Get double the use out of existing PCs with Buddy system

John McCormick

If you have leftover keyboards and VGA monitors from your year 2000 upgrades, but no budget for more new PCs, consider adding a second user to your more powerful office systems for only $150 each.

Vega Technologies Inc. of Emeryville, Calif., sells the Buddy PC kit at vegatechnologies.com. The kit consists of a cable, some software and an ISA or PCI adapter card.

Buddy will work with a 100-MHz or faster Pentium computer with 16M of RAM, but I wouldn't advise using it on anything that slow. The kit supports up to 1,024- by 768-pixel resolution at 256-color depth, and more colors at lower resolutions. That's not suitable for high-end graphics applications, but it's fine for word processing, database access, basic graphics and Web surfing.

Double access

Both users can access all PC resources: Microsoft Windows 9x applications, the CD-ROM drive, a printer and, in most cases, even a single Internet connection.

Or the users can have different sets of icons and access to different programs installed on the same PC. They can also run programs in an MS-DOS window.

There are initial delays as programs load from the hard drive, but the faster the CPU, the less the speed penalty. Besides, fast CPUs mostly are just waiting around for input when their users type or build spreadsheets.

The basic Buddy kit comes with a 15-foot cable. A $170 version substitutes a 50-foot Category 5 cable with RJ-45 connectors. Up to four users can share a Buddy system, but few ordinary office computers have the resources to handle that many.

The Buddy B-200 kit I tested does not provide audio to the second or third user. Another version, which I haven't tried, has audio for extra users who need it.

I know of no simpler way for two or more people to share a single Internet connection.

Adding a second or even a third word processing user to a Pentium III is perfectly feasible, although you must be careful about licensing.

Some software licenses specify 'single computer' and others 'single user.' If your license limits the number of computers rather than the number of users, Buddy could save you money. Company representatives said Buddy is in use at the Social Security Administration, among other high-profile organizations.

Testing the Buddy gave me the perfect excuse to try out the flat, 22-inch, 0.25-mm dot pitch VisionMaster Pro510 high-resolution monitor from iiyama North America Inc. of Costa Mesa, Calif. The company's Web site is at www.iiyama.com.

Although my 12-year old, 19-inch TriSync from Sampo Technology Inc. of Norcross, Ga., is still going strong, it no longer has the resolution I need for high-end graphics.

Ready, set, go

Except for hoisting the 73-pound VisionMaster Pro510 onto the desk, installation was easy. The perfectly flat screen has made me reluctant to go back to ordinary monitors. My only complaint is that I can't switch resolutions on the Windows Settings menu. I always have to adjust screen size and position when I go to higher resolutions. That's probably the fault of my inexpensive graphics card, not the monitor's electronics.

The VisionMaster comes with BNC and standard VGA inputs that can connect to two computers, but no Universal Serial Bus port. At 1,600- by 1,200-pixel resolution, images look terrific and completely flicker-free.

I paid about $1,200 for the monitor, including shipping, from CDW Computer Centers Inc. of Vernon Hills, Ill. It arrived in only five days, although the delivery estimate has since changed to two to four weeks, according to the company's Web site, at www.cdw.com.

The power-saving mode reduces the standby power consumption to as little as 5 watts. The monitor has many on-screen adjustments including one for color temperature.

It will have a place on my desk until giant, flat-panel LCDs get a lot cheaper.

John McCormick is a free-lance writer and computer consultant in Punxsutawney, Pa.

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