Buying a Computer for Vista ... and Beyond

With careful planning, you can buy PCs that will both support Windows Vista and last well beyond today's standard life span

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Extended warranty/service plan: Speaking of defenses, extended warranties are hot items. They're like life insurance -- you hope you're paying for nothing, but nonetheless you are paying for it. Just in case you ever need to avail yourself of one, be sure you've read the fine print. Most warranties are "depot": You send they bad part back, then they send the new part to you. Sometimes a company will do both transfers simultaneously, but that usually entails handing over your credit card info as assurance that you're actually sending a part. "Carry-in service" is a reasonable compromise and is typically offered by vendors that sell their computers in superstores, such as HP. In either case, you're looking at several days of downtime.

On the upside, there's the "in-home/on-site service" warranty. There's also the tooth fairy. If you read the fine print, you'll find that many PC sellers will make you jump through an interminable number of hoops before they'll even consider sending someone out to fix your computer on-site. Sometimes it can take longer to get your PC repaired with an in-home contract than through depot or carry-in service. Read the fine print and ask questions before you shell out the extra bucks.

Last licks: Specialty keyboards, mice, trackballs, joysticks, bundled software (most of it's a waste), speakers, microphones, webcams and the like are needs-dependent, and those needs can often change over the course of ownership. You're the best judge of what you need now.

Putting It All Together

If your head is swimming at this point, here's a very practical Vista-capable desktop system configuration you might use as a template:

  • ATX Mid Tower computer case: $45
  • 2.0 ATX12V 500W Power Supply: $75
  • Socket T (LGA 775) Intel P965 Express ATX Intel motherboard: $123
  • Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 Conroe 2.4 GHz with 4M shared L2 cache, LGA 775 processor: $318
  • (2 x 1GB) 240-pin DDR2 SDRAM memory: $220
  • Two 250GB, 7,200-rpm SATA 3Gbit/sec. hard drives: $160
  • 250GB, 7,200-rpm IDE Ultra ATA100 hard drive: $75
  • GeForce 256MB 7900GT PVT71GUQL3 video card: $240
  • 18x DVD-R DVD burner E-IDE/ATAPI: $30

(These prices were pulled from the popular online tech sales site Newegg.com and, like all the prices in this story, are subject to change.) Do the math and it totals about $1,300 -- well below the typical analyst's prediction of $3,000 for a Vista machine. Of course, to get it at that price, you'll have to build it yourself or have an adventurous IT department do it for you. (And, of course, you'll have to tack on the price of Vista itself, as well as a monitor and any other peripherals you want.)

The cost of having it built by a reseller, plus the addition of a unified warranty for all of the parts in the box, will probably add $500 to $700 to the bottom line. For example, Dell's XPS 410 system fell into place like this when we checked online:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo Processor E6600 (4MB L2 cache, 2.4 GHz,1066 FSB)
  • Windows XP Professional with reinstallation CD, plus express upgrade to Windows Vista Business
  • 2GB dual-channel DDR2 SDRAM at 667 MHz (two DIMMs)
  • 500GB Performance RAID 0 (2 x 250GB SATA 3GB/sec. 7,200-rpm HDDs)
  • 256MB nVidia GeForce 7900 GS graphics processor
  • Integrated 7.1 channel audio
  • Dual optical drives: 48x Combo + 16x DVD+/-RW with double-layer write capability
  • 19-in. E197FP analog LCD flat-panel monitor
  • Two-year limited warranty and at-home service

There's also a keyboard, mouse and surge protector in the package, which tipped the scales at $2,101. (Remember, that includes an upgrade to Vista, a warranty and a 19-in. LCD monitor with speakers.)

A similar configuration, for the HP Pavilion d4650y, looked like this:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo processor E6600 (2.4 GHz)
  • Windows XP Professional
  • 2GB DDR2 667-MHz dual-channel SDRAM (2 x 1,024)
  • 500GB performance RAID 0 (2 x 250GB SATA HDDs)
  • 256MB nVidia GeForce 7600 GT graphics processor
  • Integrated 7.1 channel sound with front audio ports
  • LightScribe 16x DVD+/-R/RW SuperMulti optical drive
  • 15-in-1 memory card reader, three USB ports, an IEEE 1394 port and front audio ports
  • HP 19-in. LCD flat-panel monitor
  • Two-year HP House Call Extended Service Plan

This system has a price tag of $1,735 after rebates and instant savings.

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