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Computer Add-ons Cost You More
BY MIKE MACDONALD

There’s some advice to be given about buying a new computer. I am not going to preach about what specifications your system should have, but what computer stores hope happens after the purchase.

Right now, you can go out and purchase an 800MHz computer with lots of RAM and more-than-you-need hard drive space for $800-$900 without a monitor. Ok, let’s say the whole thing costs you $1,000. Not bad, when a year or so ago, average prices were about $300 more.

But as technology keeps advancing faster than we can blink, newer, better products are being released that promise to make our computing experience better and more productive. The basic computer system is just the beginning of your spending spree in most cases. If you’re on a tight budget, you may be done buying computer equipment for a while after buying a new PC. But, others – those gotta-have-it gadget & electronic nuts – will continue upgrading and buying new toys to enhance their computer center.

In today’s homes, the computer is not just a stand-alone appliance that can fit onto a small desk. Now, you need compartment doors, more desk space for added components like network hubs, scanners, printers, supped-up speaker systems, web cams, larger monitors, joysticks, and so on. No one is satisfied with just a standalone computer anymore, and it is that after-market buying that can add up to much more than the computer price alone.

For example, lets say that after buying your $1,000 computer system, you sign up for Road Runner cable Internet access. There’s $40 per month. Then, you decide to jump on the digital photography bandwagon and purchase a $300 digital camera and flatbed scanner at a closeout sale for $69. Now you realize your cheapo printer is worthless printing photo-quality prints, so you sell it on eBay for $30, buy a new one for $179 and also get some photographic paper for $29 for 15 sheets. Your total in after-market equipment is now $569 over the cost of your computer.

Your kids love how fast your new computer runs because it came with 128MB of PC-133 SDRAM and your processor is a lightning fast 900MHz AMD Athlon. But, for gaming, you now need to upgrade your 16MB AGP Video Card with one of the new Radeon ones that cost $300 for a 32MB card with DDR RAM, making 3D gaming real-life. But the $20 speakers that came with the computer make 3D gaming audio a horrible ordeal, and your kids hound you every day to get better ones, so you go out and spend $100 on a 3 or 5-piece surround sound speaker system that makes playing shoot ‘em up games feel like you’re right there in the dungeons with the other demons.

So now, you’ve got your own digital photography studio and the kids are as happy as can be with their games running at mach speeds with the new video and audio equipment you upgraded. Your total aftermarket cost came to $969, before adding in any monthly Road Runner or DSL costs. Plus, if this is your second PC, and you want to share your high-speed Internet connection and/or network the two machines together, you’re looking at more costs for networking equipment and cabling.

My intent is not to discourage you to buy a new computer, but to consider what you will be using it for, and buy a system that meets all of your short-term and long-term needs. If your kids are going to use it and will be playing 3D games all the time, make sure the video card is top-of-the-line, or you’ll be pulling it out very soon and throwing your existing one in a box to never be used again. Most likely, your kids know more about computers than you do, so ask them if they know what video card is recommended for the games they’ll be playing. If they at least know what games they’ll be playing, you can find out the system requirements for those games right from their Websites, or by going to the store and viewing the requirements right off the retail packaging.

If you deal with a knowledgeable salesperson, they should ask you what you plan on using the computer for. Have a list of planned activities and uses with you when shopping, so you can be matched up with the right PC for you. If you’re not going to be doing any gaming, a standard 8MB video card will be more than sufficient.

The fictitious example I created was on the higher-end extreme. But do consider the possibilities of what those in your household will be using your computer for before finalizing the sale and deciding on a particular system. While the average user might not want or need such add-ons, there’s always going to be something you see at a family member’s house that you just gotta have.

So if you’re ready to buy, make sure the computer you decide on matches your needs. When you skimp on specifications, the cost after the sale is much higher than if you were to buy a computer with more specifications in the first place. But also keep in mind the aftermarket equipment you may want such as a photographic quality printer, scanner or digital camera. It is these extras that can add to the cost of your computer system way beyond what you were expecting to pay. Come up with a budget and play with your options to try to stay within its range. If you see your wants greatly exceeding your budget for a computer, make a timeline for projected upgrade expenditures over the next year, and budget money each month for these upgrades, so it doesn’t hit you all at once. <MM


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