keeping up
without losing out

so much marketing hype,
so little real information


just get a CD

People who bought CD-ROM drives early on were often not told that you needed a minimum 5Mb (they meant 8Mb) of RAM, which meant that everybody had to upgrade.

Another catch is that programmers and publishers have taken advantage of CD-ROMs to write more and more complicated programs.

Result? You now need faster and faster CD-ROM drives (you'll pay about the same for an 8-speed one as for a 24-speed one nowadays) to run these newer CDs, or they c-r-a-w-l.

And of course then you need more RAM and even a faster processor inside your computer to handle all the information coming in from the drive!

So if you want to use complex CD-ROMs, you need a reasonably fast CPU (Central Processing Unit) in your computer, as well.


computer brains

CPUs have also developed a lot. They are marketed in MHz (megahertz, the speed of transmission inside the processor) but their real speed also depends on what kind of processor you have.

Many processors have known problems.

Newer models have caches, where they keep the information they need, and that speeds the process up.

Different processors work differently, so you won't get the same actual performance from two different processors running at the same clock speed (MHz).

Processors, like car engines, have their own reputation and efficiency, and it's important to keep asking questions until you know more about it, because the the processor is the real guts of your computer system.

Of course, the more you ask your computer to do, the more RAM it needs to do it.

Rather like the more things you do, or the more difficult things you try to do at once, the harder you have to concentrate.


'enough' RAM

You have to work out how much RAM you need, and how much it will cost you to get more.

In many cases your RAM slot(s) inside the computer will be full of smaller RAM chips, and you will have to throw/give them away to fit in more <sigh>.

Starting with what you estimate you need, plus 50% more for luck, might be a good idea.

The programs you want to run will have information on the box, or in 'info files' which you read on the computer, about how much RAM they require.

Because the biggest RAM-slurpers are these bloated programs (unnecessarily large software) which keep coming out.

'More and better', the marketing says, but in my experience very few people need or ever use all the features packed into these programs.

And of course, the more complicated the progams are, the harder they are to learn to use, and the more likely they are to tie knots in themselves, cause problems.


SOS - Sprawling Operating Systems

In order to run all these massive programs, the computers now need more and more complicated operating systems (OS).

The operating system shows you what is happening on your computer, and gives you menus with commands that help you organize the information on your computer (e.g. open, close, copy, move, delete files).

The 'latest and greatest' in OS are so complicated that they can have system conflicts (freeze, refuse to work, shut down) without even running another program!

I've never been quite sure that this is progress.

However, before I get into real trouble here...

and of course they need lots more RAM.

So if you want to run the latest OS for your Windows (OS '95 or '98) or Macintosh (OS 8.1) machine

[not that you have to: many people still run CDs and get on the 'Net using earlier, leaner operating systems such as Windows 3.1.1 and Mac 7.1]
and you want to run the latest programs
[again, many people make very effective use of earlier programs]
and those great CDs, you need as much RAM as possible, because if you want all that...


what about the 'Net?

you probably want to get on the Internet.

Now the Internet itself is a wonderful and economical structure, provided you just want text (writing).

You can send email (electronic mail), use a browser (to go to webpages with info about just about anything), write your own webpages, download files, as long as you're happy with text.

Text takes up very little room and gets squirted down the phone lines in 'packets' of information very readily.

[see the FAQ for more information on modem transfer]
You guessed it, those pictures again.

Your operating system should run the bits and pieces of programming that connect you to the 'Net, without working up a sweat.

However, a lot of the 'Internet programs' are bloated software, full of icons (pictures that are supposed to look cute and mean something) and very complicated.

Anybody can write a webpage, and some of the ones belonging to the larger corporations show that anybody has, because the pages are not only badly organized, but full of photos, pictures, icons, clip art, video, animation...


I'm waiting...

and you need a lot of RAM to run any program which is supposed to spit all this out on the screen in front of you.

Pictures, as we know, take up a lot of space, so they come very slowly down the phone lines, too.

How do you speed up a phone line?

Well, your computer is using a modem as its telephone.

Modems, to try and deal with the flood of pictures clogging up the 'Net, have also become faster and faster.

The latest modems advertise speeds of 56k bps (thousand bits per second), but speed on the Net is limited by the complicated path your data (info or picture) has to take in order to get back to you, for example from another computer in the USA.

Your local server at your ISP will be fast, and sites on major 'arteries' (not at the end of tiny little narrow veins) in Australia faster than those at overseas sites.

The less hops in the journey, the less networks your data has to wriggle its way through, the less chance of delay or problems.



A faster modem will bring you the information more quickly.

Other speed tips are to get on the 'Net when it is less busy, to avoid busy sites, and best of all to uncheck the option in your browser that says "autoload images".

This will give you the page text-only.

You can then load any image (picture) you want, by clicking on its name.

The pages aren't half as pretty, but they load fast!


before you buy

Just as you would ask an experienced and qualified mechanic, such as someone from the RAA, to look over a second-hand car you were interested in buying, you can get someone to check out a second-hand computer for you.

Major manufacturers such as IBM and Apple have standards to qualify technicians who work on their products, so you can ask for a certified technician to check a machine.

You will pay for it, but it will save you a lot.

The well-established and reputable shops which sell new machines also have qualified people to evaluate and fix older machines.

You can shop around, but please note that buying a computer privately gives you no warranty protection.

Responsible computer businesses do issue warranties on their second-hand computers, and they also support and maintain the machines they sell.

(This does not help you if your 'great deal' was put through a long way from home!)

While you're deciding, Choice magazine and the Australian Consumer Association

ACA - Choice index
have information comparing computers and giving advice on the best deal.


why am I doing this?

Remember, you're buying a computer to do what you want it to do.

It's a tool.
There's no reason to buy a truck when you need a car.

Just like driving a car, you'll need to learn and practise, get comfortable together and go places you want to go.

But that's another story.


next article: It started with email...

back to 'Look Here First'

made with a Macintosh