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Difference between ROM, RAM, and storage capacity?

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Difference between ROM, RAM, and storage capacity?

Because they're measured in the same units, users often confuse a computer's RAM, ROM, and storage capacity. This article explores their differences in laymen's terms.
These days, it's hard to function without knowing how to use a computer. They've become indispensable tools in most schools, at many jobs, and even at home. It seems that there are few machines, from telephones to cars to cash registers, that can't be hooked up to computers in order to make them more efficient. And if computers aren't already complex enough to strain our brains, the folks who work with them seem to have a fondness for impenetrable acronyms: RAM, ROM, CPU, DIMM, SIMM, IDE, CMOS, BIOS, TSR, MHz -- the list goes on. Plus, they have a penchant for using the same units of measurement for different things.
The most glaring example of the latter is the use of the term "byte" and its larger relatives to describe three different (if related) issues: RAM, ROM, and storage capacity. All are important to understand if you really want to know how your computer works, and unfortunately it's easy to get them confused. The most common error is to assume that the RAM and the disk drive storage capacity are the same; they're not, and ROM is something else altogether. All are memory of a sort, but not the same kinds of memory. The purpose of this article is to clarify the differences between them, in language that's easy to understand.

  • Let's start with basics: the units used to measure the different flavors of computer memory. A byte (B) consists of a grouping of eight binary digits ("bits"), and is typically considered the smallest addressable unit of data. A byte is usually enough to indicate a single character in a file -- say, a letter or a number. A grouping of 1024 bytes is called a kilobyte (KB); 1000 KB, or 1,024,000 bytes, equals a megabyte (MB). Larger units include the gigabyte (GB), which equals 1,000 MB, and the terabyte (TB), which is way up there at 1000 GB -- 1,024,000,000,000 bytes. In the old days (before 1990), KB were usually sufficient for discussing the capacity of an everyday computer. Back then, a computer with a MB ("meg") of memory or storage capacity was a manmade wonder right up there with the Pyramids. No more: MB and GB are necessary now, and it seems that terabyte-level computers are just around the corner.
    So if the compugeeks of the world are capable of creating computers of such power and complexity, why did they decide to use the same units of measure for different things? The answer is twofold. First off, the usage got entrenched in the industry early on, and is now impossible to root out. Secondly (and most importantly), the phenomena the units measure is quite similar, whether you're speaking of RAM, ROM, or capacity. Bytes, kilobytes, megabytes, and gigabytes always describe computer memory. The memory, however, is used for different things.

  • RAM is short for Random Access Memory, and comes from hardware components wired into or attached to the motherboard, the main circuit board of your computer. RAM is used to run certain basic programs and functions that your computer needs to operate correctly, and functions only while the computer is receiving power. Programs you're using are written in RAM temporarily while the computer is processing them. Think of RAM as a playing field, a large open area where your programs function. Each program takes up a certain amount of space; the field can accommodate one or several different programs at one time, but its capacity is limited. When you shut down a program, it disappears from RAM and (ideally) the space it occupied can be reused. Sometimes some operating systems, including Microsoft Windows, won't relinquish the RAM space even when a program is closed. However, because stuff in the RAM is retained only while the computer is powered up, turning it off will always clear the RAM.
    If you want a larger playing field in real life, you have to add onto the field by acquiring more property. With RAM, you do this by adding additional memory. In most cases, this memory comes in the form of "RAM sticks," small rectangular cards studded with memory modules. These fit in special slots in the motherboard. Single Inline Memory Modules (SIMMs) are still used, but Dual Inline Memory Modules (DIMMs) are becoming the standard.

  • ROM is an acronym for Read Only Memory, a type of unchangeable memory residing in chips on your motherboard. ROM contains the bare minimum of instructions needed to start your computer. Because it's used for critical functions, it can't be removed short of ripping it out of the motherboard; adding to it is just as difficult. Think of it as analogous to municipal utilities, such as gas and electricity. If you want a different configuration, you'll have to "move on" to a different motherboard or computer. Incidentally, the term "ROM" is also used, not entirely correctly, when referring to some kinds of storage media that can't be modified, such as CD-ROMs.

  • The term "storage capacity" is most often used to describe disk drives, which tend to be permanent, though many forms of storage media are removable: the various types of floppy disks, high-capacity Zip disks, CD-ROMs, and tape cartridges, to name the most common types. To extend the real-estate analogy used previously, your storage memory -- also known as secondary storage -- can be thought of as a series of warehouses, some of them mobile, where you can store programs. Programs come in various sizes, from a few KB on up to several hundred MB. A particular storage "warehouse," such as a disk drive, has a finite amount of space in which to store programs. Depending upon its capacity, any given storage warehouse might be packed tight, or it might contain one tiny program stuck off in a corner. If one particular "warehouse" gets full, you can always construct or bring in another.

    That's it in a nutshell. Basically, RAM is the size of your playing field, and can be increased as you purchase more "real estate"; ROM is equivalent to your utilities, the hardwired bare necessities needed to operate your computer, and is fixed in size; and storage capacity can be thought of as warehouses of various size, some of them mobile, which can be trucked in or constructed as circumstances warrant. It would take a book the size of a dictionary to cover everything about RAM, ROM, and storage, but hopefully this article will provide you with the basics you need to cut through any initial confusion. Good luck -- when it comes to computers, you'll need it!
  • Computer care instructions

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    Computer care instructions

    Computer care instructionsDon't buy a new computer, tune-up the one you have. If you've got just a little time, you can make your computer work like the day it came out of the box!
    Alright, how many of you actually regularly check you hard drive for garbage and junk that you can get rid of? Do you know where Microsoft put the system utilities for Windows? I'm going to try to explain where all of these "Accessories" are. What they do and what we're going to do with them. Some of these programs go back to before Window 1.1 and have been hanging around since the bad ol' days of DOS. I'm sure that you've realized that the computer just isn't running the way it used to. Well, there can be a few reason why thing just aren't click the way they used to. As we use the applications, cruise the web and write reports, letters and computer articles the word processor makes temporary files that it might forget to erase when the applications is shut down. Even if you think the files is going into "My Documents" along with everything else, that doesn't mean that it's going to be next to the rest of the contents of the folder on the hard drive. So, we've got to bring order out of chaos and get the computer back to some semblance of normal (whatever that was, is or might be).

    The good news is that Microsoft included some System Tools with Windows. The bad news, you have to use them in a specific order or things just don't come out right. So, let's get things rolling by explaining what is going to happen and when. The first thing we have to do is take out the trash. Windows 95 users are going to have to use the "Find" to get each of the categories, select the files that are useless and send them to the recycle bin. Window 98 are going to have to use "Find" for back up files and Check Disk files, but they can use "Disk Cleanup to automatically search the drives for the various temporary files. Once we're done sending things down the rabbit hole, it is going to time to check the health of the hard drive to make sure that the File Allocation Table (FAT) is okay and the hard drive doesn't have any data errors on it. Scan Disk has been around since, well? forever really. It hasn't been changed because it does what it does well and if it isn't broke Geeks don't fix it. When the contents of the hard disk have been checked and repaired, the Defragmentation is going to put things back where next to all their friends and relations on the hard drive.

    So we're going to:
    Use "Find" and "Disk Cleanup" to find the trash, garbage and junk. Once we find them we're going to send them into the recycle bin and into the bit bucket in the sky.
  • Scan Disk is going to look at the FAT. Then it's going to check the files on the drive to make sure that they match what they've told the file allocation table. This utility is going to ask all of the files, "who are you?" "How old are you?" "How big are you?" Scan Disk takes the answers and checks them against the FAT file. If they don't match, we're not saying whose lying, but it will fix the misreported files and make them match the information.
  • Disk Defragmenter is going play musical files and rearrange things so almost everything is back where it was when everything got started.
    All right, let's get this started.
    We're gong to look for
    *.bak
    *.chk
    *.tmp
    *.temp
    by typing in the Wild Card * a period (dot in the computer world) and the letters I've given you, okay gang. Then Click the "Find Now" button, when you find them the lower pane will list them in the order that they were found. The majority of these files are useless to you in your day-to-day computer, so you can be ruthless with them. The first thing you have to do is select the files that you want to delete. I do this by pressing the "Control + A" keys at the same time to "Select All" (this is a Windows Global Command that works everywhere). Or you could click the Edit menu and then click "Select All".
    Either way, the same thing happens, all of the entries in the lower pane turn colors for you. Once that's all done you can't either punch the Delete key or you could go back to the Edit menu again and click delete. Then you get the multiple item delete dialog box that will ask you if you're sure that you want to send all these items to the recycle bin. You can either hit the Enter key or just click Yes and off they'll go to the recycle bin. When you get done finding the last of the junk files and have sent them to the recycle bin, empty it out and we'll be ready for the next two steps
    Note: Windows 98 has a Utility called Disk Cleanup under Accessories, System Tools. This will find Temporary Files, Temporary Internet Files, but no Back-up files (BAK) or Check disk (CHK) files. So, still look for those other Files. You Windows 95 and 98 First Edition people are going to have look for them.

    Tuning-Up Things:
  • Now, we're going to press the "Start Button", then "Programs" the "Accessories", ?System Tools and SCANDISK. The applet's controls will come up on the screen. This is a very simple box that just lets you specifiy which drive you want you scan and how you want to do it. Make sure that Thorough and Automatically Fix Error is checked and click the Start Button. ScanDisk is going to take anywhere from five to Twenty Minutes depending on your computer. So, this isn't something you're going to do in a when you're going off for a coffee break. And, we still have one step to go and it takes the longest. When scandisk is done it's going to put a report on the screen saying it fix things or found no errors. You'll click the Close button.
  • Okay guys, we're going back into System Tools again. This time we're going to start the Disk Defragmenter or Defrag for short.
  • Click OK for the Drive C, D, or All Drives; and you see that it starts displaying the amount of the task, not the disk, that it's finished thus far. First, it's going to read the file allocation table. Then it will make a quick check to see that everything is where the table said they were. Once everything is checked and the utility is convinced that all the ducks are in a row it's going to start chugging and moving things around. That's when the tick-off reads 10%. You can sit there and watch it tick-off until it reads 100%, but it's about as exciting as watching paint dry. Go to lunch, supper, or watch Prime Time, because this might take upwards of an hour or more to complete depending on how Fragmented your hard drive is and the speed of your processor and file system.
  • However, once everything is done, and the files are all back to where they're supposed to be and all together again your computer will run noticeably faster and better. And friends, when this takes the longest the first time out. Sort of schedule this about once a month. Or, if you're like me, every week, just to make sure that the files and drives are working the way they should.
  • All about your outlook express address book: making it work for you

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    All about your outlook express address book: making it work for you

    Can't figure out how to add new addresses in your Outlook Express e-mailing software? Here are some tips to get you started on creating and maintaining your address book.
    Welcome to the world of e-mail, or electronic mail. You've decided to use Outlook Express to compose and receive your e-mails. Outlook Express has tons of valuable features to make e-mailing extremely easy. One of the first things you may be wondering is how you can start keeping track of all of your friends' e-mail addresses. It's easy with Outlook's address book feature.
    More than likely, when you first open Outlook Express, you will see four "windows." The window on the top left shows your different folders. The window on your top right is where your actual e-mails come in. The window on your bottom right is a preview pane. When you click on an e-mail, it will give you a small preview of what is actually contained in the e-mail. The bottom left portion is what we're interested in today, however. This window contains contact information, or your address book. If the bottom left window is not currently visible when you open up Outlook Express, click on the "View" menu on the toolbar and choose "Layout." Make sure that there is a checkmark by the "Contacts" option.

    There are two ways to add a new contact. Let's say your friend Jane Doe has sent you her e-mail address and you want to add her to your address book. Click on the small down arrow by the word "Contacts" in the Contacts pane or simply press Alt + C. Choose the "New Contact" option. This will open up a window that will allow you to enter all kinds of information about your friend Jane Doe. In the "Name" tab of this window, fill out your friend's information. The information it asks for is pretty self-explanatory. Next to "E-Mail Addresses" type Jane's e-mail address: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Click on the "Add" button and it will add this e-mail address to the pane below. If Jane has many e-mail addresses (for example, if she has a different work e-mail address and a different home e-mail address), you can add multiple addresses by typing them in and clicking "Add." If you only have one address for her, it will automatically cause this e-mail address to be the default address. If you have multiple addresses for Jane, you can select the e-mail address she uses the most and then click the button "Set as Default." One important item to note is that whatever name you use for the "Nickname" box, you can simply type that nickname in the "To" portion of a new message and it will understand that you are sending a message to that specific person. There are several other tabs you can list properties for, but, for now, all we want to do is add Jane to your contacts list. Once you have entered Jane's information, click the "Ok" button to save your changes. You will see Jane's name in your Contact list. Now, whenever you want to e-mail her, you can just double-click on her name and a new message will appear addressed to Jane.

    You can also do this same thing by going to the "Tools" menu and choosing "Address Book." Click on the "New" button and choose "New Contact." Then follow the directions above to add a new contact. This is more easily done by clicking the "Addresses" button close to the top of your screen.
    Let's say you have a book club that has four members in it and you don't want to continually type in each of their e-mail addresses when you want to e-mail them all as a group. After clicking the "Addresses" button, click on "New Group." Enter a Group Name. For example, you can call the group "Book Club." Click the "Select Members" button and it will allow you to choose several of your existing e-mail contacts for the Book Club group. Once you have selected them all, click "Ok." Now, the next time you want to e-mail your Book Club group, you simply have to type in "Book Club" and the message will automatically be sent to all four members.

    The Outlook Express address book feature is pretty intuitive if you just give it a try. Remember, if you ever get stuck and want to trouble shoot, you can always hit the F1 key or click on "Help" from the toolbar and then "Contents and Index." This will help you figure out anything you want to know about the address book.

    Cleaning inside of your computer

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    Cleaning inside of your computer

    Cleaning inside of your computerThe inside your computer requires regular cleaning, read this article and find out the how to's of computer cleaning.
    If your family is like mine, your inventory of home-based electronic devices is growing. This gear requires regular cleaning, especially your PC. Only three decades ago, computers were tractor-trailer sized monsters. Trained engineers sheltered the delicate hardware in dust-free, environmentally controlled rooms. Today's PCs, some as small as three-ring binders, sit on our kitchen counters, bedroom desks, and family room card tables. Family members, including pets, touch the keys and drag the mouse around. The computer collects dust, cracker crumbs, and Popsicle drips. Over time, accumulated grime causes problems.
    You can reduce maintenance and cleaning problems by setting your PC in a friendly spot. To protect your PC, keep it in a corner sheltered from direct sunlight and extended periods of fresh air. Place it on a sturdy surface with a good airflow behind the back of the CPU.
    When you purchase your PC, the salesperson may also try to sell you a maintenance agreement that includes cleaning. Don't count on seeing a technician unless you initiate the call. Read the contract carefully or you might end up carrying the PC to the store for cleaning or paying for something you won't use. You can pay a local vendor $50 an hour to clean your hardware or you can do it yourself. It's not hard or expensive to keep your PC clean.

    You will need a few household supplies: q-tips, soft cloths, and dish soap. The only specialized materials you'll need are canned air and inexpensive kits to clean the drive heads. PC cleaning does not take long and don't worry, you won't damage anything following these instructions. Most PCs have several parts so we'll go through them, one at a time. Before you begin, turn off the power to your PC.

    Monitor : The monitor, like your television screen, attracts dust and sticky fingerprints. You can buy anti-static wipes that double as screen cleaners. If you're getting a shock when you touch the screen, static is a problem at your workstation. Consider placing a plastic mat under the chair to reduce the static build-up. I've found that paper towels work well as screen cleaners. Avoid spraying liquid at your monitor. Moisten the towel and then wipe the screen once a week.
    Keyboard : Regular cleaning will keep the keyboard looking new. Use a soft cloth, perhaps a cotton diaper, moistened in a mild soap solution to wipe off the keys. While you're at it, run the cloth over the plastic casing around the monitor and CPU. Be sure to lift the keyboard and dust the surface below. Turn the keyboard upside down to shake out crumbs or use a moist q-tip to remove them.
    Avoid allowing water to seep between keys. Keyboards don't like to get soaked. Accidents do happen and I can personally vouch that, if you spill a glass of water on your keyboard, all is not lost. Set the keyboard upside down on a towel. Let it dry overnight and it should be fine. If the keyboard doesn't respond properly after a soaking incident, call in a professional.
    Mouse : The mouse cursor moves on the screen when you slide the pointing device on a padded surface. When you notice that the mouse cursor does not respond quickly, it's time for a cleaning. Most mice have a small cover that protects the ball hidden in the housing. Remove the cover by twisting it, shake out the cracker crumbs, and wipe the ball clean. You should also blow gently into the ball-cage or spray canned air into the opening. Replace the ball and reassemble the mouse. Clean the mouse about once a month, especially if your children are like mine and eat near the PC.
    External Drives : Your computer, especially older models, may contain external drives. Floppy, tape, and CD-ROM drives all collect dust. The read-write head in each drive scans the disk or tape as it reads and writes data. A dusty head can scratch the disk or tape and cause maintenance problems. Regular cleaning is a must.
    Several commercially available products can help you clean drive heads. These inexpensive products, generally less than $10.00, require you to insert into the drive, a special disk or cartridge moistened with cleaning fluid. Follow manufacturer instructions to force the read-write head to scan the surface. If you're lucky enough to have a drive with a yellow caution light you'll know it's time to clean when the light comes on. Otherwise, try to clean your drives once a month.
    Central Processing Unit-CPU : The CPU resides in the metal box holding the computer parts you don't see. The motherboard, the modem, memory cards, and network cards live in slots on the bottom of the metal box. A high-speed fan inside the box prevents overheating as data shuttles around, following your commands. Help the fan do its job and minimize dust accumulation by making sure you have clear air space behind your CPU.
    Once or twice a year, or whenever you upgrade the memory cards, remove the screws from the back of the CPU and slide the cover off the box. Tape the screws to the cover while you work. The screws are small and easy to misplace. Aim a can of compressed air towards an open space and spray the dust from the components. You will not hurt your computer by doing this. When you are done, slide the housing back on. It can be a tight fit. Be sure to put the screws back in place.

    Your computer is now clean. The cost of PCs has decreased substantially in the last decade but chances are you'll be looking at the same monitor, keyboard and casing for a while. Spend a few minutes taking care of your computer every week. You'll be pleased with the results and save some money too!

    Computer maintenance tips

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    Computer maintenance tips

    Computer maintenance tipsUse these routine maintenance tips to keep your computer running at peak performance.
    With the amount of information available for download on the internet, it's easy to quickly fill up your valuable hard drive space and turn your computer into a sluggish, unresponsive monster. Keeping your hard drive clean is essential to the high performance that the latest computers can achieve.
    Fortunately, it's a simple process; one that can easily be performed on a regular basis and, with some organization, keep your computer running like a well-oiled machine.
    You can discover how much hard drive space is available on your computer by accessing the DriveSpace program in your System Tools. A pie graph will show you the amount of used and unused space for each of your drives. Check this often to keep an idea of how much space you are using.

    There are six simple steps to clearing up your hard drive:
    1. Uninstall unused programs.
    Many times a new program will come along that looks fun to have or play with, but after a week or two you simply stop using it. These programs clutter up your drive and take up valuable space. You might be tempted to delete these programs from your drive, but doing so will cause problems. You must use the uninstall function of Windows for the program to be removed safely and completely.
    2. Clean out temporary files.
    When your computer is not shut down properly, it will pass information from memory into fragmented files. Also, while you are running programs, your computer will write information that it does not immediately need into temporary files. Installation files will also expand themselves into the temporary folder and will not always clean up after themselves. You can delete these temporary files safely by using the Disk Cleanup option in your System Tools.
    3. Empty your internet cache.
    As you surf the internet your computer stores web pages and images into a temporary internet cache so that it can quickly recall and access information when you move back and forth between pages. This backup information can quickly add up and eat hard drive space.
    Whether you use Internet Explorer, Netscape, or one of the many other browsers available, emptying out your cache is quick and easy. Simply follow the instructions in the Help files located within those programs. You may also wish to set a specific maximum file size for your cache folder, so that it is not allowed to run rampant.
    4. Empty your mail programs of clutter.
    It's easy to browse through your email and leave old messages there, promising yourself you'll sort them out later. One or two messages don't take up much space, but hundreds certainly do. Take the time to sort through these old emails now and delete what is not important. Create folders and organize what is left. Make it a habit that when new emails come in, they are either filed immediately or thrown away. Set your email program to empty your deleted items folder each time you close your mail program.
    5. Empty your recycle bin.
    Once you've emptied your drive of cluttering, unecessary programs; empty your recycle bin to remove what has been placed there in the process.
    6. Scandisk and Defrag.
    When Windows installs programs, it will put the files it needs anywhere that it finds free space, and not directly after the last program installed. As a result, your hard drive has patches of empty space on it that are not big enough to fit a full program, and will result in a drive space error if you attempt to install something new. Scandisk your drive to check for lost file fragments and to fix any errors it finds, then Defrag to pack all of the program files together at the beginning of your drive. This will clear out those empty patches and move all of the free space you've just created to the end of your drive.

  • Now that you've got it clean, keep it that way. Perform this quick maintenance routine every week. For your work computer, Friday afternoon before you leave for the weekend is the perfect time. When you return to work on Monday, you'll have a computer that is clutter-free and as responsive as it should be.
  • Organize your surfing habits. Direct all of your downloads to the same folder, so that you can easily find them and delete them when necessary, or move them to zip disks for storage. Keep track of the programs that you install. For trial versions, note the date that they will expire on a calendar. This will remind you to uninstall the programs that you can no longer use rather than allowing them to clutter up your drive. Also, if you run into problems, keeping track of new downloaded and installed programs and the date they were installed can help you track down the cause of problems.
  • Remember that the cleaner your hard drive is, the better your machine will respond! In order for your computer to be user friendly, it must have a friendly user. Be your computer's best friend and clean out the cobwebs regularly.
  • Computer questions: what is a serial port and how does it work

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    Computer questions: what is a serial port and how does it work

    Computer questions: what is a serial port and how does it workSerial ports connect devices such as modems, scanners and printers to your computer. Find out how serial ports improve communications between your PC and its peripherals.
  • Serial ports are the connectors on the back of your PC that enable your computer to control devices such as modems, scanners, and printers. Although some serial ports use a 25-pin interface, most only have nine pins. One pin serves as the ground while the others handle the flow of data between a computer and its peripherals. Serial ports are also known as communication (COM) ports, and most PCs have at least one.
  • Unlike parallel ports which send a full byte (8 bits) of data at once, serial ports can transfer information only one bit at a time. They use a bidirectional form of communications that allows information to travel back and forth across a cable. RS-232 is the standard serial port design determined by the Electronics Industry Association (EIA). Among its other specifications, a RS-232 serial port can connect a computer to a device located more than 50 meters away.
  • Serial devices use an asynchronous process to control the transfer of information, relying on special start and stop bits to signal when serial data should or shouldn't be transmitted. The asynchronous method divides information into packets of one byte each, sometimes including a special parity bit to verify the integrity of the data in each packet.
  • In your computer, the UART (Universal Asynchronous Receiver/Transmitter) converts the parallel data moving throughout your PC into a serial format that can be used by other serial devices. The procedure is reversed, however, when your computer receives serial data it must work with. The UART is also directly responsible for regulating the flow of serial bits.
  • In most serial communications, a device such as a modem is called the data communications equipment (DCE), while the computer itself is referred to as the data terminal equipment (DTE). The DCE and DTE (or two DTEs) establish a connection described as a "handshake" prior to exchanging data.
  • Your computer assigns an input/output (I/O) address and an interrupt request line (IRQ) to each serial port in your PC. This designation gives devices priority over each other as they attempt to communicate with your computer. Unfortunately, trouble occurs when a device is given the same I/O address or IRQ. This conflict can lead to your system shutting down or other PC problems. Therefore, make sure new serial devices are installed on only available I/O addresses and interrupts.
  • If you think your computer is experiencing a conflict, you can usually change your port configurations through software installed on your system. Consult your PC owner's manual or activate your operating system's help feature for instructions on how to fix port conflicts. Also, there are several shareware programs available that may help you detect possible conflicts as well.
  • Because many devices now use universal serial bus (USB) ports, computer users deal with fewer conflicts. USB ports use a different technology that offers much greater data transfer speeds than both parallel and serial ports. Also, USB ports support the connection of over 100 devices to your PC. But as long as computers continue to use modems, serial ports will probably be needed. Serial ports, despite their conflict issues, use a reliable form of data communications, and have performed quite well over the years.
  • A guide to PC buying

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    A guide to PC buying

    A guide to PC buyingA guide PC buying: there are many points to consider before you choose your new PC.
    When you start to think about buying a new family computer the best advice to give it to sit down and think about what it is you want. Don't go rushing out to the shops with your credit card ready to buy the first thing you see.

    There are many points to consider before you choose your new PC:
    1. How much are you willing to spend?
    2. Are you willing to spend a little more for what you want or is your budget strict?
    3. What do you need the computer for?
    4. What packages/specifications do you need? (accompanies answer 3)
    5. What size screen do you want/need?
    6. Will the PC be used for work?
    7. Do you need a new printer also?
    8. Find out the best places to get good advice - ask friends and see who they recommend.
    9. Make sure that the rep in the shop or showroom knows what they are talking about. Subtly test him/her on questions you know the answers to or make mistakes and see if they correct you. If you are unsure, ask to speak to a trained sales rep.
    10. Go thorough slowly exactly what is included in the deal you are considering. Many customers believe that have found a bargain only to find that the monitor wasn't included.
    11. Take full details of any helpline numbers or contact addresses incase anything goes wrong with your PC.
    12. Shop around. Compare prices with rival shops and try to price match with them (if you see a lower price for the same machine ask if the more expensive shop will price match).
    13. If there is a friend also looking for a new PC take him along to the shops. If you both find PC's in the same shop ask for a discount - there's no harm in asking and you could be a few hundred pounds better off.
    14. Make sure the company is reputable. If it is a new shop ask around to see if anyone has had any problems with them.
    15. If you are buying other items in the shop (i.e. printer, paper, software, cartridges, scanner etc) ask for some sort of discount. If they don't oblige go somewhere else.

    What will you use it for?
  • Think about this and list your answers - this is crucial to know before you buy the right computer. If you want to play good graphic games you will need a good, fast computer with lots of hard disk and a fast processor. If you intend to use the PC for work you again need a good reliable PC.
  • When buying the machine do ask the salesman what packages come with it. Many throw in children's games and learning tools.
  • If you intend to use the PC for work and will be using it for long periods it is a good idea getting the biggest size screen you can afford. 17/19 inch is fine. Using a smaller screen will inevitable bring constant eyestrain and perhaps headaches for the user: it is worth paying a few pounds/dollars more.

    Haggling with the sales reps
    All salespeople make commission on what they sell. They want your sale. Make sure that you get a good deal. If things aren't going as you planned or the rep won't haggle with you start to walk away. Seeing a potential commission walk out the door will soon have the salesman changing his mind. When discussing the free packages that come with it make sure you get a good deal with the rep. If you have one or two of the free software packages, barter a lower price or try and get different packages instead of the ones you already have.

    Saving money
    Most companies charge for delivery or set up of your machine. You don't have to pay this. It often works out cheaper if you can hire a bigger car or van and go and collect it yourself (find out where the depot is before you commit yourself to doing this). Unless you are a complete beginner at computers and haven't a clue ask a friend to help you set up the machine. You'll learn more by doing it yourself and your friend won't charge you!
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