As you have most likely noticed, brand-name PCs generally cost more than close PCs with similar features. One reason for this is that you are paying extra money for after-sales service. For example, an IBM PC comes with a three-year warranty, a 24-hour service helpline with a toll-free number, and delivery of parts to your place of business. A clone manufacturer may also give good service, but this may be due to the personalities of a few employees, rather than to company policies. Most likely, clone company policies will not be as liberal and all-encompassing as those of a brand-name manufacturer. Typically, most brand name manufacturers tend to provide additional support not provided by clone manufacturers, such as functional web sites, updated drivers and utilities, and online troubleshooting or user manuals.
On the other hand, many brand-name manufacturers use nonstandard parts with their hardware and nonstandard approaches to setting up their systems, making their computers more proprietary than clones. Proprietary systems are ones that are unique to a particular Vencor (or proprietor), often forcing customers to use only parts and service from those vendors. One of the most common ways for a brand-name manufacturer to make its computer more proprietary is to put components directly on the system board rather than use more generic expansion cards. Remember from earlier chapters that an easy way to tell if ports are coming directly off a system board is to look at the back of the PC. If ports are aligned horizontally on the bottom of a desktop PC or vertically down the side of the tower-case PC, these ports most likely come directly off the system board, and it is more likely to be a propriety-type board.
For example, a brand-name system may include video, sound, or network logic on the system board rather than on an expansion card. Or, rather than being updated by a setup program in BIOS, the CMOS setup program may be stored on the hard drive. The shape and size of the computer case may be such that a standard system board does not fit; only the brand-name board will do. These practices can make upgrading and repairing brand-name PCs more difficult, because you are forced to use the brand-name parts and brand-name
service. Also, in some areas of the country, it might be difficult to find authorized dealers and service centers for brand-name PCs.
When selecting software, review the required functionality you identified, which drives your decisions about software selection. Choose the operating system first, according to guidelines presented in Chapter 2. Then, when choosing applications software considers these questions:
What do you want the software to do? (This will be defined by your answer to the functionality question above)
Is compatibility with other software or data required?
Is training available, if you do not already have the skills needed to use the software?
How good is the program’s documentation?
What are the company’s upgrade policies?
How well-known or popular is the software? (The more popular, the more likely you will find good training materials, previously trained people, technical support, and other compatible software and hardware)
Caution is in order if you are buying a brand-name or clone computer that has preinstalled software that you are not familiar with. The software may not provide the functionality that you need, and may not have good documentation or reliable upgrades or support. Unless you feel that you have the skill to manage this software, you are probably better off staying with mainstream-market software. One way to identify which brand of software is the most prevalent in the industry is to browse the computer books section of a local bookstore, looking for the software that has the most “how-to” books are written about it. Also, see trade magazines, the Internet, and your local retailer.
The two most important criteria to consider when selecting hardware are compatibility and functionality. Begin by considering the system board. Here are other topics you should
If you plan to use Windows 9x on a PC, choosing a PC that is made up of 100% Plug and Play components is of value, but not necessary. Be certain, however, that the BIOS is Plug and Play
If you intend to use the PC for multimedia applications, including games, you will want MMX technology or better for the CPU, and plenty of memory and drive space.
If you plan to use the PC for heavy network use, buy a PC with plenty of processing power
If Internet access is important, don’t skimp on the modern, and, if it’s an external modern, be sure to include a high-speed serial port
When selecting a computer case, keep in mind that tower cases generally offer more room than desktop units, and are easier to work with when adding new devices. Make sure the case has a reset button and if security is an issue, a key lock in order to limit access to the inside of the case. Some cases even have a lock on the floppy drive to prevent unauthorized booting from a floppy disk
Selecting a Total Package
When selecting a complete computer package including hardware and software, consider these points:
Are the hardware and software compatible with those found on the general market? (for example, if you wanted to upgrade your video card or word processor, how difficult would that be?)
What is the warranty and return or exchange policy?
What on-site or local service is available? Do you know of anyone who has used this service, and was it satisfactory?
Is the system Energy Star complaint?
What software comes preinstalled?
What documentation or manuals come with the system?
Does the manufacturer maintain a Web site with useful support features, utilities, and updates?
Does the system board allow for the expansion of both DRAM and SRAM?
What expansion slots are not being used? (Always allow for some room to grow)
Can features such as video on the system board be disabled if necessary?
How much does the system cost?
When considering the price, keep in mind that high-priced to middle-range-priced PCs are most likely to be network-compatible and easily expandable; they offer a broader range of support and have had extensive testing of vendor products for reliability and compatibility. Low-priced PCs may not have been tested for network compatibility; they offer a limited range of support, and the quality of components may not be as high.
When considering preinstalled software, remember that sometimes unneeded software is more of a hindrance than a help, needlessly taking up space. For example, it is not uncommon for a brand-name computer to come with three or four applications for Internet access (for example, America Online, CompuServe, Prodigy, and Microsoft Network) because of licensing agreements distributors have with online providers. Typically, only one is needed. Sometimes having more than one on your computer can cause problems.