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Choosing Your Technology System

Terry Brock

It's that time of year. It is time for good boys and girls to get their toys. When you write your letter to Santa Claus this year, you'll want some guidelines. Here are some important considerations when you write the bearded ole' guy this year.

Desktop vs. Notebook. I have to admit my bias here. I'm a long-time user of portable systems dating back to the Osborne computer of 1982. I like the idea of portability and flexibility. Yes, desktops are cheaper and if you don't do a lot of traveling and do most of your work in one place, a desktop makes a lot of sense. Yet, for most business professionals a solid, usable notebook makes a lot of sense. Get one that is powerful enough to do the job you need and yet light enough to move around.

Memory. This is a case where more is more. With Windows XP it is best to have 256MB of RAM. Microsoft says you can run XP with less. Since the price of memory has fallen dramatically and is very reasonably priced today I recommend a minimum of 256MB of RAM for most business applications. You'll find that your system will work much faster and more efficiently with 256MB than with 128MB. If you're doing a lot of graphics or audio and video work, then strongly consider going to 512MB or higher.

Hard Drive. Here is where more is more also. Websites, articles downloaded, music files, video files and more can eat up massive amounts of space. I've yet to meet the person who bought a hard drive then came back complaining that it is was too big! In today's environment you should consider going for a minimum of 20GB or higher. It seems that the files we get are larger and larger. You won't go wrong adding more storage space.

Terry Brock
Terry Brock

Windows XP: To XP or Not. As with many decisions, the answer here is, "It depends." Going with Windows XP is a good idea on your new computer. Upgrading on a system that is already working fine is not such a good idea given some of the problems that can happen. These words of advice have historically been true for past Microsoft upgrades. However, XP is the most reliable we've seen from the wizards of Redmond, Washington. There are a few snags, mainly from peripherals that don't currently have drivers that support Windows XP. Check with the manufacturers of your system's current peripherals to make sure they have the right drivers to support XP.

Digital Camera. The movement is in place. We are shifting from a film-based use of cameras to digital. This is a powerful marketing tool that can help you bond more effectively with clients and communicate better. I like the Sony PC110 which I purchased earlier this year. It does a very good job capturing stills but also has a video camera so I can grab video. I often shoot video, then go back and capture one frame making it a picture. The results are very good. Cost for a digital camera alone will range from $300 to $800 for mid-level. The Sony PC-110 lists for $2,000 but you can find it around the $1400 range if you look carefully.
External Hard Drive. This can be a big help in your work. Get an external hard drive that has a minimum 20GB of storage. Products like the BusLink and DataBook provide rugged, external storage capabilities. This is not only great for backup for also for sharing data among several users in an office.

Notebook Computer. The same considerations of memory, hard drive, etc. apply to notebooks as to desktops. Make sure you get USB for connections. For faster throughput consider the name-challenged IEEE 1394 (called Firewire on Apple) for fast connections to hard drives and video devices. If you're doing a lot of small group (less than 10) presentations I recommend a 15 inch screen. This can save money over a projector, as the screen size can be adequate for those conference table presentations. For brands, I've consistently found Dell and IBM to be good. Having worked with Dell for a training assignment I've seen how they operate and you want that kind of team on your side. Also good to consider is Gateway. What to avoid? I've personally had terrible experience with my Mac from Apple but you have to decide for yourself. I like going with a standard that has over 90% of the market share. Go with the flow and don't fight the standard.
Fast Internet Access. The Internet is here to stay. You need to have fast access. If you don't have high-speed access now, get it. Cable Modem, DSL, and T1 access represent some of the best options today. Note for Road Warriors: Be sure to have your notebook set up with access to the many hotel systems that allow for fast access. Recently I stayed at a Marriott property in Atlanta that offered unlimited high-speed access on the Net along with unlimited local and long distance call (within the US) for only $9.95. This is a great bargain and beats what other hotels charge in the per-minute annoyance charges.

PDA. The personal digital assistant is the fastest-growing segment of technology. These wonder devices provide access to your contacts, schedules and more. Palm has been the leader and, as of this writing, still is. However, the Pocket PC from Microsoft is gaining ground. The Sony Clie', Handspring Visor and Palm M505 all provide solid value at a reasonable price. Be sure to get a keyboard and some note-taking ability. For me, this has been the single biggest boost to my productivity in the past 12 months. As a bonus, be sure to get wireless access to the Internet through something like the OmniSky modem, GoAmerica or other service. Note: Watch for the Treo 180, coming this next Spring from Visor. It is a tiny, powerful unit that combines a cell phone with a keyboard and the Palm operating system. Initial reviews on it are outstanding and it bundles a lot of power into one small package.

Printer. For many mobile professionals the ability to print from anywhere is a boost. Look into the Canon BJ M40 for a lightweight (2 lb.) color printer that is easily transported. Also the HP 350C provides mobile printing that can help writing those contracts and showing graphs and charts for prospective clients.

P.S. Here's a tip that can help. I just purchased my second Palm Vx and received it today. Why would I get a second one exactly like the one I have when they no longer make the Vx? Simple. It works for me. I can get my work done easier and with less hassles with that. Now I have a backup for my schedule, addresses, books, etc. It might not be cutting edge technology, but it works for me and helps me get my business done.


Terry Brock is an internationally recognized professional speaker, consultant and author in the fields of business productivity, technology and marketing. His is a syndicated columnist for Biz Journals across America.  
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