Buying a Computer in the 1990s

Advice on choosing and using a computer for home-business owners in the 1990s.

| August/September 1995

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    Buying the right computer for your homebased business makes the workday much easier.

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Be honest with yourself now: Does your home business really need a full fledged computer-able to run a full range of application programs? True, computers can manipulate information of all kinds: words, images, figures, and sound. They can send and receive data over phone lines or cellular wireless, control and safeguard your home, start your car, keep your bankbook, surf the Internet, play games and interactive CD-ROMs, and, along with a scanner and laser printer, print with such clarity that they're being used to counterfeit money. But despite mind-boggling amounts of acceptance and acclaim, they can't do it all for your home business, and that's critical to understand from the start.

However, if all you need is to type and file correspondence, a customer list, a small inventory of goods for sale, or perhaps a few filing and accounting figures, you may be better served by a dedicated word processor (WP) costing just a few hundred dollars. The simplest models combine a small computer with a floppy disc drive, a letter-quality printer, a keyboard, and a video monitor into a single desktop unit.

For example: The Brother two-piece WP combines a stand-alone video monitor with a console holding keyboard, disc drive, and a letter-quality printer. Preloaded with word processing software, it sells new for about $250 at Wal-Mart, and for half that used. You can't get a decent computer printer for that price. I'd suggest that few home businesses really need more computing power than a WP offers for the first few years at least.

But, if you have complex accounting ledgers or other forms to create, long reports to write, graphs or charts or pictures to generate, extensive mailing lists to manipulate, or more than a few numbers to crunch; if you are attracted by the ads for "multimedia" computers that incorporate interactive CD-ROM, audio, and TV hookups that offer home/family as well as business applications-or if you just want to play U-Boat or go on-line and navigate World Wide Web-you need a real computer.

A basic but competent computer/printer/software combination will cost around $1,000 used and something over $2,000 new, while a new top-of-the-line business-use outfit goes for $4,500, or about $100 per month if you decide to lease. These prices aren't peanuts for most country business startups, but they're cheap by business investment standards. However, when you add specialized software and accessories, and find that you need ever more electronic data storage, the price begins to rise. And be prepared: No matter how state-of-the-art your new machine is, it will be surpassed in operating speed within months. That's right.

For the record, the current speed-record-holder is probably Apple's Power Macintosh 8100/110 with a 110 MHz Power PC chip, but any number of IBM-standard PC brands are appearing with 120 MHz Pentium chips, 16 megabytes of RAM and onboard CD drives. They are said to be bargains at between $4,000 and $5000 with monitors included. Maybe they are for those with that kind of scratch, but let's scale down quite a ways and start at the bottom.

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