Too soon to think about holiday shopping?
Not if a new computer is on that wish list. Start planning now, and keep a sharp focus on Vista, the new operating system (master control program) that will succeed Microsoft Windows XP.
If you want one of Apple Computer s excellent machines, forget about Vista. Macintosh computers won t be affected by the change.
Vista will be available late next year. Many consumers will be eager to upgrade, just like 2001 when Windows XP hit the market.
In addition, keep Vista on your personal radar screen when deciding whether to buy a new computer now, or wait until next year.
By next autumn, new computers will be equipped with all the basic hardware needed for Vista. The crop available next holiday season may also have Vista installed. Consumers will have no worries about the hassle of upgrading or having the right hardware.
Then again, do you really want to spend another year with that old clunker? Do want a year of worry about crashes and losing precious documents, digital images, and digital music files?
Remember, there s no reason why you have to upgrade to Vista. XP will continue to work for the Internet and everything else.
Vista s big attraction will be a new-look desktop, the screen that appears after the computer starts. Called the Vista Aero Glass interface, it will be a real stunner, with 3-D animations and other eye candy replacing the flat-look icons in Windows XP.
The interface will appear only on computers with a graphics card more powerful than the hardware on many of today s entry-level PCs.
Many computers in the low- and medium-price range use integrated graphics chips that don t have their own video random access memory (RAM). Vista needs discrete graphics, a graphics card with at least 64 MB of video memory and 128 MB for best performance.
Without it, your computer will automatically display a screen like the current Windows XP interface.
Vista will need 512 megabytes (MB) of regular RAM, and 1 gigabyte (GB) or more for the best performance.
If your budget says no, you always can buy RAM chips and install them yourself. You may be able to upgrade graphics later, as well.
Start shopping by reading product reviews at sites like www.zdnet.com, www.pcmagazine.com, www.pcworld.com, and www.cnet.com.
Check newspaper ads for sales. Buying from a local store has advantages. You can give the PC a test drive, for instance, and don t have to wait for delivery or pay shipment charges.
However, also check online sites like Dell, Lenovo (which sells PCs once marketed by IBM), and Hewlett-Packard, where you often can customize a PC, picking exactly the features you want.
Desktop fans: A flat-panel monitor, just a few inches thick, is worth every penny of the extra cost.
Laptop fans: Get integrated wireless technology, or Wi-Fi, for Internet access without being tied to a cable.