Dream up your perfect PC, and perhaps have your dream come true

When users ask me which PC to order, many think they have to take whatever they can get
for a certain price.


Federal buyers who specify dozens or hundreds of office PCs know better. But others who
occasionally order a few PCs from a General Services Administration schedule contract do
need advice.


Here's my decision process for the PC of my dreams. Perhaps it will help you with
yours.


I will use the dream machine for writing and research, so processor speed isn't
critical. I'll run Microsoft Windows 95 for World Wide Web surfing and special programs.
Other times I'll run Quarterdeck Corp.'s Desqview under MS-DOS, keeping a dozen or more
windows open.


I could afford a 333-MHz Pentium II processor, but a 200-MHz Pentium or equivalent is
fast enough. I'll choose an IBM Corp. 6x86MX-PR200 with MMX extensions for multimedia. The
chip is not the fastest, but it won't keep me waiting while I punch in text. It's at the
sweet spot for processors right now, and I couldn't save much by buying anything slower.


I run many programs simultaneously, so I must decide between 64M or 128M of RAM. And to
keep the system from becoming obsolete in a year, expansion capacity is important, too.


I need fast Internet access but can't get Integrated Services Digital Network lines at
my location. Satellite links are too expensive. Even if my downlink could transfer 400
megabytes/sec, I doubt all Web pages would load instantly.


I see by the Snd and Rec lights that my modem sits idle most of the time, so the delays
are happening on the Net, not in my modem. I seldom download large files, so I'll go for a
56-kilobit/sec modem compatible with the kind my Internet provider has.


I don't need a 32X CD-ROM drive, but I do need to access multiple CD-ROMs. Four or five
disks are active while I work, including the McGraw-Hill Multimedia Encyclopedia of
Science and Technology, telephone directories and home-brewed reference CD-ROMs.


I do need a multi-CD changer, but do I need two or a fast drive and a five-disk
changer?


I've decided against adding a digital video disk drive. Drives will improve, prices
will come down, and there aren't any DVD databases I need yet. This is the drive of the
future, and I'll add it later.


I could get away with a 2G primary hard drive but would outgrow it quickly, so I'll go
with 6G and a similar-sized second drive. That's where I'll put the money saved by not
buying a faster Pentium II processor.


Indexing vast amounts of data on a large secondary drive will save me much more time
than being able to execute spell-checks slightly faster.


A good Sound Blaster-compatible card is essential. With all the sound files and audio
tools around, I would need the card even if I didn't play Doom.


I have an external, parallel-port 4G tape backup drive and will pass up a new internal
drive. Likewise, I have a slow external CD-recordable drive, but I don't cut more than two
archival CDs a month, so I won't buy a new CD-recorder.


My fairly old LaserPrinter 4039 12R from Lexmark International Inc. of Lexington, Ky.,
has enough memory to print PostScript documents. Printers are cheaper and faster now, but
this one has become more satisfactory over time. I've come to rely on e-mail and print
only an occasional fax. The printer isn't used for days at a time. When I have plenty of
online storage, having a printer will matter even less.


The office may not be paperless yet, but in the past decade I've gone from buying paper
by the case to picking up an occasional ream.


I hate mice. I want a new keyboard with built-in touchpad, and the choice will take
some time. It needn't be expensive, just comfortable. I'll gladly buy several and toss
them until I find the perfect one.


Because much of my work consists of reading and writing plain text, I could get away
with using any monitor, even a 14-inch one. But I like a big display. This choice I leave
to last, and spend every dollar saved on the largest and best monitor I can afford.


When all the choices are made, I'll request a few bids. Maybe I'll even assemble the
dream PC myself.


The dream PC isn't the fastest, but it's suited to my needs. If you're in charge of
configuring a few PCs for your office, match component options against needs, and I
predict your users will stay happy.


Feel free to e-mail me with questions. Your name will not appear in the column without
your authorization.


John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with
computers since the early 1960s. E-mail him at powerusr@penn.com.


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