Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Computing Past - 1999

I came across an old hard drive for backup from 16 September 1999, in which I'd written up a document to set out basic specifications for a PC for a business. It is remarkable to look at the details then, and where we are now, just a mere 17 years ahead. The basics are all there, but the specifications of today's PC have shot into the stratosphere!


The basic components for running Word would be a PC, the software, and a printer.

PC Basic Terms:

There are three basic computer terms to consider when looking at buying a PC.

RAM - computer memory. This disappears when the machine is off - it is “volatile”. The computer operating system and programs all consume memory when running. Windows can use more memory than is available by using hard disk space as if it were memory (in what is called a Windows swapfile). This is slower to access than RAM, and causes more wear and tear on the hard drive. So a good amount of memory speeds up the system.

Hard Disk Space: This is required for the operating system, programs, and the Windows swapfile (see above). Programs also create temporary files (for instance, when creating a report). If there is not enough space, the program will stop or the system will freeze up or crash. When the machine is off, programs, operating system and data still reside on the hard disk (“non-volatile” storage)

Processor: This is the MHz figure and represents the speed at which the computer can process instructions. Think of this as the engine power of a car. The more powerful an engine, the faster the car can run, and the more easily it can climb steep hills.

Processors come in two types - Pentium and Celeron. The Pentium is the more upmarket and faster product. There are technical reasons for this.

To give an idea of market price, two bottom of the range but adequate systems are listed.

Dell sell the following basic system (bottom of their range) for £599:

Dell Dimension L466C
RAM: 64 MB
Hard disk space: 6.4 GB
Processor: Celeron 466 MHz
15 inch monitor
Software: Windows 98, MS Works suite 99

Gateway sell the following basic system for £699 (bottom of their range)

Gateway GP6-400
RAM: 64 MB
Hard disk space: 6.8 GB
Processor: Pentium 466 MHz
17 inch monitor
Software: Windows 98, MS Works suite 99

Generally speaking, buying second hand computer equipment is not worthwhile; it is better value to upgrade or buy new.

Software: Basic Terms

Software refers to the programs running on the machines. This is stored on the hard disk, then run in memory. Files (such as word processing documents) can be saved on the hard disk.

Operating system: the machine will not run without this. It should be pre-installed, and would be Windows 98.

User software: this would be Word for Windows, part of Microsoft Office, Small Business Edition. Expect to pay around £200-£300 for this. Word 97 is the preferred version; Word 2000 has just been released and has a number of bugs.

Printers: Basic Terms

A laser works like a photocopier, using dry toner. It is expensive for a small office (about £600 upwards).

A deskjet has a large paper tray, but uses inkjet technology (spraying a fine ink onto the paper which then has to dry).

An inkjet is much the same, but usually costs less (anything from about £50 upwards).

Better System Specifications

Case: ATX 90 Watt Mini Tower-Case
Mouse: (Does not use serial port listed below)
Keyboard: Windows 105-key Keyboard
External Ports: 1 Parallel, 1 Serial Port, 2 USB ports
Operating System: MS Windows 98
Multimedia: Integrated Sound Blaster Audio PCI 64D (slots for speakers and microphone)
Hard Drive: 13.6GB
Memory: 64MB (expandable to 256MB)
Expansion Slots: 3 PCI slots
Processor: 400MHz Processor or greater
Floppy Drive: 1.44MB 3.5" Diskette Drive
Cache: 128K

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