Buying computer

My husband and I are buying our first computer.  We are new to this field although I have some basic knowledge because I'm a teacher and have a couple of computers in my class.  We would like to know which computer we should buy (rated the best in regards to even assistance) and which components to buy so that our computer would not have to be updated in at least 5 years.  We would also like to get the printer. We are thinking in the price range of $2,000.00.  We'd appreciate your advice. Thank you.
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No computer you can buy today will perform adequately in 5 years.  Just think - five years ago we were using Windows 3.1 on 386 computers and Mac Classics and thought they were hot stuff!  

First - PC versus Mac.  Apple has been steadily losing market share over the last decade and now commands less than 2% of the worldwide market for computers.  It doesn't take an Einstein to realize that there is a lot more variety of software and hardware available for the PC, plus the PC is much cheaper and is usually upgradeable.  My advice - don't even bother considering a Mac.

You have two options - spend a lot and get a computer that won't need upgrading for two years, or spend a lot less and replace the machine in about 18 months.  The new operating system Windows 2000 will be out mid-2000 and then all the software writers will start writing programs that won't run on Win98 any more.  By mid-2001 you will need Win2000 but it is not available yet, except in a pre-release Beta version full of bugs.

I suggest buying an inexpensive PC now, along with an excellent monitor and adequate printer.  In 18-24 months, trade up to a Win2000 computer, keeping the monitor and printer.  Buy a quality 17" monitor minimum - but bigger is better if you plan to spend a lot of time using it.  Plan to spend $600 for the computer, $180 for the monitor and $150 for the printer.  In two years, buy a new computer for $1000 and have a friend transfer the files from the old machine to the new one.

Make sure when you buy software to keep all installation disks since you will need them when you transfer to the new machine.

What brand to buy?  If you have a PC-savvy friend, buy a non-brand-name machine and let the friend help you.  It's the cheapest way to go.  Under no cirucmstances buy Compaq or Packard Bell - huge reliability problems and incompatible hardware.  If you have no PC-savvy friend, then you want Gateway or Dell or Hewlett-Packard since they ahve excellent phone-in tech support, but yo will pay an extra $300 or so for the privelege.  

Any more questions, post and we'll answer.  Good luck!  
My opinion is that there are two approaches that might be taken when buying a PC:

1) Buy the absolute top of the line in everything and stretch it's lifespan as far as you can.  Be sure that any system has adequate room for expansion and upgrades.  Using this approach, I think 3 years is about the most you can get out of it before it's just hopelessly outdated.

2) Buy an entry level PC and scrap it out every year.  Then buy a new one, entry level, scrap it out after a year.

One study found that the optimum was buying a mid level computer every two or three years.
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I believe Kayton opinion is a little skewed towards the PC.  I do agree that the Windows-Intel  machine have more programs, however,  most of them are useless.  I myself have both a Windows machine and a MacIntosh.  I also have an SGI (unix machine) as well as a linux box.  Each machine has its good and bad points.

For ease of use and longer life, a MacIntosh is still the best bet.  I know many people who still use their old MacIntoshes just because they are and easy to use.  Macs aren't necessarily any more reliable than a Windows machine, my Mac crashes more often than my Windows machine.  Macs are still easier to use than a windows machine.  It's just less complex which also translates to a little less user tweeking.

Buying aWindows-Intel machines is usually cheaper.    Many poeple buy them just because they are cheap, but soon realize they have to buy some upgrade because somethings missing.  I own a Windows-Intel machine because most of the video games run on them.  I did actually get machine well before the Mac.

What I found with my machines is that I'm frequently tinkering with both machines whenever I'm installing new software.  However, the Mac is usually done within half an hour.  The Windows machine do require more time, partly because they ask you to reboot the machine more frequently and it just takes more time.

Both machines require software and all the necessary software is available for both machines.  Macs just have fewer games and shareware.  The better choice would probably be to buy a machine similar to what you use in your classrooms.  I would still recommend a Mac just because It would last longer.  No under $2000 PC will last more than 3 years (4 years if you wish to deal with outdated and slow machines).
One question that many people tend to ignore when a first-time computer buyer such as yourself asks for advice is:  What are you going to be using it for?

If all you're going to be using it for is word processing and other business applications, then you could buy a good computer today for far less than $2,000 that could fill all your needs for the next 5 years.  It may not be as fast or as flashy as your neighbor's computer, but as long as it does what you need, who cares?  That's the reason why there are still some people out there who are STILL using older computers with Windows 3.1 on them.

If, on the other hand, you've got children who are going to insist on being able to play the latest and greatest games on the shelf, you'd better prepare yourself to spend more at the start and upgrade far more frequently.
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An iMac with an Epson printer would cost less than $1500 and would do more than you would probably need it to do. It would easily last the standard computer life time of about 3 years.
One problem with a Mac is that the monitor (and probably the printer) would be incompatible with a PC in the future.  However the chief problem with the Mac is the lack of software.  Many new programs coming out are PC-only.  

The Mac is going the way of the Betamax videotape format.  When was the last time you saw a store selling Beta formatted videotapes??
First off, I would like to address something mentioned above regarding other software being useless when Win2000 comes out.  Software manufacturers including Microsoft make their products backwards compatable and most software which works in 95 or 98 will be fine in 2000.

Now, for the new buyer, you definately want to think about two things.  As mentioned before, what will you be using the computer for AND how much do you want to spend?

Computers are not investments and even worse than cars, are worthless for resale after 6 months.  A computer you buy today for $1000 will not be worth $500 in 6 months.  Now, you can get over this issue by simply purchasing a system which will be upgradable.  As long as it fits your budget, buy something which does not have onboard video or sound and plenty of expansion slots for future additions.  You can plan on spending money in the future for upgrades and enhancements but realize that even with upgrades, you most likely are looking at about a 3 year lifespan if you want it to be current.  If you are only interested in things like internet, wordprocessing, and basic computing, you will be fine for longer than that but recognize that things like 3D gaming and photo editing require much more from a system and you will need to stay current.
When Win98 came out, publishers immediately released software that will not run under the old operating systems.  When Win2000 comes out, they will do the same.  If you will want to run the latest version of Quicken or Word or whatever, it will not run under Win98, so you will be forced to upgrade to Win2000 if you want to run these programs.
It is true that 5 years is unrealistic for a computers shelf life, but with some thought and regular attention, you can stretch out your PC’s useful life!  I do not believe in the philosophy that it is a mater of whether to buy a cheap disposable PC to replace in a year, or spend the moon to gain a super computer to stretch.

Others mentioned the important notion that you need to consider how this computer is going to be used.  This is highly important, but it is a living question.  By this I mean, how are you going to use it now, and how will this use change in the future?  Who else will use this computer in your household?  For example, if you are just trying to conduct a normal internet aware life for the moment, e-mail to work, friends, and relatives, seasoned with some web browsing, but you plan to begin taking your CAD or DTP work home in about a year or so, then you can save on your initial purchase by getting a cheap video card for now with plans on upgrading in a year or so.

For the most part, you can make a major upgrade to your computer for between $100 and $200.  There is a limit to how long you can extend this process, but it is quite easy to do this for 3 to 5 years, especially if toward the end of that time, this will be a PC for one of the kids or some other such secondary use.  This may include a new Hard Drive, Video Card, Mother Board, Processor, or any combination of these.

At the moment, the ease of this approach depends on your own experience in working with PC hardware and/or your access to technical help in picking components and installing them.  It is still very possible to go down this path while working with a vendor.  It may be more difficult to work this way with a Gateway or Dell PC, but with any of the myriad of other custom PC houses, Quantex or any other brand.  Most of these companies use very standard components and can swap in and out just about any piece you choose.  

I have worked with many friends, associates and clients to design PC’s in this fashion, often without involving either myself, or them in the actual building of the PC.  There are many vendors that offer a web interface to design your own custom PC.

Answer the following questions, ideally as a new post to the exchange, and you will receive a much more specific response to your needs.

1)  How will you be using this computer?  Focus on your possible need for storage space, communications, graphics, sound, and the need to exchange data (floppy disk, CD-ROM, ZIP, etc).

2)  How will this use change in the next 3 years?

3)  Who else will use this computer and what are there needs?

4)  How much can you spend up front?

5)  How much can you spend in upgrades every 6 months?  ($50 - $300 range is a good target)

6)  What are your needs for extras, like bundled software, special support needs, onsite service?

7)  How much technical experience do you bring to the table?  (To be used in picking components, doing upgrades your self with or with out help)

There are plenty of other bits of info that would help, but this is a good start.

Good luck!!

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Upgrading is overated.  If you are just using your machine at home and aren't transfering files to machines at work, you technically don't need to upgrade or buy anything new.  An Apple IIe or C64 is still usefull as a word processor.  The only reason to upgrade from Word 6.0 to Word 7.0 is to maintain compatibility with everyone else who upgraded.  Word 6.0 is still a perfectly good word processor and most people don't even use half of the functions.  For that matter Word 2.0 is still a perfectly good and usable program.

The only reason people upgrade is because "everyone else did" and now they have to upgrade just so they can read the newer file format.  It's a total scam by the software industry.
While I appreciate Serialband’s comments, I must disagree.  I personally have an old Atari Falcon that is still the main computer I use for MIDI music work.  On a daily basis though, the new applications available each year greatly advance the work that the average individual can accomplish in there home.  This includes programs like MS Publisher, Office, Advanced Web Browsers, and games.  All of these applications do add features that many people do not use but for the average user they keep bringing advanced features and abilities into their reach.  This all comes at a price, the need for performance.  Today’s applications are hogs to the n’th degree.  I have full Desk Top Publishing and Spreadsheet programs for my old Atari that fit on one floppy!  I am definitely a power user so it is hard for me to use my personal experience to evangelize this concept.  My wife on the other hand, is not.  She if very smart, but is not a “Computer Person”.  She, like countless others, wants to accomplish as much as possible with as little hassle as possible.  She puts together news letters for a local non-profit, and has just completed a holiday letter were sending to our families.  These tasks were made possible due to the performance of her PC, which let her easily use a scanner, graphics software, and MS Publisher with minimal hassle.  Now some of today’s software vendors make this difficult at times, but over all, our ability to accomplish great things keeps growing.

Another example is my mother.  She is a retired teacher, in her 50’s, and is still struggling with computers.  When she needed a new computer though, we sat down and talked about all of the things she might want to do.  In the end we built her a Celeron 400 with 64MB RAM, large HD, and a Matrox Marvel G200.  To points about this computer are that it can definitely perform, not like today’s computers, but fast enough for the moment, for her.  The other comes from the abilities an upgrade item like the Matrox Marvel gives her.  She is playing with video capture, normally a highly technical task, made easy by new user friendly software, all of which is performance hungry.

As a final note I would offer this.  It does depend on how you plan on using your computer, now and in the future.  An important thought to consider is that what you see now as your use might change if you had new options and abilities made available.  My mother could not have conceived many of the wonderful things she can now do with her computer.  

As a rule of thumb, you should attempt to purchase a computer that is both a good performer and adequately upgradeable.  The last point can be the most important as we all have financial constraints that dictate what we can through down for a new computer.  
I agree with Kayton and would also like to add that the company Gateway provides customers with the option of purchasing a computer now and trading it in after a few years or so to a newer model.
The vast majority of software, including all the major office and productivity applications, run fine in multiple generations of Windows OS.  Quicken, MS Office, Word Perfect Office and many others run on NT, Win 2000, Win98, and Win95.  There are cases where some upgrading may be needed, but this is usually a matter of adding MS IE 4/5 or some windows update.  It is a myth that you must always upgrade your OS to the latest and greatest to take advantage of new version of these software packages.  Another point is that this really would not matter anyway.  Any decent computer you would build today and plan on making small upgrades to would be able to handle at least two, possibly 4 generations of OS upgrades.  

The Gateway solution is a very good choice for some people.  You will pay a premium for it though.  This will either be in the form of a leasing program that has you paying interest, or in the cost of the replacement, which may seem low as a trade in, but if you were to do all the math, is still a premium.  Often families would find it more useful to have that older PC move to another room in the house.  Home networks are already fairly commonplace.

Now if you were going to put your PC on a high interest credit card anyway, then it is a much more viable solution to look at leasing and trade-up programs.

The bottom line, there is no one best solution.  I do firmly believe that if the reasonable technical knowledge is there in the house our available, then the planed component upgrade is the best over all rout.

This all just depends.
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