A computer, besides a house or car, is the most expensive
purchase, you or your parents are going to make. Computers
are one of the most complicated for which to shop. You have
a wide range of options and prices and features change
faster than morning to evening. There is a flood of PCS on
the market, but where are the best prices for your buck?
The article tested computer superstores, consumer
electronics shops, and discount warehouses. All the prices
listed are when trying to purchase a multimedia Pentium-90
MHZ (the processor of the computer, what does the actual
instructions) computer with 16 megabytes of RAM1, a 15-inch
monitor2, a 14.4 fax-modem3, and a suite of applications4.
The mentioned system is a typical one purchased by a user.
Most of the PCS come from AST, Compaq, IBM and Packard
Bell. If you want something else, you'll have to go through
mail order or a local retailer which custom builds
systems5. Remember that with computers, the lowest prince
on a fast machine is not necessarily the best PC. Before
you go out and buy a system, you should ask yourself how
you plan to use the computer, today and two years from now.
You don't want to buy a system that will be outdated in a
year and cannot run any of the hot new applications. Then
you must decide on the most important thing, the bucks you
wish to spend. A general rule of thumb is that the faster
the processor, the longer the life span of the computer.
These days, most computer magazines and individuals
recommend a 60 or 90-MHZ Intel Pentium processor. Now you
must be thinking, there must be hundreds of systems that
you could buy. Your job is to narrow that down to a few,
and find the best price for them you can. The best place, I
think, to research is to find an independent magazine like
PC World or PC Magazine that are not biased in any way. You
should look at the tables that show the reliability and
service of the components of the computer. You don't want
to buy a computer that is not reliable and where the
service is unsatisfactory. Internet uses can reach "The
Internet Shopping Network" at http://shop.internet.net and
browse online catalogues and 20,000+ products. It's a good
idea to clip ads from newspapers that have good deals.
Finally, you should ask your friends (especially if one or
two of them are knowledgeable in computers) for their
experiences and advice. Once you have decided what PC you
want, now the hunting and run around occur. You have to
find a shop with a good price, good service, and good
technical support (hopefully, you won't need it). Tips for
Here are the golden rules to shopping for a computer. Keep
them in mind when you are looking. 1. Know what you want.
Knowing your stuff is the best defense
against buying more or less than you need of a computer. 2.
Ask for spec sheets on each component of the computer. You
can compare this with many magazines that carry the
performance ratings of components (such as the video card,
hard disk, etc.6). 3. Get prices quotes in writing. This
makes it easier to
compare, and it avoids you from many scams. 4. Try to get a
free trial period if you can to test your PC. 5. Watch out
for restocking fees. With some companies, if you
return your PC, you have to pay a restocking fee (usually
20% of
the value). 6. Check out the technical support that the
company offers. 7. Pay by credit card. This way, if you
have a dispute or the
product never arrives, it's proof that you have paid the
bill. 8. If you can't pay by credit card, order by COD. Set
up the
computer and test it out before you dish money to the UPS
guy. Where to shop? MAIL ORDER ú
Mail order usually houses the cutting-edge technology at
bargain prices because of the low overhead. ú
The salespeople usually know about the equipment and can
answer your questions. ú
A note of caution; if you want to order from a smaller
company, do a background check first. You don't want to buy
a dead PC or a PC that isn't what you paid for. Look in
magazines such as PC World and PC Magazine for rankings and
information. Also try to contact the Better Business Bureau
to see if consumers have lodged complaints. ú
When you call the company, have the specs for your PC
nearby and don't be afraid to quote prices from
competitors. ú
When calculating the price, make sure you calculate taxes,
shipping, and insurance. ú
Remember, if you don't like the system and want to return
it, you have to pay the shipping. ú
Buying my mail isn't for beginners. If there is a problem,
you have to open the PC and fiddle with it while being on
the phone with a technician. It's not something that
everyone is confident to do. ú
You are also buying sight unseen. ú
Best price on the computer listed above: $2898 (Micron P-80
Home MPC. Includes shipping) LOCAL RETAILERS ú
A local retailer is a shop that puts together their own
machines. ú
They have low prices and knowledgeable help. You can also
bargain somewhat more than other places on a cheaper price.
They assemble systems form name-brand components and build
them to your specification. ú
If the machine breaks, you can usually give it to them to
fix. ú
However, the quality of their parts and reputation can
vary. Check with the Better Business Bureau and other
consumers' agencies. ú
When you look at a PC, make sure you ask the salesperson
which manufacturer makes each component of the computer. ú
Also check what testing they do on the computer before it
leaves the store. Leaving the PC running for a while isn't
a good test. ú
Best price on mentioned computer: $3017 (Pentium VLB 90.
Includes Microsoft software) SUPERSTORES ú
up. ú
Superstores tend to cost more, but you can see before you
buy. ú
Superstores usually have a slew of brands, so you can pick
and choose. ú
However, superstores usually allow no negotiation on the
price and the salespeople are usually not knowledgeable. ú
Most stores have a repair outlet on the premises. ú
Most stores do not allow upgrades on their systems except a
multimedia kit or something of that nature. ú
Best price on mentioned PC: $3350 (CompuDyne 90MHz Pentium
Processor Mini-Tower) CONSUMER ELECTRONICS ú
Stores usually have a good selection and match completers'
prices. ú
Very little customization of your PC. ú
Minimal bargaining on prices and very limited knowledge on
systems. ú
Hardly any customization of the PC allowed. ú
People who feel more comfortable in a stereo store than in
a computer one should shop here. ú
Beware of salespeople who try to convince you to buy
another system than what you want. Many of them are trying
to get rid of old or useless inventory. ú
Best price on mentioned PC: $3439 (Packard Bell Legend
At these stores, the price is usually dirt cheap. ú
There usually isn't any sales help to answer questions
and there isn't a wide range of selections available. ú
Virtually no customization of your system. ú
People who should by here are people that don't need
customization and want a good deal.
Now, the question still lingers in your mind . . . where
should I buy a PC? There is no definite answer. It's up to
your needs. And, in a few months you'll see your system
advertised for less money and wonder the question that
everyone asks, "Should you buy now, or wait until prices
drop even further?". I personally think, you should buy
when you need one.
1 RAM is a fast temporary storage media (it's an acronym
for Random Access Memory) that is lightning fast which the
computer access for information. E.g. your program is read
from the disk and then is stored in RAM. The computer
accesses this RAM to do it's calculations and make the
program run. However, once the computer is turned off, the
RAM is wiped.
2 The physical screen where the graphics, pictures, etc are
shown. 15 inches is becoming the standard for PCS using
Microsoft Windows.
3 A modem is used for communication to your friends, the
Internet, and online services such as CompuServe, Genie,
Prodigy, America Online, etc.
4 Such as a word processor, spreadsheet, and database.
5 A "system" is a synonym for a PC, or computer. They mean
all the same, but you might find that term used when
hunting for a PC.
6 Consult other articles on these products and make sure
you know what you need. 


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