Coly Computer Help


Computers are not expensive to buy or run compared with most hobbies (e.g. fishing, golf, sailing). However, the less you know about computers the more you can be bamboozled by poorly trained, commission hungry boys at a computer shop. A new computer complete with thin flat screen should not cost more than £400 or £450 if you to know what to look for.

Some magazines and glossy brochures quote amazingly low prices, but if you read the small print these machines often do not include the monitor (screen), nor the CD for the Windows operating system, nor do they include basic tools such as word processor and anti-virus program. When you add all these together, then add the delivery charge and VAT, it usually comes to around £700. Some firms then charge £90 to £150 to set up your computer. Not bad for plugging in a few simple connectors which can only be inserted one way.

The vast majority of users (and certainly beginners) do not need the latest the fastest and the biggest. Opt for the lowest specification available today, this will be more than adequate and this year's computer make last year's machine look slow and primitive. You can always upgrade later if you need to. For a desktop computer with Windows XP, go for a 3Ghz CPU (single core) or 1.6Ghz (dual core), 512MB of RAM, and an 80 Gbyte hard drive. For a Vista computer you will need at least 1Gbyte of RAM (much better with 2GB).

Don't be persuaded by useless extras such as a digital camera or a big bundle of software, they will be no more than toys. Do not take out an extended warranty, these are a rip off.

Some suppliers load 60 or 90 day trial software. these are costly to convert to permanent software. They also have the disadvantage that you do not possess the CD for this software; what do you do if your computer crashes? Trial programs are a thorough nuisance as reminders keep popping up asking you to register and pay a licence fee. Ask your supplier not to load trial programs. Dell have responded to complaints about this and have reduced the number of trial programs installed on a new computer.

Professional versions: Make sure you read up on 'professional' versions of software. In most cases it is never worth paying the extra. Windows XP professional contains a few items for businesses which won't be any use to  home users, for instance, it can connect to a specialised Windows server Domain. Otherwise it looks and works the same as the Home addition.

Choosing an ISP (Internet Service Provider). Whether you want dial-up or broadband the choice is bewildering and you should check the cost and the small print carefully.
For some broadband prices. Click here
As broadband offers change almost weekly
you should check the latest costs on the internet. Dozens of sites will give comparisons, but always check more than one site as some are better at keeping up to date. I recommend that you click as it updates daily and has the most helpful format. It is also firmly on the side of the consumer and pulls no punches.
Also try or
When you have decided on the most suitable ISP for your needs, always check that ISP's websites to make sure the prices listed are in fact the latest offer.

Demand that your computer comes loaded with Windows and, most importantly, with an XP or Vista CD, or an XP or Vista  rescue CD. Ensure it has a word processor and spreadsheet, at least MS Works Suite and ensure that the Office CD or Works CD is provided in the package. If you already have an Office CD you can load that into your new computer.
Wait for an advert in the papers (or computer magazines) placed by large firms such as PC World or Dell, you should get all the above for £400 and they might even throw in a printer.
I prefer local suppliers who can now match these costs. When anything goes wrong you can take it back to the local supplier rather than re-pack it and post it.

Don't rush out and buy the latest thing.
I never buy the 'latest thing'. I try to buy the 'end of a line' because the product will then have been thoroughly debugged.

Anti-virus programs: The free virus program called AVG  8 free is excellent value as it costs nothing and has no annual subscription. It can be down loaded from the internet. Your local computer technician may also have a copy of AVG to load onto your machine. Click Here for more information about acquiring and installing AVG free.

 Windows Vista. I found Vista more difficult to use, vital tools are missing or have moved, and it is packed with useless new toys (you may like that sort of thing). The worst feature is that it demands a huge amount of RAM memory, 2Gb will make it work nearly as fast as XP. Click here for information about Vista

Vista certificationBuying things for a Vista computer or for Windows 7: Make sure that the box for the item you are buying is marked with this logo or something that indicates that it is suitable for Vista and Windows 7.

Plummeting costsPlummeting costs. I was shown an invoice dated November 1995. A computer with 8MB RAM and 0.875GB hard drive, a basic CD drive and a 14" monitor cost £1,200. A 'black ink only' printer cost £270.
Today, 11 years later, a computer 18 time faster with 512MB RAM, 80GB hard drive, a DVD/CD player/writer, and a 17" thin flat screen costs about £400.
A multifunction printer/scanner/photocopier with excellent colour is now about £60.

The first digital cameras cost about £750, they had no zoom lens and boasted 1.2 mega pixels. Today's zoom lens cameras with over 6 mega pixels can be bought for around £150.

The reverse has occurred with printer cartridges which can cost up to £28 today, early printers used ribbons, these cost less than £7.

Buying a website: Beware of cowboys. Web designers vary from expensive amateurs to reasonably priced experts. The good news is that the layman can judge a website designer using a few basic rules.
To see these rules click here. A reasonable rate for a new website would be between £50 and £150 per page.

Dial-Up Modems are no longer fitted as standard to new computers. They are an optional extra. If you want dial-up internet then make sure you order an internal dial-up modem with the computer. If a modem is not installed, don't try putting the phone line into the network socket, it will not work.

Floppy disk drives are obsolete and no longer fitted as standard as they have been superseded by CD writers and USB pen drives (flash drives). If you have data on floppy disks which you wish to transfer to a new computer, make sure you order an internal floppy drive for your new machine.

Monitors (screens): When ordering a computer, be sure you understand about monitors. A thin flat screen is a TFT monitor (TFT is Thin Film Technology). A flat screen CRT monitor is a traditional bulky monitor (CRT means Cathode Ray Tube, i.e., like a television set) but the word flat in this case means the glass front has minimal curvature.

When buying a printer remember that Dell printers are re-badged Lexmarks. They are good printers but Dell or Lexmark replacement cartridges are very expensive. For example the cheapest Dell or Lexmark printer costs about £42, a set of replacement cartridges can cost £39. However, reasonably priced compatible cartridges are now available for Dell and Lexmark.

Cartridges costs: As a general rule, the cheaper the printer, the more expensive the cartridges. Having separate cartridges for each colour saves money in the long run. The Government, suspecting a cartel,  has set up an enquiry into the extortionate price of inkjet cartridges. These cost as little as 8p to manufacture, but we have to pay from £14 to £35 each. Manufacturers sell printers for almost no profit, but they make up for this by charging the earth for cartridges. You can buy compatible cartridges from £2.50 to £13, these are suitable for most print jobs. But for printing the highest quality, long lasting photographs, original cartridges are best.
Quality compatible cartridges can be bought from local computer shops. When you put a compatible cartridge into your printer, a dire warning may appear, you can safely ignore this.

Internet and email costs can be kept low if you avoid monthly payments. Instead, use a Pay-as-you-go service. With Pay-as-you-go, try to avoid surfing between 8am and 6pm on weekdays. If you are with BT, add your ISP's dial-up telephone number as your Best Friend  and save 20% on internet/email costs.

Apple Macs: Sometimes people ask my opinion about Apple Mac computers. I certainly would not even consider one because I don't relish having to learn another Operating System nor does my family. I could not afford the considerable extra cost. I would always prefer a Windows computer because of the wide range of suppliers, software and gadgets available for Windows computers. Because Apple Macs are a tiny percentage of the market, the number of dealers able to repair them is also tiny. They are highly specialised and therefore costly. No place of work will be using Apple Macs (unless its a publisher or printer). I would not be happy about using one operating system at home and a different one at work. Remember this is just my opinion.

Low cost software: A program called Select Word Processing at about £10 looks almost identical to MS Word and is fully compatible with Word 2000. It has everything except Autocorrect and a grammar checker Phone 01889 570156. If you have fast broadband, download it from the website

Open Office is free and is almost identical to the very expensive MS Word and Excel. It can read and save files in the MS Word file format.

No anti-virus program installed? If your new computer arrives with no anti-virus program installed, do not go on line or set up your internet or email connection until this is rectified. The free virus program called AVG  8 free is excellent value, this can be down loaded from the internet. Your local computer technician will also have a copy of AVG to load onto your machine. Click Here for more information about acquiring and installing AVG free. If your new computer comes loaded with a 60 or  90 day trial anti-virus program, it will probably be safe to set up the internet email. Then download AVG free into a 'Downloads' folder on your hard disk. Then Un-install the 60 or 90 day trial anti-virus. Then install the free anti-virus by double clicking the AVG file that you downloaded. Never run two anti-virus programs on your computer, they will fight and cause mayhem.

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