ISSUE 478: The high-tech office- Dec 22 1998


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do they purchase computer hardware than a new and improved model is released, making them feel like the new machine is obsolete.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 to consider:

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. *


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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan