Custom Built Computers

Hints & Tips

Useful stuff you might want to know when buying a computer...
I'm desperate to get onto the Internet but I'm worried about all these viruses. Any pointers?

It's good that you are worried. We get two or three malicious emails a week, with the sole purpose of causing us to wreck our PCs. Luckily we bought a good antivirus package (Norton's Antivirus since you ask) but there are probably a dozen good ones around. Some are even free! Look on the front cover CDs of all those computer magazines you see in WH Shop to see if you spot a free one. Most virus checkers update themselves automatically with details of new viruses; just make sure you either update your copy regularly or switch it to automatic, if the software allows this.

But I'm also worried about what my 8-year old is going to find out there.

Install an Internet protection package. We can recommend Norton Internet Security, because it is pretty friendly to use and comes with the Antivirus program mentioned above. It stops people hacking into your computer, stops rogue programs getting your details back out, and even protects you if someone tries to send out personal information, such as your telephone number. But there are others, so read those computer magazines to get yourself acquainted with what's available. Once again, some are free for personal use.

My daughter wants to chat with her friends. Is this safe? If not, what can I do about it?

Giving any child free reign with a computer connected to the Internet is just asking for trouble. Firstly, we recommend siting the computer in a "public place" - the lounge for example so that anyone can see what's being displayed on the computer screen. Failing that you can install protection programs that will block access to certain inappropriate websites (Norton's Internet Security mentioned above does this too), or sites that have certain undesirable words. Chatting is more difficult to control, but some Internet Service Providers (ISP) such as AOL have safe chat rooms that are continuously monitored. Any bad language and that participant will be kicked out and you (the parent) will receive any email saying that if this sort of behaviour persists then your account will be cancelled. Has my vote, anyway.

OK, so I can now safely roam the Internet. What would you say are absolute necessities?

If you are going to play music on your PC, you will want to play MP3s, rather than the actual CD you bought (although you can put the music CD into the CD/DVD player if you want). So you need a CD to MP3 converter. If we ever get that far I'll recommend a good FREE one to you! Once you have the music on your PC you need something to play it on. Microsoft would like you to use their Windows Media Player, but in my experience it's resource hungry and clunky. A FREE MP3 play is WINAMP, freely available off the Internet. [Ed: That's what I'm using right now as I type these words!]

Ummm...sorry to be dense but how exactly do I get onto the Internet? What was that about ISPs?

Right, you have a modem in your computer (or you are very fortunate and have Broadband Internet access like lucky old me). Your modem dials another computer belonging to your chosen ISP. It answers and talks to your computer in computer language. You sit and wait and eventually answer some questions, like your name, address and so on. This is called "registering" with and Internet Service Provider. You probably have to give them a valid credit card at this stage, but you can cancel before the "free" month is over. Once registered, next time you dial up, it knows who you are (it may still prompt you for a username/password) and then you can start a program called Internet Explorer that comes with Windows. This then shows you web pages, a bit like in a book.

If you really are a true beginner you may need some assistance or use an ISP that holds your hand during those first critical months. We chose AOL about 8 years ago because they did just that - and look where we are now! You pay the ISP a monthly fee (although just about all ISPs will give you the first month free, so you can try them out). The cost of the telephone call is included in this monthly fee, so you don't have to worry about a big telephone bill at the end of the month.

Broadband is basically just like having a really fast modem. And it allows you to use the telephone at the same time as your ISP. But let's not try and run before we can walk, heh? Seriously, if you need information (or, even better, hardware from me) to set up a Broadband connection we can help. Just bear in mind Broadband is not available in all (most?) places (yet).

Both my son and daughter have a PC as well as me. How can I get them all connected?

Easily and cheaply. See our Broadband page for all the details!

How do I keep my PC like new without a thousand icons cluttering the desktop like my friend's down the road?

Firstly, avoid installing every free program that drops onto your doormat. Decide if you would really make use of that program even if it does do what it says on the tin. If you do install something that doesn't live up to expectations use the Add/Remove utility judiciously and GET RID OF IT. Any program you install can turn a perfectly good system into an unstable mess (I wish someone had told me this about 8 years ago!). Luckily Windows XP lets you roll back the clock to get yourself back to a stable base.

Things seem to develop so quickly! Can I future-proof my computer in anyway?

I've tried (and failed) to do this before. If you are hoping to somehow choose options today that will "future-proof" your computer in, say, eighteen months to two years time then you will have no luck. Why? For the very reason stated in the question: things develop so fast that even if you bought leading edge technology today, that technology would be seen as entry level in two years' time. You could probably use the hard disk in your PC in a new one in a couple of years; but the PC's performance would suffer as a result. The processor would probably be obsolete; the memory chips would no longer be supported... and the list goes on.

My advice is to specify a PC that you can use effectively now, get the best use out of it and reconsider your options when you have either outgrown your existing PC or want to upgrade to the newest hardware or operating system.

You may always be able to sell on your existing PC as an entry level PC to little Johnny (or Mary) down the road who have no computer and want to get their feet wet at minimal cost. That money would then offset some of the cost of your new PC.

If you were buying for your family, what would you suggest that we go for in terms of options?

First and foremost, get a decent monitor. After all, it's the only thing that you will always be looking at, regarding of what you are actually running on the computer. We would most definitely get the 17" version (it's less than 20 more than the 15" one) and is well worth it in terms of eye-comfort.

Then, instead of spending too much money on mega-fast processors, consider usability; will you want to play DVDs on your computer or will you be doing that on a domestic DVD player in the lounge? Some cover-mounted disks on computer magazines are now DVDs so if you subscribe to, say, PC Shopping, you might want to get the DVD version. If not, don't upgrade to something you might never need, spend the money on a better pair of speakers instead!

Then, if you have not already done so, specify a computer with 256Mb of memory; that will really make a difference. It's the first "upgrade" we recommend to customers.

Initially, at least, we would not recommend getting cordless keyboards or mice unless you absolutely hate the cable attached to either. But if you are new to computers you won't know that will you? A decent cordless mouse is going to cost about 30 so the costs can mount up quickly. And anyway, what are birthdays and Christmas for?

Get a fast disk. It, too, can really make a difference to the overall speed of the computer, more so if you are doing anything disk intensive. If all you are doing is surfing the 'net, then you might as well go with the cheaper option.

Finally, if you are comparing prices, make sure you compare like with like. All computer systems are different, and just because PC Mega World Store can sell you a PC with a CD Rewriter included in the price, remember that they are not giving it away; you are paying for it somewhere! Find out where they have cut costs on other components.

There will never be a perfect time to buy a PC; prices are always changing (especially memory (RAM)) and new technology is always just around the corner. But go for something that satisfies you today and enjoy your purchase.

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