Monday, March 2, 2009

How Much Should a Computer Cost?

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WXPNews: Your Source for all things XP
Vol. 8, #60 - Mar 3, 2009 - Issue #368

 How Much Should a Computer Cost?

  1. Editor's Corner
    • How Much Should a Computer Cost?
    • Follow-up: When (real and virtual) worlds collide
    • Quotes of the Week
  2. Cool Tools
    • Tools We Think You Shouldn't Be Without
  3. News, Hints, Tips and Tricks
    • Will you be able to downgrade from Windows 7 to XP?
    • Install XP on a VAIO P
    • Watch popular TV programs on the web with Hulu
    • Childproof your computer
  4. How To: Using XP Features
    • How to kill a process from the command line
  5. XP Security News
    • Laptop security software that gives thieves a verbal thrashing
  6. XP Question Corner
    • How can I trim down the XP startup process?
  7. XP Configuration and Troubleshooting
    • Troubleshooting registry corruption (for advanced users)
    • Black screen when you start XP
  8. Fav Links
    • This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff
  9. Product of the Week
    • Second Copy: Download it For Easy, Secure, Automatic Backups

My Antivirus Is Killing My Netbook - Now What?

Traditional antivirus products can be terrible resource hogs, literally grabbing hundreds of megabytes in RAM, and maxing out the smaller Netbook CPU. But you cannot leave Netbooks unprotected either. VIPRE Antivirus + Antispyware is the AV you want to run, with it's now famous low resource consumption and practically invisible malware protection. VIPRE now is officially the fastest antimalware on the planet! Get your 30-day eval here and experience VIPRE on your Netbook for yourself:

 Editor's Corner

How Much Should a Computer Cost?

Ever since small computer systems (at that time known as "microcomputers") became readily available to consumers back in the 1980s, prices have steadily fallen. The original IBM Personal Computer (PC), the 5100 model, was introduced in 1975 but it was very expensive, costing around $20,000. It boasted up to 64K of memory and a 204K capacity tape drive, with a built-in 5 inch monitor:

According to the Inflation Calculator, the value of $20,000 in 1975 translates to over $76,000 in today's money. Wow. Yet today you can buy a computer that is orders of magnitude more powerful. Dell's web site advertises an Inspiron with dual core 2.5 GHz processor, 3 GB of memory and a 320 GB hard drive, not to mention a 16X DVD player/writer, and a 17 inch flat panel widescreen monitor, for $499. That's by no means the best deal out there, just a typical one from a brand name vendor.

Even as the prices of the "entry level" systems continue to go down, though, I find it interesting that a "top of the line" system today still costs about what one did in the mid-1990s: around $3000-3500. When I configured my "dream" Dell desktop last night, an XPS with an i7-965 3.2 GHz processor, 12 GB of RAM and a 1.5 TB SATA hard drive, along with a 1 GB Radeon video card, it came in at $3469. That's pretty similar to the price of the highest end Acer with all the bells and whistles a little over ten years ago. Of course, with inflation today's Dell actually costs more in equivalent dollars (about $1000 more) than that Acer did.

So how much should a computer cost, anyway? Can we expect the costs for basic systems to keep going down as they have for the past decade? If it continues for much longer, it seems that soon the hardware vendors will be paying us to take their products. And although that might sound good, it doesn't seem very realistic.

Profit margins on those low cost systems are already pretty slim. We've all heard the joke about the company that loses money on every sale but hopes to make up for it in volume - but that doesn't work so well in the real world. Computer vendors are facing declining revenues; Dell reported profits down 5% compared to last year, and HP (which last year took over Dell's position as number one in the industry) saw profits drop 13% in the first quarter compared to last year.

How do the vendors make money selling computers at such low prices? Both HP's and Dell's web sites advertise desktops as low as $279. Sure, that includes a Celeron processor and only 2 GB of memory - but the specs are close to those of a top-of-the-line machine only a few years ago and are good enough to run even resource-intensive Vista. If you start ordering one of those low-cost computers, though, you'll begin to see the vendors' strategies. Clicking through the pages to "customize" your system, you'll be given the opportunity to every turn to "upgrade" each component to something better and to add peripherals, software and services. These choices are presented one at a time, and the cost of each one, by itself, looks pretty low. You need only spend an extra $30 or $50 or $100 to go from the low-end component to one that's much more powerful, better or bigger. In fact, just for fun, I started out with Dell's $279 system and selected the highest end upgrade offered on each page. By the time I finished "customizing," even without adding a printer or any software, the price of my $279 system was up to almost $2000.

One way vendors and retailers make money on low-margin items is with those extended warranties that they try so hard to sell you. Has anyone here actually used one of those warranties? I'm sure some folks do, but I'd guess it's more likely that most people who buy them never get any benefit out of them. I've found that if a piece of electronics equipment is going to die, it usually happens early (during the standard warranty period) or it lasts beyond the extended warranty period. With computers, what's the point of a four year warranty when it will probably be outdated and you'll want to replace it two years from now? And if it does fail three years down the road, will you even remember where that warranty paperwork is?

The low upfront cost of today's computers is great, but when we talk about cost, we really ought to be talking about the total cost of ownership (TCO). That's a concept that is big in the business world, and for good reason. One place you really see it is when you buy a printer. Inkjets have gotten so cheap almost anyone can afford one - but can you afford to keep it "fed?" With some of them, it's sort of like having someone give you a gigantic dog; you might not have to pay for it, but you'll go broke buying dog food. If a printer costs $100 but you have to spend $50 for ink cartridges every few weeks, it might not be such a great deal after all. Remember: TANSTAAFR (There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Rottweiler).

There are other costs that are even more hidden. For instance, what about the cost of "free" software? Have you ever spent hours or days trying to get your system working right again after installing a free program that seemed cool? If you lose important data because that free program messed up your file system, what was the real cost? If you rely on "free" security software to save money, is it really worth the risk that you may be more vulnerable to attack? Some free programs work fine, but there's something to that old adage that "you get what you pay for."

Or how about the free software that comes with your computer? The vendor may tell you that you're getting wonderful extras, but that free stuff often consumes up to 20% of your hard disk and slows down your system. Again, you pay the hidden cost.

Tell us what you think about the cost of computing. Has it really gone down, or are you paying as much for your new computer as you did for your old one once you figure in the hidden costs and allow for all those upgrades that you just have to have? Do you think computer prices have hit bottom yet, or will the cost for a basic system continue to plummet? Is the day of the $100 PC in sight? When you buy a computer, do you find yourself starting out to buy the low cost version and ending up with a much higher priced one? Have you ever been shocked to learn that a couple of ink cartridges for your printer were going to cost more than you paid for the printer itself? How do you cut costs when you buy a new system - or do you spend more to get what you want and what will last longer? Will you wait longer to upgrade your hardware because of the current economy? Do you think one of the major hardware vendors will fail? Tell us your thoughts and opinions at

And please head over to the Sunbelt page and take the SunPoll in the right column to let us know how much you spent for your main home computer and peripherals.

Follow-up: When (real and virtual) worlds collide

In last week's editorial, I wrote about how our online and "real life" worlds seem to be merging more and more - and ways in which computer hackers are now using "real world" techniques to launch their attacks against your system.

Many of you have already gotten wise to the fact that a phone call or "snail mail" correspondence is now no more trustworthy than an email message. Dollyce B. wrote: "I trust nothing. The (supposed) Seattle Times called me on the phone, asking if I'd like to renew or something like that. She needed [credit card] information. I say, how do I know you aren't someone sitting in a closet in Russia? Give me your name and ID and I'll call the Seattle Times and ask them to put me through to YOU. She seemed surprised, but cooperated. She was legit, but how would I really know that?"

And Wayne S. related this: "I've been housesitting for a friend that is off travelling. His phone rings off the hook all day from scammers purporting to be with credit card companies, satellite dish cos., home improvement wizards, and of course, someone saying they will fix your broken credit. His phone is worse than my email scammers. I especially liked the satellite Dish Network scammer that the said his Dish installation is scheduled for Friday and to call the number to qualify for more free additional goodies. People WILL fall for this one. So, it's not just the internet."

Elliott C. notes that there is a bright side: "While this is no comfort to those who have been affected by a real-world scam, at least the real-world ones require effort. The parking ticket scam requires someone to physically go up to a car. This means they can be seen (and possibly caught). Similarly, mail and phone scams can potentially be traced to their source. The result is that there are likely to be much fewer physical resources (people, paper, stamps, etc.) to perpetrate the scam than a spammer that can send a virtually unlimited number of emails to anywhere in the world for free. And, especially in the case of the parking ticket, the real world scam is not going to come from another country which might have relaxed laws or be lacking in law enforcement. All this means is that we are less likely to get hit by a real-world scam than a virtual one."

When it comes to scams, Mac H. offered this very good advice: "Always suspect that you are being scammed and the chance that you will be may not be eliminated, but will certainly be reduced." But that doesn't keep the scammers from trying. Mark N. tells us what happened to him: "I got called by someone who said they were from Microsoft and wanted to know our MSDN account number. I asked them why they needed this and they said to verify our account, and I told them to search their database since a tech company like Microsoft will have such a database and numerous backups. The other party hung up."

Some of you are now experiencing a convergence of the real and virtual worlds as you take your job hunts online. George M. wrote of that experience: "Lately I have been posting resumes online in search of new projects. No sooner than I post a resume do I start getting spammed. Replies include "Reply to your resume, possible interview" or "take our survey" or visit some web site to decide what I think about some company. This has also led to related junk mail in my P.O. box. I don't think anything online is sacred or safe any more. I fully expect scammers to next start asking for my social security number and other information needed by real employers."

Others have managed to keep the real and virtual worlds more separate. Kenneth F. wrote: "I've not really experienced that convergence of real and on-line "worlds." Maybe this is because I don't "meet" other persons on the Web, although I do correspond (the present message an example). I do understand that others do, especially those less than half my age, but I'm content to treat Web sites as representations and E-mail as correspondence, neither seeming to me as a substitute for reality. Many other means of socializing over the Web, such as social sites, instant messaging, and the like, are not interesting me at all."

And Mike P. had this happy ending to share: "My virtual and real worlds came together in a great way. I met my wife on a chat program that a friend told me about. I was just having fun talking to people from different parts of the world and came across this nice woman from Malaysia. We chatted online and then on the phone for a year, after which she came to the US to visit. We got married later that year in the US and had another ceremony in Malaysia. It's now 5 years later and we're still happily married in the US with a 13 month old baby."

'Til next week
Deb Shinder, Editor

PS: Did you know this newsletter has a sister publication called VistaNews? You can subscribe here, and tell your friends:

And for IT pros, there's our "big sister," WServer News, at

Quotes of the Week

In spite of the cost of living, it's still popular. - Laurence J. Peter (1919- 1988)

Why does a small tax increase cost you two hundred dollars and a substantial tax cut save you thirty cents? - Peg Bracken

Idealism is fine, but as it approaches reality the cost becomes prohibitive. - William F. Buckley, Jr.

Keep The Bad Guys Out With The Sunbelt Personal Firewall

Why do I need a firewall? Together with antivirus and antispyware, a firewall is a "must" to protect your computer. PC Magazine gave the Sunbelt Personal Firewall a "Very Good" rating with 4 Stars and a conclusion of "good protection". Check out the Reviews on the site and it will be clear why you need the Sunbelt Personal Firewall to protect your PC. One good example: Unlike the Windows XP and Vista Firewall, you can tell the Sunbelt Personal Firewall to look carefully at the data leaving your browser, so that sensitive information like your credit card numbers, email address, bank account, social security number and PIN code do not get stolen by hackers!

 Cool Tools

Tools We Think You Shouldn't Be Without


Before You Kick that Computer to the Curb. Free PC Diagnostic Scan

New! PerfectDisk 10 released to rave reviews. MS-certified, true free space consolidation. Single pass, fast, automatic, low resource usage.

Turn your webcam into a CCTV with alarm and email notification! Try it before you buy it:

Rip DVDs for your iPod/iPhone or Apple TV. Bundle includes video converter too! Try it free!

Vista gets bogged down very quickly! Advanced Vista Optimizer will tweak Vista for Max performance. Easy to use:

Backups? We don't need no stinking backups! Syncronization is easier, faster and much more current than backups!

Spotmau PowerSuite Professional 2008: Fantastic! All the tools necessary to fix most common computer problems. Clone and backup too!

Print Screen Deluxe is the realistic upgrade of the Windows version. You can crop - before the capture! Very quick!

One password gives automatic, secure access to all my online passwords and usernames. The autofill feature is a major time-saver! Not a widget.

 News, Hints, Tips and Tricks

Will you be able to downgrade from Windows 7 to XP?

Despite all the good press that Microsoft's newest operating system is getting during beta testing, some of those who resisted Vista are still reluctant to give up their tried-and-true XP OS. Now some analysts are speculating about whether Microsoft will allow "downgrade rights" for those who buy Windows 7 computers after its release. Will you be able to replace Win7 with XP (or Vista) without buying another license? Read the article here:

Install XP on a VAIO P

One of the most expensive but classiest looking of the netbook crowd (although the company doesn't want to call it that) is the new Sony VAIO P series laptop. It comes installed with Vista, but according to SlashGear, you can install XP on it - although getting the right drivers for the GPS and wireless WAN may prove challenging. If it's a challenge you want to take, make it easier by checking out this tutorial:

Watch popular TV programs on the web with Hulu

With the economic downturn continuing and budgets tightening, some people are saving by ditching their cable or satellite TV subscriptions and turning to the web for their favorite TV programs. Many shows can be accessed on the networks' web sites. Another source for legally watching recent episodes of popular programs is Hulu. Check it out here:

Childproof your computer

If you share your home computer with little ones, you might be interested in how to protect the system form the damage that kids can do without even trying. There are built in protective mechanisms such as limited user accounts, free downloads such as Windows Steady State, even a web interface that limits a child's access to particular sites. Read more here:

 How To: Using XP Features

How to kill a process from the command line

You probably already know that you can use the Task Manager in XP to kill a process. This may be necessary if a program won't close on its own. Just go to the Processes tab, right click the process you want to kill and select End Process. Learn more about how to use the command prompt to see and kill processes here:

 XP Security News

Laptop security software that gives thieves a verbal thrashing

Wish you could tell the person who stole your laptop exactly what a rotten person he/she is? Now there is a security program that will actually talk to the thief who tries to use that stolen computer. By default, the machine will call for help ("This laptop is lost or stolen. If you are not my owner, please report me now") or you can record your very own customized message. The talk feature is part of a program called Retriever that runs on XP or Vista and will also allow you to remotely throw a kill switch to erase your data or turn on a GPS beacon so it can be found. Read more about it here:

 XP Question Corner

How can I trim down the XP startup process?

It seems like it takes forever for my XP laptop to boot up, as opposed to my desktop computer. I think it's because the laptop starts all these extra programs that were installed by the hardware company (HP) that I don't even want to use. I know I can uninstall the programs with Add/Remove Programs in Control Panel but is there a way to keep them from starting up when I boot without uninstalling them? Thanks. - Tam R.

You can remove programs from the startup process. Here's how:
  1. Click Start | Run and type: msconfig.exe
  2. In the System Configuration utility, click the Startup tab and uncheck the programs in the list that you don't want to start when you boot the system. If you don't know what some of the listed items are, you may need to look them up in a web search. For example, I have Microsoft Groove installed as part of Office, but I rarely use it. GrooveMonitor starts automatically, but I can uncheck it to speed up the Startup process.
If you have many unnecessary programs starting up, you may see a significant decrease in bootup time when you uncheck several of them.

 XP Configuration and Troubleshooting

Troubleshooting registry corruption (for advanced users)

Corrupted registry files can cause all sorts of problems, even prevent your computer from starting. Why does it happen? It can be caused by a power failure or unexpected shutdown, defective hardware, or other reasons.There are a number of error messages that indicate a corrupted registry. KB article 822705 provides tips for troubleshooting registry corruption problems.

Black screen when you start XP

If you try to start your XP computer and just get a black screen after the POST (Power On Self Test) instead of the Windows logo, the cause might be as simple as having a CD or DVD in your drive - or you might have a corrupted boot sector, master boot record or other element of the boot sequence. To find out what to do, see KB article 314503 at

 Fav Links

This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff

Disclaimer: WXPNews does not assume and cannot be responsible for any liability related to you clicking any of these linked Web sites.

 Product of the Week

Second Copy: Download it For Easy, Secure, Automatic Backups

Second Copy® maintains updated copies of your hard work. As it runs in the background, this will be the software that you will forget about until it saves you! Second Copy will automatically backup your data files to any local fixed or removable disks, zip drives, CD-RW's, DVD's, as well as on storage devices on other computers across a network. WXPNews readers can download the Free Evaluation copy here.

 About WXPnews

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