Identifying Your Required Hardware
The physical equipment that comprises a computer system represents the
system's "hardware." The basic hardware components of any computer are
the central processing unit, a monitor, a keyboard, disk and hard drives, and a
printer. Other common business components include CD-ROM and DVD drives, tape
drives, modems, and scanners.
Which of these components you'll actually need will depend largely on the
types of software
programs you choose to run and the types of tasks you want to accomplish.
- Central Processing Unit (CPU) — the CPU controls the speed at
which the computer processes information. The primary factor in this speed
is the CPU's processing chip. For example, a computer running a Pentium 4
chip will generally be faster than a computer running a Pentium III chip.
For a given type of chip, a higher megahertz (MHz) value will equate to
greater speed. For example, a 900 MHz Pentium system will generally be
faster than a 266 MHz Pentium system. Another important factor in a
computer's speed is the amount of its random access memory (RAM).
RAM, which is measured in megabytes (MB), is where your computer temporarily
stores information being used by programs it's currently running. To
effectively run new software applications, you really need a computer with
at least 64 MB of RAM, although having 256MB RAM is quickly becoming
- Monitor — this is the television-type screen at which you'll be
staring for countless hours as you do your work. As you compare monitors,
you'll run across references to screen size, refresh rates (represents how
often the computer "redraws" the screen), dot pitch (the distance
between the dots that make up the screen), and other strange terms. The key
is to find a monitor that you can read without undue eyestrain. The size of
the monitor is also important. The larger the monitor, the easier it is to
- Keyboard — as is the case with the monitor, the key issue in
comparing keyboards is your comfort in using them. A relatively recent
development is the availability of ergonomic keyboards that place the keys
in what is believed to be a more natural alignment for your fingers to
access. A supplement to the keyboard for entering work and executing
commands is the mouse. These also come in various styles, so you
should look for one that's comfortable and easy to use.
- Disk drives — a computer uses disk drives to read information
from and store information to floppy diskettes. Drives used to come in
51/4" and 31/2" sizes, although the former have been consigned to
the technological graveyard.
- Hard drives — the hard drive is where your computer stores
programs and other information on a somewhat permanent basis. The amount of
available space is measured in megabytes or gigabytes (1 GB being equal to
1,000 MB). With software applications continuing to grow in size, you're
usually best off getting as large a hard drive as you can afford. In fact,
you probably should avoid starting out with a hard drive of less than 10 or
even 20 GB.
- Printers — your options for a printer range from rather slow and
inexpensive to fast and more expensive laser printers, with inkjet and
impact printers falling somewhere in between. In comparing the costs of
different printers, it's important to look beyond just the initial purchase
price. For example, if a particular printer requires special paper, find out
how much that paper costs. Also consider how much it will cost to replace
the printer's ink supply (either a typewriter-type ribbon or ink cartridge)
and how frequently you'll be incurring that cost. Apart from cost and
features (including the ability to print in color; the ability to print on
different paper sizes; the ability to print checks, labels, envelopes, and
other special documents, etc.), an important factor in deciding what type of
printer your business needs is who will be seeing the documents you print
out. For example, if your business calls for sending computer-generated
materials to customers, suppliers, or creditors, then you'll probably want a
high quality color printer.
- CD-ROM drives — a CD-ROM drive runs applications and retrieves
information stored on compact discs, which are capable of holding large
quantities of data. Many software applications are available on both CD-ROM
and floppy diskette: installing the software from the CD-ROM is much faster.
The newer CD-ROM drives are also able to store information to CDs. Ideally
it's nice to have a CD-ROM with RW (read and write) capabilities.
- Tape drives — a tape drive stores information to cassette-type
cartridges and primarily serves as a tool for backing up the computer's hard
drive. If you will be keeping financial or other records that must be
retained in electronic format, some form of backup should be used to
safeguard your information. Tape drives are rather old technology but can
still be useful if more advanced storage options are unaffordable.
- Modems — a modem is the device that enables your computer to
communicate with other computers over the telephone lines and to ride the
information superhighway. With most modems currently on the market, you can
also use your computer to send and receive computer documents by fax. In
shopping for a modem, the main feature to look for is its transmission rate
(56K bps is good), because that determines how quickly a file can be
transmitted and how long your phone line will be tied up.
- Scanners — a scanner is used to quickly input an existing written
document or photograph into your computer. The scanner converts the item
into a computer file that you can then edit or manipulate. If you think you
need a scanner, be sure to "try before you buy." Check out the
quality of the scanned image and confirm that the corresponding file is in a
format that's compatible with your existing software applications that may
Of course, merely identifying which of the above items you really need leaves
you short of having an actual system on your desk. You still have to go out and
get it. Fortunately, we do have some suggestions
to help you with that process.