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NAVIGATING IN SECOND HAND PC WATERS

Technology Watch

"Used", "Second Hand", or "Pre-owned", call them what you will, but the truth remains - not all computers on the market are new. While new computer sales have been booming, the market for used computers is as active as ever.
There is some truth to the common belief that one needs the latest and greatest hardware to be able to run all of the hot software available. But most office and home applications for PC are able to run on a simple 486 processor, some even on an ancient 386. Windows 95 will run on a low-end 486, while newer versions, Windows 98 or 99, will probably require a Pentium processor.

"Used", "Second Hand", or "Pre-owned", call them what you will, but the truth remains - not all computers on the market are new. While new computer sales have been booming, the market for used computers is as active as ever.

There is some truth to the common belief that one needs the latest and greatest hardware to be able to run all of the hot software available. But most office and home applications for PC are able to run on a simple 486 processor, some even on an ancient 386. Windows 95 will run on a low-end 486, while newer versions, Windows 98 or 99, will probably require a Pentium processor.

There are basically five types of systems on the second-hand market today. The least expensive is the DOS system. Usually an XT, AT, or 286, the DOS system will not run any of the latest versions of Microsoft Windows adequately, and is best suited for use as a cash register, a simple word processor, or anything not requiring a wide use of graphics. Expect to pay up to 5,000 Sk for this system, including a black and white monitor.

The second type is the Windows 3.x machine. Any 386 processor with at least 4 MBs of RAM will run Windows 3.0, 3.1, or 3.11 without problems. Owners should have a book handy, however, as these systems are not known for their blazing speed. Look for a hard drive that is at least 80 MBs in size, because Windows 3.x will occupy up to 20 MBs. Complete systems with a color VGA monitor sell for around 5,000 to 8,000 Sk. With a faster modem installed, this system will even enable you to connect to the Internet.

486's

The 486 system can be broken down into two categories: "low" and "high end". The "low end" includes all 486 SXs and SLCs. This system will run Windows 95, but not flawlessly. RAM is important, since this system is happiest with at least 8 MB (16 MB is recommended) at its disposal. Since it can eat up as much as 80 MB of hard drive space, a hard drive of at least 200 MB is a must. With a color VGA monitor, these systems are available for 8,000 to 10,000 Sk.

The "high end" 486 category includes all DXs, DX-2s, and DX-4s. Windows 95 is quite content with this system, especially with RAM of 16 MB or more and ample hard drive space. Most software applications, including many of the newest games, are compatible. This type of used computer is the best value around, considering the compatibility of software, speed, and price. Only those familiar with Pentiums at their workplace will consider the "high end" 486 as "slow". The complete system, with color monitor, starts at around 10,000 Sk.

Pentiums

The fifth and final category contains all Pentiums and Pentium IIs. Prices are largely inflated as most sellers expect to recoup a large proportion of their initial investment. Some are even sold "unopened and in the box" which makes one wonder about their origin. If you are considering a used Pentium system, ask about an existing warranty. Most new systems are covered for 2 to 5 years by the manufacturer.

Many used systems are available through second hand computer stores, which provide a 3 to 6 month warranty and even support - sometimes. As for support, many stores will give up on their customers once the item is paid for. Remember that prices are higher as a result of the warranty.

Classifieds

The classified ad newspaper "Avízo" is the best bet for your pre-owned computer purchase. But before buying anything, take a computer "expert" along to inspect the system. Things to look for include hard drives with "bad sectors" (to test this, run SCANDISK from the C prompt), less memory than stated (type MEM at the C prompt), floppy drives and CD-ROMs which are in need of replacing, and monitors about to go "on the fritz" (look for strange colors, lines or fuzziness).

Most computer components will last a while. Hard drives have an expected life of 5 to 10 years, and monitors of around 5 years. Beware of notebook computers, because one never knows how many times they bounced off the floor. Most used computers will come loaded with software, be it registered or not. Always ask for the registration certificate and manuals. But most important of all, do not forget to take all the cables, cords and adapters.


Peter Floyd has over ten years of experience in the field of computer sales, service, and support.
He can be contacted by email at peterfloyd@yahoo.com


Glossary of computer terms

Processor- The microprocessor, CPU, or "chip" is the brains of the computer.
XT/AT/286/386/486/Pentium- The generations of the Intel CPU.
DOS- Disk Operating System, which has been replaced by Microsoft Windows.
Hard Drive (HD)- "Permanent" memory that remains stored when the computer is turned off.
RAM - Random Access Memory, or the "temporary" memory that disappears with shutdown.
MB- MegaByte is a unit measure of storage capacity used to indicate size of RAM and HD.
C Prompt- The place where the command is entered when in DOS or non-Windows mode.

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