Get a basic system right away; then delay upgrades until the new gizmos are common and you really need them.
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Basic Systems ~ Connections ~ Webware ~ Training
overview ~ strategy ~ selecting a computer ~ upgrading
comments and suggestions
This page is mainly for those who wish to aquire a computer system for use in working with the World Wide Web -- browsing Web pages and creating new ones. It covers hardware and basic system software; the software used for working with and exploring Web pages is discussed on another page, Webware for the Web Workshop. Pages on Connections and Wetware Training cover other aspects of a complete basic system for Webwork.
Here we've focused on how to get an excellent, inexpensive machine that will do everything you need it to do for the next few years. These are certainly not the most powerful computers available, and they may not even be the most cost effective. We've given some weight to the need for solid technical support and proven reliability.
We begin with a discussion of Our Strategy for Hardware Purchases. Next comes a section on Selecting a New Computer, and finally a section on Upgrading Computer Systems, which includes a discussion of optional hardware, like scanners and printers. We end with an invitation for you to send us your comments, suggestions, and requests.
Buying electronic equipment, and especially computer equipment, requires a new way of thinking about what counts as a 'good buy'. With prices falling as quickly as they are, looking around to see if you got a good price will certainly leave you feeling that you could have done better. That's only one way to look at things, though. If you look at what you would have paid for comparable equipment a year or two ago, you can wind up feeling like a purchasing wizard.
For example, a good new 17" monitor now costs half the price of the same monitor five years ago -- except that you can't buy the same monitor. The new ones are more reliable and superior in several other ways. The longer you wait, the better the equipment will be, and the lower the price.
On the other hand, getting started working with the Web, and beginning to develop your skills and understanding, is more important than any money you could possibly save by waiting to get a computer system. So if you don't have a system at all, get one, if you possibly can. If you can't afford a basic system (which can now be had for as little as $1000 or less) stop reading this page and go to Connections, where we will help you find ways to learn about the Web and to work with it, without owning a computer.
We recommend a two-part strategy. The first phase applies when you don't have something you need -- not that you don't have the hottest new features on your whatszis gizmo, but that you don't have a whatszis gizmo at all. The second phase applies when you do have one, but are considering getting a new improved one.
The rule for Phase One is: Get what you need to get started, as soon as possible.
The rule for Phase Two is: Wait to upgrade your system until you really need the improvements.
For most people, a computer and an Internet connection are all that's needed to begin working on the Web. You will eventually want a printer, and also possibly a scanner. If you intend to do a lot of graphics work, a graphics tablet will be very useful -- maybe necessary. However, you may not need any of these things at first. Getting used to a computer, the Internet, and several programs, will keep you busy for a while. When you decide that going to Kinko's to print stuff is wasting money that you could be using to buy a printer, it's probably time to buy a printer.
Once you have what you need to begin working, wait till you really need a whatever-it-is before you get one. Why? For two important reasons: First, the longer you wait, the more cost effective, and easy to use, the available devices will be. Second, you will be concentrating your efforts on setting up and learning to use whatever thingies you currently really need.
The ideal is to master one thing at a time, and then go on to the next -- but you can't really master computers one thing at a time; too many parts have to work together. You can keep things relatively simple, though -- you can avoid filling your workspace with boxes full of software and hardware components that you don't understand. You can get them when you need them, and they'll be better, faster, easier to use, more reliable, and cheaper -- and you'll be ready to learn to use them.
The same thing goes for upgrading equipment you already have. If it does what you need it to do, leave it alone. Even if a new faster machine were free, it would take time to set it up and get used to whatever new thingies have been added. For most of us, new equipment is not free. The longer you wait to replace what you have now, the better, faster, easier to use, more reliable, and cheaper the replacement will be.
The one exception to that rule is system software. If you are running Windows 95 and your computer was purchased before the Spring of 1997, you should upgrade to Windows 98 as soon as it becomes available. The new version has been improved in very many ways, some of which are quite important. See the Upgrading section for details on what to do to improve your system till then.
Selecting a Computer for Web Work
If you already have a computer and you want to see if you can use it for working on the Web, see the Upgrading section, below.
The gerenal suggestions in the Strategy section, above, would apply to any type of computer. When it comes to making suggestions about buying computers, though, we are going to concentrate on the systems we know best -- machines running Windows 95 -- which are now the most cost effective computers available. If you want another type of machine, one that is not 'IBM PC compatible' -- a Mac or a Unix machine -- or one running Windows NT, you'll find more knowledgable help elsewhere.
There's not much that needs to be said in this section. Consistently excellent machines are made by several companies that also have superb customer service. Among the best right now are Dell, Hewlett Packard, IBM and Quantex (in alphabetical order). Any new machine sold by any of these companies is a fine choice, and easy access to competent support is vital for inexperienced users. (When comparing prices make sure all prices include cost of a monitor.)
If you'd like a suggestion of a very nice machine for a very reasonable price, consider the Quantex M-1 -- with a 166 mHz Intel Pentium Processor with MMX, excellent components including 2 Universal Serial Bus (USB) Ports, 16MB EDO RAM, 2.1GB Hard Drive, 15" Digital Monitor, 56K fax/modem, 24X Max CD-ROM Drive, sound card and speakers, Windows 95 w/ Microsoft Plus!, Multimedia Software Bundle with Corel Office Suite, a 3-year Limited Warranty, and the fastest technical service of any company in the industry -- all for $1349 (plus shipping).
By the way - you do have to be a little careful buying IBM and HP systems. These machines are sold by resellers who keep machines in stock -- so a "new" machine may be one that was manufactured quite a while ago, which just hasn't been sold yet. Quantex and Dell systems are made to order.
The Quantex M1 mentioned above is the least expensive new machine that we can recommend with complete confidence, but any new 'Wintel' machine, including computers with AMD and Cyrix processors, will be more than adequate in processor speed and power, memory size, hard drive size, and so on. You need a Pentium class machine -- there's no sense buying a new 486 for a hundred dollars less than a 100 mHz Pentium, even if you can find one. You need at least 8 megabytes of RAM, but you won't find one with less -- Netscape Communicator requires 16 megabytes, and almost all new machines, even inexpensive ones, have that much or more.
Of course you need a modem -- the device that lets your computer connect via a telephone line to the Internet -- 33.6 kHz is now standard on new machines, but 28.8 is OK.
You don't need a CD-ROM for basic Webwork, because most of your Webworking software (Webware) will be downloaded from the Internet. However, most major programs are now distributed on CD-ROM, and nearly all new computers include one.
In general, within your chosen family of machines, whatever processor was the hottest thing available, about 18 months ago, is now available for a very good price. For example, it is now possible to buy a machine with a 133 mHz Pentium processor and all the basic dodads for $1000.
Many people already have computers. Are they adequate for working with the World Wide Web? That depends on what you mean by "working with the Web." On the Connections page we discuss ways that people with just an e-mail connection can contribute to the Web. Any computer that can support a 14.4 baud modem can be connected to the Internet, although finding an Internet Service Provider that will let you work with a DOS system (without windows) may be quite a chore.
If you want to work with the web directly, though, visiting Web sites and experiencing them the way most other visitors
Netscape recommends at least 8mb of main memory (RAM) for running Navigator Gold and Navigator Version 3, and 16 mb is recommended for Netscape Communicator (Navigator Version 4); and AOLpress recommends at least 8mb.
Logitech ScanMan Color 2000 hand-held scanner, available for as little as $120, will scan text and full-color images. Requires Windows® 95. Comes with software for image editing (Adobe PhotoDeluxe) and for text recognition (Zerox TextBridge). Computer Shopper review.
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