HOME Technology 2003
More bang for buck with bundle
Technology continues its relentless march up the power curve with more grunt available for less capital outlay this year and creative bundles including digital cameras, extra software and multifunction devices to sweeten the deal.

Getting a reasonably high performing PC into your home is cheaper this year than it’s ever been. Last year Hewlett Packard and the now defunct PC Company bought the entry level for a new PC to the $2000 mark with printers, scanners and other goodies thrown in to encourage sales.

This year the pressure is on to better those bundles with entry level between $1200 and $2000 – 17-19 inch traditional monitors or flat screens, hardware peripherals along with ‘interest free’ hire purchase, antivirus, internet access and other enticements.

Market analyst IDC Research says the market grew about seven per cent in the past year with about 558,439 home desktop PCs now in use throughout New Zealand – that’s about 42 per cent penetration. The number doesn’t include PCs used for work and removes from the aggregated number PCs older that about five years which have most likely passed their use-by date.

Aggressive bundling

The market leader for the second quarter of 2003 was HP with 38.7 per cent of all PCs sold followed by IBM, Dell and Acer respectively. For the corresponding period last year HP also topped unit sales with 43.6 per cent share with Dell, IBM and Apple trailing. The remaining 32 per cent share comprised sales from two small multinationals and local assemblers. The largest of those, Hamilton-based PC Company closed its doors in September.

The key to satisfaction is matching your PC configuration with your expectations for the next couple of years. The more capability you have the more ways you will find to use it. For example only a couple of years ago a 20Gb hard drive and 128Mb RAM was excessive, today it’s barely enough to get by on.

If your need is email, wordprocessing, web browsing and low end gaming you may only need to get what you need without the so-called freebies for under $1000. Most outlets, particularly those with a web presence, will allow you to customise graphics and sound cards, memory and other capabilities for more intensive use.

For an average investment of between $1200-$1800 you should be able to get a 2.4GHz –2.6GHz machine with at least 256Mb RAM, the minimum needed for Windows XP. Look for a minimum of 40-60Gb hard disk although that’s moving out to 80-120Gb for those planning to store video, images and sound files. A 17-inch CRT monitor is now standard, although 19 inch and CRT flat screens are in demand as are 15 and 17 inch liquid crystal display (LCD) screens.

DVD and CD recommended

Most PCs now come standard with a CD drive that doubles as a DVD player or a single CD writer (52 write - 24 re-write - 52 read is current). It is recommended to have both a CD/DVD player and a writer for ease of copying and to extend the life of the writer.

For power users who want their PC to double as an entertainment station for games, music and video, more memory (at least 512Mb / est $80-$120 per 256Mb RAM modules), more hard disk space, higher quality sound card and gruntier graphics with more capable sub-woofer and surround sound speakers are recommended. This could add another $800 to your budget.

For games, video and other high end use you definitely need an APG (accelerated graphics port) with 128Mb memory. This takes much of the pressure off the motherboard enabling graphics and images to be processed more rapidly. The card also has slots for TV and video cameras.

Make sure your PC also has a 10/100Mbit/sec Ethernet card in it and you are ready to connect to a digital subscriber line (DSL) broadband internet and to other PCs in a network.

Hewlett Packard won’t be competing in the ‘how low can you go’ sector of the PC market this year. Jennifer Rutherford imaging and printing group general manager for HP says the people are buying on specifications they probably don’t understand. "Our price might be slightly up this year but we’ll be adding more value," she says.

Home entertainment system

It is pitching its Pavilion range as part of a complete computing and home entertainment suite which at the high end (est $3000) features a 2.8GHz Pentium 4 processor, 512Mb RAM, 120Gb hard disk, DVD recorder, CD player, a TV card, digital musical jukebox. It also features a seven in one media reader, which can accept all the major memory cards to upload images, sound files and data.

The Pavilion t380a, in black and chrome design, comes bundled with ImageZone TV and video interface and InterVideo home theatre software with high-end graphics and sound cards. It has top quality speakers for surround sound and HP’s photo editing and video editing and recording software.

The TV card allows users to tune into mainstream channels with a remote control and save to hard disk. The unit is not designed to replace the TV in the lounge but to be in an office or bedroom where it can be a music station or used for watching TV or videos or even editing music and video.

Lower end versions are lighter on processor speed, memory and hard disk and cull back some of the features as they move down the scale to a $2000 entry level but still have strong focus on the machine as the digital entertainment centre.

But having all the power you need under the hood is not the only consideration when buying a PC. Service and support is pivotal. If something goes wrong you need to know who to call for advice and to know that is there’s a parts failure that you’ll get replacement for at least a year.

Good support essential

Paul Williams of PC Tech Support in Titirangi says its inevitable there’ll be problems with PCs, whether its parts or software related or damage done accidentally or by a virus or other malware. "Typically there’s one year warranty on all parts and up to three years on monitors and hard disks. You can inquire about extending that warranty and depending on cost that may bring extra security.

However Mr Williams says its essential to ensure the company that sells the PC provides good service or that you find a reliable PC technician in your neighbourhood who can help sort out Windows problems, software issues, difficulties with printers or scanners and help you clean up viruses or spyware problems if you’ve been infected.

PB Technologies has one-year warranty on most parts but three years on monitors and hard disks are down to one year as well. Pat Hua, director of POB Technology doesn’t recommend paying for extended warranty. "Why pay an extra $300 for a five year warranty when in three years your PC is only going to be worth about $500."

Mr Hua says while it’s important to have a competitive price, service is becoming a much more important component for his company. "If you give the customer what they want they’re likely to stay with you much longer, particularly as the company gets bigger.

"When you buy from a brand name you often get service from a third party and have to wait a standard 3-5 days. We have about 30 people involved in our service department and if customers need to have problems fixed quickly we’ll do this the next day if possible."

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