Computer Services Center/Academic Computing
Recommendations for Microcomputer Purchase
Revised August 2010
Academic Computing is frequently asked for recommended microcomputer
specifications. These suggestions will change over time as the software
and hardware environment changes, and of course some individuals have
requirements that will not be met by an "average" computer.
For a machine that will be used by the "average" faculty
or staff member for word processing, email, and Internet access,
we recommend the following for Windows 2000 and XP systems.
You will probably find that the typical machine now shipping
exceeds these specifications.
- Intel or AMD processor 1GHz or above
- 256MB RAM (memory) (512MB desirable for XP)
- 20X or faster CD-ROM
- 10GB hard drive minimum
- Windows XP Professional or 2000 Professional (Do NOT order Home Edition)
- 17 or 19 inch monitor with .28mm or smaller dot pitch. The larger
screen is desirable for intensive users and for "older"
eyes (such as the author has.) The smaller the dot pitch, the better
the resolution. LCD panels have different specifications; in general,
a 15 inch LCD presents a screen image equivalent to a 17 inch standard
CRT, and a 17 inch LCD is equivalent to a 19 inch standard CRT. LCD
flat panels save desk space and use less power; CRTs can still have an
edge in color fidelity and are viewable at wider angles.
The items below are not technical specifications, but pointers
that may help make your computer acquisition go more smoothly.
- If you are planning to put the computer on the campus network
(who isn't?), order an Ethernet 10/100 network card with the
machine.You will recover in labor time and aggravation any
expense saved by trying to reuse a card, and you will be sure
you have a card compatible with your new machine and that the
vendor will support. Academic Computing will not normally move
or install network cards.
- We recommend 3Com cards if your network is Ethernet. If there
is a built-in adapter, that will usually be OK. Check with Academic
Computing for further details. Other cards may be cheaper, but we
will not maintain current drivers for them and may not be able to
troubleshoot them when problems occur.
- Sound can be useful, but is not absolutely necessary. However,
it is usually easier and cheaper to buy speakers and a sound
card (or on-board sound capability) at the time of machine
purchase rather than later.
- If you need a modem, buy an external one. Internal modems are cheaper
and take less space, but are much more difficult to troubleshoot and reset.
(Laptops are a somewhat different story.) If you are working at a campus
location, make sure you have an analog circuit available. Modems won't work
on a circuit servicing a digital Rolm phone.
- Be sure you understand the vendor's warranty. "On-site" means
different things to different vendors. In most cases, it means the vendor
will dispatch a technician to swap out components after you have gone
through a lengthy telephone session with vendor support personnel over the
phone. It will usually be several working days before the technician
appears. It is rare for a vendor to dispatch a technician to troubleshoot
your computer on-site. This is one area where local companies can be a
pleasant exception, but you need to ask the vendor to be certain.
- Think about upgrading your application software to current versions.
That old DOS or Windows version word processor may be familiar, and it
may not be as bloated as newer software,
but it probably won't take advantage of new operating system
features and you may find neither the vendor nor the Computer
Center is prepared to support it on your new computer.
- Be sure to get any commercial programs legally. Just because
someone in the office already has a copy, or you have a copy
at home, does not make it legal. If you plan to use a license
from your old computer, make sure the software is erased
from the old machine before you give that to someone else.
In any event, plan to install all your software from distribution
media on your new machine. Just copying over files and trying to
build pointers is usually not a good idea.
- Acquire anti-virus software and a method to get periodic updates. Academic
Computing provides AV software for all University PCs within the university network. Please go to http://www.southalabama.edu/csc/sav for more information.
- Plan now for data protection and disaster recovery. Floppies are
not much good for backing up large amounts of data, and
are largely useless for backing up an entire system. Remember,
Data is not backed up unless it exists in at least two places.
Academic Computing can provide you assistance in planning
The specifications for Macintosh computers are similar. Individuals
with other requirements such as intensive graphics use or specific
software may need different configurations or perhaps even
different types of computers. If you have any questions about
these recommendations or need further information, please contact
the Computer Services Center at 460-6161 and ask for Academic