Selecting Your Computer

Selecting a computer should be an educated decision. You should be aware of the many options. Computers are grouped into 2 main categories, open architecture and proprietary. Sometimes, the open architecture computers are called clones.

There are two styles of open architechure computers. AT is the original, including the 286, 386, 486, and first series of Pentiums. ATX is the latest for Pentium II, III, and 4. This also means a Pentium can not be upgraded to a Pentium II or Pentium III, even with the open architecture. This redesign has to do mostly with the layout of the motherboard and the power supply fan being located over the processor on a new location on the motherboard. It also has to do with the "soft power switch" used on newer computers. Soft power switching includes the ability of software, when Windows shuts down, to be able to turn off the computer power.

Some major manufacturers claim to have ATX standard motherboards when in fact there are enough differences that the open architecture motherboards still won't work in them. There are several versions of ATX including NLX, micro, and others.

IBM, Compaq, Sony, HP, Packard Bell, Dell, Gateway, and other well know manufacturers use, for the most part, proprietary motherboards, power supplies, cases, sound cards and modems, and sometimes even memory modules. This means that when the computer needs a replacement motherboard or power supply or other proprietary part, that part can only come from that manufacturer, and usually at a very high cost of replacement out of warranty.

These computers usually can NOT be upgraded (in most respects) to newer technology requiring a change of motherboard. Many of these manufacturers also put the display interface on the motherboard rather than an expansion card. This is a serious mistake. Many owners want a special display interface with a certain chipset or other features. Open architecture computers have a much lower maintenance cost.

The are, at last count, over 200 manufacturers of computer motherboards that make motherboards of a standard design that are interchangeable, because size, mounting, and connections are standard. Since this type of computer uses a standard motherboard, it is easily upgraded to newer technology.

All motherboards (main system boards) starting with Pentiums now have hard and floppy controllers as well as serial and parallel ports integrated onto the motherboard in today's versions because "Plug and Play" requires close control of these. This is good for lower manufacturing costs of computers in general, but bad for the consumer requiring a motherboard replacement.

Consumers are good at destroying their computers in one form or another. Most of this destruction comes from not knowing what does destroy a computer. Static electricity is one cause, wrong connections are another, and connecting anything, particularly the keyboard, with the power turned is the third reason. Surges and power failures also do a lot of damage.

Static electricity is usually thought to do its destruction when handling individual components out of the computer. In fact, static electricity does damage when connecting a computer for the first time, or any time you connect a computer. This happens usually when the keyboard, monitor, modem, printer, scanner, or other device is plugged into the computer before the computer is grounded. Plugging in the power to the computer and monitor, then making sure the power is off to the computer, and then making the rest of the connections usually prevents static electricity from causing damage. If you forget to turn the power off, you can cause other damage in most cases.

Wrong connections include mixing the keyboard and mouse connections, using an adapter on a printer when none should be used, accidently connecting it to the serial port. For those who go inside the computer, reversing the ribbon cables on drives and controllers is quite common. This sometimes happens when a cable is accidently knocked off and you try to replace it. It also happens when you add or change a drive.

Surges take out more computers than customers realize. It can happen on a clear day with no storm around. Cheap worthless surge protectors can give a false sense of protection. Not protecting the modem is a back door into the computer for surges. Having the printer unprotected while all other devices are on the best surge protector made can and will lead a surge into the computer through "the back door". Now you see how easily a computer is destroyed.

A motherboard replacement for a major manufacturers computer can cost $300 to $600 exchange while a motherboard for an open architecture computer costs typically $125 to $175.

Purchasing an open architecture computer is the best way to go for many reasons. First, they are usually a better quality computer in every way. Major manufacturers are heavily competing with each other and are putting out computers at the lowest possible price to beat out their competition. Second, out of warranty repairs are less expensive with open architecture computers.

Don't be fooled by the so called better warranty of 3 years by the "majors". This warranty is over the minute you open the case and add any equipment that is not original. Check the seal on the case. In many cases, owners have found that upgrading to the next version of Windows has voided the free support.

Open architecture computers can be fixed by any good technician, and usually very fast. Reports indicate that when the "major's" computers fail, they usually get sent back and we have heard many times that the computer is gone for 6-8 weeks.

On site support is another matter. Read the small print in the agreement. If you have a software problem unrelated to the computer under warranty that causes what might appear as a computer problem, you are billed at standard rates of $60 to $90 per hour or more, because it is not included in the warranty

Do your homework and find a local dealer who can build you a good computer. We do this. We have been doing it now for 15s years.

Gene's Computer Outlet, Frazer, Pa