ISSUE 449: THE HIGH-TECH OFFICE: June
Watch out for fake chips and pricey toner
to avoid scams when buying new hardware
Buying a computer can be a pretty threatening
experience at the best of times. There's the sense that by the time you
get your new system out of the box, it's already obsolete.
To make matters worse, here are some outright scams
and dangers to try and avoid.
* Some lower-performance Pentium II CPUs are being
sold as higher-speed models. This involves resetting the speed of the
266-MHz CPU, replacing Intel's hologram on the CPU's cartridge
and then selling it as a 300-MHz model for about $175 more.
Running the CPU above its rated speed will often work
for a while, but isn't recommended for long-term use.
Most computers with these CPUs have been reported in
Europe, but some have shown up in the U.S., as well as in Canada. This
is a tough one for the user to detect, but if the price seems too good
to be true, that may be the reason why.
German magazine c't broke the story, and
offers a program that can often detect the scam: www.heise.de/ct/p2info/
in English and German.
* Then there's the laser printer toner scam. Here,
small businesses are being targeted by telemarketers claiming to
represent Hewlett-Packard or other name-brand companies. The
toner cartridges sent to the customer are actually recycled and
refilled units rather than new ones.
But the real kicker comes with the bill, which tends
to arrive much later, after the cartridges have already been installed.
The price tag is often as much as 500 per cent of the cost of
legitimate, new units.
In some cases, one company employee is offered "free
cartridges," while an invoice is then sent to the company's accounts
payable department, on the often justified assumption that the two
people involved don't communicate and the (wildly inflated) invoice
will be paid without question.
According to HP Canada, a Toronto church lost $10,000
on that one -- an amount that should have provided them with toner
cartridges for the next 250 years for their single laser printer. And a
public school in Nova Scotia was repeatedly billed for one cartridge at
15 times the regular price.
Retail prices for laser printer toner cartridges range
from $90 to $175 depending on model. Recycled cartridges cost about 70
per cent of new prices. Be wary of any offers that want to charge
significantly less -- or significantly more.
* This one's not quite a scam, but still something to
avoid: Intel's new Celeron CPU. This is being marketed for the booming
low-priced market segment, and the Celeron, based on Intel's higher-end
Pentium-II technology, comes at an attractive price. But because it
leaves out the memory-cache of the real Pentium-II models, performance
is poor -- on some tests, poorer than for last year's plain Pentium
Competitors' models, such as AMD's K6 CPU,
provide much better performance at the same low price. Intel is
expected to add a memory cache to the next generation of Celerons near
the end of the year. Until then, avoid them.
* The newly resurgent Apple got a lot of
publicity in early May when it previewed iMac, a model aimed at the
Futuristic styling, translucent case, a mouse that
lights up: the look has been compared to the new VW Beetle,
though the teardrop shape reminds me more of a Filter Queen
With a fast processor, a usable software bundle, and
Universal Serial Bus and Ethernet networking built-in, in many ways it
looks like a nice package for its $1,900 price. Less commented on,
however, is what's not there: The iMac lacks such Macintosh standards
as serial ports, SCSI adapters and a floppy drive.
Presumably, by the time it actually ships in August,
there will be printers and a version of the LS-120 removable disk that
will work with the iMac's Universal Serial Bus, but that will add to
the price and make it a less usable machine right out of the box.
I suppose some people never use their floppy drive.
Even though it's antique technology, I find I use it almost daily. A
decade ago, Steve Jobs deliberately left out the floppy drive
on the original NeXT computer. The company corrected that with
the second version of the hardware. I hope that history will repeat
itself with iMac version 2.
* And just in case you thought you could relax, if
you're feeling like you don't need to worry about the Year 2000 crisis,
the Year 2038 is just around the corner.
In this scenario, programs run on Unix computers will
expire on January 20, 2038, resetting themselves to 01/01/1970.
Sounds far off, but with financial institutions trying
to deal with 30-year mortgages, problems will start arising as early as
2008, pretty much right after finally cleaning up the last vestiges of
the Year 2000 mess. The Bank of Montreal, for example, is
starting to work on the problem now.
Then again, they started working on the Year 2000
problem way back in 1975.*