PURCHASING A LAPTOP COMPUTER
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---------------------------------------------------------------- PURCHASING A LAPTOP COMPUTER ---------------------------------------------------------------- There is an allure to purchasing a laptop computer. They are small, sleek and highly productive. What features should you consider when purchasing a laptop? For those who need quick highlights first we'll present a brief overview for the cautious laptop buyer. Later in this tutorial we'll shift gears for a broader "beginners" overview. Before jumping into our tutorial, a reading recommendation. Visit your local library and locate a back issue of the August 1992 edition of PC Magazine. That issue covered a variety of reviews concerning specific laptop machines and also contained some surprising suggestions for productive laptop use. While on the topic of pertinent reading, check for other useful titles in the reading list section elsewhere within this tutorial. Next, general suggestions for laptop buyers... 1) The keyboard is the most important interactive part of any laptop. Is it awkward? Could you use it for longer than 15 minutes? An hour? A complete morning at work? Note the location of frequently used keys like the backslash \, the F1 function help key, the cursor control keys. Some oddball laptops require you to use a shift-funtion key combination for cursor keys. Not terribly comfortable. Othertimes the cursor position keys are oddly laid out in a non standard pattern which is difficult to use and memorize. One of the classic keyboard layouts is the Toshiba 286 T1200XE. Glance at the layout on this machine and compare it to your target laptop. 2) The screen. Next to the keyboard this is the greatest delight - or pain - when it comes to using a laptop computer. Can you use it for longer than an hour? Screens can be either backlit or edgelit. Each has advantages. Try both and see which you like. A few clever laptops have screen reversing software built in which can change the screen from black lettering on a light field to light lettering on a dark field. Helpful for some folks. Ask if your target machine has it. Find out if you like it. Is the output VGA (display and run most software) or lowly CGA (run and display fewer packages?) Is there a port on the back so you can plug in your big monitor to the back of the laptop when you are home or at the office? Do you need to buy an adapter for this? On an airplane tray can the screen be tilted so that the seat in front does not bump into the screen edge? 3) Weight. Fully outfitted with adapters, disks and batteries, what is the real "workday" weight of the laptop? Load the machine and accessories into a carrying case and heft it for a while. Brochures proclaim extremely light weight figures - in real life you will carry the computer and accessories. 4) Price. Determine the REAL price. You will need an AC adapater, carrying case and probably spare battery as a minimum. You will need DOS and some software. Beyond that, most people need a few manufacturer specific cables and sometimes a modem. Add it ALL up. 5) Battery life is a touchy subject - ultimately the attraction of laptops is the opportunity to get work done on the road. Battery life of an hour or so isn't much real work, when you think about it. Two to four hours on a fully charged battery is a working range today. Ask if the laptop has special battery saving features such as sleep mode, pause and resume, user selectable delays for drive and screen refresh use, powerdown mode, capability to change batteries without shutting down the machine and loosing data. Nice features. Is it easy and FAST to change batteries or a real chore? Look at the clasps and snaps as you open and close the battery compartment. 6) Modems. Someday you will need one. Does the laptop have a standard serial modem slot to which any low priced modem can be attached or a proprietary manufacturer specific slot to which ONLY that manufacturer's (expensive) modem will attach? For a few extra dollars consider a modem with combined internal fax send and receive capability which is a godsend for travellers. Much cheaper in the long run than paying your hotel $6 per page to transmit and receive faxes. 7) How much memory can you add to the laptop? For light word processing and spreadsheet work 640K may be all you need. But serious software use, Windows use or high end graphics may require 2 or more Megabytes of memory. How much can you install into the machine? How much will it cost? Can you install the additional memory or must the factory? 8) Drives. A standard 3.5 inch floppy drive is almost essential today. A hard drive, too, if you can afford it. If the laptop has no floppy, you might need to purchase special software and cables to transfer files between your laptop and desktop computer. One more expense. Back to the hard drive for a moment: if you work with large mailing lists, huge databases of clients or unusually large spreadsheets you MUST have a hard drive with larger than average capacity. Between 40MB to 100MB would be a wise investment for hard drive intensive storage applications. 9) Details. Beyond a serial port (for the modem or mouse) does it have a parallel port for a printer? How about capability for an external keyboard? Slot for math coprocessor? Null modem cable for transferring data between other computers. 10) Form follows function. If you plan to use the laptop mostly as your PRIMARY machine at home and work, focus on maximum power and expandable features. If you are a power user of Windows and graphics software you will need VGA display, at least 2MD of ram and at least a 386SX processor. However, if your primary work is spent on the road in planes and trains, pay attention to long battery life and quickly interchangeable battery packs. 11) Consider the new breed of tiny portable printers which work well with laptops. Included are the Diconix 150 Plus which weighs in at 3 pounds, Canon BJ-10 Bubblejet, Citizen PN48 and Star Micronics StarJet SJ-48. All printers will need spare ink cartridges, printer cable, paper, AC power supply and spare batteries. A brief glance at portable computer configurations.... Laptops are for the most part single-piece computer systems weighing in at between 7 to 15 pounds. In most cases the viewing screen opens in a characteristic "clamshell" manner. All are IBM compatible and most will functions from AC or battery power. Most offer some expanability in memory and some, but not all will even accept an expansion board. The latest designs can mater to a "docking module" which adds powerful desktop features when the units are used in a stationary office setting. Prices range from about $700 to well over $5,000 for advanced models. Examples: the Toshiba T4400SX, Librex M386SL, Bondwell B-310SX, Dell 320LT. Notebooks weigh in at 4 to 7 pounds and usually feature both AC and battery power. Both hard drive and floppy drive models are available. Prices range from $700 to about $2,000. By far notebooks are the most popular category in the consumer marketplace and for most users have the best balance of weight, cost and features. Examples: Epson NB3, Dell NX-20, Tandy 1800 HD, Sharp 6220, Tandy 110 HD, NEC 286F UltraLite, Compaq LTE286, Toshiba T1200XE. Palmtops. The smallest of the small. Weighing in at a pound or less these machines features minaturized keyboards, vestpocket size, lack of hard or floppy drives and varying amounts of true IBM compatability. Features are sacrificed in the quest for miniaturization. Some, such as the Hewlett-Packard 95LX contain built in software such as the standard Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet. At this writing, only the diminuitive Poqet palmtop is equipped to run most IBM compatable software. Tiny credit card sized memory modules are available for some models. Prices range from aobut $400 to over $2,000. Next, a broader tutorial about buying a computer for the first time. A refresher course for the advanced. An eye opener for the beginner. Some topic areas also address concerns about larger desktop computers as well as smaller laptops - a broad base of information is usually useful so references to desktop computers has been included. Buying a new or used computer is always THE traumatic event. It seems to be easier if you merely NEED one for a definite office or productivity goal such as financial analysis or compiling a mailing list of customers. In that case, you can be logical and evaluate among several machines and take your time. If, however you WANT one because it sounds interesting and you feel a little lost when everyone in the neighborhood is discussing CPU WAIT STATES, you have some serious research ahead! From a use standpoint, start at the beginning: What do you want to do with the computer? What software applications will perform these tasks? After determining answers to those two questions, purchase as much computing power as you can afford which allows you to use all current software of interest as well as retaining the possibility of upgrading the machine later - more memory or a better video display, for example. Simple applications like word processing, accounting and telecommunications may run equally fast on both budget and high end computers while sophisticated software such as drafting, large databases and desktop publishing may run so slowly on a low end computer that your wasted time far offsets the original savings on the budget computer. When in doubt run several software packages which provide features you want on the computer in question. Three technical factors are of interest when purchasing a computer: the type of CPU (central processing unit) which is the brains of a personal computer, the speed of the CPU and finally the choice between 8 bit and 16 bit CPU types. A brief refresher course: A bit is a binary digit used by computers to store and process data. Typically 8 bits are needed to construct a byte or computer character such as a number or letter. Eight bit processors can process one byte or character at a time. Sixteen bit processors can processor two bytes at a time. Faster is better for most folks - although speed has its price... In the IBM world of clone PC's there are four camps of CPU desire and capability. On the low end of price and performance are personal computers of the so-called XT class using the oldest processors such as the Intel 8088 (8 bit data bus outside the CPU and 16 bit data bus inside the CPU) which was used on the original IBM PC. The Intel 8086 CPU, alternatively, provides both 16 bit internal and external construction. A similar CPU is the NEC V-20 chip. Advantages, disadvantages and uses for these XT class machines? XT's are affordable. A basic machine with a couple of floppy drives, monitor and keyboard can be obtained for $300 to $400. XT class machines are useful for small and home office work or light hobbyist use such as word processing and accounting where speed is not of great concern. Generally XT class machines, as with all IBM clones, can be upgraded by the gradual (or immediate) addition of hard drives, color monitors and even faster processors. As a curious aside, this software package was programmed and edited entirely on an XT class machine. In a sense computing power does not derive from the machine, but HOW you use it! When is an XT not a good buy? If you intend to do CAD drafting, work with large database mailing list, or high resolution graphics, an XT is not a wise choice. If you ever to run the OS/2 operating system or Microsoft Windows which are advanced operating and display standards, XT machines are not a good idea. Finally, if you intend to expand the machine to color graphics such as an EGA or VGA standard or install large amounts of memory an XT is probably not an ideal choice. One step up the ladder in performance and price is the AT class machine which runs an Intel (or alternate manufacturer) 80286 CPU chip. The machine is usually 2 to 4 times faster than an XT class machine at perhaps $200 more in price. For most people an AT class machine is a comfortable choice since it can not only run OS/2 and Windows (albeit sluggishly) but also run earlier software programs at greater speeds. AT class machines are considered a "plain vanilla" standard in most office environments and are usually sold with hard drives and additional memory as standard equipment. The 80286 processor also operates in two modes which the 8088 and 8086 cannot: REAL MODE which allows the 80286 CPU to work like an 8088 CPU and PROTECTED MODE which allows access to more RAM memory. In theory, the older 8088 CPU chip can address up to 1 Megabyte of memory. An 8088 CPU always operates in real mode. In protected mode, however, the 80286 CPU can use up to 16 Megabytes of memory which can be an advantage in running both larger, more sophisticated programs as well as earlier programs. In addition, the 80286 CPU can, with the proper software, run several programs simultaneously which is know as MULTITASKING. The benefits of both protected mode and multitasking are somewhat unrealized at present although certain of these benefits can be obtained when running Windows software rather than DOS. Because of this, most users who continue to run DOS use an 80286 computer as a FAST device rather than seeking the advantages of multitasking or protected mode operation. And the 80286 is VERY fast indeed with some manufacturers pushing the CPU to speeds of 25 Mhz. Generally, adding additional upgrade equipment such as EGA monitors and laser printers is a good investment with an AT machine but a poor idea with an XT machine. The AT machine uses a 16 bit bus structure for rapid data flow while the older XT class machine uses a more primitive 8 bit bus. AT class machines run graphics and CAD programs relatively quickly. Hard drives operate quickly on an AT class machine with its larger 16 bit bus. It is a good choice for the small home office doing word processing, accounting, light desktop publishing, medium sized database mailing lists and so forth. Still higher up the food chain are 80386 and 80386SX CPU equipped machines which are still faster and provide a few more whistles and bells. They can run software which XT and AT class machines run, only FASTER. They are the machines of choice for office LAN networks, intensive graphics, CAD programming, Windows, OS/2, compilers and other number intensive programs. Curiously, though, the 80386 data bus remains 16 bits wide in most of these machines and there is no "OS/3" operating system, so the performance you derive is speed without additional whistles and bells. For most users, a "386" machine is mostly an office computer which a home or hobby user might admire but rarely need. Intel corrected the problem of switching from real mode to protected mode - a design flaw of the 80286 - and added a third mode called virtual mode which allows the CPU to act as if several "separate" 8088 computers are all running within one machine. In addition the 80386 chip is a true 32 bit CPU which processes four bytes or characters at a time. This 32 bit structure effectively makes the 80386 CPU twice as fast as the 80286 CPU. Finally, the 80386 can directly address a whopping four gigabytes of memory if available which is 256 times larger than the amount of memory the 80286 can address! The downside is that many of these advantages cannot be realized when running DOS. Windows or OS/2 operating systems provide access to these advanced features. Speed and additional memory capability is the primary byproduct of operating an 80386 within a DOS environment. The 80386SX is an affordable variant of the 80386 CPU. The key difference is that it uses an EXTERNAL 16 bit data bus outside the CPU which is similar to that used on conventional 80286 or AT class computers. Internally it is quite similar to its big brother, the 80386, and offers similar multitasking modes and memory addressing. It can run all of the software the 80386 machine can, albeit slightly more slowly. These design compromises allow manufacturers to produce an affordable computer with a good balance of speed and cost. For many users needing a powerful computer which can run all current and most future software, the 80386SX is an enviable balance of performance versus price and offers superior memory management, optimum speed and ability to run current and future software. The primary reason to select a 80386 over the 80386SX involves the need for higher speed processing, ability to run 32-bit software and advanced multitasking. Before introducing the fourth Intel CPU, the 80486, two new concepts must be mentioned: memory caching and mathcoprocessing. As the speed of the CPU becomes faster, the RAM memory chips where data is stored have difficulty moving data into and out of the CPU. Memory caching involves special high speed RAM memory chips - typically an amount from 64K to 128K - in addition to the normal memory chips within the computer. These high speed chips are expensive but keep data poised to quickly move in and out of the CPU. Memory caching should not be confused with disk caching which is another concept used when discussing hard drives. A second way to increase performance is to install a math coprocessor chip into the empty socket which is available on most computers. This device shares the processing of specific numeric operations which can slow the CPU. Only certain types of software support math coprocessors such as some CAD, spreadsheet and graphics software. Not all software benefits from the use of a math coprocessor. The 80486 CPU combines the features of the 80386 chip plus the addition of a self-contained on-chip coprocessor and memory cache. Although the memory cache is small, a mere 8K, it is extremely effective since it is onboard with the CPU itself. The 80486 is useful for advanced scientific applications, CAD drafting, graphics and high speed LAN (local area network) shared computers in an office environment. An 80486SX CPU is also available which is essentially a "poor man's" 80486 with a smaller external data bus. Back to CPU clock speed. Older XT (8088 CPU) machines operate at a relatively slow speed of 4.7 to 10.0 Mhz or Megahertz. One Megahertz equals one million cycles of electricity per second. AT class machines (80286 CPU) operate in regions of 10 to 25 Mhz while 80386 and 80486 machines operate at speeds in the 20 to 40Mhz region. Obviously faster is better especially when it comes to colorful graphics displays, CAD drafting, large spreadsheets and massive programming tasks. However simple word processing, small business accounting and routine mailing list management is more than adequate at 4.7 Mhz. The need for speed is relative to the computing task at hand! Let's backtrack for a moment and discuss RAM memory. Most computers are sold with a specific amount of memory installed on the main "motherboard". Increments of 640K to 1Meg of memory are common. It is commonly advertised that additional memory may be added as "expandable on the motherboard" to some upper limit such as 4Meg or 8Meg. Thus the user can easily install plug in chips of SIMM's (single inline memory modules) to sockets on the motherboard. If possible, insist on SIMM memory modules which are simpler for the average user to install rather than earlier DRAM chips. Additional plug in memory boards can also be installed into computers having an 80286 or higher CPU. Up to 16 Meg of RAM memory is possible on 80286 CPU equipped computers. Why install more memory beyond the 640K which DOS can address? For fast memory caching, RAM disks, TSR installations, access to programs which can use either or both expanded or extended memory, to run the Windows operating system or OS/2. These software requirements are not terribly exotic - but are simply ways to improve performance and speed for more experienced computer users. The hard disk is also a consideration in any computer purchase. CPU speed is determined by the clock speed of the computer while hard drive speed is determined by two factors: access speed and drive type. Extremely fast hard drives operate at 18 milliseconds access time or faster. Bargain computer hard drives operates in the range of 28 to 40 milliseconds. Hard drives must also be mated to a controller circuit which offers its own blend of performance and economy. MFM and RLL drive/controller combinations are earlier and less expensive hard drives while ESDI, IDE and SCSI drives are faster and more expensive high performance options. Floppy drives come is various configurations. Budget computers may contain only a 1.2MB floppy drive and hard drive. This configuration can read two floppy densities: 1.2MB and 360K floppies. A more flexible computer contains a hard drive, 1.2MB floppy and 1.44MB floppy. This computer can read four floppy formats: 1.2MM, 1.44MB, 720K and 360K. Ask if a budget computer can later be upgraded to include other drive configurations. The new smaller drives housing the rigid "mini floppies" such as the 1.44MB and 720K formats hold 20% to 50% more data in a sturdy plastic case with spring loaded dust door. Monochrome displays are suitable for low end word processing but today's software usually requires VGA color resolution as a minimum. An affordable option is a VGA video card and a MONOCHROME (black and white) VGA monitor which provides an acceptable 64 shades of gray with most modern software applications. Several sources of computer equipment are available - each with a different flavor. 1) Manufacturer direct or direct sales, such as Dell, Northgate and Zeos. This method usually assures relatively high quality at fairly attractive price savings since you are dealing directly with those who design and manufacture the computer. Service is usually good, via telephone, FAX and BBS. The downside is that you must deal through the mail and await delivery. Price is very attractive, but not necessarily the lowest available. 2) Retail vendors such as Computerland or Tandy. Convenience is the factor here since service, returns and delivery is handled locally. You pay slightly higher for this additional convenience. Generally this is the most expensive computer purchase option. 3) Mail Order Houses. Almost 15 percent of PC sales are conducted by mail. Mail order houses do not completely design and build their own systems like direct sellers but rely on imported and pre-manufactured assemblies. Technical phone support can be variable, but if you shop carefully, you can save even more over local retail or manufacturer direct channels. Mail order sources are available in newsstand magazines such as Computer Shopper and PC Sources. 4) VAR's or Resellers. These specialized vendors usually provide systems in volume frequently with "value added" features such as special software setup, training or unique customization of computer systems. 5) Home brewers. The ready availability of computer components has spawned a cottage industry of small shops, some in home or low rent office spaces which can custom design a system or allow you to build your own computer using parts and facilities which they provide. These small, minimum overhead operations can provide extremely low prices but guarantees and service contracts should be provided in writing and background of the vendor should be investigated carefully. What are some questions and requirements in purchasing a system? What speeds are available on the CPU? 10 Mhz is standard on XT's with 12 to 20 Mhz on AT's and 33 mhz on 80386 machines. How many free slots are available on the internal motherboard for expansion with future upgrade circuits? Five to eight expansion slots is desirable except on small laptop computers. Is there both a serial and parallel port? How many of each? Mouse port? Is a clock chip included? How big is the hard drive? 40 to 80 Meg is considered somewhat standard in size today for most hard drives although smaller 20 meg hard drives are useful for light office use computers. How many bays are available for extra drives? Two is minimum. How many floppies? What size of floppies? Most computers today minimally have either two floppies OR one floppy and one hard drive. Who makes the hard drive? Seagate, Connor and Miniscribe are considered reasonable, although not exclusive choices. Who makes the floppy drive? Teac, Panasonic, Sony and Toshiba are considered reputable in floppy manufacture. Whose BIOS chip powers the machine? Phoenix, Award and AMI Bios chips are all fine. How much memory is installed on the motherboard. 640K is a bare minimum for all machines with 80286 and 80386 machines usually offered with at least two to four Megs of RAM memory. Any memory cache chips? Any coprocessor installed? Coprocessor socket available? What warranty covers the product and for how long? Does the warranty cover both parts and labor? Does the vendor have sufficient inventory to replace the entire computer if problems arise? Is there a different warranty for the printer? Who provides the service? What is the vendor's return policy AND refund policy. Is there a restocking charge? Is there a discount or change in price when dealing by check or charge card? How long has the vendor been in business? Is the warranty 90 days, one year or two years as some manufacturers are now offering? Money back guarantee? How long? 30, 60, 90 days? What type of refund on this guarantee: store credit, cash, exchange? Will you put it in writing? Shipping and handling fee? Visa card surcharge? How good is technical support? Is there a toll-free support line? 24 hours or limited hours? Is there a BBS (modem) telephone line for support? Is maintenance performed on site (the customer's location) or only at the vendor's location? Response time? Special conditions? Is the on-site service essentially the same in terms, such as parts and labor, as off-site? Has the vendor sold computers to buyers in your business specialty (medical, for example). References? How long has the vendor been in business? What is the estimated life of the PC? Of the hard drive? How far can it be upgraded? In RAM memory? How many expansion slots? Can the CPU be upgraded? The display and graphics card? What is the MTBF or mean time between failure of the components such as the hard drive and printer according to printed manufacturer's literature? Does the computer come with ALL the parts you will need such as monitor and graphics card? On many bare bones systems this is extra. Are the accessories from the same manufacturer? Is the item available for immediate shipment or is a backorder the option of the moment? When will it be shipped? Has there been a recent price increase? Any financing options available from the vendor which offer advantage over bank or credit card purchase? Leasing options? Bank financing carried by the vendor? What bank? Extras included with purchase? Documentation? DOS software? What version? DOS 5.0 is the latest. Mouse? Software installed on the hard drive? Is it legal software? Is is commercial software? Shareware? Any training classes provided? When? How often. Brush up training free? What utilities and extra software comes with the machine? Any hard drive menu systems or utility software? How is the documentation? Really good or just whatever the manufacturer had translated? What display monitor and card are included (if any)? VGA is standard. EGA is minimum. CGA and Hercules are the bare minimum. Are printer cables included with purchase of the printer? Any spare printer ink cartridges included? How is the keyboard. Springy and clicky with a tactile feel or just mushy and so so? Is the Basic programming language included or is this an extra cost. Will the manufacturer throw in a software package suitable for beginners such as Microsoft Works? Is the machine FCC class B certified (the best) or class A (acceptable)? What is the interleave on the hard drive (1:1 is fastest)? Is the keyboard an 84 key type or 101 key type? Is the computer case metal or plastic? How hard or easy is it to pop the cover and install new circuit cards? Does the keyboard plug into the front or back of the machine? The front plug option is a sometimes more handy. Is the reset and on/off switch on the front, back or side of the machine? Front is again more handy. Panel lights on the machine to indicate CPU speed and hard drive use? Keylock for security? How many copies of the key? Does your key fit all the computers in the store too? Does a local computer club/user group buy from the vendor which might provide personal references who can discuss why they bought from that vendor? For those who wish to read published reviews concerning specific brands of computers, printers, monitors, modems and software: the most complete resource is PC Magazine published by Ziff- Davis and available at most libraries and many newsstands. PC Magazine editors usually select one or two items within a product classification as their "Editors Choice." The complete index to both PC Magazine as well as their product review index is contained in their on-line modem service PC MagNet. Instructions for reaching PC Magnet by modem are contained in the Utilities section included within each issue of PC Magazine. For product reviews of hardware and software you may wish to download the PC MagNet files PCM.EXE, PCSRCH.EXE and PCM.INF which are quite large. The files occupy more than 2 Megabytes of disk space and require about 1.5 hours of somewhat expensive modem connect time. Alternatively, you can reach the same index of products on line within PC MagNet by typing GO REVIEWS which allows you to search the product review database directly. A larger database of 130 periodicals and their respective product reviews can be viewed by typing GO COMPLIB from within PC MagNet. Additional product review sources are suggested on page 27 of the June 26, 1990 issue of PC Magazine (Vol 9 No 12.) Page 397 of the same issue contains instructions on reaching and using PC MagNet by modem. If you do not have a modem or a friend with that capability, a low-tech method for reviewing specific computer hardware and software recommendations is to visit a local library which contains back issues of PC Magazine. Glance at the magazine cover for highlights of products reviewed in that issue. If you work your way from the current issue backwards in time for 6 to 12 months, you should find detailed reviews on the equipment you are investigating. Many computer clubs maintain a library of PC Magazine issues and may be a source if your local library does not subscribe to the magazine. Yet another way to constructively shop for computer equipment is to obtain free catalogs which are provided at no charge by reputable computer vendors and manufacturers. See the listing of free equipment catalogs contained in the recommended reading/bibliography section elsewhere on this disk. ---------------------------------------------------------------- 22 BASIC COMMANDMANTS OF COMPUTER CONSUMERISM ---------------------------------------------------------------- 1) Does the computer contain sufficient RAM memory and CPU speed for the applications you intend to run and how easy is it to add more memory? A 80286 computer may be fine for word processing, for example, but a poor choice for extensive desktop publishing. 2) Is the computer FCC approved with an FCC sticker? Class A or B? Class B is better since it means certified for home use and theoretically emits less objectionable static radiation. 3) Have you identified the software you will (or might) be using? Can the machine run that software? Is DOS included with your machine? 4) As your needs change in time, will the machine expand or change with those needs? 5) Is the outer case of the computer large enough to accommodate additional expansion circuit boards? How many? 6) Is the power supply sufficiently large for future expansion? What is the wattage of the power supply? Is the fan noise low or NERVE WRACKING? 7) How many and what kind of floppy drives do you need? 8) Is the hard disk (if the machine contains one) certified for use with the internal controller board which operates it? What make on the controller card and hard drive? 9) Is the hard disk set with the correct interleave factor? 10) Will your dealer offer superior service after the sale? Who does the service? Where? Any free training classes? 11) Are all warranties in writing and how do they compare to other dealers warranties in writing? 12) What kind of monitor will you need and does the video adapter card inside the computer allow for monitor upgrades and will it display the software you intend to use? 13) Are you buying the computer or a sales pitch? 14) Are the internal components industry standard? Especially the floppy and hard drives. What brands? 15) Is the dealer trying to sell you more/less than you need? 16) Have you set a realistic budget? 17) Have you gathered information for all sources such as friends, magazine reviews, stores and advertisements? Are you relying on one computer guru from work or, more wisely, several? 18) If the price is far below the average, something is missing. What is it? Quality of the hard drive, lack of higher resolution video, toll free telephone support, software such as DOS? 19) Determine the REAL price by extracting hidden additional shipping charges, credit card surcharges, restocking charge if item returned. 20) Pay by credit card if possible since if you end in dispute, your credit card company can go to bat for you and issue a credit until the dispute is resolved. In addition, many credit cards automatically double the manufacturer's warranty. 21) Get details in writing. What is the salesperson's name? What is the exact shipping date? 24 hours? same day? Get it in writing via FAX. Retain the ORIGINAL AD which promoted the computer. A paper trail established early is the best protection. Retain warranty cards long enough to test all equipment functions first! If you mail in manufacturer's warranty cards too quickly, you may have to settle for warranty coverage rather than replacement by the vendor. 22) Retain all original cartons and packing material. Many vendors ABSOLUTELY require it in case of return! ---------------------------------------------------------------- MUSCLE FOR COMPUTER CONSUMERS - THE LONG ARM OF THE LAW ---------------------------------------------------------------- If you are dealing with a mail order supplier, Federal Trade Commission rules apply! Essentially the vendor must ship the order within 30 days of receiving it unless the advertisement states otherwise. If a delay will be experienced in shipment, the vendor must notify you in writing of a definite new shipment date and also offer you the chance to cancel the order with full refund. That notice must include a stamped or self-addressed envelope or card which allows you to indicate your choice. If you do not respond, the seller may rightfully assume you accept the delay. However, the vendor must either ship or cancel the original order within 30 days after the original shipping date which was promised. Any refunds for order cancellation must be made promptly. Even if you accept an indefinite delay, you have the right to cancel the original order at any time before the item is shipped. If you chose to cancel any order, which has been paid by check or money order, the vendor must mail a refund within seven business days excluding weekends and holidays. Likewise if the order was paid for by credit card, the vendor must credit your account within one business cycle following your cancellation request. Store credits and other methods or offers of similar merchandise are NOT acceptable unless you agree. If the original item is not available, a substitute item, even if similar, is not acceptable unless the vendor has your consent. Report violations to the Federal Trade Commission whose phone number is usually listed in the blue pages (government section) of your local telephone book. Tell the vendor you are reporting violations to the FTC and mail the vendor a copy of the letter you wrote to the FTC. This usually brings action quickly. One primary conduit for recourse is the Direct Marketing Association which maintains an action line for problem resolution. First you should attempt to deal directly with the seller, but if a problem is not promptly resolved you may wish to contact the Mail Order Action Line, c/o DMA, 6 East 43rd Street, NY, NY 10017. The first step in any attempt to seek redress from a vendor is to notify the supplier in writing that the item is defective and include a copy of the invoice with information as to model, price, date of order and account number if available. Retain a copy of your letter seeking refund or replacement. Any phone calls should be followed by a letter. Generally do not return the item to the vendor until told how and when to do so, since many have formal return policies and require "return authorization numbers" which are usually issued to you by phone or in writing. The return authorization number accompanies the defective item on its return. Keep a copy of the shipping receipt and packing slip. Any rights to recover postal or shipping costs is determined by the policy of that vendor as is usually stated in advertising and product literature. You may also consider contacting the attorney general for the state in which you live as well as the state in which the vendor does business. This can be MOST effective especially if you send a copy of that letter to the vendor. If the product was paid for with a credit card, you may also retain the right to withhold payment or cancel payment which is usually arranged directly with your bank or credit card issuing agency. This is explained under provisions of the Federal Fair Credit Billing Act. Tutorial finished. Be sure to order your FOUR BONUS DISKS which expand this software package with vital tools, updates and additional tutorial material for laptop users! Send $20.00 to Seattle Scientific Photography, Department LAP, PO Box 1506, Mercer Island, WA 98040. Bonus disks shipped promptly! Some portions of this software package use sections from the larger PC-Learn tutorial system which you will also receive with your order. Modifications, custom program versions, site and LAN licenses of this package for business or corporate use are possible, contact the author. This software is shareware - an honor system which means TRY BEFORE YOU BUY. Press escape key to return to menu.