Things > Computers

If you use computers rather often, and you are not within walking distance of the campus, it is a good idea to buy a computer.

Desktop or Laptop?
If you need to carry a computer around, consider buying a laptop. Laptops are significantly more expensive than desktops. The keyboard and the mouse are harder to use. The advantage is that you can carry it with you to wherever you want to go. If you do buy a laptop, make sure it's easy to add an external mouse.

Hardware Configuration
CPU - This is where program commands are executed and data processed. It doesn't have to be a Intel processor. 400Mhz is fast enough, unless you need to simulate the explosion of an atomic bomb (or the like). (CPU=central processing unit. MHz=million cycles per second).

Memory (or RAM) - this is where application and data are stored when they are being used by the CPU. You need at least 64MB. Certain applications (such as graphics tools) may require more. (RAM=random access memory. MB=million bytes).

Hard disk (hard drive) - this is where applications and data are stored when they are not being used by the CPU. Should be at least 5G (i.e. G=giga or billion) bytes.

Monitor - should be 17-inch or larger for desktop (and 14-inch for laptop), and supports at least 1024x768 resolution.

VRAM - this is the memory for storing the graphical information that corresponds to what is currently displayed on the monitor. Need at least 2MB, which can give you about 32,000 colors at 1024x768 resolution. (VRAM=video random access memory)

Modem - this is what you use to dial-up to the Internet. Should be 56Kbps.

CD-ROM drive - this should also be able to play DVD. If you want to make you own CD's, then get a CD drive with that capability.

New PC's usually come with a Windows operating system. It would be nice if you can get Microsoft Office with it, or at least Word and Excel.

If you like to use Unix, or at school you use Unix, then you can partition your hard disk to run both Windows and Linux. You can get Linux for free or almost free. It comes with a lot of free software, including compilers for C/C++ etc. Another nice thing is that if you use X-Window at school, then with Linux on your PC at home, you can run a X-Window application on a machine at school and see and manipulate it on your home PC. This is especially valuable if you have to run something on a machine at school and the application has a graphical user interface.

Of course if you are sharing a phone line with someone else, you have to understand that you cannot dial-up to the Internet 24 hours a day, even though your school may provide such service to students for free.

Where to Buy?
If you want to buy it the traditional way, CompUSA usually has the largest selection. Or you can buy it online, which will give you a much larger selection, an easy way to get the best prices. It's tax free to shop online (in most cases). You may need to pay for shipping, but the computer will be delivered to your home (this is especially nice if you are buying a desktop with a large monitor). The drawback about buying online is that if a problem arises, you may have to ship the computer back to have it services. You better check out who will pay the shipping is that case.

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