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A: If you’re in the market for a bargain PC, the first thing to be sure of is whether your computing needs can be satisfied by a system that may not have all of the bells and whistles of its more expensive siblings. Unless you’re a hard-core gaming enthusiast or desire the computing equivalent of greased lightning, you’re likely to find a good deal in the $699-$999 range. The list prices for bargain PCs often exclude monitors, so read the fine print before you make your purchase.
Performance should be your first concern. Most of the major manufacturers (Compaq, Dell, Hewlett-Packard) offer speedy machines of up to 400 MHz for under $1,000. However, don’t get caught up in the name game. This goes for the processor as well. The difference between an Intel processor and an equivalent chip from AMD (its nearest rival) is negligible to the average user.
The amount of memory you have on your PC will have a noticeable effect on your computer’s performance, regardless of the processor speed. There are three types of memory that you should be concerned with: RAM (at least 32MB); secondary cache memory (256K) and video RAM (2MB). If you skimp on any of these components, you’ll definitely be compromising performance.
You’ll also want to make sure your machine has a robust feature set. A large hard drive (at least 2 gigs), a floppy drive, CD-ROM drive and a modem are essential parts of any PC. If you have to forgo something, consider the modem. You can find a 56 Kbps external model for under $200.
Service and support should be an important consideration. Be sure to get at least a two-year warranty for parts and labor, one year of free on-site service and toll-free technical support (24 hours a day, seven days a week, if possible). If you are still worried about repairs, purchase an extended warranty to assuage any remaining fears.