When A Bargain Really Isn’t

Sub-$1,000 PCs: how to get the most for your money

You’re familiar with the saying “You get what you pay for.” It’s doubly true when searching for a sub-$1,000 PC. While there is solid value to be found in this price range, you won’t get bells and whistles, like loads of software and substantial expandability options. However, those who need a PC mainly for word processing, productivity, surfing the Net and low-end PC games will find a suitable machine in this range.

With 300-400 MHz models now at the top of the heap, prices for computers in the 200 MHz realm will undoubtedly offer a good bargain. The Compaq Presario 2240 and IBM Aptira E26, with 200-233 MHz processor, 32 MB of RAM, 20-24x CDROM and a 56 kbps modem, are already being sighted for $750-$850 in some markets. Although these don’t come bundled with a monitor, a decent 15-inch one can be acquired for the remaining $150-$250 or so left in your budget.

Another way to stretch your dollars is to consider buying a non-major brand computer from a smaller vendor or opting for a PC with a non-Intel (AMD or Cyrix) microprocessor. This doesn’t mean that they can’t deliver quality power and service. “AMD, Cyrix and Intel chips are all made from the same basic elements and are manufactured according to the same standard architecture,” says Derek Shabazz, of College Park, Maryland-based Performance Computers (www.pan west.com; 301-423-5293).

The price difference is a matter of prestige and quality. Tests show that gallon for gallon it’s all still the same milk, notes Shabazz, who adds, “In order for the other processors to compete with the heavy Intel name recognition, they have to match up in quality. Many times, they’re even better.” Major vendors such as IBM, ACER and Compaq have begun to rely heavily on non-Pentium processors such as AMD’s K6, as they walk the tightrope between razor-thin profit margins in sub-$1,000 PCs and the need to give the customer a decent level of power.

Once you’ve decided on a processor, expandability is your next concern. Many sub-$1,000 PCs don’t include CD-ROMs or modems, so you’ll need enough expansion slots for added peripherals. Business users should make sure there is enough expandability to add a network interface card, which is crucial to creating a local area network. Compaq’s Presario 2240 comes with one bay and two slots for expansion and peripherals. IBM’s Aptiva E26 comes with bays, slots and two universal bus ports for plug and play peripherals.

Memory is the final piece of the subS 1,000 puzzle. How much RAM does your PC come with, and what is its upper limit? You’ll want to be able to expand to at least 32 MB. Hard drive space is another concern. With the increasing size of programs, you should get at least 2 gigs. Between the offerings of the major brands and the almost endless array of small vendors selling second-tier systems, you have a broad range to choose from. Competition is sure to keep creating more options at even better prices. Before shelling out

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