What You Need For Internet - Computer Hardware

How the heck did you find this old page? Please let me know.

Sorry, but, this bit is going to sound like an advertisement for PC's and Microsoft. It's not that I like, PC's and Microsoft, (personally I used to prefer Acorn Risc machines and RiscOS) it's just that, as far as Internet is concerned, they are the most economical and widely supported choice.

Computer Monitor Keyboard Mouse
Browser software Domain name File server Furniture
Hardware Home page Hubs ISDN line
IP address ISP Leased line Modem
Network Network cabling Network printers Printers
Router Software Telephone line Unlimited access
Web sites Workstation    

If you are buying a computer to use on Internet, then you are faced with several choices.

The first of these choices is which platform you intend to use. There are three main contenders now:

A PC,  a Power Macintosh and Web TV. At the moment a PC workstation is more economical and there is a greater variety of software available for it..

Your second choice is the performance of the computer you wish to use. As a very minimum, I would suggest a Pentium 75 with 16 MB of memory, Win95, and a 14" monitor. You can use a lower specification, but, if you do, then expect to have problems running some software. This does not mean you can go out and purchase a Pentium 75. A Pentium II 233 was the slowest computer I was able to find in advertisements in Nov 1999. (Today in 2007 most mobile phones have a higher spec than that) Most entry systems use Celeron processors. Soon, I suspect a Pentium III 400 will be your minimum choice. You can improve on this specification by:

  1. Increase the amount of memory - 64 MB is better, 128 MB is better still.
  2. Get a bigger monitor. 14" is reasonable for individual to use for an hour or so. If you want to use it for longer, then a 15" monitor is better. If you want to use it with a group of people, then go for a 17 or 19" monitor
  3. Increase the processor speed. At the time of writing, you can go up to a 700 MHz system
  4. Get a faster processor e.g.. a Pentium II or Pentium III.
  5. Purchase a better graphics card which has more onboard memory. Look for at least 8 MB of memory, more is better. Some can be expanded later.
  6. Choose Windows 98 as your operating system rather than Win95 and consider going for Windows 2000.

If you're planning on buying a new system, then your most economical method is to purchase the computer over Internet. By doing that, you can quickly find a good deal and save on the sales tax (provided you order outside your home state). Even with shipping and handling added, you still save money. A good firm to deal with, who have a reputation for reliable systems at an affordable price is Dell. Check them out here.

If you expect to spend more than a couple of hours a day working at a keyboard then it is worth while purchasing an natural (ergonomic) keyboard - Doing so will reduce the possibility of repetitive strain injury. If you are buying keyboards for a school then save money by buying a standard (and economical) keyboard. If they malfunction then throw them away and purchase another.

For your own personal use, then by all means purchase a mouse with a scroll wheel. But, bear in mind they won't save you a vast amount of time, they will cost more, they won't last any longer and are more likely to cause software conflicts. For use in a school, buy the most economical mouse available. If it malfunctions, apart from cleaning the internal rollers throw it away and purchase another. Do not expect a mouse to last much longer than a period of one year in a school.

56K modems are becoming widely accepted and I believe you would be foolish to go for anything less. You might save a little money by accepting a 33.6K modem, but they money you save would not make up for the aggravation cause by the increased delays, especially if you have to pay for local phone calls. One thing you should bear in mind, is that having a 56K modem does not mean you are guaranteed a 56K transfer rate. That depends on your ISP and local phone line capabilities. Your phone line is only as good as it's worst connection.


Choose an internal modem : 
  • it's more economical to purchase.
  • it needs one less power socket
  • it needs fewer connecting cables
  • it does not use up a serial port
  • 'little hands' can't tamper with it


You have two choices for printers:

  • A laser printer
  • A color inkjet/bubblejet printer
Laser printers are faster, but, only work in black and white. Ink jet printers offer color, but are slow and produce poorer quality print outs. Both need careful choice if you are to avoid high running costs.


  • leave the top open on a laser printer - it damages the drum
  • use a laser printer in a small, unventilated room - they give off 'ozone' which can make you aggressive temporarily. (The same is true for photocopiers)
  • try to refill the toner container on a laser printer - can 'ruin' the drum
  • buy a laser printer for a school which has fragile 'input and output' trays
  • switch off the power to an ink jet printer unless the 'head' has been parked
  • even consider purchasing a 'dot matrix' printer - noisy, slow and produces poor quality by today's standards (OK buy one if you must have carbon copies).
  • check the cost of replacement toner cartridges and drums on a laser printer and find out the expected lifetime of each so that you can work out the running costs of the printer if these are not already worked out for you by the manufacturer.
  • expect laser printers with a combined drum and toner cartridge to provide a better quality of output in the long term, since you are always working with a new drum.
  • look for firms which will exchange your old laser cartridges for recycled ones.
  • check the cost of replacement ink cartridges on ink jets and bubble jets and again find out running costs.
  • avoid printers where you have to remove a cartridge and replace it when changing from colour to black and white.
  • avoid printers where the installed cartridge/s have only three colors - you need four colors - cyan, magenta, yellow and black available if you are to avoid muddy brown coloured blacks.
  • look for 'refills' for ink cartridges as a way of reducing cost (I've never yet, come across an ink cartridge I could not refill).

When you are buying a printer for a network, choose one which has a large paper input tray, a very fast output, the option of being connected directly to the network and one which preferably, has as few switches and buttons as possible.

Computer Furniture
When purchasing computer furniture, make sure you get desks which are deep and big enough to hold the computer, monitor and keyboard, have space for the mouse and still room to use writing material. (OK, I know the idea is to use information technology, but sometimes it is quicker to write it longhand). A good computer desk should have a way of keeping the cables tidy and out of the way. There is nothing more annoying than loosing your work because someone tripped over the wires.

Telephone Line
If you are using a modem you will need a separate telephone line - one which does not go through a switch board. The computer will tie up the line for hours at a time and will make things difficult for a switch board operator.

An ISDN line is a special telephone line which carries digital signals rather than the normal analogue voice signals. Digital signals from a computer can travel along an ISDN line much faster than they can by first being converted to 'analogue' signals by a modem. To use an ISDN line you will need a router. Call charges are as normal lines but line rental is more expensive. Many telecommunication firms however, will negotiate a special rate for educational establishments.

Leased Line
A leased line is a digital telephone line which is permanently connected to your information service provider. There are no telephone call charges but line charges are expensive. It is only worthwhile considering a leased line if you have an extensive site with lots of users and maintain an often used web site.

A router is used to make or 'route' the connection between an ISDN or leased line, and either a Proxy server or the computers on your network. (A proxy server acts as a 'go between' the Internet and your network and can both make your network more secure and speed up access to web pages).

File Server
The file server on a network stores your files. It can also store applications and handle the security of your network. If you are buying one, get a powerful computer with LOTS of fast storage space on it's hard drives. It is a good idea, also, to have some way of making a removable backup of all your files. The file server does not need and expensive graphics card or expensive monitor (in fact most of the time it does not need a monitor at all, so if you need a monitor while one is repaired, borrow the file server's).

Information Service Provider (ISP)
An ISP is a firm which makes the connection between your telephone line and the Internet. ISP's charge for this connection and usually, but not always, offer web space as part of the deal. Your ISP will also act as your gateway to e-mail and news net. There are lots of ISP's and you should choose one which:

  1. has a local access number
  2. has at least 1 modem per 12 users - ask
  3. has fast, direct access to the Internet and therefore does not act as a bottleneck
  4. has a 24 hour help line
  5. offers unlimited access time i.e. they will not charge you for the amount of time you spend on Internet.
  6. does not cut you off after a certain preset number of hours

If you are in the UK - ask what happens if their line to the USA goes down.

IP Addresses
An Internet Protocol (IP) address is a number in the format a.b.c.d where a, b, c and d are numbers between 0 and 255. Every computer on Internet must have it's own unique IP address. There are about 4.3 billion possible combinations. Some ISP's will give you a fixed IP address, others will give you the use of an IP address while you are connected to them (a dynamic IP address).

This is all of the electronic parts of your computer. Such as:

  • processor
  • disk drives (floppy and fixed)
  • keyboard
  • mouse
  • monitor
  • graphics (video) card
  • sound card
  • modem
  • compact disc (CD-ROM) or DVD

A work station is made up of:

  • a computer (CPU)
  • a monitor
  • a keyboard
  • mouse
  • floppy disk drive
  • hard disk drive
  • sound card
  • video card
  • CD ROM drive (becoming essential with software installation)
  • modem or network card
  • software
  • a means of printing

The network is used to connect computers together to allow them to share files and expensive items of hardware such as printers or routers.

Network Cabling
The most common type of network cabling is 'Ethernet' which usually runs at 10 Mb per sec. There are two main types of cable. The most economical type of network cabling is '10 base 2' in which a single length of cable is run between two terminators and computers, router and file server are attached by 'T pieces'.


Although this system is 'cheap', a break anywhere in the cable crashes your entire network and it's speed can not be increased. A better system is '10 base T' in which each computer has a separate cable attaching it to a 'hub'. With care positioning the cabling, a 10 base T system can be upgraded to a 100 base T system. (Ten times as fast!)

Networking can be very complicated and there are factors to be considered such as:
  • the length of the cable
  • whether the cable is to go between buildings
  • how tightly the cable makes turns

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