PCs keep on costing money long after purchase

Personal Computers

December 09, 1996|By Peter H. Lewis | Peter H. Lewis,New York Times News Service

THE PURCHASE price of a new PC is just the tip of the iceberg. The excitement of getting the new plaything can evaporate if one does not account for the myriad additional expenses that it brings.

Beyond the obvious extra outlay for sales tax, other hidden or camouflaged costs can dismay the buyer. In general, if a new personal computer costs $2,000, it will demand another $2,000 worth of software, peripherals and toys.

The budget creep begins on the first day of shopping.

First, the advertisement may show a computer with a CD-ROM drive, a big-screen monitor, a keyboard and mouse and perhaps a printer, topped with a sign that reads, "Only $1,495" or something like that. Grab the magnifying glass. The small print ,, typically advises, "monitor and printer not included." Monitors and printers add at least a couple of hundred dollars each to the system price.

We tend to think poorly of used-car salesmen, but at least they do not ambush us with "Steering wheel and tires extra."

Or, the macho-looking PC is shown with two headlines, one that reads, "250 Megahertz!" and the other, "Starting at $1,999!" Do not assume the two selling points are related. Again, the fine print reveals that the $1,999 model uses the runt litter-mate of the fast chip, or has only half the memory of the bigger model, or has the bargain-bin 4X CD-ROM drive, and so on.

By the time the salesperson persuades you that you really want the better components, the extra memory, the modem, the year or two of on-site service, and the surge protector, and the box of diskettes, and the external speakers, and -- what the heck -- the mousepad, and the wrist rest, and the joystick, the video eyeball gizmo, and the special printer paper, the scanner, the special ergonomic chair and computer desk, the propeller beanie. Yow! Your budget is in shreds.

Most of these things are subject to my 180-day rule: As soon as you determine you absolutely have to have something, put it on a list and date it. Wait six months. By then, you will have discovered either that you really don't need it or that its price has come down and the bugs have been fixed.

Some of the extra dollars, however, are well spent at the time the computer is bought.

Although many new PCs come with 16 megabytes of system memory, there are a few that still come with 8. Meanwhile, the software companies continue to crank out bloatware, and there are no signs the trend to memory-hogging software is abating. Fortunately, memory chip prices are very attractive right now. One can add chunks of memory in 8-megabyte increments for about $50 each. Consider equipping the new PC with 32 megabytes of RAM while the price is right.

Software is likely to be the biggest additional expense over the life of the personal computer. This is the reason Bill Gates is the richest man in America.

Many computers come from the factory loaded with software, in some cases dozens of programs with an advertised value of $1,000 or more. In truth, many of the programs are likely to be demonstration, outdated or "light" versions that lack key features, so take the monetary claims lightly. Then add to the budget to cover the cost of upgrades.

And the list goes on.

In the final accounting, when you assess how much you have spent, the extra money for the "Dummies" books will seem quite

appropriate.

Pub Date: 12/09/96

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