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Computers Make Great Holiday Gifts, If You Choose Wisely

BOONE–Parents considering a computer as a gift this holiday season can benefit from the advice of an expert at Appalachian State University.

“The biggest tip I can give parents considering a computer purchase is to buy from a reputable electronics related store rather than a deep discount house,” says Doug May, director of academic computing services at Appalachian.

May said that often times deeply discounted computers may be outdated models without the latest technology in terms of processing speed or storage. “The best parallel I can make is that it’s like having a car that requires leaded gas today. You can get a computer that still functions from discount houses, but no longer runs the latest software.”

He says stores such as Best Buy, CompUSA and Staples, as well as mail order firms, offer the latest computer models will provide technical support for what they sell.

Even so, when looking for bargains among the top name models, don’t try to cut costs by overlooking the extended warranty. “Anyone contemplating buying a computer should consider the total cost of ownership, not just the cost of the computer,” May says. “The computer certainly has a short life span, just three to four years in terms of evolving technology, but during that time the owner inevitably will need technical support for upgrades or repairs. It might be better to pay a little more upfront to get access to technical support later on.”

On-site warranties are also well worth the price, May says. The warranty covers the cost for a technician to service the computer wherever it is located, whether at home or college. “We have students coming to our office all the time when a representative is here on campus to do warranty work. That kind of support is really helpful and part of the total cost of ownership,” May says.

Mays says it’s also important to pay attention to monitor quality, processor speed, memory and hard disc size when considering a computer purchase. “Removable storage media such as floppy drives have limited use now,” May said. “Zip drives are waning. I think having a CD-RW (read/write) drive is the current way to go.”

May recommends that parents buying a computer for a college-bound student learn about the school’s technical recommendations and see what brands the campus technology center supports.

At Appalachian, minimum requirements for personal computers include an AMD or Pentium 4 processor, 256 meg of memory and 20 gig hard drive. For Macintosh computers, the recommended minimums are a G4 processor, 256 meg memory and a 40 gig hard drive. The same recommendations hold true if buying a computer for home use, May says.