- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 31, 2006

It hit me the other day in a grocery store when I noticed eggnog in the dairy case days before Halloween: “Christmas is coming early this year” now means holiday shopping begins sometime around the Fourth of July.

Or so it seems.

Whenever you get ready to do your shopping, here are some tips to get the right computer for someone else — or yourself.

First, plan for the future — the near future, that is. Sometime in 2007, and probably sooner than we expect, Microsoft Corp. will ship Windows Vista, its new operating system. You will need a CPU chip running at a minimum of 800 MHz for the basic Vista system, and 1.33 GHz for Vista’s higher-end configurations.

Memory should be at least 512 megabytes, but 1 gigabyte of RAM is required at the high end. You will need a highly capable graphics processor and a minimum 40 GB hard drive, and a DVD-ROM drive for the top Vista installation.

These are not impossible configurations; the PC at my left seems to meet them. But you will want to check out Microsoft’s Web site (www.microsoft.com/windowsvista/) to make sure that you’ve got — or are buying — the hardware you need.

This is not limited to PC owners, of course. If you are buying an Apple Mac, you will want to get one that can run the next generation of Mac OS X, code named “Leopard.” The good news is that since Apple makes the hardware and the OS, their current models should do fine. Buying used? Intel processor-based Macs with lots of RAM are your best bet.

Second, plan for expansion — if you want to. There are tiny PCs and Macs that will make great adjuncts to your living room big-screen TV, and if you get one with enough RAM and hard disk space, then you will be fine.

Otherwise, buy a computer with room for growth: additional memory, an upgradeable hard disk and other changes.

Third, check for ports. The more the merrier. If you plan to hook up a bunch of things to your computer, it’s important — even vital — to have as many connections on the device as possible.

Yes, you can get a USB “hub” to attach, but those generally require their own power source and become cumbersome. Smooth and streamlined is the way to go. If you can get internal wireless radios for both Wi-Fi networking and Bluetooth-based accessories such as keyboards and mice, by the way, using the computer in the rec room will be easier.

Fourth, make sure your computer has the best video output. VGA is fine, but XGA and higher are better. The higher the resolution, the easier it will be on your eyes, particularly with larger monitors. Again, think “living room,” because that’s where I think a lot of hardware will end up, even if it’s a year or two from now.

Fifth, security is important. If you can get a PC that can lock out the children — especially the younger ones — then it’s less likely an “oops” will fry your hard drive or erase last year’s tax data.

Also, look for computers with good software to protect against viruses and “malware.” Most of the ones on new systems are limited-trial versions that must be renewed, but it’s good to have protection out of the box.

Finally, relax and enjoy. Make buying a computer fun — not your second career.

• Read Mark Kellner’s Technology blog on The Washington Times’ Web site at www.washingtontimes.com/blogs.

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