Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 155 / AUGUST 1993 / PAGE 68

To err is human. (advice for purchasing a personal computer)
by Rosalind B. Resnick

With all the great deals on computers these days, it seems as if you can't go wrong in selecting a new computer. Surprisingly, though, many people do go wrong.

Here are ten common mistakes that computer buyers make and some tips to help you avoid them:

Not asking yourself why you need the computer in the first place. Before you can shop intelligently for a computer, you have to decide what tasks you want to use it for and what software you'll be using. If you plan to do mostly word processing, for example, you can get by with a less powerful--and less expensive--computer than if you intend to do desk-top publishing or run lots of Windows applications.

Not doing your homework beforehand. While benchmarks and test procedures vary from reviewer to reviewer, product reviews can be a valuable guide to a computer's performance. Don't forget that friends, colleagues, user-group members, and even bulletin boards can offer useful suggestions as to which computer to buy--and which computer to steer clear of.

Buying too little random access memory. As the adage goes, You can never be too rich or too thin--or have too much RAM. Especially if you're planning to use software that runs under Windows. You're going to need at least 4MB of RAM; some experts suggest 8MB. "Sixteen would be even better," says Jerry Siegel, a computer consultant in Hollywood, Florida. Even with RAM prices higher than usual right now, it's one of the least expensive upgrades you can make.

Buying too small a hard drive. Just a few years ago, a 40MB hard drive was considered quite roomy. But now that Windows has burst onto the scene, PCs with hard drives as large as 250MB are not uncommon. That's because some Windows programs, such as Word for Windows 2.0, grab upwards of 10MB of hard disk space and require lots of room to run.

Buying a microprocessor (CPU) that can't be upgraded. While the 386 computer you buy today may be adequate for now, chances are that before long you'll need a PC with a 486 processor to run the newest software. By spending a little more to buy a PC that's upgradable, you won't have to junk the thing a year from now.

Spending big money to up-grade your old PC. Now that computer prices are down, it's hard to justify the cost of outfitting your old computer with a bigger hard drive or a color monitor. "Throw away and buy new," suggests Robbie Robertson, a consultant in Waterloo, Iowa, "or better yet, sell the old while there is still a market for it, and buy new."

Buying the latest and greatest system on the market. While you shouldn't buy less computing power than you need, there's no reason to buy more. State-of-the-art systems often carry a premium price. For example, a top-of-the-line PC equipped with Intel's 66-MHz 486DX2 chip sells for about $3,000 these days, while you can get a slightly slower PC with a 50-MHz chip for $1,000 less. If you're like most users, the difference in speed will be far less noticeable than the dent in your bank account.

Failing to arrange for good technical support. Unless you're handy with a screwdriver and unafraid of tinkering with your AUTOEXEC.BAT file, you'll want to pick a PC vendor that offers prompt, reliable technical support. Some companies offer on-site service, others offer a toll-free hot line, while still others let you sink or swim on your own. It may also make sense to invest in an extended warranty.

Paying cash. If your credit card offers a buyer protection plan, it's a good idea to use your card, rather than cash or a check, to buy your PC. This way, you're protected if the computer you get turns out to be a lemon or the company you bought it from goes belly up.

Grabbing a deal that seems too good to be true. These days, some PC vendors are hawking 486-chip systems for rock-bottom prices of under $1,000. But not all 486s are alike, warns Yisroel Goodman, a consultant in Far Rockaway, New York. "[A low price] does not mean that [the company] put together a balanced system and then discovered to their delight that they could sell it for $995," Goodman says. "It means that they purchased the cheapest components they could in order to assemble a $995 system."

If you look before you leap, use your money wisely, and match your purchase to your purpose, you'll find the bargain that's waiting for you.