How to choose when buying a computer – is asking “what is the most popular computer” the right question?
(Note: this article was written and sent out to subscribers to my free computer lessons email newsletter on December 12th, 2007)
Around this time of year, it’s common for people to be looking into buying a new computer as a gift or to replace the aging one they’re using.
I thought I’d write an article to give a few tips on how to chose when buying a computer.
First off, I’ve found that a lot of people start thinking about this by asking “what is the most popular computer?” and letting the answer to that decide the question for them. Well, this isn’t necessarily the best idea.
Just because something is popular doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best — for example, fast food restaurants are popular places to go, but I think we all know they don’t serve the best food in the world.
Here’s the thing to remember when thinking about how to chose when buying a computer — you should generally avoid the big brand names.
Yes, this might surprise you, but in my opinion, it’s usually not a good idea to buy from one of the big brand name companies (there’s one exception that I’ll get to in a minute).
Here’s why: dollar for dollar, you’re generally going to get a worse deal than if you go with a reputable “generic” or “white box” store.
A lot of people have low price as the first thing on their list when they’re trying to figure out how to chose when buying a computer. So they go with a cheap brand name and spend a few hundred dollars on it, and they think they’re getting a good deal.
But what they don’t realize is that it’s common for a lot of the big brand companies to sell very out-of-date computers in their lower price ranges, and from what I’ve heard, they also often sell computers with parts they know are bad!
I’m not kidding about this — most of the big computer companies out there, when they sell their least expensive computers, are trying to unload old inventory that’s been collecting dust on their shelves for a long time.
They sell it to you as if it’s new, and maybe it is in the sense of never purchased before, but it’s hardly new in terms of the technology.
And the more disturbing part of this is that from what I’ve heard, those computers often have parts in them that are *known* to be bad parts!
You see, when a chip manufacturer like Intel makes a computer processor (the “brain” of the computer), they test it to make sure it works.
Makes sense, right?
But inevitably, many of them fail these tests. Now you’d think these bad parts would be thrown away, but no — from what I’ve heard, what happens is they still sell them to the big computer companies at a discount, and those companies put them into their computers anyway.
What you can do with a bad processor a lot of the time is set it to run slower, and while it may not be running at full speed, it works well enough to pass the tests.
But the parts are still bad! Sure, they may work OK for a while (maybe just long enough to make it through the warranty period) but they have more little “glitches” and end up breaking down sooner.
So if you can find a reputable local company that sells computers they assemble themselves, you’ll get a well built computer for a lot less because you’re not paying for the brand name.
A family-owned store like that is the only place I’d buy a Windows PC, personally.
So earlier I mentioned there was an exception among the big brand names — if you’ve been reading my newsletter for a while, or know me, you might have already guessed which one it is — Apple.
Apple is the only big brand name computer I personally would buy (I’m writing this on a MacBook Pro). I do this partially because I’ve used a lot of different types of computers over the years, and really don’t enjoy using Windows much. But remember, Macs can run any Windows program as well, so it’s not an either-or situation!
Weathering the storm — What to Do to Protect Your Computer and Other Electronics From Storms and Other Hazards
As I write this, I’m sitting at Falcon Computers here on the Big Island, using their Internet connection. Those of you who live around here know we had a pretty huge storm on the island yesterday (although some parts of the island were lucky enough not to get it too bad). In my case, the storm was raging directly over my house for about an hour, and I even had two lightning strikes within spitting distance of my house.
As a result of the storm, we had closed roads, power outages, and cable service (including cable Internet service) was shut down for about half the island.
I’m also guessing at least one of the cell phone towers was hit too, because my cell reception was completely gone for well over twelve hours. Keep in mind, like a lot of people these days, my main phone is my cell phone!
And as of about an hour ago, my Internet connection was still down, meaning it was out for over 24 hours, leaving me unable to do any work all of yesterday, and having to hike in here to try to catch up and take care of a few things.
The timing is kind of ironic, just a few days after I wrote an article about the pros and cons of using combined Internet and telephone service packages. One of the downsides I mentioned was how if there’s a storm and your Internet connection goes down, if you have Internet phone service instead of a traditional phone line, then you won’t have phone service either.
Because of this, I recommended sticking with the older more time-tested technology — in this case, a plain old regular phone line.
Well, I should probably listen to my own advice, since my business phone line is an Internet phone number, and not a regular “land line”, and since my cell phone got knocked out by the storm too, I would’ve been completely cut off it I didn’t still have a regular phone line (which I normally only use for faxes).
Fortunately, I did know the best ways to handle protecting my computer and other electronics from being damaged by the storm — in this article I’ll give you a few tips to protect your electronics from being fried during a storm, or during the aftermath.
Some of this you may already know, but there’s a couple of things I’ll mention that many people never think of, which can endanger your computer, TV, and other electronics if you don’t take care of them.
So pretty much everybody knows that it’s a good idea to unplug your computer or TV during a storm. I’ve also talked in a previous article about the importance of using a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply, sometimes called a battery backup) and how this protects your computer and other devices.
Even if you use a UPS or just a surge suppressor (again, a UPS protects you a lot better than a surge suppressor) you should still unplug the UPS or suppressor from the wall just to be sure — both a UPS and a surge suppressor are designed to “take a bullet” for your computer to protect it from a power surge like the ones that can happen from a lightning strike or when the power comes back on after a storm, but it’s still a very good idea to unplug anyway.
But even if you’re doing this (and good job if you are!) here’s what people frequently miss in these situations — electricity, like a damaging power surge, can travel up other types of wires, too.
So if you use a dialup modem still, and you have a phone cord plugged into your computer (or fax machine, satellite TV box, etc.) a power surge can go up that and fry your electronics that way. So you should always unplug the phone cord too.
Also, these power surges can come up the cable line, so I see people unplugging their TV or cable box from the electricity, but they leave the cable TV cable (coaxial cable to use the technical term) plugged in, and this can fry their TV!
Keep in mind, if you use cable Internet service, your cable modem can get fried in the same way, and if your computer is plugged into it (and not hooked up wirelessly in other words) this is a “back door” that a lightning strike or other power surge can use to fry your computer!
So to protect everything in your house, you should always not just unplug from the power, but also the cable (TV or Internet) and any phone cords during a storm. Do that, and you and all of your electronics (computers and otherwise) should weather the storm just fine.
Hope that helps.
Unlimited local and long distance phone Internet service plans – pros and cons.
In this article I’m going to go very slightly off-topic and cover something that’s not directly about computers, but definitely relates.
I’m going to talk a little about the pros and cons of those unlimited local and long distance phone internet service plans that you see advertised more and more these days — you know the ones, where you see them talking about phone service plans combined with internet services.
These plans come in two “flavors” — the first is usually offered by the phone company where they provide regular phone service plus a DSL Internet connection with a discount for getting both together, and the second is usually offered by cable companies or another Internet Service Provider (ISP) where they are offering Internet telephone service plus the Internet connection itself.
Before I go on, let me quickly explain what the difference is between regular phone service and Internet phone service (also known as VoIP, which is short for Voice over Internet Protocol, or Voice over IP).
VoIP, by the way, is pronounced “voyp”.
The difference between the two types of phone service is pretty simple.
Regular phone service is the traditional type of phone service that’s been around for a hundred years, where your phone is connected to a phone jack in the wall, then out over the telephone lines to the rest of the world.
Internet phone service (or VoIP) is where you have a phone (either a traditional phone with a special adapter, or a special VoIP phone) that hooks into an Internet connection and your phone call goes through the Internet to call any kind of phone — a standard phone, or an Internet phone.
So what are the pros and cons of getting phone service plans combined with Internet services?
Well, in both cases when you have phone service plans combined with internet services (Internet plus the phone service) you usually pay less than if you bought them separately — so no real pro or con in this case, as long as you get it as a package deal.
Traditional phone service is generally going to be more reliable than Internet phone service — it’s an older technology, and older technologies *generally* are more reliable than newer ones because they’ve had time to iron the bugs out.
So in other words, in many cases you’ll get a clearer sound on a traditional phone line, and you won’t ever get the little “dropouts” that you can get with VoIP phones.
By dropouts, I’m talking about something like when you talk to someone on a cell phone and their words sort of break up with lots of very short patches of silence mixed in with what you can hear. If you’re not sure what I mean, imagine a radio that someone is turning on-off, on-off, very rapidly, so you get a very rapid mix of sound, silence, sound.
This is fairly common on Internet phone service, and is caused when the Internet connection has so much activity that it interferes with the phone conversation.
Also, if you send or receive faxes, they often won’t work using Internet phone service.
A so-called disadvantage of using Internet phone service (that I don’t completely agree with) is that if the power goes out, so does the phone service, unlike a traditional phone line, which has its own power.
There’s a kind of funny TV ad I see the local phone company running out here in Hawaii that’s trying to discourage people from using Internet phone service — it has a voice-over that says something like “this is a recording of an actual Internet phone service emergency call during a recent blackout” then you hear absolutely nothing for the next few seconds.
The idea being if your power is out, so is the Internet connection, and so is the VoIP phone service.
Well, that may be true, but think about it for a moment — what percentage of people these days use old-fashioned corded phones still? Not that many people do anymore — most use cordless phones. If the power is out, a cordless phone doesn’t work either.
Of course the solution to that (and a lot of times, the solution to the Internet phone going out) is to use an Uninterruptible Power Supply, or UPS, which as I’ve mentioned in the past is a sort of battery backup that provides power when the electricity goes out.
Most people who use a UPS (everyone should, in my opinion, to protect their computer and other electronics) use it just for their computer. But it works just as well for cordless phones, cable or DSL modems, and even lights, to keep you going when the power goes out.
I have my cable modem that provides my Roadrunner Internet service hooked up to a UPS, and I’ve found that my cable service (including Internet) still works fine!
The last disadvantage — and this is a clear disadvantage — of using Internet telephone service is that in the case of emergencies, 911 emergency service is not always available, and even if it is available, emergency responders usually can’t figure out where you are, unlike traditional phones or cell phones.
So while it’s not a bad idea to take advantage of a good package deal on unlimited local and long distance phone internet service, for the time being, it might be a little better to stick to an offer that includes traditional phone service since it’s a little more reliable, and the cost is pretty much the same.
In this article I’m going to talk about RAM, also known as computer memory; how RAM affects the speed of a computer, and what exactly is the advantage of having enough computer RAM. A lot of people don’t really understand what RAM is, which is nothing to feel bad about, since it’s rare to hear a really easy, understandable explanation.
I have a very simple way of explaining the computer term memory that will make sense to anybody, no matter how little you may have always understood computers.
By the end of this explanation, you’ll understand what computer RAM is and you’ll also have a better understanding of how RAM affects the speed of a computer, and just exactly what is the advantage of having enough computer RAM (why it matters).
First off, just in case you didn’t know, RAM stands for Random Access Memory. It’s not important to remember that, just understand that the computer terms RAM or memory mean the same thing: the temporary working area in a computer.
It’s temporary because when you turn off the computer, everything in RAM vanishes instantly. This is unlike a hard drive, or “flash memory”, both of which store whatever is on them even when the computer is off.
Just for the sake of clarity, “flash memory” and “memory” (i.e. RAM) are not the same thing, so when you hear someone talking about memory –assuming they’re using the term correctly — they’re probably not talking about flash memory (which is like the card in a digital camera, or in the smaller iPods, thumb drives, etc.).
So best way to think of computer RAM is this: think of RAM like a table, or work bench.
If you’re working on a project — it could be a student studying for a class, it could be a carpenter working on a bench, or almost any project — you need a space to work on the project, like the space on a table, or on a workbench.
You take out all of your materials (books, or carpenter’s tools, or whatever), and you spread them out on your work space. You work on the project, and when you’re done, you put everything away again.
This is exactly how a computer’s RAM works — you open a program like your email program, Word, or whatever, and it loads this into the RAM. When you’re done, you close the program, and the computer takes the program out of memory (out of the computer RAM) and stores it back on the hard drive.
So if you think of RAM like this, you can start to see how RAM affects the speed of the computer, and you can begin to understand the advantage of having enough computer RAM.
Not sure where I’m going with this yet? That’s OK. We’re almost there.
Imagine you have a work bench, or a table that you’re sitting at trying to do a project on, and the table or bench is only a foot across. Wouldn’t be very easy to get much work done, would it?
You’d end up wasting a lot of time trying to make room by moving stuff onto the bench, then moving it back off again to make room for the next thing you needed, right?
It’s just like that with computer RAM: if your computer doesn’t have enough RAM, it doesn’t have enough space to work with, and so it’s constantly forced to move stuff on and off the “bench” to get things done.
So there’s a big advantage to having enough computer RAM: it gives your computer enough “room” to get the work done. The more RAM you have, the more “space on the bench”, and the more efficiently the computer can work. The less “space on the bench” the more time it wastes just trying to work without any elbow room.
Does that make sense?
So now you can understand how RAM affects the speed of a computer, and understand exactly what the advantage of having enough computer memory is.
One last thing — to find out how much RAM your computer has, here are the basic steps:
What is a definition of the World Wide Web & who started the phrase World Wide Web
In this article I’m going to address two related questions I’ve gotten: “what is a definition of the world wide web” and “who started the phrase world wide web”.
First off, let me give you a definition of the World Wide Web — which these days is usually just called The Web.
The Web is made up of millions and millions of pages of information that are linked together across the globe.
When you look at a web page, which you’re probably doing right now you’ll find that the page has “links” that you click on to take you to different pages.
If you could see a picture of all of the web pages on the Internet, you could imagine that it might look like a spider web, with many strands connecting one point to another.
This is just how a guy named Tim Berners-Lee imagined it when he came up with the phrase World Wide Web. The links are the strands, and the web pages are the points where the strands come together.
Tim Berners-Lee, with help from a man named Robert Cailliau, created the Web based on something called “hypertext”.
Hypertext was an idea where you could have “hyperlinks” (which we now just call “links”) that would allow you to read information and easily move between related topics.
So if you were reading about, for example, the first printing press, the Gutenberg Bible would probably be mentioned because it’s one of the best-known books to be printed on the first printing presses.
With hypertext, when you saw the words Gutenberg Bible, they would be a link to an article that would go into more detail about that book.
Berners-Lee wanted to bring this idea to the Internet, allowing people to “browse” around, using these links to move from one place to another.
Before this, you had to go to a specific address, then go to another specific address, and not browse the way we are used to today.
And as you’ve probably guessed by now, Berners-Lee was the person who started the phrase World Wide Web in the first place.
So another way to explain what is a definition of the World Wide Web is a way of looking at the Internet as a series of “pages” of information — words, pictures, sounds, or video — that link from one to another to another, forming a giant “web” of information that covers and connects the world.
One more point, to clarify a common misunderstanding. The Web is *part* of the Internet, just like email is *part* of the Internet — a lot of people think the Internet is exactly the same thing as the Web, and that email is somehow completely separate from the Internet. This is not the case.
I have another article, available by clicking the following link which explains the computer terms Internet and email, if you need more help with those computer terms.