What to look for when buying a new computer
Part one of a two-part series
As everyone knows, technology does not stand still. Periodically I like to advise readers interested in purchasing a new PC, on what specifications to look for. The biggest factor in your purchase could be tied directly to development of a new operating system called Vista, which is being created by Microsoft and should be out in about a year.
If you purchase a new PC in the near future, there's a good chance you may want to migrate to the new OS, which the trade magazines tell us will have a raft of new features, including parental controls, fast on and off, diagnostics and a media center. I'm also told that better security will also be among the selling points.
Vista will be Microsoft's biggest Windows advancement in around ten years, and the reason you need to be concerned about it all is that if you're buying a new PC, it will require upgraded (and more expensive) hardware than currently needed for Windows XP.
Assuming that most business users end up migrating to a more modern system, you should give serious thought to buying a machine that will allow you to utilize the advanced features that Vista will offer. (Note that the same specs that I'm going to suggest will also apply to laptops.)
What I'm going to do is provide readers with two options--the specs buyers need to look for with or without Vista.
Memory: Nowadays the minimum memory, or RAM as it's called, is 512 megabytes for a non-Vista PC. With the new OS looming in the background, it's probably a good idea to get 1 gigabyte.
Storage: You'll want at least 100 gigabytes of hard drive, but with Vista in mind, I'd suggest at least 160 gigs of space. (This makes particular sense if you're purchasing your machine to store digital photos or MP3 files.) The brand of drive doesn't really matter. I'd also suggest getting a fast drive that runs at 7200 rpm with a cache of two megabytes. It will make a performance difference.
Video System: Lower-end computers use "integrated video" systems, which means you share memory with other parts of the computer. If you're going to run Vista, this isn't the best way to go -- at least not now. Instead, you'll need to purchase a separate video card with at least 64 megabytes of video RAM. (Probably better to go for 128 megabytes). By the time Vista introduces the motherboard, manufacturers will have improved their integrated graphics-chip design, but if you're buying now with Vista in mind, it's safer to get a fast card.
DVD drive: With the growth of the DVD standard, you can count on the fact that a fast, multiformat DVD recording drive will be an important component. (Keep in mind that DVD will become important as a way to store data and video files.) As we get closer to Vista's release date, Microsoft will no doubt provide more details of the requirements for the new OS, but in the meantime, by making sure your new computer is buff with the latest hardware, you'll be in good shape to run Vista.
In our next column we'll continue with our buyer's guide. Stay tuned.
general manager of digital phone at Oceanic Time Warner Cable, has been a telecommunications and computer expert for 25 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org