Micwil Computer Consulting Presents the Canadian Computer Buying Guide

Canadian Computer Buying Guide - Information on Computer Systems

So you have decided it is time to buy a whole new computer system. Well, before you shell out thousands of dollars for a complete system, are you sure you need a new computer? It is often the case that an older computer system, or small upgrade in your existing system will be sufficient for your needs. Graphic of person thinking

Once you have found the computer that will meet your current needs, the next consideration is what you might want your computer to be capable of doing in the future. If you are buying a computer to simply be able to send and receive email and type out letters then you need not be concerned with potential future computer upgrades. However, if you are wanting a system which will always run the latest in multimedia applications, this must affect your purchasing decisions. You may want to purchase a more powerful CPU and upgradeable motherboard and a video card with a superior chipset that has a special feature connector, or purchase larger sized modules of RAM to conserve space for future RAM modules.

Lists of optionsWhen deciding upon a major computer purchase, the best approach is to create three lists (Micwil's Three List Strategy©). The first list is of tasks you need your computer to be able to accomplish immediately, or a 'Needs list'. The second list is of things you would like your computer to be able to do at some point, but are not necessary right away, or a 'Wish list'. The last list is of things you don't think you will ever need to be able to do, or a 'Never Need list'. These lists allow you to make an intelligent choice as to what level of system you should initially purchase, and which components should be easily upgradeable to take into account your future needs.

Micwil's Rule Only buy the hardware required by your 'Needs list', allowing for upgrading in the future according to your 'Wish list', taking into account your 'Never Need list'.

Another consideration is the potential resale value of your computer. The cost of computer parts will almost always be less in the future. And it is usually more economical to upgrade the components of a system than to replace it completely. For example, you could begin with a non-multimedia system, and then add the CD-ROM drive, sound card and speakers, and then possibly upgrade the CPU and video card as required. In some cases, the only thing you will be able to keep will be your monitor, but you should explore all options before discarding old components.

However, if you intend at some future point to replace your system completely, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Systems which are in any way proprietary, such as Compaq, IBM, HP, Dell, etc. have a lower future resale value because replacement parts are usually far more expensive than standard custom systems. This also typically applies to 'package', 'pre-assembled' or 'name-brand' systems.

  • The value of your computer system will drop by around 33% in each of the first three years and 15% each year thereafter. Therefore, it makes sense to try to keep using your system until it is absolutely necessary to upgrade or replace it. This way you can maximize the length of time you are using the computer when it is losing value at the slowest rate.

  • The cost of parts will always be less in the future, so you can realize significant savings by delaying the purchase of a new system or upgrading your existing system.

  • Technology advances in the computer industry are rapid and unpredictable, and as such it is difficult to know with any certainty which components will be obselete within a year and which will be more than adequate for many years. Therefore buying the 'latest technology' will likely not insure your system's compatibility for more than 6-8 months, and it makes sense to wait until new advances have become established and are thoroughly consumer tested. For example when the PC-133 RAM first began being used in motherboards, it was clearly flawed and it took nearly a year for the RAM manufacturer's to produce reliable RAM running at 133 MHz.

  • Software programmers design programs which will work with the computer systems the majority of consumers currently own, not with the latest technology on the market. As such, even if your system is 'obselete' by showroom standards, it will run 99% of the software available in the marketplace.
When you take all the above into account, it is very unlikely that the most powerful system available on the market today is the ideal choice for the majority of consumers or businesses. Used systems, or systems which are not 'cutting edge' often provide a superior solution for most people's needs.

Examine your priorities and make an informed decision.

Needs Guide --- What do you NEED your Computer to do?

The next few pages contain a list of possible things you could do with your computer. Following each item are the minimum hardware requirements of a computer system which can achieve the specified task. For advice on what you should be looking for in each of the various components in your computer, click on any of the links along the left side of the web site. Once you have decided what you want your computer to be able to do, simply scroll down through the list below and find the items you are interested in. Whichever item is farthest down upon the list determines the minimum computer system you will need. Items listed in italics and parentheses are recommended but not required. If your needs search results in a potential used system, then check out Micwil's Used Items Link at the top of the page. If you will need a current system, take a look at Micwil's Specials this month (again, link is at top of the page).

The one exception to this is ergonomics. Regardless of what system you have or your needs, you should always consider ensuring your computer environment is ergonomically friendly. Click on the Ergonomics link for more information on this area - if your environment is not optimal, you can experience discomfort, decreased productivity and even injury over an extended period of time so it is not a matter to be taken lightly.

If you want to do ...

...Basic Word-Processing, Spreadsheet/Accounting Packages
XT system, mono CGA monitor, floppy drive (hard drive), basic printer (9-pin dot matrix or daisy wheel).

...Word-Processing, Database Applications, Textual Internet/BBS Access
286-8 system, Hercules monitor, 20 MB Hard Drive, floppy drive, 2400 Baud modem, basic printer.

...Basic VGA Games, Basic WYSIWYG Word-Processing (What You See Is What You Get), Fax, Basic Multimedia, Windows 3.1
386 SX-16 system (486 DX-33), VGA 14" Color Monitor (SVGA), 100 MB hard drive (400 MB hard drive), 4 MB RAM, 512K SVGA ISA Video Card (1 MB), good printer (24 pin dot matrix or bubble/ink jet), 2x CD-ROM drive, 8 bit sound card, mouse.

...Action VGA Games, Multimedia, Techno/Computer Generated Music, Basic Desktop Publishing (clipart libraries), Graphical Design
386 DX-40 system (486 DX2-66 or faster), 8 MB RAM, SVGA 14" Color Monitor, 400 MB Hard Drive (850 MB Hard Drive), 8 MB RAM (16 MB RAM), 1 MB ISA SVGA Video Card (VESA or PCI), Bubble/Ink Jet or Laser Printer, 6x CD-ROM drive, 16 bit sound card, mouse.

Here is approximately the point where systems start to be somewhat useful at present.

...Basic SVGA Games, Sluggish Graphical Web Browsing, Better Multimedia
486 DX-4-100 system (Pentium 90 or faster), 16 MB RAM, SVGA 14" Color Monitor, 850 MB Hard Drive, 8 MB RAM (16 MB RAM), 2 MB ISA SVGA Video Card (Vesa or PCI), Bubble/Ink Jet or Laser Printer, 6x (8x or 10x) CD-ROM drive, SB-16 sound card, mouse.

...Basic Action SVGA Games, Strategy Games, Smooth Graphical Basic Web Browsing, Standard Functionality of programs like MS Office
Pentium 133 CPU (Pentium 200 MMX CPU), 32 MB RAM, SVGA 14" Color Monitor (15"), 1.6 GB EIDE Hard Drive, 16 MB EDO RAM (32 MB EDO RAM or preferably DIMM RAM), 2 MB PCI SVGA Video Card (4 MB PCI or AGP SVGA Video Card), Bubble/Ink Jet or Laser Printer, 16x (24x) CD-ROM drive, SB16 sound card (SB32 sound card, mouse.

Here is approximately the point where used systems become hard to find and you will likely be forced to buy a new system.

...Current Hi-Res Action Games, Cutting Edge Strategy Games, Run-Time Multimedia Movies, Adequate Multitasking, High-End Desktop Publishing (Photos), Scanning, CAD Design Programs, Smooth High-Speed Internet Access
Pentium II-350 CPU (Celeron 466/Pentium III 600), 64 MB SDRAM (DIMM) (128 MB 133 Hz SDRAM (DIMM)), SVGA 15" Color Monitor (17"), 4.0 GB UDMA Hard Drive, 16 MB SGRAM 3D PCI/AGP Video Card (32 MB SGRAM AGP 3D Card with extra features), 1200 DPI Laser Printer, 24x CD-ROM drive, AWE-64 sound card (AWE 128 sound card), mouse.

...Cutting Edge Hi-Res Action Games, Internet Streaming Run-Time Multimedia Movies, True Multitasking, Internet TCP-IP Hosting (for Gaming)
Celeron 566 / Pentium III 600 CPU (Pentium III 800), 128 MB 133 Hz SDRAM (DIMM) (256 MB 133 Hz SDRAM), SVGA 17" Color Monitor (19"), 8.4 GB UDMA Hard Drive, 32 MB AGP SGRAM 3D Video Card (64 MB AGP SGRAM 3D Card with latest 3D chipset like the Radeon), True 1200 DPI Laser Printer, 36x CD-ROM drive, AWE 128 sound card (SB XGamer sound card), mouse.

...Future Windows applications, Full Screen Video and Animation Rendering and Editing, 3-D Graphical Rendering, Next Generation Games
Pentium III 866 MMX CPU (Pentium III 1000 MMX CPU or 2 P-IIIs on a Dual Processor Motherboard), 512 MB 133 Hz SDRAM (DIMM), SVGA 17" Color Monitor (19", 20" or 24"), 20.0 GB UDMA ATA 100 Hard Drive (40 GB SCSI-3), 64 MB AGP 3D Video Card (Video Capture Card, 3D Graphics Accelerator Cards), 40x CD-ROM drive, SB Platinum Sound Card, mouse (Pen Input Device).

Now that you have an idea of approximately what type of system your needs indicate you should buy, you should follow each successive link on the left to help educate yourself about what each component in the computer is and what considerations are involved in choosing the level of performance and quality of each component you need in your own customized computer system.

Don't forget that no matter what level of system you are purchasing, you should consider creating an ergonomic environment for you to use your computer in.

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Micwil Computer Consulting
340 Ave. Q South S7M 2Y3
Saskatoon, SK, Canada
Phone: (306) 222-3203 Fax: (306) 382-4995

Feedback/Info Email: info@micwil.com
Sales Email: sales@micwil.com
Technical Support Email: tech@micwil.com
Web: http://www.micwil.com

Ergonomics Portal: http://www.ergocanada.com

Web Hosting Portal: http://www.ecanadaweb.com

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This page last updated April 4, 2001.

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