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No. of Recommendations: 8
My wife is beginning a new venture in self-employment and needs to buy a computer. A notebook. She prefers PC and is looking into a Dell.

I've used notebook and mobile computers from IBM, Dell, Gateway, and Micron, and I've been happy with products from all four companies. My current mobile computer is an Alienware Area 51m, and I'd buy another computer from Alienware in a heartbeat.

If your wife plans to use this computer overseas, I recommend she consider buying an IBM. Based on my first-hand experiences, IBM's overseas support is fantastic, and Dell's overseas support is miserable. I haven't had overseas experience with the other vendors.

From personal experience, the most expensive computer you can buy is a cheap computer. I've bought two "great deal" computers in the past 10 years, and I gave both of them away after a few months because they were too frustrating to use.

Make sure you buy enough memory from the very first day. Adding memory to some computers is easy, but adding memory to other computers -- especially laptop or mobile computers -- is more challenging. According to the computer magazines, the current minimums for business machines are 512 Mb RAM, 40 Gb HD. If your wife uses graphics (photos or movies) in her business, she'll need more memory.

Pay attention to the monitor screen and graphics card -- especially on a laptop or mobile computer. Good displays are a pleasure to use. Poor displays will make users miserable. When I upgraded my office workstation from a poor quality CRT to a high quality LCD display, the headaches I'd been having went away. I don't think the problem was a CRT/LCD issue; I think the problem was a cheap display issue.

On a laptop or mobile computer, pay special attention to the ports on the back of the computer. If you need to connect your computer to projectors or networks, make certain your computer has ports to allow you to do these things. If you need to connect to printers, scanners, cameras, external keyboards, external mice, or other peripherals, make sure you have enough USB or firewire ports.

I agonized whether to use XP Pro or XP Home as my operating system. I finally settled on XP Pro. In retrospect that decision was incredibly clever. XP Pro has functionality XP Home lacks, and upgrading from XP Home to XP Pro is hard. Think of the $100 price difference as an insurance policy against future hassles.

The latest rage is wireless computing. Adding Bluetooth functionality to a computer is reasonably cheap and easy. Adding 802.11a/b functionality to a computer is a little harder, and 802.11g seems to be ready for the market. Include your wireless requirements in your purchase decision.

IBM has the nicest laptop keyboards I've used. I don't know why their keyboards are better, but I notice their "feel" immediately.

IBM, Dell, Gateway, and Micron all sell reconditioned and discontinued computers on their websites at a discount.

If you're an IBM shareholder, you can buy IBM computers and accessories directly from IBM at a discount. The discount varies from product to product, but it's around 10%.

Remember that the hardware is only half the solution. Applications software is equally important. I find I have to bounce my hardware and software requirements against each other to get good solutions.

Finally, a good solution today is better than a perfect solution tomorrow. Even if you have a perfect solution today, computer products are so dynamic that something better will come along next week. If you buy a middle or top product from a reputable vendor, you'll have a more than adequate solution to your needs for three years or so.

David Jacobs
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