Buying a New PC is a Good Bet for Spring 2000

Larry D. Rosen, Ph.D.

The National Psychologist

January-February 2000



Companies like Intel and AMD are constantly developing faster chips to run computers. Traditionally, new chips are released around Spring, which means that at the end of each year and beginning of the next prices on older PCs drop several hundred dollars. This clearing of inventory makes it a buyer's market for PCs.

In mid-December, I researched computer costs for a desktop purchased in each of three ways -- in a nationwide store, a local small computer repair shop and online. Here's what I found.

Component Costs

First, you must know what you want and need. For most small businesses, the requirements are fairly straightforward. Your lowest price will always be on a machine that is built from components, so the list that follows indicates the approximate cost of each component. In each case I indicate what you should purchase at a minimum to have a system that will be useful for at least 3-5 years. Costs reflect average prices purchasing online at stores like Buy.com.


This brings your PC to $885. You can put it together yourself or pay a local repair shop $50-$100. I also recommend that you consider the following additional items:


You will need software. At a minimum, you should have a package like MS Office or MS Works which has a word processor, spreadsheet, database, presentation program and much more. MS Office 2000 can be found for under $200 and MS Works 2000 is under $100. You should purchase an anti-virus program to protect your computer. My favorite is Norton AntiVirus (under $70). Also, buy an image-editing program. If you buy a scanner you get one free. If a scanner is not on your list, and do a lot of work with pictures, get Photoshop (around $450) or download a shareware program from Download.com like Paint Shop Pro (free to use for a month and under $60 to purchase). Finally, if you plan to design web pages, I like Visual Page 2.0 (under $75).

Desktop Unit Online

You can go to any shopping bot (I like http://www.mysimon.com/) and purchase a desktop, but your best bet is to go to an online retailer like Dell (http://www.dell.com/) or Gateway (http://www.gateway.com/) and design your own. Using my specifications above, I found a Gateway Essential 450 Deluxe with all of my minimum requirements, plus MS Office 2000 for small business and Norton AntiVirus for $1,600. Dell had a comparable model for about the same price. Each comes with a three-year limited parts warranty and a one year on-site repair.

Nationwide Store

Here is where your prices really vary. You can get a desktop model with my minimum requirements from $1,500 to $2,500, depending on sales, special offers for online carriers and close-outs. Buying a computer at a nationwide store offers you name brands plus options for someone to come to your office or home and set up the computer for under $100. Many of these stores will guarantee the machine for 30-90 days and then any problems must be addressed with the manufacturer.

Local Computer Repair Shop

I am a big fan of mom-and-pop computer shops as long as they have been in business two years or more. Get referrals from people who have bought their systems and ask about the sales prices and service. I called several local stores recommended to me by friends and colleagues and they quoted between $900 - $1,300 for my minimum requirement machine. Most also added MS Works for a small charge.

You make the choice. Go with a nationwide store and pay more, but get a name brand; buy a name brand to your specifications online for a few hundred dollars less or get a custom machine from the web or a local store for even less. If you are a first time buyer, I would go with the nationwide chain stores. If you already are familiar with computers, consider the latter two options.

Speech Recognition Update

In the September/October 1997 issue of The National Psychologist I reviewed speech recognition programs. Since that time I have received over 100 e-mail messages asking if my recommendations have changed. I am happy to report that although I have not myself tested the newer programs, PC Computing did. In their November 1999 issue they rated my original top choice, Dragon Naturally Speaking, as the best. This marvelous upgraded program, now in Version 4.0, can be found online for under $100 and in the stores for around $140. It is truly a bargain if you do a lot of typing or suffer from a repetitive stress injury like carpal tunnel syndrome.

Online Product Reviews

If you need to find out more about any computer product, zdnet.com provides reviews from its many magazines (including PC Computing and FamilyPC) which are updated often. ZDNet will also link you to online stores to make an easy purchase of the best product for your needs.

Footnotes


At this writing, 100 million American adults (50% of the population) are online rising from 68 million only a year ago. Another 100 million are online in other countries. The average veteran user (3 years online) spends 11 hours a week online, while the new user spends just 7 hours per week. The most common activity online? E-Mail, of course. Not surprisingly, people send and receive 50% more e-mail messages today than one year ago.

My new find is a search engine called Google (http://www.google.com/). It is fast, easy to use and does a great job of sorting the results for you. Another low-cost program is System Mechanic which gives your PC a tune up. Download it and use it for 30 days free. If you like it you can buy it online for under $20.


Copyright, 2000, The National Psychologist. Reprinted with permission. The National Psychologist is a privately-owned bimonthly newspaper which may be purchased for $30 a year. Write or call: TNP, 6100 Channingway Blvd., Suite 303, Columbus, OH 43232; telephone: 614.861.1999 or fax with Visa or MC to 614.861.1996.