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GO SLOW WHEN ENTERING INFORMATION HIGHWAY

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Want to make certain that shiny new vehicle for cruising the information superhighway doesn't stall out Christmas morning? Take a few precautions now, say local computer experts.

Personal computers have flown faster than reindeer out of local stores."Sales are way up this year, double last year," said William Hall, manager of PC Innovations.

But there's nothing more disappointing than a big toy that doesn't work. At PC Innovations, a staff of 20 technicians will be on hand Monday to help customers figure out how to get their Christmas computers up and running.

"This is the first time we've taken them off working on computers," Hall said. "We anticipate a lot of technical support calls, and we'll try to handle them as quickly as we can."

Danny Smith, general manager at Burgoyne Computers in downtown Salt Lake City, also said his store will be open Monday to help people get up and computing.

Both Smith and Hall had a few pre-Christmas morning tips for those giving a computer this holiday, as well as trouble-shooting suggestions for a smooth ride Christmas day.

- Open the box now and give the computer a test drive. Make sure the parts - particularly a power cord - are all there. Plug in the monitor and hard drive and check that they work.

It's rare, but occasionally even brand new equipment doesn't work, Smith said. Now, wrap it back up and put that big bow on the box.

- Make sure you have appropriate accessories. A surge protector is a must. Extra diskettes to back up programs that come already installed on many computers would be nice. If it's a Windows-based computer, a mouse pad is a good idea.

- If the equipment will be set up on a computer desk, make sure it fits. Some pieces of equipment, such as hard-drive towers, often sit on the floor. Check that the connecting cables (you've got those, right?) are long enough.

- Smith advises Santas to consider including a few different types of software programs to introduce the new computer user to the workhorse of the information age.

"Many computers come with `clapping monkey software,' " he said. "It looks really interesting for 10 minutes, and then it gets bor-ing."

That's the case with most encyclopedias, he said. If the recipient is a child, throw in an education program or computer game.

- Don't leave the computer in a garage, vehicle, storage shed or other place that is likely to get very cold before the big morning. Firing up a cold computer can damage its hard drive. The computer should be room temperature before it's used.

Santa may want to save the rest of this story for the lucky person who is going to find a computer under the tree Christmas morning.

So you got a computer? Swell!

- Read the manual, particularly the chapter on "getting started."

"I have customers who say buying a computer ought to be like buying a car," Hall said. You buy a car, put the key in and drive it down the street."

Their point: Operating a computer should take no more training than knowing how to plug in an electrical cord.

The fact is, a license to drive comes after training and testing. There's a learning process for computers too, Hall said.

- Make sure everything is plugged into the right hole. That's relatively easy given the symbols most computer manufacturers place over connection outlets. But don't force anything.

- Don't move the computer while it is turned on. That can damage the hard drive heads.

- If the monitor flickers, it may be due to other power-motor operated equipment nearby. Either relocate the computer or move the other stuff.

- Above all, be patient. This is not rocket science, but to the uninitiated, it's close. Learning the ins and outs of operating a computer takes time.

"If you don't understand it, walk away, grab a glass of milk, eat some cookies and then go back at it with a fresh mind," Hall said.

- Take a look at some of the many books that simplified instructions for using various software programs.

- Hall anticipates the most frequent problem people may encounter is difficulty getting some new games, particularly DOS versions, to work. You'll know you've encountered the problem if you get an "out of conventional memory" error message.

DOS games use conventional memory, which may be largely taken up by various device drivers (the mouse, sound card, printer). Hall suggests making a special game disk that includes only the devices needed to run the game, and working from the disk rather than the computer's hard drive.