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Buying a multi-media PC



I know I want a multimedia PC, everyone tells me so, but what are they?


Computers used to be boring bits of office equipment, that spent their time processing words, crunching numbers and making occasional beeping noises. However, in the last few years they’ve become a lot more interesting. VDUs, once only capable of displaying text and numbers -- usually in a sickly green colour -- can now show high quality moving and still video images and graphics. Beeps and peeps have given way to stereo sound, they’ve also become faster, with bigger memories, and thanks to operating systems like Windows, much easier to use. The key development, that spawned the multimedia revolution, was the CD ROM. These CD-sized discs are cheap to manufacture and can store vast amounts of information as digital data. This can be in the form of video, audio, text, computer software, or more commonly, a mixture of all of them.  A multimedia PC gives you access to this information, you can play games, watch movies, even surf the Internet.


Which one should I buy, there’s so many of them to choose from?


It looks a lot worse than it is. The first choice is between an Apple Mac and an IBM PC or clone machine. A lot of people swear by Apple Macs; and very good they are too, for some specialised applications, but an IBM PC or compatible will give you the widest choice of CD ROMs, software and peripherals and they’re generally cheaper. You need to decide between a conventional desktop machine or a laptop. Multimedia laptops are now every bit as sophisticated as their deskbound cousins, they’re portable too, which may be a consideration. The downside is they’re expensive -- between two and three times as much as a desktop model -- the screens are smaller and portable keyboards can be hard work if you do a lot of typing.


But what about stuff like Pentiums, megahertz and  RAMs?


Pentium is the latest in a line of microprocessor chips developed by Intel. Before Pentium chips were identified by number, i.e. 286, 386, 486. Faster 386 and 486 PCs are multi-media capable but it’s a good idea to go for a Pentium model if you can afford it. Microprocessor speed is a somewhat nebulous affair and there are many other factors which determine how fast a computer processes information, but as a general rule of thumb the faster the better. Entry-level Pentiums have a clock ‘speed’ of 75 megahertz (MHz), the fastest (and dearest)  machines fly along at 133Mhz. The size of a computers RAM (random access memory) has a big influence on speed; a half decent multimedia PC needs at least 8 megabytes of RAM, 16 megabytes is even better.


What else should I be looking for?


Check the specs for a large hard-disc drive, 540 megabytes is the minimum, 1 gigabyte (1000 megabytes) is better still. There should be at least 1 Mb of video memory, and a quad-speed CD ROM drive. Watch out for older or discontinued machines with twin-speed drives, some games and software might not run so smoothly. It should have a 16-bit stereo sound card, and come with speakers. You’ll also need a modem (minimum speed 14,400 bps), if you want to access on-line services and the Internet


Do I need Windows 95?


Virtually every new machine sold nowadays is pre-loaded with Microsoft Windows 95 operating system; you should also consider deals that includes useful bundled CD ROM software, like  encyclopaedias, games and utilities.



Ó R.Maybury 1996 1604






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