Selecting The Best Hardware
When author Don Tapscott was researching his book, "Growing Up Digital," he spent some time in an online chat room with groups of teenagers. One of them asked him if he had his own home page on the World Wide Web, and he said he did. "You should check out my home page," came the reply from the 11 year-old, and the words "my home page" were underlined and in blue, representing a hypertext link. Flustered, Tapscott beckoned to an associate nearby, but neither of them knew how to include a live hypertext link in a chat message. "So," Tapscott sheepishly told an audience at Digital Consulting Inc.'s Internet Expo conference in Toronto, "Mister Cyber-Guru typed in "my home page is http, colon, backslash backslash...."
Then there was the story of the 13 year-old who was out at soccer practice one night when the phone rang and an adult voice asked if Sam was in. "No," said his father, "he's at soccer practice." The caller was annoyed -- Sam was supposed to be at work. The surprised father said Sam was 13 years old and "just who was this on the phone anyway." It turned out the caller was from America Online and Sam, passing himself off as an adult, had a $25-an-hour job as a chat-line moderator.
The stories Tapscott told about wired teenagers illustrate something he called the generation lap -- youngsters are "lapping" their parents, getting ahead of them in knowledge of new technologies. "For the first time ever in human history, children are an authority on an issue of central importance to society."
If you are fortunate enough to have a young person in your family who understands technology, you may want to have them help you select the best hardware. If not, it is important to realize that selecting the best hardware begins with being able to separate the marketing hoopla from reality.
The world's largest computer show, COMDEX/Fall, used to take place in Las Vegas, Nevada each year in the Fall. It has not been absorbed by the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that takes place there in January. It features thousands of new products from companies throughout the world. Many of these products will never make it to the marketplace, and others will be forgotten in a few short months. It is important to remember "all that glitters is not gold." In the height of their marketing hoopla, things like personal digital assistants, pen computers, and other "marvels" had a lot of glitter but never turned out to be "gold." That is why it is so important to separate the hoopla from reality. If YOU can't see a real need for the newest "marvel," there is a good chance no one else can either.
With thousands of new products announced at CES each year, it is obvious the computer industry is always changing. As you go to shows like CES, or see technology advertisements, you need to ask yourself, "Which products will become hot sellers in the PC industry?" As we evaluate new products at Computer Times, trying to separate the hoopla from reality, we categorize them into the following areas. You may find it helpful to do the same.
As you are evaluating new products, don't underestimate your "gut feel." Your intuition, or "gut feel," is based upon your accumulated knowledge of business, computers, and people, and can be better than a thousand marketing surveys.
If you think you have found a "winning combination" product, it's time to do a little comparison shopping by comparing it to its major competitors. This can easily be done on an electronic or manual spreadsheet. Across the top of the spreadsheet, list the new product name, and the names of competing products, giving each their own column. Then, list key features YOU desire for the product in the far-left column. Simply check off each feature that is available for each product under the appropriate product column.
While this sounds similar to the product comparisons you see in some of the advertisements, it is radically different. In this product comparison, you are listing the features YOU desire in such a product. The advertisements generally list all the features of the product they are promoting and then compare the major competitors to that list of features. The flaw in this type of comparison is the "best product" will always be the product whose list of features is used, because it will obviously have all the features in the list. In many cases, you could start with the worst product in the industry, and it would look like the best product in this type of comparison because competitors will seldom have the exact list of features of the promoted product. Do you see the flaw in this type of comparison? Not very scientific.
Many of the magazines use product comparisons to support their choices for "best buy" or "editor's choice." While these are usually much better product comparisons than those found in advertisements, you still need to understand the list of features compared between the products was created by the editor choosing the "best buy." This may not be the list of features you would select. In these type of comparisons, it is very important to look at the rating scales, paying close attention to how each item was weighted. For example, the "best buy" may have been strong in its networking capabilities but rather weak in its online help. While one of the "losers" of the comparison may have been rated very low only because it was weak in its networking capabilities, yet it was very strong in its online help features.
If you are a person who does not care about networking capabilities, but has a need for excellent online help features, the "best buy" in this comparison may be YOUR worst buy. Do you see why it is important to look closely at these product comparisons? The editors may be trying to do an unbiased review, but the features they feel are important may be insignificant to you. YOUR "best buy" will be the quality product that meets YOUR needs.
In all of your research, though, be sure you don't forget to talk with people. Talk to your friends and find out what hardware and software they own. What do they recommend? Ask the service person at the computer store which products have the least problems. Talk to knowledgeable people like the high school computer teacher, the local computer user group, and others you trust. Then, shop around for the best price. Be sure to ask about upcoming sales. Also, watch for sales after your purchase. If the item you bought goes on sale within 30 days, some stores will give you the difference between the sales price and the price you paid if you can provide proof of purchase.
If you are new to computers, you need to understand that PCs are much like stereo systems - modular in design with interchangeable parts that can be either low or high quality. Just as a stereo can have a great CD player and cheap speakers, so can a computer. Like anything else, you get what you pay for.
One final comment. Before you pay for a lot of preloaded software, be sure you need it. If not, try to negotiate a better price without it. A great place to find some good buys is at on our Safe Shopping Sites page under the Gifts of Technology category.
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