In this final instalment of Buying a Computer we are going to briefly touch on the multitude of add-ons you can buy for your computer. As discussed in the last issue of CONNECT, before purchasing a peripheral you should always ensure that you will be able to connect it to your computer. Does the device use USB, FireWire, parallel, serial or SCSI cables?
The most common peripheral that is often automatically included with a new computer system is a printer. There have been some recent improvements in printer technology, although the major choice remains the same – laser or inkjet. Laser printers use technology similar to photocopiers. Inkjet printers spray ink onto the page in small dots.
Quality, price and speed are the main factors to consider when comparing printers. Printer prices have dropped recently, although a large range in price still exists. The prices on Inkjet printers range from approximately $80 to $350. Laser printer for the home market have dropped under $500 but laser printers for networked business settings can still cost over $1000. Inkjet printers now print colour as well as black and white as a standard feature. Colour laser printers are just now becoming available but cost several thousand dollars.
When comparing costs of printers you need to also consider the cost of ink cartridges. Although inkjet printers are considerably cheaper than laser, ink for inkjet printers is more expensive. Inkjet cartridges cost approximately $50. All inkjet printers should have separate colour and black cartridges, black cartridges being cheaper. Laser ink cartridges can cost from $100 to $200, which seems more expensive but should last much longer. On a per page basis, ink for laser printer is several cents cheaper. If you are purchasing laser printer cartridges look for a company that sells rebuilt/recycled cartridges. You can also buy refill kits for some inkjet cartridges.
Once you’ve used price to help narrow down the choices, consider quality. Quality is usually measured in terms of resolution or dots per inch (dpi). This type of comparison can sometimes be confusing. Laser printers can print up to 1200 x 1200 dpi, whereas some new inkjet printers can print up to 4800 x 1200 dpi. This isn’t the whole story though. Factors inherent in the different technologies make laser printers better at printing text and line graphics. Inkjets are best for printing photographs.
Comparing printer speeds is also a little problematic. Printer speed is measured in pages per minute (ppm). This information is usually prominently displayed for consumers but is often based on very simple documents or draft mode. Generally speaking laser printers are faster than inkjet printers and are therefore more suited to printing large documents or multiple copies. The buffer size or the amount of memory in the printer can help to increase the speed of the printer. There are several other features that you may want to consider. Do you want several computers to share the printer? Inkjet printers very rarely come with a network (Ethernet) port. Will you be using the printer to print large documents on varying sized paper? If so, you will probably want a printer with several trays, one of which is for legal paper. In this case, laser is the best option. Inkjet printers can often only store small amounts of paper at one time. If you want to be able to print photographs, you may want the added advantage of being able to connect your digital camera to your printer. Inkjet printers now come with USB ports or memory card slots. Finally, you might want to consider the new all-in-one inkjet printers that have the ability to scan, photocopy and fax documents. These printers definitely save on space and costs but be aware that if one thing breaks everything will be tied up at the repair shop.
Ultimately, if you want to make a decision based on reputation, Hewlett Packard stands above the rest as the leading printer manufacturer. Epson is also know for being a good, cheap alternative with the inkjet market.
Scanners are another peripheral that you may consider purchasing for your computer. The role that dedicated scanners play has taken a backseat with the advent of all-in-one printers and digital cameras. Scanners have allowed users to copy pictures or documents and produce a digital version that can be used in a computer. Digital cameras now eliminate the need for this step.
Digital cameras and digital video cameras (camcorders) have become increasingly more popular as prices drop. Basic digital cameras can now be bought for a few hundred dollars. Digital camcorders are more expensive but can be purchased for less than $1000. When buying a digital camera of any kind you need to consider the same things you’d consider when purchasing a “regular” camera: zoom, focus, flash/light, power supply, size/weight and ease-of-use. New concerns that are inherent in the digital format are resolution, memory connectivity/output and software. The resolution or quality of pictures is measured in megabytes (MB) or gigabytes (GB). The amount of memory limits the number of pictures you can take at one time. Once you’ve taken pictures you need to be able to download these pictures to your computer. In most cases this involves a USB cable or a FireWire connection in the case of a camcorder. You should also think about how you’re going to print your pictures or use your video with your DVD player or VCR. Good software can make these tasks easier and also give you the ability to edit what you have captured. Read “Digital Cameras” in CONNECT Volume 4, Issue 4 or visit the website http://www.imaging-resource.com if you’d like more information.
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