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Monday, December 4, 2000
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Making The Most of Your Computer                               ILLUSTRATION BY GAURAV SOOD
by Vipul Verma

THE WORLD OF computers has come a long way in the past few years. Right from PC XT to Pentium 4, there has been a tremendous change in technology and also the corresponding speed of the processors. From 16 MHz to 1500 MHz or 1.5 GHz, there has been a lot of improvement in these.

No matter which generation of computer we use, the choice of hardware, except for the CPU and motherboard, has not changed much. In terms of hardware today a normal PC comprises of a tower cabinet, floppy drive, multimedia kit consisting of CD ROM and sound card. This combination of hardware was in vogue right since the 486 computers were launched, though if we exclude multimedia kit, then the basic hardware is as ancient as the PC XT itself.

But then with the advancement in technology why has their not been a corresponding change in the hardware requirement? If we test this question on logical grounds, then we will find that though there had been a requirement of advanced hardware yet the cost factor weighed heavily on the decision related to the hardware.


Modern hardware add-ons like CD writer, DVD, Zip drive, Web camera and scanner, besides hardware enhancement like ATX cabinet add a lot of value to the computer. Though these add-ons and hardware enhancement comes with a price, but in a majority of cases it has been proved that they are worth their price. All these hardware add-ons have been discussed in detail for justifying their worth to the user.

CD writer: It is one of the most critical hardware for the modern computers. Though CD-ROMís are still in use in India, but there is a growing demand for the CD-writers now. CD writer lets you store data on one of the cheapest medium of storage, i.e. a CD, which costs between Rs. 40 to Rs.120 in the retail market for a different storage capacity. Using CD writers, you can take regular back up of the critical data and can thus prepare for any eventuality that may arise due to a crash or virus attack. Moreover, there is another great use of CD writers, as one can store all drivers of all software, peripherals, and hardware installed on the system and can even make a bootable CD. Storing data on the CD also has the advantage of portability of data, as almost all computers have CD-ROM drive. As far as the cost of a CD writer is concerned, it is expensive in comparison to a normal CD ROM, but if you take into consideration the risk of losing the data and the time involved in data recovery, itís a small.

Zip drive: Zip drives are getting popular these days as trusted medium for data storage. The advantage that Zip driver possesses is that they are cheap as compared to other mediums of storage. Moreover the Zip drives are also portable as they are attached to the external ports, so one can easily carry it from one place to another. It is basically used for taking back-ups and storing critical data. The cassettes used by Zip drives are recyclable and offer a good life. Overall the recurring cost in this case is less. Zip drives are now being considered by a majority of users as the standard hardware requirement. Persons even prefer to keep Zip drives along with the CD writer, as the CD writer is installed on a machine, while Zip drive is plug and play hardware.

DVD: DVD or the digital versatile disk is the modern form of the CD and is based on optical disk technology. This is far superior to the normal CD technology and is expected to replace the CD ROM. As computer hardware, this could be the preferred choice for the higher and better disk performance. It may prove to be extremely beneficial for the person who has to give presentations. Moreover the DVD has a high disk capacity and can hold 4.7 gigabytes of data or 133 minutes of movie with crystal clear audio and video on either of its two sides. It can hold up to 17 gigabytes of video, audio, or other information. However, the comparison of a DVD with the normal CD ROM is mind boggling as a CD ROM in comparison to the DVD can store only up to 600 megabytes of data. Thus the capacity of the DVD could be as much as 28 times in comparison to a normal CD ROM. Moreover, the video display of the DVD is also far better in comparison to the normal CD ROM. The DVD uses the MPEG 2 standards file and compression standard. MPEG-2 images have four times the resolution of MPEG-1 images. Moreover the audio quality on the DVD is also quite good. The choice of the DVD over the CD ROM is purely need-based. There are persons who need better products and can spare money also but the lack of information deprives them of having the best technology around.

Scanners: Scanners have now become a part of the standard equipment for a majority of computer users. Earlier scanners used to find its application in publishing houses, advertising agencies, newspapers and magazines. Now everyone uses scanners. Using scanners one can digitise all important documents and photographs and secure them on a computer. A scanner can also be used as a photocopier in conjunction with a printer and can even take out colour photocopies, which are otherwise expensive. Scanners can edit any printed text; say a text from a magazine or newspaper using the OCR software. The OCR software recognises the text rather than reading it as an image and thus makes editing possible. Scanners come in various resolutions, which can be categorised as the high-end and low-end products. Normally high-end products are expensive than the low- end ones. The low-end ones are sufficient enough for the requirement of an individual PC user.

Web camera: The thing that was once considered impossible some years ago is here. Yes! We are talking about video conferencing. Web cameras are also becoming a part of the standard equipment as one can find it as part of the packages of some branded computers like Compaq. Anyone who uses the Internet and e-mail may require Web camera. Besides using it for a live video-conferencing, you can also use it for video mail and even for online interviews for jobs. The Web cameras may also play a critical role in business development as you can directly interact with the customers. By using the Web camera one can easily remain in touch with near and dear ones. Some intellectual persons may find its use in-group discussions on the Internet. These cameras are quite reasonably priced also; thus it makes sense for PC owners or the PC buyers to go for a Web camera as an essential hardware for their computer.

Lastly, the cabinet, which still continues to be the same despite the change of generations in hardware technology, also merits some attention from the PC buyers. Those going in for an assembled computer go for the non- ATX cabinet and thus non-ATX motherboard mainly due to ignorance and also due to economic reasons.

The preferred choice should be an ATX cabinet and ATX motherboard. The ATX basically has the better motherboard designs and provides space for full-length add-in card. A double-height aperture is specified for the rear of the chassis, allowing more possible I/O arrangements for a variety of devices such as TV input and output and LAN connection. It also requires lesser cables and side-mounted fans, which provides direct cooling to the processor and also to the cards.

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