When buying hardware for your PC or Macintosh what drives you to purchase an item? Is it speed, quality, compatibility, previous satisfaction, or a combination of all of them? I have used IBM compatible PC’s (primarily) since the first personal computer was available for consumers (IBM XT circa 1985). I have also learned many hard lessons about hardware and compatibility over the course of years using them.

In times past, if the item said “IBM compatible” it would pretty much work on whatever PCDOS system you were using (same for Apple II’s, and yes Apple’s ran DOS in the early 1980’s). With the advent of Graphical Operating systems (i.e. Windows, MacOS, BeOS), it seems that hardware compatibility became a nightmare of what to buy and then coaxing it to work. Many hardware manufacturers claim compatibility but the hardware never seemed to work as promised. Today with the latest OS running (MacOS, Windows 2000, and the
soon to be released WindowsMe) if it says, “Made For (insert your OS here)” you can be sure it will work on the system. As always, there are considerations and limitations of the drivers and your existing hardware.

Enough on the history of computers and on to current topic. Today, you have so many choices and all tout the fastest graphics, or access times, or the best color output. So just how do you decide what to buy? I used to think the fastest graphics card obtainable was the best, but then found the drivers crashed my system and I could never seem to match the performance stated by the manufacturer. After years of buying hardware that didn’t live up to the companies promises, I started looking for hardware that had excellent quality, and a good reputation for drivers and customer service.

It takes quite a while to sift through all the chaff to find that one good piece of hardware. I think the best thing to do is to decide what it is you need and the price range you are willing to pay. Remember that you get exactly what you pay for (cheap is still cheap). Sometimes it is better to pay a little more and get something that will live up to your expectations.

One of the ways I narrow my choices down to one or two items is to read support group postings for that particular hardware item. Most hardware (and software) companies have some sort of web based forum or news server group (nntp based news forums, like Usenet news servers). I frequently surf through different support news servers and forums to see what sort of problems people are having with the items I am considering and with what Operating System. This method actually saved me long-term problems when I decided to build a new PC with off the shelf hardware. I, initially, bought a lemon (actually three) motherboard that would not support the
existing hardware and OS I had. After the third motherboard, I then started lurking in the support forums of items I was considering. I ended up with a high quality TYAN motherboard. TYAN is one of the few aftermarket motherboards that publish all the specifications of the board.

On most motherboards, they give you just enough information to entice you to purchase it and hide the important information (or lack of information on it) that might affect your purchase. Between the specifications on the board and what I read about the product, I ended up with a board that didn’t cause any problems. After that little episode, I decided to stick with name brand hardware and systems with good solid reputations so as not to repeat my
error.

I think now I would select hardware or systems based on

(1) Compatibility

(2) Quality (instead of speed)

(3) good customer support and

(4) previous satisfaction.

If a product meets those criteria, I am now more likely to make an informed purchase. When in doubt about two products are sure to ask people you know (not those who sell the products) that use the hardware or systems. Your friends, associates and co-workers are the best litmus test for you when considering new hardware.

*Hint: When buying hardware make sure you go to the support page and see how often they update drivers, or if they post FAQ’s on problems found. If they are constantly updating drivers, it may mean there are compatibility problems with the hardware and system OS. If there aren’t many updates, that can mean good hardware or possibly poor driver support. Ultimately, it is a good test of product support in any case.

If you have a question on hardware or need other resources be sure to send us a note and we will try our best to locate the information you may need! We would enjoy the opportunity to help our fellow readers and consumers. We can’t tell you what to buy but we can help you locate information or even problems with the hardware. All e-mail will be answered. We promise! ;-

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