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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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
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
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.
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.