14 November 1997

What to buy for your needs

So, youve decided to buy

a computer. What now?

Farmer and IT adviser

Charles Collinson gives a

few pointers as regards the

hardware issues. A crash

course, if youll excuse

the expression

Type of Computer

You first need to decide whether it will be a business-only machine or something for the whole family. This can have a big impact on the cost.

Consider, also, whether to get a processor faster than you initially require. "Future proofing", as its known. This is, however, something of a moot subject today, as computer evolution is more dynamic than farming profits.

You need to have an idea of the price you are willing to pay. Looking at just the computer (ie excluding the support and back-up, software, printers etc) expect to pay about £450 to £550 for a business-only machine and £850 to £950 for a family one.

Now, you are in position to consider what makes up the computer – and what you should be looking for:

The processor

Your best bet here is to get the fastest you are prepared to pay for. An entry level system is the Pentium 200Mhz (or similar) and this is a minimum for a good all-round family machine. For business you can work with a 166Mhz or 133Mhz.

Memory (RAM)

Memory is expandable later if required. However, prices are sufficiently low to recommend a minimum of 32Mb (megabytes) RAM. The absolute minimum for small business use is 16Mb. Usually standard now, a 512Kb Cache memory module is also to be recommended.

The amount of memory affects the ability to run several applications at the same time and, after the processor, has the greatest effect on performance.

Storage

The hard disk (HD) will never be enough as you add more and more applications. Prices have dropped sufficiently to be able to recommend a minimum of 2Gb to 3Gb (Gigabytes). RAM and storage are not areas in which to skimp in an attempt to reduce costs.

Screen (Monitor)

These range from 14in to 17in. The biggest are better to read – but cost is a limiting factor and the 14in and 15in monitors are ideal for business and family use. Remember, however, this is an area where later upgrading can be expensive.

Video Card (Graphics Card)

This affects the speed of general display. The business machine is not as prone to the card as a family machine that has games and multi-media (video and sound) to contend with.

Cheap £40 graphics cards are fine for the business machine, but the family machine would be as well with a modern 3-D effects card at around £100 to £150.

CD-ROM

This is a must for the family machine, but not so much for the business user. Most software (although not agricultural) comes on CD-ROM. They have various speeds, but 16 speed or above is fine.

Sound

This is a cheap addition but is seldom required for business applications.

Further costs

Additional costs to the basic outline can include back-up and support, training and software. Putting aside at least £100 for basic training is to be recommended.

Many computers come with a host of included software. As most problems are software-based, support with the hardware can be of limited value and sellers support their machines for 12 months anyway.

[What about printers? – subs]

Guide to what you might

need – family


Minimum spec for family use:

ProcessorP200 – P233

Memory32 – 64Mb

Hard driveOver 3Gb

Monitor15in

CD ROM24-speed

Graphics card4Mb 3D

Enhanced PCI card

Price £850 -950

Guide to what you might

need – business


Minimum spec for business use:

ProcessorP133-P166

Memory16-32Mb

Hard drive2Gb

Monitor14in

CD ROM16-speed

Graphics card2Mb 64Bit

SVGA PCI

Price £450-550