NOW THAT YOU know what not to do, you're ready for more positive advice. If I were a shrewder man, I would refuse to give it. One of the perils of dispensing specific advice is that it may be outdated by the time the magazine is in your hands. The products that are available—and their relative values—are changing almost day by day. Fortunately for the consumer, all the change seems to be in the direction of more value for less money. This spring, Radio Shack knocked $400 off the price of its small business computer, the Model II—which sounded impressive until Digital Equipment Corporation knocked $3,500 off the price of its DECmate. The Model II with 64K of memory and one 8" drive went from $3,899 to $3,499, and it can be bought from mail-order firms for about $400 less. The DECmate, with the same memory and two drives, went from $6,595 to $3,095. Meanwhile, several other companies brought small computers onto the market, and there is no end in sight.
Yet another hazard is that recommending the right computer is a little like recommending the "right"' religion. People tend to like the system they've ended up with. The most important point about computers, more so than about religions, is that the difference between a good one and a bad one is tiny compared with the difference between having one and not.
Finally, a computer will be more or less right depending on what you want to do with it. If you are mainly interested in playing chess against a computer, you may be quite happy with some of the low-cost computers that Atari, Commodore, and Radio Shack have put out for under $400. (All three companies also offer good business systems.) If video games are your exclusive interest, you'd probably do better to buy a $150 TV adapter from Atari—although you'd then be shutting yourself off from all the wonders I have described. If getting the feel of a computer is your goal, you could buy a Sinclair ZX81 for $149.95 or $99.95 as a kit. But if you're also interested in business uses for your computer, you might think of systems and programs like the ones mentioned below.
Hardware: Once you move above the bargain-basement machines, to the tier where the computer memories are 48K or larger and the price is $2,000 and up, almost any computer you find will do the job. Over the past few months, in the interests of thorough research, I have tried computers by Apple and Zenith, Victor and Vector, Digital and Wang, Superbrain and Radio Shack, Atari and North Star, to name just a few. Despite their differences in detail, the machines seemed to fall into two big general categories.
One is computers per se, which will cost between $1,500 and $4,000 for the machine itself, plus (for some machines) up to $1,500 for an adequate complement of disk drives. Most good letter-quality printers will cost $1,500 or more, which means the cost of a complete word-processing system is between $5,000 and $6,000. These computers are not specially designed for word-processing, or for anything else. They will run whatever program you feed into them.