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1. Introduction and Index

2. Computer Buying Considerations

3. Computer Hardware Options- CPUs and System RAM

4. Disk Drive Options

5. Video Cards, Monitors, Sound Cards, Modems, etc.

6. Additional Features - Printers, Digital Cameras, Scanners, Networks

7. Recommended Software

8. Recommended Computer Systems

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Computer Buying Primer

Hardware Options Continued - Video Cards, Monitors, Sound Cards, Modems, etc.

Video Cards

Video cards are the interface between the CPU and the monitor. The faster video cards use an AGP (Accelerated Graphics Port) port on the computer motherboard, as it has a faster transfer rate than the PCI bus. Most video cards also have their own video memory installed on the card, which increases memory performance.

Cheaper desktop computers do not have a separate video card and instead have an integrated graphics chip. This means that the graphics chip is designed into the motherboard. All laptops and notebooks also use integrated graphics chips.
Graphics chips are not as powerful as separate video cards, so if you plan on playing the latest computer games, or using 3D graphics for other purposes, you should probably have a desktop with a good 3D video card.

For more information on video cards see our Tech Watch Newsletter.

Recommended Video Card: 2X-8X AGP, 16 -256 MB RAM, 3-D card with a good brand name. For business purposes a 16-64 MB video card is adequate. Serious gamers should invest in a 128 - 256 MB card.


Buying a monitor for your computer is almost a separate study. Monitors can vary in price between $100 to $1500. Important factors in the price determination are the monitor size and viewable image, maximum resolution, refresh rate, and the dot pitch.

The monitor size (for example 19 inches) means that the viewable size (measured diagonally) is about 18 inches.
The smaller the dot pitch, the greater the resolution, e.g. an 0.25 mm pitch is sharper then a 0.28 mm pitch. Everything over 0.28 mm is not considered super VGA.
Another important factor is the refresh rate. This is the rate in which the image is built up on the monitor. A higher number (85Hz) gives a steadier image then a lower number (60Hz).

With Windows 98 and higher versions, a second monitor can be attached when a second Video card is installed creating a two-monitor size desktop.

Recommended Monitor: 19 Inch (18 inch viewable), 76 Hz or higher refresh rate, 0.26 mm dot pitch or less.

Note: Digital flat panel LCD monitors take up much less space than conventional monitors, but have the disadvantage of not being as bright and costing more. Also, some LCD monitors require a DVI (digital video interface) connector, which is not typically found on low end computers.

Sound card and speakers

It does matter a lot in terms of quality of sound, which sound card is installed in the computer. One thing is that it has to be compatible. Lots of games come equipped for most common sound cards, but if the system has a strange sound card, at least make sure that it is Adlib or SoundBlaster compatible.

A sound card and its quality really becomes important when you want to work with sound, e.g. connect a midi keyboard or record sound through your sound card onto the computer. There are many brands of sound cards and the quality of the sound card is mostly reflected in number of bits; 16 bit, 32 bit, 64 bit or 128 bit sound cards. The sound card that I have personally had the best results with are the ones manufactured by SoundBlaster.

Speakers are personal. I advise someone to go to their local computer store and listen to different computer speakers. I personally like the Cambridge SoundWorks with subwoofer, good quality sound for reasonable price.

Many computers now come with integrated sound chips. These sound chips are not as powerful as separate sound cards, but for most non-audiophiles, they are perfectly adequate.

Recommended sound cards: The family of SoundBlaster Live/Audigy cards.


Modems are used to either connect to the Internet through a phone line or send or receive fax documents through a phone line. Most computers come with a modem. Most modems are 56K V.92 modems which indicates the speed of the modem.
56K is the maximum speed you can achieve with a so-called dail-up modem. To get more speed for Internet usage, you will have to go to DSL or Cable modem connections.

Top brand modems are 3Com, Zoom, or U.S. Robotics. Modems can be sensitive to power fluctuations and need to be protected. This can be done by a surge protector or uninteruptable Power supply (UPS) that protects both power and telephone outlets.

Recommended modem: A good brand 56K V.92 modem.

Keyboard & Mouse

The keyboard and mouse are very personal. Some people love the ergonomic keyboards and some keyboards have a different click then others. Go to a computer store and see which keyboard and mouse are best for you. You can also buy a cordless mouse and keyboard, which work on infrared. Again, a very personal choice.

If you don't feel like disassembling your mouse every once in a while to clean its rollers, then you might want to look into corded and cordless optical mice. Optical mice have no rollerball, and can be used on most flat surfaces however they are more expansive.

Recommended Keyboards: Microsoft, Logitech, or IBM.
Recommend Mouse: Microsoft, Logitech, or IBM.



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