What You Need to Know about Buying a PC
With multimedia and home networking booming, the next computer you buy could be the most important.
No longer is a computer just for Microsoft Office applications. The home PC can be used to store, catalog and distribute all of your digital music, your digital photos and even your personal video collection throughout your entire house.
January 01, 2006 by Gordon van Zuiden

Many of the features you need will mean that your next home computer may not be in the $500 to $1,500 range but cost $3,000 to $5,000. However, the entertainment value these new servers bring to your home and family can justify the costs. Here are some things to seek when you shop for that whole house PC.

High Speed
Get a PC with the highest-speed network connection card you can find, preferably a gigabit connection—and not just a 10/100 Ethernet card. If you want to move video from the office computer to the family room HDTV, you’ll need a lot of bandwidth, and gigabit Ethernet can deliver it.

High Res
Look for a computer that has DVI (digital visual interface) and/or HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) ports, which are the latest high-resolution video connections. While VGA (video graphics array) is still the most common computer video connection, the newer HDTV sets have DVI and HDMI video inputs. These ports will send a sharper, clearer picture from your computer to your TV.

Media Center
Purchase a computer loaded with Microsoft’s new Media Center Edition software, which is an extension of the standard Windows XP operating system now running on many personal computers. Media Center machines will run all of the standard applications and serve as a control, storage and distribution platform for your music, video and photo collections.

A Silent Partner
Look for a computer that is quiet and that boots up quickly. If you want a computer in the family room entertainment center, it should be as quiet as its consumer-electronic neighbors. It should also start up quickly from sleep mode. After all, we don’t want to wait two to three minutes to show our vacation pictures to friends and family. Also look for computers that are ViiV-compliant this year. These new chipsets from Intel are designed to improve the PC experience.

Consider buying a PC with multiple processors. A single processor is fine if only one person in the family uses the computer at any given time. But if it is to serve video to multiple televisions in the home, one processor may not be enough. If everyone wants to stream a recorded show or movie from the Media Center PC to various TV locations at the same time, the processing load on a single-processor computer might result in poor performance and jerky video at each TV.

A Bigger Drive
A big hard drive is more important than ever now. Storing all of your songs and movies requires lots of disk space. In fact, hundreds of gigabytes may not be enough. PCs with terabyte-size drives should be given serious consideration. And with all of your music, pictures and video content digitized, you’ll want that content backed up, so seek a system that offers RAID (redundant array of independent disks)-level protection or mirror backup features.

Full Frontal Connectivity
Look for connectivity ports in the front of the computer. This machine will serve as the storage center for all your home’s music, photos and videos, so it should have all the input ports you need in an easily accessible location. For photos, it should have SD, Compact Flash and xD interfaces; for music and video, it should have a FireWire (IEEE1394) port and composite and/or component audio/video jacks.

Gordon van Zuiden is founder of home integration company cyberManor, www.cybermanor.com.

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