ISSUE 478: The high-tech office- Dec
There's no need to suffer from fear of obsolescence
when affordable upgrades are available
How can you tell when it's time to go shopping
for a new computer? Should you buy new? Upgrade your current machine?
Get one of those cute new Apple iMacs?
First off, let's put the myth of instant obsolescence
to rest. Many readers have complained to me that no sooner do they
purchase computer hardware than a new and improved model is released,
making them feel like the new machine is obsolete.
It's true that there's always something bigger and
faster on the horizon, often for the same price or less than you paid
for your fresh-out-of-the-box unit.
That doesn't make your purchase obsolete. In fact, as
long as it's working and productive, your computer is not obsolete.
But our needs and wants change. (Isn't that what
advertising is all about?)
That old machine running that old Word Perfect isn't
going to get you onto the Internet, for example.
Nevertheless, if you bought your computer anytime in
the last couple of years, it probably isn't at the end of its useful
lifespan. You may, however, want to spend a modest amount of money
beefing it up. The cost of upgrading has never been lower. Some things
Upgrading the computer's memory (RAM) will speed up
your system. If you're running Windows 95 or 98, give yourself at least
32 megs of memory, 64 megs if you're running Windows NT. For less than
$100, it will feel faster and more responsive.
If you're running short of drive space, multigigabyte
hard drives have plummeted in price. In most systems it's easy to add a
second drive -- and four gigs will cost less than $250.
If you're running a slower Pentium 75- or 100-MHz
processor, you can easily pop it out and replace it with a 200-MHz
model from Evergreen Technologies for less than $200.
If you're like me and your eyesight is not as good as
it used to be, think of getting a larger monitor. Replace that 14- or
15-inch model with a 17-inch model for $400 or so, and watch everything
on screen become larger and clearer. (Or set your view setting in Microsoft
Word to 150 per cent for free!)
Still, if you find yourself wanting to do all
of the above as well as getting a faster CD-ROM or other improvements,
it may be time to look at a new system. This is the case for home
offices, where the work computer does double-duty as a games system.
Most standard office applications run just fine on a three-year-old (or
older) computer -- at least if there's an adequate amount of memory.
But the Pentium 166 I bought exactly two years ago is
now the minimum recommended system on this season's hot sports games.
As a word processor, it's more than adequate. And the limiting factor
on the Internet remains modem speeds, not the computer itself. But I
knew that my teenager was going to be grumbling by spring.
So I recently went shopping. I was prodded along when
my notebook stopped working. I could replace the notebook (starting at
about $4,000 for models with a crisper active matrix screen) or get a
G3 Macintosh, and run Windows applications using emulation software
such as Virtual PC.
Instead, I chose to replace the P-166 desktop with
another PC desktop. I wanted more of a processor, more RAM and more
storage than most of the units being advertised. But, at the same time,
I'm not prepared to pay top dollar for the top of the line. I decided
to look for quotes for a system with a Pentium II running at 400 MHz
(one step down from the current high-end 450-MHz models, and quite a
bit more affordable), 128 megs of RAM (double the 64 megs typically
offered on such systems), a 10-gig hard drive and a 17-inch monitor as
candy for my aging eyes.
The cost? About $2,500 at a local clone shop. I know
it will be "obsolete" within a few months -- improvements in hard drive
technologies are promising that much larger and faster drives will be
common next year. And I'll almost certainly be driven to replace it
before Joey (now in grade 9) finishes high school. But it should get me
into the next century without leaving me burning with upgrade anxiety.