Shopping for a Personal Computer

How to go shopping for a personal computer at the right price for your home, including shopping for a personal computer, where to buy, memory, software and computer brands.


| November/December 1985



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Since its introduction some ten years ago, the small (or micro, as it's known in the industry) computer has grown in popularity to the point where 25% of all households in the U.S. now own or have access to one.


ILLUSTRATION: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

Now that the computer revolution has settled down to capable equipment at attractive prices, maybe it's time for you to start thinking about shopping for a personal computer. 

This is the time of year when most of us are planning our holiday shopping lists. And we'd naturally like to select presents that are as practical as they are attractive. One item that has both appeal and purpose is a home computer. Since its introduction some ten years ago, the small (or micro, as it's known in the industry) computer has grown in popularity to the point where 25% of all households in the U.S. now own or have access to one. What's more, it's estimated that over 40% of all homes will have a personal computer by 1990.

What is a Computer?

Contrary to popular lore, the computer isn't the number-crunching monster so many of us have come to envision. Rather, it's a tool that can be used to lighten our daily burden. Like the plow or tractor, a computer can relieve us of chores and allow us to use our time more productively. The variety of tasks a computer can take on increases daily. To many people, a computer is merely an expensive video game . . . but to an increasing number, it serves such roles as teacher, tax consultant, or even—as the sidebar on software shows—garden planner.

In each case, the computer offers a service. The extent of that service is a topic MOTHER will take up in future issues as we discuss some of the specific tasks a home computer can perform. For now, though, let's concern ourselves with the task of selecting a suitable machine by sorting through the many options available.

Choosing a Personal Computer

There are literally hundreds of computers to choose from today, ranging in price from a few hundred to many thousands of dollars. Home computers, the ones we'll be talking about here, generally fall into the $200 to $1,200 price range. And within this range, package prices will vary depending on the particular components needed. Some tasks, for instance, require a mechanical printer, while other applications need a device to hook the computer to a telephone line. The more complex you make your system, the more it will cost.

Basically, computer systems can be broken down into two types of components. First there's the hardware, central to which is the computer itself—the seemingly magical "black box" that makes everything happen. A video monitor connected to the computer tells you what the machine is thinking, and a keyboard lets you tell the computer what you're thinking. Keyboards come as a part of the computer package and may actually be integral. Monitors, however, are usually purchased separately—largely because there are a number of choices (see the sidebar "Video Monitors"), not because they're dispensable.





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