Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 40 / SEPTEMBER 1983 / PAGE 104

Questions Beginners Ask

Tom R Halfhill, Features Editor

Are you thinking about buying a computer for the first time, but don't know anything about them? Or maybe you just purchased a computer and are still a bit baffled. Each month, COMPUTE! Will tackle the questions most often asked by beginners.

Q Why do some computers have numeric keypads and others don't? Is this something important I should check for when comparison shopping for a computer?

A Numeric keypads - those calculator-like groups of number keys found to the right of some computer keyboards - should be thought of as any other feature on personal computers. Whether or not they are a standard feature depends upon the reasoning of the computer's designers, and whether they are a desirable feature depends upon the needs of the user.
    Numeric keypads are not built into most home computers - that is, the microcomputers primarily intended for home use. Keypads are usually found on computers designed for small-business use, or on higher-end personal computers that are suited to either purpose. This is because one of the most common applications for business computers is accounting, which calls for frequent entry of numbers. A numeric keypad is a great advantage for a skilled operator who is trained to touch-type on one. Entering numbers is much faster than with the usual number keys spread out along the top row of the typewriter keyboard.
    Comparison shopping for a computer can be confusing to people just starting out because of the many combinations of features available. Our advice is not to lose sight of what you plan to use the computer for; that's how you'll know what features you need. This goes for numeric keypads or anything else. If you plan to be entering many numbers, and if you know (or will learn) how to touch-type on a keypad, then a keypad is a desirable feature. Otherwise, you'll probably never miss it. But even if you do, external plug-in keypads are available for most home computers, including the Apple, Atari, Commodore 64, and VIC-20. Also, part of the regular typewriter keyboard on most computers can be redefined to simulate a keypad via programming. Incidentally, while we're on the subject, it's interesting to note that computer and calculator keypads are arranged exactly the opposite of touch-tone telephone keypads. Computers and calculators arrange the keys in descending numerical order, starting at the upper right and ending at the lower left, while telephone keys are just the opposite. This must be disorienting for people who have to switch back and forth - such as telephone receptionists or operators who also work with adding machines or computers. If any readers know the story behind this odd disparity we'd like to hear from you.

Q I've heard references to "80--column cards." What is a card? What does it look like? How does it work?

A A card is a circuit board which plugs into a computer and adds some sort of extra feature or capability. In microcomputing, "card" and "board" have come to be almost synonymous, except that "board" is also used to describe the larger main circuit boards already built into the computer.
    Practically every personal computer has some kind of expansion slot or port designed to accept cards and boards. When a card is plugged in, it becomes part of the computer, almost as if it were built-in. The most common accessory card is a memory board, a circuit board with memory chips which adds extra Random Access Memory (RAM) to the computer. Game and other program cartridges that plug into computers are really cards with Read Only Memory (ROM) chips.
    An "80-column card" is an accessory that expands the screen display to a width of 80 columns (80 characters fit on one screen line). This is generally preferred for such applications as word processing, because it allows the screen to simulate the full width of a standard sheet of typewriter paper. Home computers normally cannot display more than 40 characters per screen line because the ordinary TV sets they are designed to work with lack the necessary sharpness. A special computer monitor is required for widths greater than 40 columns.