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MAC VS. PC

A Macintosh or a PC? It's up to you. If you're buying a computer for your children, check to see what kind they use at school. If you bring work home from the office, buy a computer compatible with those at work. Remember, PCs and Macs are different kinds of computers and, with a few notable exceptions, won't run each other's softward.

PCs and Macs have different operating systems. An operating system is the basic software running the computers. PCs have a DOS or OS/s operating system. Windows is a program that runs with DOS, giving it a more graphical and easy-to-use interface. Macintosh has its own operating system. Other programs and applications, like word processors and spread sheets, run on top of the computer's operating system.At the heart of a computer is a microprocessor performing the calculations needed for the computer to operated. Intel makes the processors for PCs. 368, 486 and Pentium are names of different Intel processors. Pentium is the latest, fastest and most expensive. During the past year an alliance between Apple, IBM and Motorola released a new super-fast RISC microprocessor called the Power-PC. Apple includes this processor in many of its newest Macintoshes. The Power-PC runs at speeds three to four times faster than its predecessors.

Do you really need the fastest, most expensive computer? It all depends. If you're a real power user, performing processor and memory-intensive tasks like desktop publishing, the answer is probably yes. If all you do is write letters and access on-line services, the answer is probably not. However, buy with an eye to the future. What might seem like a powerful speed demon today may seem frustratingly slow and limited two years down the road.

-Cory Maylett

HARDWARE

Buy home system that can be upgraded as technology keeps advancing

Buying--or building--a computer means making decisions.

First, laptop or desktop? Laptops are lightweight and easy to take along so you can work when you travel. They tend to cost more --from $1,000 to $3,000-plus. And their monitor screens can have your eyes crying for mercy.

For home use, most people prefer desktop models.

Assuming you've chosen a Windows-based personal computer (PC), here's a look at what computer experts say is the minimum in hardware:

Buy a system that is upgradeable. Add to it as money and need allow.

Today's model will be cheap but slightly outdated tomorrow. Get used to it. Computer salesmen agree that for home use the minimum computer is a 486SX/40. Translated, that means the 486 series computer (386 is becoming outdated and 286 is pretty much worthless). The SX indicates the computer has no math coprocessor and 40 is the chip clock speed, in millions of cycles per second. Prices for an SX system start at about $900, with monitor.

To get any computer softward to run, you'll need Random Access Memory (RAM), measured in megabytes. There's a rumor you can run a computer with 4MB. But to get most programs to perform efficiently (and in some cases, at all), you need at least 8MB. Midrange price for RAM is $45/MB.

You'll also need a hard drive. Buy the biggest hard drive you can afford. Don't go below 200 MB.

Monitor quality is based on resolution, size and other factors, like color vs. black-and-white. The mid-range monitor is 15 inches. Super Video Graphics Array (SVGA) are the best because they offer more colors and clearer graphics. Pay attention to the dot pitch (how close together they are). Smaller numbers make better pictures, so .28 is much better than .39. A .28NI SVGA 14-inch monitor costs about $230.

Want to cruise the Internet, send faxes or reach another computer? You'll have to have a modem, available as internal or external models. Internas are cheaper and don't take up workspac. A modem is judged on baud rate, which means how fast it transfers information over the phone line. Industry experts recommend 14,400 bits per second. A 14,400 internal fax modem card costs less than $100.

Printers come in three varieties: dot matrix (measured by the number of dots per inch), inkjet and laser. Most home users are opting for inkjet printers, which approach laser-quality printing and can be purchased for as little as $199. Dot matrix is cheaper (there's a reason), and laser printers start at about $500. Color capability adds to the price depending on the variety of printer chosen.

The industry standard for floppy drives is the 1.44 (3-1/2 inch) model, and that's what most software comes in. For older programs or variety, a second floppy, 5-1/4 inch, is nice. Floppy drives can be added for about $40 each.

--Lois Collins

SOFTWARE

How word processing, spreadsheets and games enter the picture

Like a pen without ink, a computer without software isn't much good.

It's the software-- a set of complex instructions stored on floppy disks, CD-ROM or in the machine-- that tells your computer what to do. Loaded on your computer, it lets you write a letter, organize household bills, play solitaire or publish a newsletter.

For the personal user, software ranges in price from less than $10 to more than $500. Here's a sampling of the more popular software types.

--Word processing. These programs provide ease of editing and writing a document on the screen, then printing or saving it to a disk or hard drive. A variety of typefaces and other options make for a professional-looking letter, document or report at little cost.

--Spreadsheets. Word processing for numbers. Columns and rows make up cells, which spit out detailed computations at the user's request.

--Desktop publishing. The advent of this software had opened up home-based print shops in households nationwide, at the same time redefining corporate communication. Even novice users are designing company letterheads, organizations newsletters and slick magazines.

--Games. You name it- you can play it. Games range from fantasy role-playing, to action-adventure to white-knuckle tests of judgement and reflexes.

--Shareware. The try-before-you-buy approach. Shareware can be downloaded from on-line bulletin boards or purchased in inexpensive packages. Try it and if you like it, pay a nominal registration fee to the originator.

--Nicole Bonham

ON-LINE

Subscribers can hop onto the information highway.

Subscribing to an on-line service is the easiest way to connect into the vast resources available to computer users, including the ability to send electronic or E-mail.

Commercial on-line services like America Online, CompuServe, Delphi, GEnie or Prodigy, offer subscribers access to huge collections of information from various sources known as databases.

Databases can be newspaper or magazine articles, entire encyclopedias, press releases from television networks, restaurant reviews and other information for travelers, catalogs, sports statistics and computer guides.

Most on-line services display specifically designed pictures or icons to identify general subject areas, and most databases can be searched to find a specific topic quickly.

And, of course, there's E-mail. Once you sign up for an on-line service, you'll be assigned --or asked to choose-- a name or number than will serve as your E-mail address.

Then, you can send and receive computer messages to anyone anywhere with an E-mail address, even if it's to a service different than your own. Some services charge extra for corresponding with nonsubscribers.

Besides sending messages to individuals, on-line services also allow subscribers to participate in larger group discussions, sometimes called "chat" or "round table" forums.

So how do you choose an on-line service? Most offer several hours of free connect time and free Windows software so you can try before you buy. Call the toll free numbers listed below and see what's currently available.

--Lisa Riley Roche

AMERICA ONLINE

1-800-827-6364

$9.95 a month for five hours; additional use is $3.50 an hour until Jan. 1, when price drops to $2.95 an hour.

Colorful software that's especially easy to use-- just point and click on what you want to access. (There's even a cheery "Welcome" on computers with sound.) Choose the day's top news story or another highlighted section from the initial screen. Or take a look at some of the thousands of software programs that can be easily downloaded; magazines, including Time; stock listings or other services. AOL also has a wide variety of "chat" forums, where users can type messages back and forth on a specific topic.

COMPUSERVE

1-800-848-8199

$8.95 a month for unlimited use of 70 basic services; other services available for a minimum of $4.80 an hour

Software is just as colorful and just as easy to use as AOL with a wide range of reference materials on-line, from weather maps to an encyclopedia to copies of U.S. News and World Report magazine. There's also an "electronic mall" where users can shop 125 retailers; games and entertainment, including movie reviews and soap opera summaries; and travel services that offer on-line hotel and car-rental reservations and airline ticketing. The cost of the premium services, which include professional forums and access to newspaper databases, can add up quickly.

DELPHI

1-800-695-4005

$10 a month for four hours; additional use is $4 an hour or $20 a month for 20 hours; additional use is $1.80 an hour; requires a one-time sign-up fee of $19 plus a surcharge of $9 an hour for both options if used during business hours.

Best and most complete Internet access of the major online services. New InterNav Windows software offers some help getting around, but most commands must be typed and that takes getting used to. Besides being a gateway to the unlimited resources of the Internet, Delphi offers stock quotes (at an additional charge) and other business services; entertainment and games; news, weather and sports; an encyclopedia and other reference materials; some shopping; and travel help. There are also "custom forums" created and run by members where everything from bodybuilding to Star Trek to gay lifestyles is discussed.

GEnie

1-800-638-9636

$8.95 a month for four hours; additional use is $3 a hour. Some services cost extra.

Also offers Windows software, but not as user-friendly as CompuServe or AOL. "Chat Lines" offer members a chance to send messages back and forth about food, politics, trivia and many more topics, or even a chance to message visiting celebrities, politicians and other notable people. "RoundTables" provide support and tip-swapping among users of leading software. Multi-player games allow subscribers to challenge each other on-line in fantasy role-playing games; airborne battles and other contests. Users can also search databases, collections of newspapers, magazines, reference materials, medical information and business publications.

Prodigy

1-800-PRODIGY

$9.95 a month for five hours; additional use is $2.95 an hour

Prodigy is probably the most familiar on-line service to home computer users because the software and free connection time are included with the purchase of many new computers. It's also considered to be the best online service for children.

Ease-of-use is one reason. Colorful graphics help to point users to sections on news and weather, business and finance, sports, entertainment, reference, shopping, computers, travel and home, family and children.

But Prodigy also allows young people to visit on-line versions of Sesame Street and the Baby-sitter's Club. There are also games and forums geared just for children.

Adults will find the same types of information other on-line services offer, although not always as much. Prodigy has been praised by Money magazine for its financial services, especially the ability to track personal investments.

Users can even trade stocks, options, mutual funds and fixed-income products online, paying a discounted commission to the New Jersey brokerage firm running the service.

Prodigy now allows members to send E-mail to non-Prodigy subscribers.

MULTIMEDIA

Gizmos aplenty outfit the system with graphics, sound and interaction.

Like bells? Whistles? Multimedia is the gee-whiz stuff that turns your PC from tool to toy.

No longer is it enough for a computer to compute in plain old DOS. Today's computers are being fitted with a host of gizmos all designed to pound away at the senses with sight and sound.

The heart of the multimedia PC is the CD-ROM drive, which can play more than 1,100 available software programs. CD-ROM titles ranged from action/adventures like Turner Home Entertainment's "The Pagemaster," to interactive educational titles for children like The Learning Company's "Reader Rabbit's Interactive Reading Journey," to virtual reality video pinball, like "21st Century's Pinball Arcade CD-ROM."

When shopping for a CD-ROM drive, only consider one that's "double speed" or faster. "Speed" refers to have fast the drive transfers information from the CD. Newer software titles need a minimum of a double speed drive to be played. Current state-of-the-art CD-ROM drives are "quad speed."

Some friendly advice: If you're buying a new computer, purchase it with a CD-ROM and sound card already installed. The sound card allows your PC to reproduce FM-or digital-quality sound when connected to amplified speakers. Should you go this route, plan on adding between $200 and $500 to your PC purchase price.

If you already have a PC and want to convert it to multimedia, consider an upgrade kit. Again, plan on spending in the $300 to $500 range. Plan on a few headaches, too. Multimedia add-ons are notorious for their complexity. Several long-distance calls to a technical support number are often needed to resolve conflicts often created inside your PC when you install a CD-ROM drive or sound card.

--Chuck Gates

CROSSROADS

New Deseret news service offers news via computer

The Deseret news will soon be available on-line to subscribers with IBM compatible computers and Windows 3.1.

This service will be free to seven-and six-day subscribers and available at a discount to Sunday-only and Church News subscribers outside of Utahy. Non-subscribers will be able to use the service for about the same price as a full subscription.

On-line readers will have full access to all editorial information in the Deseret News, including:

-The latest stories, photos and cartoons in the current Deseret News

-The Deseret News archives, which contain virtually all stories published in the Deseret News since 1988.

-Constantly updated sports, weather and stocks information

-The Church News and Church Almanac

-Current classified ads

All text will be fully searchable, and on-line readers will be able to retrieve, print and store information on their own computers with point-and-click convenience. Readers will also have access to E-mail and forums as well as information from local businesses and schools.

--Steve Hawkins