Finding the Perfect PC
Though notebook computers are increasingly common to many professionals (see "In Search of the Right Laptop," CIREJ, March/April 1998), desktop personal computers still are popular thanks to their plummeting prices and soaring performance. So where mobility is not an issue, desktop systems are bargains.
When making a purchase of this sort, don’t fall for the first good-looking computer model you see. Information technology specialists themselves disagree about the best brand, though most of them stick to the better-known brands. Some swear by Gateway 2000, others Dell, and still others evangelize for Compaq. Note the differences among these brands; for example, Dell positions itself for the corporate market and Gateway works for the home market.
David Klevens, CCIM, of Grubb & Ellis in Rosemont, Illinois, advises computer buyers to spend several months studying computer magazines and Web sites (such as http://www.zdnet.com/, where you can search its shopper’s guide or read recent reviews of desktop systems). "Spend the time researching now and save the tears for dollars not well spent later on."
One of those computer sources, Windows magazine, rates highly some new offerings by IBM (Personal Computer 300PL) and Compaq (Deskpro EN 6400X/6400/CDS and the slightly smaller Deskpro EN SFF 6400X/6400/CDS), all of which are between $2,700 and $3,000. In the burgeoning new sub-$1,000 field, PC Magazine praises the Axis Orion LXN266 ($995) and the Micro Express MicroFlex-4500 ($899). By doing a lot of comparison reading, you will start to see certain brand names praised more often than others; reviews mention which specific parts of systems are better than others, which helps you match your needs to the available computers. Knowing what you need out of your operating system, software package, and hardware helps you make the most of the professional reviewers at the computer magazines and Web sites.
Can You Spend Less Than $1,000?
For a standard desktop setup, you might spend anywhere from a basic $1,500 up to $3,000. However, desktop prices have dropped dramatically over the last year or two, and you now can find many computers marketed for less than $1,000.
If a computer does not meet your standards (see sidebar), you may be better off paying a little more to save yourself headaches from an underpowered system. Part of that package is, of course, a monitor, which is not always included in the advertised sales price of a computer (it often appears as a "monitor sold separately" asterisk). "Buy the best monitor that you can," recommends Lou Lohman, of Kissane Business Systems in Addison, Illinois. Bigger monitors are now popular, and if you do desktop publishing or access fancy Web sites, an upgrade may serve you well.
Do You Need to Upgrade?
Sometimes an older system seems too slow compared with the screamers on some of your colleagues’ desks. In that case, you may be able to upgrade components or your computer without shelling out for an entirely new system. "You don’t have to upgrade all the time," says CIREI’s 1999 president, Allen Feltman, CCIM, of Allen M. Feltman Real Estate in Plano, Texas. "Someone knowledgeable about computers can clean your files and compress things to make your system operate faster."
"We have traditionally replaced our machines every three years," reports Thomas R. Holmes, CCIM, of Cushman & Wakefield of Michigan in Southfield, Michigan. "However, for personal use, I like the idea of adding more memory in lieu of more horsepower. On the flip side, if you buy the latest and greatest, I would think that you would be happy with its performance for the foreseeable future and may be able to boost the performance later as well."