have dropped, the first real decline in years. So now, I strongly suggest buying 128 megabytes of memory or more, even if you have to get the store to add memory to a machine you want to buy. (In fact, even if you're not in the market for a new computer, you should upgrade your existing computer to 128 megabytes now, while prices are low.) With the new S-DRAM or DIMM RAM is very flexible. You can mix and match numbers, so you can have 64 or 96 MB if you want. These strips are also wonderfully easy to install.

Disk Storage HDD: Hard disk drive. Your hard disk, whether on a PC or a Mac, should be at least 8.3 gigabytes in size. (A gigabyte is 1,000 megabytes.) Disk prices are historically low, and software now takes up so much disk space that you can never have enough. If you can afford it, consider a 13 or 20 gigabyte drive, or shell out an extra $300 for an add-on device called a ZIP, Orb, or Superdisk drive that accepts special 100-200 megabyte floppy disks, which can expand your storage capacity.

Video: The standard 14 or 15-inch screen is often hard on anyone's eyes. If you can afford it, get a 17-inch screen. They cost around $500-$600, versus about $300 for a 14-inch model. Whichever size you buy, make sure it has a dot pitch rating of .26 mm or less (a smaller number means a sharper image.) And make sure its non-interlaced so that it flickers less.

Video Adapter: The computers internal video system should have at least 8 megabytes of VRAM, special video memory that makes the screen display faster. This card should be able to display 65,000 colours or more on the screen, for the more realistic appearance of images. Consider if your adaptive device can support a more powerful video adapter. If so, you might want to go with an adapter with 32 mg of RAM on board.

Sound: Make sure the PC has a built-in sound system that is compatible with the popular Sound Blaster card. For a while Sound Blaster was the only way to go with a computer using Access Devices. However, these days most compatible sound cards will work with the new software synthesisers. If you're picky about sound, you might go for a sound system based on a technology called wave table, though that's not necessary for most people. Some newer monitors also have speakers built in. They're a good way to save desk space, but are inferior to most standalone speakers. The most dependable and flexible sound card on the market these days is the Creative Labs Sound Blaster Live series. There are several models available. Chose the one that best suits your needs and budget.

DVD: If you like to watch movies you might want to invest in a DVD drive. There are also books and magazines available on DVD.

CD Burners: You might also want to consider adding a CD read/writeable drive to your system. This is handy for storing a lot of files separate from the hard drive on a recordable CD. CDs are an excellent medium for storing data as they are more durable then diskettes, and hold much more information.

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