Buying that first PC
A guide to help first-time PC buyers decide which configuration you need as there can be some good deals in the coming weeks
THE LAST weeks of 2003 saw a flurry of advertisements featuring some good personal computer configurations for the budget-conscious buyer. The last quarter of the Indian financial year that is January to March is traditionally the time when businesses get into a high pressure selling spree that will lift their annual figures into respectable corners of the sales graph. This is also the time of the year when they want to get rid of a lot of idle inventory, so that offerings of the New Year can be accommodated.
So, this sudden rush of bargains and special offers is not entirely motivated by philanthropic feelings or seasonal goodwill: much of it is pure business savvy. And as long as one understands this and also remembers that earthy American saying `There ain't no such thing as a free lunch', it is still possible to find a compellingly priced PC that is just what you were looking for. However, one needs to arm oneself with some basic knowledge, so that high-pressured sales persons do not flash a lot of jargon in your face and saddle you with something that is not quite what you had in mind. The following paragraphs may be of some help:
* First, assess your needs: Are you looking for a basic machine that will just help you edit and print some documents, surf the Internet and exchange e-mail? If so, you don't need to budget more than Rs. 20,000 - Rs. 24,000. You can live with the cheapest processor and a workable combo of hard disk space and memory. But you still need a floppy drive, a CD drive and a built-in modem for dialling into an Internet account. The cheaper cousin of the Pentium processor is the Celeron and there are some Indian PC makers like Arcamax, who offer Celeron 1.7 GHz-based PCs at below Rs. 20,000. The other specifications like hard disk (40 GB); RAM memory (128 MB); 1.44 MB floppy drive; sound card and speakers will be similar to entry-level multimedia PCs. You may or may not get a CD drive within this price it depends on the vendor.
* If the PC you are planning is to be a family edutainment device, forget about Celerons; you need to power your PC with a Pentium 4 processor, in the 2.0 GHz to 2.8 GHz speed range. However, if you are paring costs, you can think of replacing the Pentium 4 chip with an Athlon chip from AMD. Athlons are functionally equivalent to Pentium but cost much less. For example, LG's MyPC with 128 MB RAM, 40 GB hard disk, floppy and CD drives, 56 KBPS modem, stereo speakers and a 38 cm CRT type monitor, costs around Rs. 30,000 when powered with a Pentium 4 and Rs. 25,000 when it works on an AMD chip (this particular machine works with Linux, not on Windows, about which see further below).
* Almost all the PCs featured in recent advertisements are priced for 128 MB of RAM memory and 40 GB of hard disk space. This is the rock bottom specification for multimedia work that is watching video movies, playing games, downloading music, etc. In fact, this will make for an underpowered PC if it is combined (as many of these offers are) with Pentium 4 chips of 2.4 GHz or 2.6 GHz which are `hyper-threaded'. This is a new technology that uses clever software tweaking to deceive the machine to think it is being powered by two chips instead of one. It is all very well but the advantage (particularly, when working with graphics-intensive applications like 3-D games) will be nullified if the memory available is inadequate. Some models of HP's Pavilion and Compaq Presario range as well as some of Zenith's home PCs come by default, with 256 MB of RAM. Otherwise, tell the dealer to increase the memory to 256 MB or even 512 MB and be prepared to pay Rs. 1,000 or so for every additional 128 MB; it is an investment well worth making.
* Similarly, don't buy a multimedia PC with a 40 GB hard disk unless you are seriously purse-strained: Those who sell these machines will omit to remind you that most utilities particularly the current Windows system and the Microsoft Office suite, are `bakasuras' that will swallow a lot of disk space when installed and will continue to eat up space with every minute of use, creating all sorts of temporary files that you won't even be aware of. Storing large music files and picture albums will also consume a lot of space. So "nothing less than 80 GB" should be your motto. You will pay just Rs. 750 - Rs. 800 for this upgrade (according to latest rates quoted in `DQ Channels'). Also, makers like PCS or HP clearly mention that their hard disks spin at 7200 revolutions per minute (rpm). Some don't specify the disk speed in which case you should ask; because for the same disk capacity, they might be offering you the slower (5400 rpm) variety which costs Rs. 100 - Rs. 250 less and will soon become obsolete.
* All budget PC offerings are based on 15-inch CRT-type colour monitors: that's the cathode ray tube type which makes for a bulky presence on the desk, as well as being a power guzzler and a heater. Going for a larger (17-inch) CRT monitor will only add about Rs. 2000 to your bill.
The other option the LCD type flat panel 15-inch display will cost at least Rs. 10,000 more and take your PC cost into the Rs. 30,000 - Rs. 40,000 range. However, there are significant savings to be made in power consumption, if you can take the steep initial cost.
* Finally, some PC makers are tentatively offering systems based on Linux rather than Windows: The Acer T 300, the LG MyPC and the HCL ezeeBee to name just three, are offering PCs this month based on a Linux Operating System. However, most companies are OS-agnostic and if you are ready to shell out another Rs. 3,000 or so they will provide the current, that is, Windows XP environment.
There is a general perception that the Indian consumer end of the PC market is not yet ready to make a bold switch to Linux; but you may just be one of those who like to live dangerously. In that case, best of luck and do tell us how you fare, so that others can benefit from your experience!
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