Computer – Buying And Setting Up A PC / Laptop

Buying and Setting Up a Computer

By the End of This Tutorial, You’ll Be Able To:

Ø Buy a computer that won’t be obsolete in a year

Ø Pick the fastest and the most affordable chip

Ø Get a hard disk drive that’s big enough…and fast enough

Ø Connect all the computer parts without blowing up anything

If you already bought your dream computer, reading this tutorial may be hazardous to your mental health. You may find out that the computer you have is already obsolete (I know mine is). Maybe you should have gotten 16 megabytes of RAM instead of 8. Maybe the slimline (space-saving) case wasn’t the best choice, and you really should have considered buying a 64-bit graphics accelerator card (whatever that is). All these doubts and second-guesses can only make you bitter (and broke), so just Optimizing Your Computer’s Performance
.To place an order for the Complete Project Material, pay N5,000 to
GTBank (Guaranty Trust Bank)
Account Name – Chudi-Oji Chukwuka
Account No – 0044157183
Then text the name of the Project topic, email address and your names to 08060565721.  

For the rest of you, you chronic procrastinators who have put off buying a computer, read on. These pages will show you that although you really can’t afford the ideal computer, toucan make the right trade-offs to get the best computer for your budget. You’ll also learn how to set up your computer once you bring it home.


Finding a Brainy Computer (Chip)

One of the first things you’ll encounter in any ad is the name of the computer’s micro­processor (the computer’s brain). This may appear as 486DX2, Pentium (or P5), or PowerPC. The chip label, which is printed on the chip and usually on the front of the system unit, tells you three things:

Chip numberThe chip number (for example, 486) tells you the chip’s IQ. A 286 is a dropout; 386 is a slow learner; 486 is above average; and the Pentium (586) is a genius.

Chip speed   Chip speed is measured in megahertz (pronounced “MEG-a-hurts”). The higher the number, the faster the chip works. But be careful: a 75MHz Pentium processes data faster than a 100MHz 486, because the Pentium is more advanced. Compare speeds only between chips that have the same name or number.

Chip typeThe chip name may be followed by an abbreviation such as SX, DX, or DX2. The SX chip is a scaled-down version of the DX; for example, the 486SX is a 486DX without a math coprocessor. The 2 after the DX (DX2) indicates that the chip has a dock doublerthat makes the chip process at twice the speed; for example a DX2 66MHz chip is a 33MHz chip with a clock doubler. For portable computers, SL is commonly added to the chip type, indicating that the chip is specially de­signed for portable computing.

If you want some free advice, here goes. Look for a computer with a Pentium processor (a586 chip), or better. Don’t even think of buying a 386. And, unless you’re buying a laptop computer, stay away from the 486, as well. If you heard something about the Pentium having a manufacturing defect, that’s old news; Intel has fixed the Pentium, and it is a heck of a lot better than a 486.

All Chips fire Not Created Equal

Several factors contribute to making one chip better than another: data bus structure, clock speed, and built-in cache size. The data bus structure deter­mines how much information the processor can handle at one time: 16 bits (286), 32 bits (386 and 486), or 64 bits (Pentium). The clock speed determines how fast the chip cycles (think of it in terms of RPMs). A built-in cache is memory that’s on the chip; this provides the processor with quick access to data, so the chip doesn’t have to fetch data from RAM. 486 chips have an 8K cache, and Pentiums have a 16K cache. Some computers come with extra cache, sometimes called inter­nal, which makes the chip even faster.

Thanks for the Memory (RAM)

Whenever the microprocessor is deep in thought, it’s shuffling instructions and informa­tion into and out of RAM (random-access memory). When it runs out of RAM, it has to use the hard disk drive, which is much slower. Don’t settle for less than 8 megabytes; if you can afford it, get 16 megabytes.

Also, make sure the computer comes with RAM cache or external cache (pronounced “cash”). This is a set of fast memory chips that stand between the normal (slower) RAM and the microprocessor. The RAM cache stores frequently used instructions and data, so the microprocessor can get the instructions and data more quickly. Most computers offer a 128K or 256K RAM cache.

The latest, greatest RAM on the market is EDO (which stands for Extended Data Out). EDO RAM is faster than the average (non-EDO RAM). You’ll also hear the term burst mode used in conjunction with EDO. Burst mode is the EDO RAM’s capability to deliver large amounts of information at a single moment. But don’t worry about how it works; EDO is good, and you should look for a computer that has it.

You Don’t Hear Much About the BIOS

Every computer has a built-in set of instructions called the BIOS (pronounced “BUY-ose,” short for Basic Input Output System). Think of the BIOS as the little black box inside new cars that keeps everything working in sync. The three most common BIOSs are AMI (pronounced “AM-ee”), Phoenix, and Award. Of those three, AMI has the best reputation.

In addition to the BIOS manufacturer, check the BIOS date. Some computer manufactur­ers cut corners by using an old version of the BIOS. The BIOS date usually displays when you first turn on the computer, but it’s easier to just ask the salesperson.

As you shop, you’ll come across some computers that boast a flashBIOS. A flash BIOS allows you to update the BIOS later by using special software (instead of having to replace the BIOS chip).

A Hard Disk: How Big? How Fast?

Consider two things when you’re looking at hard drives: size and speed. Size is measured in megabytes, and they range from 200 megabytes to over a gigabyte (1,000 megabytes). Most home computers now come with gigabyte hard drives; business computers come with even larger drives. If that sounds massive to you, consider the fact that Windows 95 gobbles up at least 40 megabytes, and the latest version of Quicken can take up 80 megabytes!

Speed is advertised as access time, which is expressed in milliseconds (ms)—the lower the number, the faster the drive. Good access times are between 10 and 15ms. Stay away from anything over 17ms.

Floppy Disk Drive Size and Capacity

A computer should have at least one floppy disk drive so you can transfer programs and data files from floppy disks to your hard disk. When considering floppy drives, look at size and capacity:

Disk sizeMost new computers come with a single 3 l/z” floppy disk drive. This should suffice unless you share files with people who use 5 W disks or you have old programs on 5 l/t” disks.

Capacity   New computers come with high-capacity drives. You won’t find a low-capacity drive unless you buy the computer at a garage sale. For more details about disk capacities, see  “Feeding Your Computer: Disks, Files, and Other Munchies.”

Monitors: Get the Picture?

When you shop for a monitor, pretend you are shopping for a TV. You want a big clear picture. In addition to those obvious points, look for the following:

SuperVGA (SVGA) Super VGA displays clear pictures with lots of colors. If you get a lower display standard (such as VGA), photos and movie clips will look blocky and fuzzy.

Size   Most computers come with a 14″ or 15″ monitor. The bigger 17″ to 21″ monitors are excellent for desktop publishing and graphics, but expect to pay dearly for the increased size.

Dot pitch   Dot pitch is the space between the dots that make up the display. In general, the closer the dots, the clearer the picture: .28mm is good, .39mm is fair, .52mm is bad.

Noninterlaced Look for a noninterlaced monitor. Interlaced monitors have an imperceptible flash that can be hard on your eyes. Noninterlaced monitors don’t flash.

Tilt/swivel baseYou’ll want to adjust your monitor for comfort, so be sure the base can be adjusted easily.

Flat screenMost monitor tubes are curved, making them more susceptible to glare. Look for a flat screen.

Antiglare   Some monitors are built to prevent glare. With other monitors, you have to purchase a special antiglare screen that fits over the monitor; these can be cumbersome.

Swedish MPR II low-emissions standard   If you’re worried that your monitor is going to cause a goiter to start growing on your forehead, make sure the monitor meets the Swedish MPR II low-emissions standards.

When you’re looking at monitors, you may encounter the terms video memory, local bus video, and graphics accelerator. Don’t let these terms scare you. A graphics accelerator card is a circuit board inside the system unit that the monitor plugs into. This card increases the speed at which data is sent to the monitor to create the display. Look for a 64-bit (not a 32-bit) accelerator card.

Video memory is a separate storage area that the computer uses to display pictures on the screen. Giving the monitor its own memory helps it display pictures faster. You should try to get a computer that offers at least 1 megabyte (preferably 2 megabytes) of video memory. Local bus just means that the monitor communicates directly with the com­puter, increasing the display speed.

CD-ROM: Information and Great Games

The most important consideration when shopping for a CD-ROM drive is speed. The current standard is the 4X or quadruple-speed drive (don’t settle for a 2X drive). Many computers include even faster CD-ROM drives, such as the 6X. The faster the better. Keep an eye on the computer ads to see what the standard speed is when you purchase your computer.

So you won’t have to keep swapping CDs into and out of the drive, consider getting a three- or five-CD changer. This is nice, especially if you have youngsters who enjoy playing all the CD computer games in a single session.

Sound FX with Sound Boards and Speakers

Many computers come with a CD-ROM drive but without a sound board. I guess the manufacturer expects you to plug a set of earphones into the CD-ROM drive and pretend you’re wired to a 20-pound Walkman. If no sound board is included, have it added on; in most cases, you can add a sound board for 150 to 200 dollars. Also, make sure the sound board is 16- or 32-bit. Older, 8-bit sound cards cannot take full advantage of the sound enhancements in newer games and CDs.

Modems: Fast and Feature Rich

Most computers come with a modem that allows you to connect with other computers and services over the phone line. Look for a 28,800bps (28.8kbps) or faster data/fax modem. If you want to use your computer for voice mail, make sure the modem offers voice support. If you want to know more about modems, see Chapter 22, “Buying, Installing, and Using a Modem.”

All-in-One: The Multimedia PC

You’ll see a lot of ads for multimedia PCs. Trouble is, some of the people writing these ads think that a multimedia PC is one that can display a picture and occasionally beep. Truth is, a multimedia PC is a somewhat powerful computer that can display good-looking video in stereo. To do that, the computer needs some high-powered hardware. These are current minimum requirements for a multimedia PC (that is, current as of the writing of this book):

Ø A 75MHz or higher Pentium processor.

Ø Eight megabytes of memory.

Ø 540 megabyte hard drive.

Ø Quad-speed (4X) CD-ROM drive compatible with multisession PhotoCD standards. >- Wavetable sound (a step above 16-bit stereo sound).

Ø MPEG-1 video playback standard.

What’s MPEG? If you’ve ever played a movie clip on a PC, you know how fuzzy and jerky it can appear. MPEG is a standard developed by the Moving Pictures Experts Group, to help overcome the problems with playing video clips on PCs.

Now that you know all that, watch out for ads that claim their PC as having MPEG video playback support. This support can be in the form of software (a quick, inexpensive, second-rate way to offer MPEG) or as special MPEG hardware (the only real way to display quality video). Before buying a PC that offers special MPEG video, make sure you’re getting the MPEG hardware.


Multimedia PCs are often labeled with the MPC logo, meaning that they meet the MPC (Multimedia PC) requirements. During the writing of this book, the standard is MPC3, but before you purchase a computer, find out the current MPC standards, and make sure the computer exceeds them. These are minimum requirements; the latest, greatest CD games usually require more than the mere minimum,

The All-Important Ports

The back of every system unit has receptacles (called ports) for plugging in other equip­ment. Most system units come with the following standard ports:

Printer port To connect a printer.

Communications port To connect a mouse, printer, or modem. Monitor port   To plug your monitor into the system unit. Keyboard port   To plug the keyboard into the system unit.

Mouse portTo connect a mouse to your computer. You can connect the mouse to the mouse port or the communications port.

Game port – This really isn’t a standard port, but it’s nice to have if you plan on playing many computer games. You can plug a joystick (sort of like a stick-shift lever) into the port for controlling the game, rather than having to use the awkward mouse or keyboard. Most sound cards have a built-in game port.

Planning for Expansion

After you shell out two thousand bucks for a computer, the last thing you want to think about is spending more money to make it better. However, sooner or later, you’ll want to add something to your computer: a bigger hard drive, more memory, maybe a scanner. When shopping for a computer, you want to make sure that you can add to it. The following sections explain what to look for.

Adding Internally with Expansion Boards

Every part of a computer plugs into a big circuit board (inside the system unit) called the motherboard. The motherboard contains several expansion slots that enable you to increase the capabilities of your system by plugging in expansion boards (or cards). For example, you can plug a soundboard into the slot so you can connect speakers and a microphone, or add an internal modem to your computer by plugging it into one of the slots. Make sure you get a computer that has at least four open expansion slots.

To further complicate matters, all expansion slots (and boards) are not created equal. There are four expansion standards you may encounter:

Ø ISA (Industry Standard Architecture) is for older expansion boards, and you’ll want two or three of those to handle some of the expansion boards that are currently on the market.

Ø PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect) is the newest popular standard, and you’ll want two or three PCI slots to handle any current and future technology.

Ø VESA (Video Electronics Standard Association) is similar to PCI, but less popular at this time.

Ø MCA (Micro Channel Architecture) is IBM’s standard, which never caught on. You might want to avoid MCA expansion slots, because very few manufacturers support that standard.

Again, don’t feel as though you have to understand all the standards; just keep in mind that you want some ISA slots and some PCI or VESA slots.


Cases Big and Small

An easy way to tell whether a system is expandable is to look at the case. Space-saving cases (usually called slimlines) usually have few expansion slots and unoccupied drive bays. Tower cases usually have eight drive bays and six or more expansion slots. Standard cases fall in the middle but provide sufficient expandability for most folks.

Drive Bays: For Floppy Drives or CD-ROM

Some computers come with only one floppy drive, but they contain additional drive bays so you can add drives later (for example, a CD-ROM drive, another floppy drive, or a tape backup unit). Look for a computer with at least four bays: one for a 3½” drive, one for a CD-ROM drive, and two open drive bays (so you can add another hard drive, tape backup drive, or other type of drive later).

Adding Memory to Your System

Find out how much memory you can add to the computer. Most computers come with 8 megabytes of RAM and are expandable to 32 megabytes (or more). But knowing that you can add memory to your computer later is not enough; adding memory to some types of computers can be costly and difficult. Watch for the following traps:

Ø Memory chip swapping required. With some computers, you have to remove and discard the old chips to add chips that have a greater storage capacity. You should get a computer that lets you add at least 8 megabytes of memory without having to pull out the RAM chips that are already there.

Ø Proprietary memory chips only. Some computers require that you use only brand name chips that usually cost twice as much as a generic brand.

Ø Memory board required. You shouldn’t have to install a memory board in order to add memory. You should be able to add memory by plugging chips (or SIMMs, single in-line memory modules) into the motherboard.

All Keyboards Are Not Created Equal

Keyboards look different because they have different arrangements and numbers of keys, but there’s not much difference between them; they all perform the same tasks. The important thing is how the keys feel to you. Some keys click when you press them, some offer little resistance, and some just feel funny. Buy a keyboard that feels comfortable.

You might also want to look at the new, ergonomic keyboards. After breaking my wrist a while back (and not being able to rotate it to align my fingers with the keys), I was forced to buy an ergonomic keyboard. The keyboard I use is from Lexmark (no, they didn’t pay me for the plug). It lets you split the keyboard in half and adjust each half independently. My wrist is back to normal, but I’m still using my new keyboard—I’ll never give it up. Some ergonomic keyboards, such as Microsoft’s, are not adjustable, but they do conform more closely to the natural position of your hands.

Printers: Quality, Speed, and Price

The price of a computer rarely includes the price of a printer, so you usually purchase that separately. For low-cost printing, look for a dot-matrix printer. For affordable quality, check out inkjet printers. For high-quality and speed, lasers are the best choice. When comparing printer prices, consider the price of the printer and its consumables.Consumables are office supplies (ink ribbons, toner cartridges, paper) that you use during printing. If you want to print in color, make sure you get a color printer.

Selecting a Printer
Printer Type
Price Range
Output Quality
1/2-2 cents per page
180-360 dpi*
1-4 ppm* 80-450 cps*
InkJet or Bubble] et
2-10 cents per page
300-360 dpi
2-4 ppm
3-7 cents
300-1000 dpi
4-10 ppm

per page

* dpi stands for dots per inch, cps stands for characters per second, and ppm stands for pages per minute


Getting More for Your Back with IBM-Compatibles or Clones

IBM-compatible computers (sometimes called clones) work exactly like IBMs, except that many compatibles are faster, cost less, and use higher quality parts than their IBM coun­terparts. You may have heard of some of the better known IBM-compatible computers, including Compaq, Gateway 2000, Packard Bell, and ZEOS.

Bad Reps

The word clone is a derogatory term describing a compatible computer assembled by a local computer dealer. Clone computers have the same status as generic food—they cost less, but may not offer the same quality as the name-brand compatibles. I say may not because some clones are actually superior to their name-brand counterparts.

Don’t Boy Just for Freebies

Don’t purchase a computer solely because it comes with a lot of freebies. Often, dealers will bundle a bunch of software with a computer to sucker the buyer into purchas­ing an obsolete computer.

Software Included?

Some dealers include the cost of the operating system in the price they quote you; others don’t. (Most systems come with DOS and Microsoft Windows, which are described in Chapters 7, 8, and 9.) If the computer does not come with an operating system, you won’t be able to use it, so complain loudly and make sure the dealer installs it for you.

Many dealers also offer free applications with a computer. For example, computers often come with Microsoft Works installed. When you’re comparing prices, consider this, too.

It’s Not Easy Being Green

As you shop for a computer, you may encounter dealers offering “green PCs,” and you may wonder why they don’t look green. The “green” label marks the PC as meeting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s criteria for its Energy Star program. To meet these criteria, the computer must consume no more than 90 watts (30 for the system unit, 30 for the monitor, and 30 for the printer) when not in sleep mode (not in use). Some computer manufacturers go even further, making their computers out of recycled plastic and being careful about the waste materials produced during manufacturing.

Setting Up Your New Computer

When you get your computer home (or in your office), set all the boxes on the floor, so nothing will fall and break. Before doing anything else, read the following (long) list of cautions and tips:

Ø House the computer next to a phone jack and a grounded outlet. If you’re in an old house and you’re not sure if the outlet is grounded, go to the hardware store and buy an outlet tester; it has indicator lights that show if the outlet is properly grounded.

Ø Don’t plug the computer into an outlet that’s on the same circuit as an energy hog, such as a dryer or air conditioner. Power fluctuations can hurt your computer and destroy files.

Ø Place your computer in an environment that is clean, dry, and cool. Don’t place it near a radiator, next to a hot lamp, or in your new tanning bed.

Ø Don’t shove any part of the computer up against a wall, or stack books or other things on top, under, or around any part of the computer. The computer has fans and vents to keep it cool. If you block the vents, the computer might overheat. You don’t want a two-thousand dollar piece of toast.

Ø Keep the computer away from magnetic fields created by fans, radios, large speakers, air conditioners, microwave ovens, and other appliances.

Ø When you unpack, pull the items out of the box; don’t pull the box off the items. Otherwise, the items might fall and break.

Ø Don’t cut into boxes with a knife. You might scratch something or hack through a cable.

Ø If your computer was delivered to you on a cold day, let it warm up to room tem­perature. Any condensation needs to dissipate before you turn on the power.

Ø Clear all drinks from the work area. You don’t want to spill anything on your computer.

Ø Don’t force anything. Plugs should slide easily into outlets. If you have to force something, the prongs are probably not aligned with the holes they’re supposed t: go in. Forcing the plug will break the prongs.

Ø Don’t turn anything on till everything is connected.

To figure out where to plug things in, look for words or pictures on the back (and free: of the system unit; most receptacles are marked. If you don’t see any pictures, try to match the plugs with their outlets. Look at the overall shape of the outlet and look t: set if it has pins or holes. Count the pins and holes and make sure there are at least as nur^ holes as there are pins. As a last resort, look for the documentation that came with tbr computer.

The Least You Need To Know

Okay, I admit it, this is way too much information to remember. As you’re shopping for and setting up your computer, keep the following list handy:

Ø Get a Pentium processor chip 75MHz or faster.

Ø Get 16 megabytes RAM, expandable to 32 megabytes on the motherboard.

Ø You want a 1 gigabyte hard drive.

Ø Shop for an SVGA monitor, and a 64-bit graphics accelerator card with 2 megabytes of video memory.

Ø Go with a 28.8kbps data/fax modem.

Ø Look for a 4X CD-ROM drive (preferably with a three-CD changer).

Ø Get a 16-bit sound card with speakers.

Ø Make sure the system unit has four drive bays, at least two unoccupied.

Ø You want five open expansion slots: three ISA and two PCI or VESA.

To place an order for the Complete Project Material, pay N5,000 to
GTBank (Guaranty Trust Bank)
Account Name – Chudi-Oji Chukwuka
Account No – 0044157183
Then text the name of the Project topic, email address and your names to 08060565721.  

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