If you went to a car dealer with the idea of buying a new car, what questions would you have to answer the salesperson? First, you’d be asked to decide on the color, and then on the seat covers. Right?

Think of a computer, like a car, as a tool that can serve many purposes, depending on your needs. A graphic artist will need a computer with vast hard drive capacity and speed, along with a large monitor with great resolution. A secretary who uses it mainly to type and keep records could get away with much less. What determines capacity, speed and other options on a computer?

The Parts  

Motherboard—She’s the mama of all the circuits that run your machine. She’s covered with little soldered nodules that connect things to each other. 

CPU—The central processing unit that processes all of those little circuits to do stuff you want. The CPU is the brains of your machine, so you want to get a good one. If you have a PC (as opposed to a Mac), you’ll probably be offered a Pentium Processor. Get the latest and ask what the differences are.

Drives for storing data — The hard drive is unseen, unless you buy an external support drive. It resides in a little box that can often be upgraded. The hard drive holds all of the data you produce along with all of the applications to produce the data. The bigger the hard drive, the more you can hold, of course. My computer has 25 GB. I have another external hard drive where I store all of my backups. It has 120 GB. (Cost me about $150 at Wal-Mart, I believe. Not bad.) You can also have other drives to store and share information: a floppy, a CD, a DVD, or a Zip. I bought a little unit for $18 dollars that I carry on my key chain. It’s smaller than my thumb, but it holds as much information as a Zip disc. I place it in any USB port, and it makes itself into another drive. (A USB port is a the little horizontal or vertical slot, about 2/3 inch long, where you can plug in different devices to talk to your computer.)  

The Process

Operating System or platform— Your computer manages the data and its many relationships through a platform, and software companies develop applications for that platform. MS Windows is a family of operating systems that runs on approximately 90% of all personal computers. The remaining run Macintosh systems. Get the latest (now XP with Service Pack 2) if you are in the training business since software keeps up with those platforms.  

Memory—How many applications can you work on at the same time? Well, ask your RAM, which is your computer’s main memory system. The more RAM, the easier you are able to work. My computer has 256 MB (256 million bytes) of RAM. Always get as much as you can afford and avoid all those nagging freezes and glitches. Your computer also has ROM memory that is permanently on a chip on your mother board. You can write into and erase from RAM memory, but ROM is there to stay. Don’t worry about it. You wouldn’t want to erase any of that stuff anyway.

Speed—Get as much as you can afford! Your processing speed is measured in GHZ these days. That tells you how many instructions per second your computer can process. We’re talking power here. My machine operates at 1.70 GHZ, or 1.7 billion cycles per second.

Software— Storage devices, like drives, store software or programs and the data they manage. When you are buying a computer, make sure you ask if the software (MS Office, Web Browser, Acrobat Reader) is loaded on the machine, and make sure you get a hard copy of the software installed as well, just in case you have to reload.

So before you buy or order a computer, ask about the items that are important to you:

  1. What processor does it use?

  2. What is the hard drive capacity and can more memory be added?

  3. How much RAM comes with it and can it be upgraded?

  4. How fast does it process (GHZ)?

  5. What applications come with it?

  6. What drives does it include? (More and more computers now have CD and DVD writers and readers instead of the old floppy drives)

  7. What operating system does it use?

  8. How many USB ports come with it? (You can buy hubs to add ports to any computer.)

Next, ask about the monitor  and its display screen. If you work with graphics, get a big monitor (at least 17 inches) with good resolution. The resolution indicates how closely packed the pixels are on the screen. The more pixels or dots per inch,  the sharper the images.  Standard color monitors these days display a resolution of 1024 X 768 pixels. Go up from there. The new flat-screen monitors with super resolutions are a real delight - easy on your eyes and soft on the soul.

Finally, find out other things that you think are important, like cost, weight, color, tower or flat, and more. Ask about warranties, on-site service and the accessibility of technical help. If you can’t get technical help look somewhere else.

In Cortez, we order most equipment from a company that provides full technical help and a seven-year warranty on the equipment. I never have to return a machine because if something goes wrong, they send me the part and walk me through the process. That’s the kind of service you want. E-mail me if you want information on that company.

What should you pay for a desktop with decent features? Anywhere from $ 900 to $1500, I estimate. Laptops cost $200-$300 more. It all depends on what capacity, speed, memory (RAM), software and gadgets you want. Start at a basic $600 and start adding!


Rocky Mountain PBS has scheduled a special session of online courses for teachers who want to earn college credit over the holidays.  And to kick off the season, the first 50 teachers who register by Friday, November 26 will receive a $20 Target gift card. Most of their course target K-12, but I've found that the material is adaptable (and should be) to adult students.

Enrollment is now open for these courses that begin December 1 and end on January 12. Registration closes Tuesday, November 30.  
Math 245: Rational Numbers, Fractions, Decimals and Percents
RDLA 165: Teaching Phonics and Spelling for Beginning and Transitional Readers
RDLA 190: Teaching Narrative and Expository Comprehension
Tech 315: Using the Computer for Cooperative Experiences

For more information and to register for courses, go to, click on "catalog" and choose Colorado. If your PROGRAM  will be paying your registration fee, DO NOT register via the website. Send email to instead. Tell them you heard it here first! Thanks for passing on the information.

For a few memories of the October AEFLA training held in Cortez, go to .

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