Bob and Joy
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach

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July 2000, Week 4 -- New Computer, or Old?



   We just bought a new Windows 98 computer from Dell. It was new to us, but it was actually a used computer, what Dell calls "refurbished."

   Both Dell and Compaq have "factory outlet stores" on their web sites. Compaq offers a 90-day warrantee on refurbished machines. They both offer volume deals for businesses looking for a bargain. Dell's warrantee is for three years, the same as for their new computers, and includes tech support for as long as you own the computer.


   What is the source for refurbished computers? In simple language, are these things really okay? Yes, they're fine. For the most part they are machines that were returned because the buyers changed their minds and decided not to upgrade after all or to get something else. This represents only a tiny fraction of new computers sold but it is enough to have a couple hundred or more always on stock in the resale store.


   Looking through the resale list, all of the computers were faster and much less expensive than the one-year-old machine we were replacing. Some had gigantic hard drives, some not, some came with DVD drives or special display characteristics - all the variety you night expect in machines that were special ordered but later rturned because the buyers changed their mind. Prices started around $600; we paid a little less thasn $700 for Windows 98 computer with a 500mhz (megahertz) Intel processor, 128MB of RAM, an 8-gigabyte hard drive and a DVD drive. It has plenty of power, which brings us to the question of just how much power is enough.


   People often focus on the speed of the central processor. As soon as 366mhz became common two years ago, we began reading articles in the computer magazines about the coming 400, 500 and even 600 mhz computers. Now the buzz is about gigahertz processors (1,000 mhz). These are as fast as multi-million dollar super computers of just a few years ago. As they used to say back when there was gasoline rationing: is this trip really necessary?


   Definitely not. Though it's stunning to think of having your own super computer, it won't mean a thing for running Microsoft Word or any other office software. High processing speeds matter most for graphics, music and national defense. If you want to make your own animated movies or go to war, you can use the speed; if your needs are somewhat below this level, high speed will make little or no difference. Lots of RAM would be more useful.


   Take a look at some good buys: or


I spy


   The promise of cheap surveillance from web cams is largely fulfilled with the VTS 8500 Color Video system from Inetcam.


   Two cameras about the size of billiard balls connect to any video board in any Windows 95/98/NT computer. The cameras deliver sharp color video even at considerable distances. Because the picture goes into the computer, and from there can be uploaded to Inetcam's web site or your own, the camera views can be accessed through the Internet from any remote location.


   The kit comes with two cameras, software and cabling, for a street price of around $425. The software can handle two additional cameras. This is certainly the beginning of high-resolution surveillance cameras that can be operated round the clock and are small enough to be mounted almost anywhere inconspicuously. In the future, we'll never know who's watching. Phone: 858-558-7200; web:


Video editing


   A free trial version of MGI's "VideoWave III" is available at This is one the best of the video editing programs for desktop computers. There's a lot of competition in this field, so here's a free way to try one out.



--  Everything you always wanted to know about milk. Go on a virtual tour of the cow. Cows love potato chips. Who knew?

--  Links to a large number of articles about "mad cow disease." This is a fatal brain disease.


-- A guide to all the roller coaster rides and amusement parks in the United States. Photos are available for some of the roller coasters; all the sites have click-through buttons to the park web site if they have one. Take a trip, terrify yourself.


-- Free storage of up to 100 megabytes. You start with 25 megabytes and they add more as you get others to sign up and share files. This is the cheapest way to transfer large files. You can have the storage bin as an icon on your Windows desktop and Windows will recognize it as an extra drive.


-- More storage; up to 300 megabytes. As with Xdrive, you start with 25 megabytes, or, you can go immediately to 300 megabytes if you are willing to get advertising messages in your e-mail.


--  Hundreds of free catalogs: furniture, slipcovers, computers, tools, auto parts, books, videos, etc.

-- Choose a three-month free trial subscription to a thousand magazines. Lots of free software deals, trial offers and money-off coupons.

-- Trouble-shooting and fix-it advice for common household appliances. If it looks like the solution requires a new part, they also sell parts.


NOTE: Readers can search more than four years of columns at the "On Computers" web site: You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at or